Tag: cupcakes

Too Many Friends and Tight on Space? Make It Work!

| August 20, 2012 | 0 Comments

You never want to leave “that person” out of your party plans, but space can be the deciding factor

After downsizing my life, I had to work with a somewhat outdated kitchen space, which presented a clear obstacle to having guests. The weather was not cooperating and the garden was not an option, but I decided that I would make it work. By making intimate “stations” in your small spaces, you can have a fun and creative affair no matter what the size of your home.

1. If the kitchen is small, no worries. If you don’t have an island, create one with a card table or several dinner trays (yes, the kind you may have used as a kid when you staked a place in front of the TV with your Spaghetti-O’s). Create a three-tiered centerpiece. You can do this using different size plates with small bowls between to separate. Place bowls, spoons, and napkins on the bottom tier; breadsticks, a baguette, and cornbread on the second tier; and condiments such as sea salt, ground pepper, and fresh spices of your choice on the top. I like to throw in a few low bud vases with flowers or fresh herbs. “Soups on!” — have a pot of soup or stew on the stove and you now have an appropriately cozy moment for entertaining right in your little kitchen.

2. In the dining room, cut many slices of cheese and arrange on a large cheeseboard. You can make this a real showstopper if you use cheeses, fruits (dried and fresh), and nuts. Make it the centerpiece and use height to create interest by having mounds of nuts and fruit. On one end of the table you can have a larger station with pasta, salad, and a large basket of chicken, for example.

3. The living room serves as a bar. It is typically the largest room in the house so that is a great area to linger in. Use a large copper tub and subdivide with wine buckets surrounded by other beverages and ice. Place trays along the side for glassware and slices of lemons and limes.

4. There is another small room where we congregate to watch sports. If there is a big game, leave it on and create another station, which could be a large crudité table. I use a large basket and line it on the bottom, then fill it with a variety of dips, including hummus, fruits and veggies, along with a basket of mixed chips with salsa and guacamole — common, but always a hit.

5. The entry way to your home is underrated and rarely used, which why it is a great place to stop and satisfy that sweet tooth. Create plates, baskets, or fun bowls with cookies, brownies, and cupcakes.

The stations throughout your small space solve the problem of where everyone will sit and keeps the flow moving. Your stress has now morphed to a fun and relaxed way to entertain.

Mersene NorbomConway Confidential

Amuse Bouche: Links for 2/17/12

| February 18, 2012 | 0 Comments

Food Network Plagiarism?
The now-canceled “Anne Thornton’s Dessert First” has come under fire after it appeared that some of Thornton’s recipes hewed too close to Martha Stewart and the “Barefoot Contessa.” Check out this write-up and some videos (one of which is particularly yummy). [TODAY Bites]

Most Amazing Cupcake Bite Ever
Ever see a dessert tray and realize it has too many wonderful things to possibly eat in one sitting? Take heart: This recipe for mini peanut butter Oreo chocolate fudge swirl cupcakes puts just about everything you could want together in a gorgeous teeny-weeny stack. [Kevin and Amanda]

Bacon Thing of the Week
Yes, Valentine’s Day may be over, but when it comes to bacon roses … every day can be a day of love. You can always find an excuse. And for those who don’t care for flower-shaped bacon, check out the next logical progression in raw beef roses (pictured above)! [Instructables and Hungeree]

Frankenfood: Coming to a Shelf Near You?
It doesn’t have to. MoveOn.org has set up a petition so you can tell the FDA that labeling of genetically engineered foods should be mandatory (the way it is with other consumables these days). You don’t have to buy it, but you should know what’s going into your food. [MoveOn]

Swiss Measuring Spoons
Keep all of your Teaspoon/Tablespoon needs in one handy-dandy carrying case designed to look like a Swiss Army Knife. No wonder Swiss desserts taste so awesome. [Amazon]

Amuse Bouche: Links for 2/3/12

| February 4, 2012 | 0 Comments

Gung Hay Fat Choy!
Yes, we missed the Chinese New Year, but you don’t have to: a) be timely, b) be celebrating or c) be Chinese to find these New Year-inspired cupcakes worthy of setting off some firecrackers. [Bake Happy and Cupcakes Take the Cake ]

Bottle of Wits
Austin’s venerable Alamo Draft House movie chain is jumping all over the 25th anniversary of “The Princess Bride” by introducing one white and one red wine inspired by the film. Neither is laced with the legendary poisonous iocane powder, which is a good thing for those who haven’t spent the last 25 years building up a tolerance. [Alamo Drafthouse]

Sandwich Artist
For people who still like to play with their food but make it look as if it was inspired by some great artists, this collection of bread-meets-filler arrangements will feel whimsical. The rest of us will find it merely strange. (Click on each photo and look at the URL to figure out the associated artist.) [Low Commitment Projects]

Pancake Plates
Nearly everyone likes a little syrup with his or her pancakes, but few like finding that one at the bottom of the stack has transformed from a fluffy delight to a soggy mess. Introducing the Pancake Plate! Deceptively obvious and wonderful. And also useful for virtually any liquid-basted meal. Check it out! [Uncommon Goods]

One Tough Cookie
On the one hand, it’s a cute name — on the other, who wants to eat a tough cookie? That said, Gail Dosik’s creations are some of the most beautifully designed eatables you’ll ever witness. (It’s almost a shame to bite into them!) Early warning: Valentine’s Day is only about 10 days away, and OTC has some incredible ideas. [One Tough Cookie]

Above: Deli Stadium
Whether you’re rooting for the New England Patriots or the New York Giants to win Sunday’s Super Bowl, there’s no question: Deli platters in the shape of football stadiums are a true score . [Westword]

Cookies that fill more than a hungry belly

| December 14, 2011 | 0 Comments

We all want to do something in the holiday season, and by “do something,” I mean beyond just “buying stuff and writing up a bunch of cards.” Whether we act on it throughout the rest of the year or not, come December our philanthropic impulses get a real workout — and everyone wants to find a way to give back.

Sarah Morgan, who started up a terrific women-based Meetup.com group this fall, had her own way of giving back: By holding a Christmas Cookie Bake Off with 9 women in her New York City apartment on Friday night, baking batch after batch of deliciousness … all to give away.

“I was once fortunate enough to meet a woman named Mabel who was living in an elderly care facility during my time as a volunteer in high school,” Sarah me wrote about her inspiration. “Mabel told me that her fondest memory of her younger years was baking cookies with her children during the holidays. She looked away for a moment and said that she would give just about anything to be able to bake a big batch of cookies again.”

Well, Sarah went right home, made some cookies that night and took them to Mabel, who was so appreciative that Sarah was inspired. She began making a running list of groups and individuals in distress or need who might not have access to kitchen facilities — who might appreciate some holiday cookies. (And really, whether we have a kitchen or not, who doesn’t appreciate cookies?) Each year, she’s expanded that list to include residents in shelters, elder care facilities and shelters catering to individuals going through foreclosures; she has added in the toy drive recipients she already works with and so forth. One batch of 200 cookies would be going all the way to a YWCA shelter in Montana!

Sarah doesn’t let the fact that she has a “small, outdated” kitchen that’s “in the middle of a renovation.” Even when we had to get up from the kitchen table to make room to open her stove to check on the cookies’ done-ness, it just felt like a real New York experience — not an inconvenience. For several hours we creamed butter (letting it soften on the warming stove), tossed in liberal amounts of chocolate chips, colored sprinkles and coconut flakes green, sipped a little wine and even enlisted her 3-year-old son Jack into the process (he got his own personal pile of chocolate chips to snack on). The cookie list included chocolate chip, sugar, peanut butter (with a chocolate kiss in the center) and raspberry-coconut “thumbprints.” cookingDishes were washed, windows were opened and pizza was consumed. A good, sweet time was had by all (one participant even brought in pre-made cookies and cupcakes, which she iced and decorated — with a little help — at the event).

Early on, Sarah had a revelation about making cookies for charities, or really anyone who just needs a little sweetness in their lives: “Sometimes when cash or toys or donations on a large scale are not available, sometimes a small gesture can move mountains,” she wrote.

Exactly what’s needed this time — or any time — of year. A little mountain moving, courtesy of the cookie.

And as a special bonus, here’s one of the cookie recipes we made!

Raspberry Thumbprints

  • 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
  • 7 ounces sweetened flaked coconut
  • Raspberry and/or apricot jam

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until they are just combined and then add the vanilla. Separately, sift together the flour and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar. Mix until the dough starts to come together. Turn out on a floured board and roll together into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. (If you have a scale they should each weigh 1 ounce.) Dip each ball into the egg wash and then roll it in coconut. Place the balls on an ungreased cookiesheet and press a light indentation into the top of each with your finger. Drop 1/4 teaspoon of jam into each indentation. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the coconut is a golden brown. Cool and serve.

– courtesy Sarah Morgan

Smaller is better: Putting the ‘cup’ back in ‘cupcake’

| December 6, 2011 | 0 Comments

Small, medium, Oh My God!

Recently, I stumbled across a Facebook page called “I Choose a Cupcake Based on Size and Frosting Content.” And when you think about it, a first reaction has to be “heck yeah!” Bigger is always better, right?

The Facebook page’s creators even sum it up like this: “C’mon, we all do it…we look for the biggest cupcake and the one with the most frosting. It makes us happy :) And then it’s just like ‘OHHHHHHHHHH YESSSSSSSSSSSS’ when we find the perfectly large and perfectly frosted one.”

The thing is, size matters, but bigger is not always better when it comes to cupcakes. I learned this when buying my Cupcake Cake pan, so I’m speaking with some experience here. Remember, it’s a cupcake — not a Big Gulp Cake.

As the author of Crazy About Cupcakes Krystina Castella notes, the concept of the cupcake goes all the way back to 1828: “The cup name had a double meaning because of the practice of baking in small containers — including tea cups.” You could make cupcakes faster in a hearth oven, and they were a quick and easy treat for kids. But they were originally made in what was called a “gem pan,” a mini-muffin pan with openings that were just about 1.5 inches in diameter.

gem pan

The original cupcake holders

Today, we’re greeted with the supersized version of the old-fashioned cupcake — just take a look at that Crumbs picture (right). Crumbs, which has long provided me with my cupcake of choice, offers three sizes, but is best known for its “Signature,” a cupcake that’s about twice the size and height of those gem pans, and can run into the 500 calorie range (and above). What Crumbs now calls a “Taste” is more like the original concept of the cupcake.

But so what, right? It’s going on 200 years since the cupcake first came into being, and clearly the cupcake craze that has taken over in the last five years or so isn’t going anywhere — cupcakes are gourmet, yet simple, artworks you can eat — so naturally making them in Jumbo versions is a next natural step.

Yet, it isn’t. While you certainly would have to pry a Signature Crumbs cupcake out of my cold dead hands, the truth is I’d like to see more options of the mini proliferating, to get a taste. One buys a cupcake as a taste, a treat, something to give you a little sample of goodness. It is not a slice of cake. If we wanted a slice of cake, we could have cake — but the cupcake is meant to be dainty and delightful, not a meal in and of itself. In addition, a cupcake of smaller size better matches up with its icing layer; the two complement one another. In order to replicate the ideal combination of icing-to-cake, a bigger cupcake needs even taller, thicker icing, and all of a sudden you’re into meal land.

Let's hear it for small!

That’s why it’s hard not to applaud someone like Bakerella, who has come up with some real little gems of cupcakes. They look as sweet as they taste, and are models for the direction cupcakes ought to be headed.

Sure, I know it’s an uphill battle — and I’d like to hear some counterpoint on this issue. Meanwhile, I’ll keep looking for the cupcake that teases, rather than satiates. Dessert should be fun, not a whole fourth course!

What do you think? Be sure to let us know in the comments section!

Amuse Bouche: Links for 12/2/11

| December 2, 2011 | 0 Comments
Teacups made of cake

One lump of sugar or two?












Fruit Juice May Not Be Your Friend
News alert: A Consumer Reports study discovered significant levels of arsenic and lead in some fruit juices. Before you hadn them over to a child or a loved one — or even yourself — check out this chart to know what to buy, and what to avoid. [Consumer Reports]

More Than Salad
Vegetarian/Vegan alert! Use this incredible directory to locate vegetarian (and vegan) friendly restaurants anywhere in the world. You don’t have to settle for salad (though some salads are worth settling for)! [More Than Salad]

Battle of the Late-Night Ice Creams
Stephen Colbert had his “Americone Dream.” Then Jimmy Fallon’s “Schweddy Balls” showed up. So to speak. Now, the two late-night comedians are in a death match to determine: Who has the best Ben & Jerry’s flavor? You decide. [The Clicker]

Guitar Cheese Grater
Start shredding the news (or, rather, your cheddar/American/Swiss/etc.) — you’ll have a Gouda old time with this guitar-shaped cheese shredder. [Gama Go]

Opossum Eating Strawberries
Strawberries may be not quite in season now that it’s nearly winter, but you can still enjoy them vicariously. Really, when weas the last time you enjoyed a strawberry as much as this little ‘possum? [YouTube]

The Great Cupcake Cake Debate

| November 23, 2011 | 0 Comments

packaging for cupcake cakeWho doesn’t like cupcakes? All the great taste of cake without the guilt of eating a whole slice!

That is, until now. With Cupcake Cake pans proliferating in recent years, the question arises, just what kind of fool will buy one?

Hello! Waving over here!

I bought mine a few years ago at Williams-Sonoma. The logic being: Small cupcake good, big cupcake better! (Cookie Monster is my superego.) But while making it was fun, as was beholding the behemoth, there are plenty of drawbacks. Dust that flour off your hands and let’s talk cupcake cakes.

First: Mine was expensive. You probably don’t need one from W-S, though it’s always a treat to wander around that store and think about all the ways you might use orange marmalade or rosemary-infused olive oil. So unless you’re baking for the Queen, spend less.

pan for cupcake cakeNext: Use whatever cake recipe you want; don’t be intimidated by the one that comes with the pan. The contents of what you’re about to make work out to roughly two layers of cake, so just prepare as usual. That said, the recipe that came with this one was not particularly wonderful: The cake was extremely dense and not all that moist. So be ready to play around a bit.

Then, once you’ve cooked the whole thing, you may need to smooth off the top and bottom, as they probably won’t cook in a perfect little flat plane. Use a sharp, non-serrated knife for the right flatness of the layers so they can properly sit on one another. Otherwise, the top part could start to tip if it isn’t sitting on a flat surface.

Frost, sprinkle, add a cherry if you so desire, and voila! You have a two-layer, oversized two halves of cupcake cakecupcake to wow your friends!

Here’s the buyer beware part: I am a cupcake fiend, and I’ve only ever used this thing once. A better tasting cake recipe might woo me back, but for now it sits fairly ignored. Why is that?

I have a theory. Cupcakes are best when they perfectly balance frosting and cake. You want a certain amount of frosting with every bite of cake; too much frosting feels terrible in the mouth, while too little means you’re just eating cake – plain cake! With the giant cupcake cake, the problems are magnified, because it’s frosted like a regular cake, but you have the anticipatory desire of a cupcake. So that’s not working. And then it’s not really even frosted like a slice of cake, because the proportions are off even for typical cake.

That said, I would not discourage anyone from trying it out. You might find the perfect combination and finished cupcake cakerecipe, and if so — let us know! Meanwhile, I’ll just have to dream about giant cupcakes, rather than make them.

What’s your favorite cupcake gizmo? Have you used a cupcake cake? Tell us on our Facebook page!

–Randee Dawn