Archive | June, 2010

Green tea Frankenstein cupcakes

21 Jun

Cupcake box = empty. Ewa = elated. Seriously, talk about support. The people at my German course are so supportive to the point that I really want to open my business no matter what little insecurities nag the back of my mind. Even if I don’t make a profit of a single penny, it would still be worth bringing my business to life for the lovely people of Frankfurt because they have been nothing but good to me. Talk about feeling all warm and awesome inside. I’m beaming!

So let me give you the run-down of how this week’s cupcake taste testing went. It was green tea cupcakes this week. I made vanilla cupcakes, filled with a homemade coconut tapioca and frosted with a cream cheese and green tea frosting. I dusted the cupcakes with some coconut flakes and placed a tiny cube of mango atop each cupcake. Once they were ready to go, I of course, tried the final product. Eugh, is all I could say. Green tea frosting-yuck! Tapioca in the middle -weird texture! Vanilla cake itself -crumbly. Crap. What a failure. I was too ashamed to snap any pictures of gross little things.

So the clock strikes 18:45 and it’s time to present my creations of the week. I walk into my German school, totally hopeless, with my Frankenstein cupcakes in tow, totally hopeless and really debating whether I am ready to set those questionnaires down and get a verbal beating. So I suck it up and put the questionnaires down, however I can’t help but announce to my testers sitting in the foyer to beware!

With my eyes locked on the first brave souls, the first bite is taken….and…the compliments begin! Huh?? “These are really good!” “My favourite so far!” And the strangest one of all, “I’ll order 12 for this Friday.” Wow. Seriously?!

So here is how I see it. Either they were trying to be super supportive even though the cupcakes sucked or they truly liked them! Either case still points to the fact that the people I am surrounded by ROCK! How lucky am I! Positive review and/or support.

Rock on, Frankfurt, rock on.

P.S. A run-down of my London cupcake workshop will follow shortly, my cupcake lovers.

Java Cupcake Recipe and some other stuff

21 Jun

There is nothing more satisfying than the feeling I get when I bring home my empty tray after a night of cupcake testing. I swing the empty container gleefully as I get into the elevator and think back about how each cupcake disappeared one by one and each person enjoyed their chosen cupcake. Some unwrap the cupcake as they go, other unwrap it in its entirety and then eagerly dig in, others eat the frosting first and still others give it a quick sniff before they take their first bite. I try not to be overly stalker-esk when it comes to watching people test my cupcakes, but it’s hard to turn away! So alas, I am the cupcake stalker!

So Tuesday night. Cupcake development night. I worked on my Java cupcakes. In other words, I used my favourite chocolate cake recipe, with a cup of freshly brewed coffee in the batter and then topped the perfectly baked cupcake with espresso buttercream and coffee-bean shaped chocolate morsel.

What my aim in this cupcake development was, to stick with my tried and true chocolate recipe and try a different frosting flavour, a different frosting method and also try a different size cupcake liner to increase the size of the cupcakes themselves.

The frosting flavour was nice. The feedback from the peeps was that it was a bit on the sweet side and so I may have to work on that. I loves the shine to it and I used way less than the recommended amount of sugar, so I think I am on the right track. I love the fact that my frosting skills are definitely improving. Look at that smooth, smooth swirl, baby! Not at all of them were identical which is what I am after, to get that professional look, but I am getting there.

I also tried a new frosting method this time too. Instead of piping, I am trying out a more circular look, à la Sprinkles Cupcakes. I like the clean, domed look on each cupcake. I intend to practise this some more and see if I can get that real poshed dome, as opposed to the lopsided one I have going on now.

The next trial on these guys was increasing the size of the cupcake liner which worked to an extent. Unfortunately each cupcake hole (for lack of a better word!!) in the tray was about 1cm too small and the liners just kinda of folded in onto themselves but alas, such are the trials and tribulations of a Cupcake Queen Extraordinaire.

Alongside all my baking, I have been in talks with a website designer. I am pushing that part of the project also. I had a good meeting with him last Friday night. A nice Columbian guy who’s been in Frankfurt for 10 years now is really artsy and creative. You can see some of his work here:

I am excited to get some photography done and work with him on the website development. Ideally, I would like to have something ready for June 26th which when I showcase my cupcakes at the Frankfurt Cultural Parade. I haven’t told you guys about that yet, have I?? A-Viva (the school where I have my Deutschkurs) invited me to crash their booth and sell my bad-ass cupcakes! So overall, the goal has been to develop the recipes until then, hopefully get a website up and running and then distribute my business card and generate some business! Sounds simple, eh? Well, we shall we what happens! I am super excited though to participate and just pray for good weather.

That is all I have this week. No profound revelations or moments this week, but I will be sure to keep you in the loop when they do happen! More exciting battles to come, I’m sure! Next weekend I am jetting off to London for a 2 day cupcake decorating workshop! Woo! Please no volcano explosions Mr. Eyjafjallajökull!

P.S. I invite all readers to find a better word to describe the ‘holes’ in the cupcake baking tray!

Battle of the Titans: S’mores frosting vs Ewa Macinski

21 Jun

In the questionnaires, I requested that the tester rank his/her top cupcake flavours and I provided them with a selection of 16 cupcake descriptions. After tabulating the results, the S’mores cupcake came out on top. So I began to research some recipes and came up with the following: sweet biscuit crumbs, with chopped chocolate pieces in the centre and topped with my chocolate cupcake recipe on top….then frosted with homemade marshmallow cream that was toasted golden.

Come Tuesday night, I arrived home with my stock of cupcake ingredients, Leibniz cookies for the base, then some organic dark chocolate for the centre and the usual suspects for the chocolate cupcake top. I began to bake, alone with my thoughts.

My mind started to wonder and I thought about the cupcake business and the fact that I will have to work birthdays and weekends and long into the nights on cupcakes and then I started to debate if that is something I really wanted. Then those thoughts moved over and I started to think about my work day. You know, that kind of thing. So the cupcakes came to life, quite uneventfully and were happily cooling down and waiting for their frosting, as I began to separate the eggs for my marshmallow frosting.

For my frosting, I combined a WHOPPING 8 egg whites with 2 cups of sugar and half a teaspoon of cream of tartar (which helps to create the fluff-factor). I took my handmixer and as per the instructions in a double boiler I warmed the egg whites with the sugar until the sugar melted. Then I took it the mixer off the double boiler and I started whizzing away with my handheld mixer at a medium speed. Little did I know what awaited me. What comes next is the biggest adventure in cupcake baking history. So hold on to those hats folks. The showdown between Ewa and the marshmallow frosting begins now…

So I am standing there for five minutes with an achey arm and I look down and the mixture is still watery…argh…frustration and despair! So I keep going and still no change. I can feel the frosting looking up at me smugly and laughing at my inexperience. There I was, glancing nervously at the clock, the grocery store was going to close in 15 minutes and I had no more eggs. My brain started frantically thinking: Do I have time? Yes I still have time. Should I get more eggs before they close? Should I throw this away? Should I start again? How can I save this frosting? What is going wrong?

I was down and out …hopeless and in despair. Confused and taunted by this useless frosting. It was coming down to the final minute. No more eggs, no more grocery store…and then I realized I had nothing to lose. So I went for it; it was all or nothing.

My first thought was: “Let’s turn the volume up on this bad-boy!” So I grabbed the bowl, gripped the 350 watt hand mixer and using a super-high-speed stirring motion and the highest speed on my little hand mixer, I went for it! For 4 minutes straight I whisked and whisked and whisked at full throttle. My reflection in the kitchen window was determined and concentrated and the rosiness in my cheeks was building. Then, I looked back down and the beauty had begun! WHITE peaks! Yes! Heavenly peaks!!! They were coming up …so I continued, harder, faster, stronger. And then firmer peak, yes!! I rocked it! The eggs starting to transform into these beautiful billowy clouds….with the momentum of my own hand and the 350 watts behind me, I had done it!

I did a happy dance in celebration and out loud and to its face, told the marshmallow frosting who was the boss! Oh yeah!!! Then another wave of triumph! Then a quick check to see if the peaks were still there. Yep, still there. Whew..Then another Boo-yeah! I am the Baddest Cupcaking Queen in town…Damn, I better get that printed on my wallet or something!

This moment of victory just zapped and killed all of my previous thoughts. They were all gone and left to replace them an immense feeling of triumph. Just triumph and pride at my creation of frosting. In my excitement I frosted all the cupcakes at lightening speed and hit broil on the oven to get them all golden. The toasting would have been much funner with a kitchen torch, but I guess you can’t have everything.

So how was the final product, you ask? In my opinion it was ok.

Key learnings:

1. I felt that the biscuit bottoms somehow absorbed the cupcake mixture and made the cupcake dry so, I am investigating a biscuit-chocolate recipe, where the biscuit is either sprinkled on top or part of the cake mix.

2. Bitter chocolate doesn’t really go with S’mores, so milk chocolate in the middle next time.

3. Vanilla extract in the marshmallow topping. In all my whipping furry, I forgot to mix in the vanilla. Oops!

4. Taller application of frosting. I want more loops and swirls of frosting, but alas, with 350W I couldn’t get enough air to keep the frosting standing tall and proud.

Testers’ response:

1. The public liked the frosting and found the sweetness balance just right.

2. The testers also found the cupcake a bit dry.

3. Several testers said that the appearance could be improved.

Overall, the results were not overwhelmingly bad, and actually the majority liked the cupcake. I myself, did not LOVE the cupcake. And I NEED to LOVE all my cupcakes. Equally and wholeheartedly. So I must carry on and leave this S’mores recipe battle for another day in the not so distant future.

P.S. You like the use of the old semi-colon in paragraph 6, eh?

Desperately Seeking…Vanilla Recipe Perfection

18 Jun

So last week was vanilla recipe testing. Like all good cupcake makers, I am in need of a “go-to” vanilla recipe alongside my “go-to” chocolate recipe. Furthermore, alongside my buttercream recipe, I also want a “go-to” cream cheese frosting recipe. So last Tuesday’s bake night was dedicated to perfecting vanilla cupcakes with a strawberry cream cheese frosting.

The night started out nice and early as I ensured not to double-book myself. The night also started out with a full box of 10 eggs. So here is how it went.

I started with a vegetable oil based cupcake recipe, as I found that the was the trick to my success in keeping moisture in my chocolate cupcakes. Then I looked at the bookmarked recipe and I realized this recipe only baked 12 cupcakes, which just won’t do for an entire group of sugar-crazy Deutschkurs friends. So, I doubled the ingredients. Sounds easy right? I added 4 eggs instead of 2 and that is where the recipe went a little wrong. But, not knowing any better, I placed the batter into the cupcake pan and let the little guys bake.

The result of all this was that the cupcakes tasted really really eggy. And very dense also. They kind of tasted like egg and butter. There were no other hints or undertones of loveliness. Not very exciting or very good, if I didn’t want to get a verbal lashing from my testers. It was 21:30 by this time, but I thought, oh well, I better try another recipe. So off I went.

My next recipe only called for egg whites. Interesting. I went with it and it turned out really nice. The texture was more fluffy and the taste sweeter, an all around better cupcake.

Next came, the frosting. This was also a bit of a trial. The first try at it, I curdled the cream cheese. I had big goopy chunks of butter swimming amongst cream cheese and powdered sugar and not blending AT ALL! Not a pretty picture.

So I hopped, jumped and skipped to my local REWE supermarket before it closed and started again on my frosting. This time I whipped the butter first, all by its lonesome, until it was pale and fluffy and then I added the cream cheese. This worked much better. I added fresh pureed strawberries and not too much powdered sugar and achieved success. As is quickly becoming tradition, I set the frosting in the fridge to firm up and left the frosting until the morning.

Raising to the beautiful sunshine and anticipating a quick frosting session, I was rudely awakened with a difficult frosting to work with. I don’t know what happened to it, but it did not want to come out evenly from the bag and instead decided it would come out in fits and starts. Also it was not well blended and therefore not very smooth and velvety. After a lot of concentration, I iced the cupcakes and topped each one with a round slice of strawberry.

Key learnings:

1. Need to work on the cream cheese frosting recipe. I started to google and came across a suggestion of making a normal buttercream frosting at first and then adding the cream cheese last.

2. Add something to make the cream cheese not melt! Luckily I had a cold fridge at work but without pure coldness, the frosting turns to mush. Wonk wahhh.

3. Would like to create an smoother frosting for next time.

4. Still need to work on the vanilla cupcake recipe. Although the second recipe was better, anything would have been better compared to the first batch!

This time I did not receive that many questionnaires back, namely because I did not have more than 15 good cupcakes for the reviewing, after my recipe FAIL! So I only actually received 6 questionnaires back.

Testers’ Response:

1. Overall, I did not get that many 1’s (i.e. perfect experience) but a lot of 2’s and 3’s, although no one actually said they wanted to change the recipe.

2. Need to make the cupcakes more fluffy and airy.

3. They really liked the presentation. Pink and strawberry fans!

The crowd I serve my cupcakes to are clearly lovers and not haters, which is good. However, nonetheless I always expect earth-shatteringly bad reviews. I am fortunate to get tons of support and excitement, even if I am an amateur Cupcake Queen. Maybe, I am just too hard on myself and insecure, but I still feel like I haven’t cracked this old vanilla nut, yet. Or would that be vanilla bean? I still haven’t cracked this ol’ vanilla bean! The search Germany’s Next Top Vanilla Recipe continues!

P.S. I have my second order this weekend! A couple dozen carrot cake cupcakes to a good friend’s house warming party. I gotta make these babies perfect or else..!

Das Cupcake Reviews McDonald’s Cupcakes

17 Jun

So if you haven’t heard already, McDonald’s in Germany is selling cup-cakes at their McCafes. As a future cup-cake business owner and a serious cupcake critic, I decided to go check out what the McDonald’s cup-cake experience was all about. After spending €5.99 on cup-cakes (1.79 each), snapping some iPhone pics, and cycling home with the goods, my German boyfriend and I got down to some taste testing. We tested all four cup-cakes that McDonald’s sells. They are cappuccino, vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, although McDonald’s has given them stupid names like East Village, So Ho, Chelsea and Central Park, respectively. Seriously, how uncupcake related can you get? Neighbourhoods in New York? I just don’t get it.

Now onto the more important aspect, flavour. Overall, not great. Essentially, I would not go back to buy them again. The flavour was just too fake and I just felt like I was eating some kind of processed cakes or brownies out of wrapper, you know those, that never expire? The frosting itself was quite hard and stiff to the point where even our 30-minute long bumpy cycling ride didn’t spoil it, so you gotta be asking yourself, what is the stuff made out of? The cake part was quite heavy and has a sticky-moist texture like pound cake.

My favourite cup-cake, if I had to choose was vanilla, as it had the least amount of frosting and the cake was slightly more airy. If my boyfriend had to choose he said he wouldn’t choose any. He said he likes my cupcakes waaay better.:) I’ll take that response.

The worst one by far was the strawberry one which tasted and smelled sickeningly artificial. Mmm, nothing like ethyl methylphenylglycidate (strawberry aldehyde) in my frosting. The smell of fake strawberry hung in the air, at least 1 hour after it was eaten. The cappuccino one tasted a lot like a McDonald’s muffin and had chocolate chips in it. In fact, wait they all tasted like McDonald’s muffins, the chocolate cup-cake too. That’s their secret! Frosting the muffins! There you have it folks. Personally, I think the story went a little bit like this:

Procurement Director for McDonald’s Germany: What the hell are we going to do with all these McDonald’s muffins that aren’t selling? They don’t expire until 2020, damnit!
Marketing Director for McDonald’s Germany: Just put frosting on ’em and we’ll sell ’em as our latest product. Cup-cakes!

True story.

So we’ll see how this McDonald’s cup-cake business takes off. I mean let’s face it, no ones goes to McDonald’s for a cup-cake and coffee, however when I went there the queue was ridiculously massive for the burgers and fries. So McDonald’s how about you just stick to what your good at and take your dirty fingers off things that shouldn’t be super-sized. What will they think of next? Selling macaroons to Parisians? Oh wait. Too late.


P.S. Why does McDonald’s spell cupcakes with a hyphen? Why??

Post Taste Testing

15 Jun

So yesterday was tasting testing day. I got to my German classes where there were lots of students and classmates milling around, took the lid off my box of 31 cupcakes and waited with bated breathed and sweaty hands. Very sweaty hands. As my first brave guinea pigs bit into those cupcakes and put pen to the questionnaires, all I could do was wait. Here are the results.

Completed questionnaires: 17

The Breakdown:

10 people enjoyed them thoroughly and rated them either as perfectly balanced, or almost perfect on all of the criteria.

4 people enjoyed them, however we not overwhelmed by their amazingness and rated them as almost perfect or good in all of the criteria.

3 people said they were average and rated them as good or by circling number 4 (needs improvement).

Favourite questionnaire comment:

“It was pretty good and nice to see…just something in the middle of the cake was not well liquefied (the butter, I suppose) Follow arrow–>Or was it intended? Is it supposed to be like that? Sorry it’s the first time I’ve eaten cupcakes! :p”

He he he, my homemade caramel!! Fail. :)

Future changes and key learnings:

1. Good news for future testers. No mini cupcakes, just the classic size for testing, which means more cupcakey goodness for all. I just think the baby ones do no justice for the real final product I want to promote. Plus they don’t travel well. They fall all over the container and mess up their hair a.k.a frosting. Plus I don’t have any paper liners for them, as they are not easy to locate here in Germany and you have order them online and all that jazz. Again, doing a disservice to final product’s appearance. Although taste testing is TASTE testing, the appearance still has to rock.

2. Next change for the future = more good news. I want to increase the size of the classic cupcake. When people unwrapped their goodies, I saw that the cupcakes were 50% smaller than the ones I used to make in Canada. What the hell? How did that happen? I suspect this has something to do with the cupcake liners in Germany…Anyway, I am on a mission to fix this. Bigger IS better.

3. Next learning: still gotta work on my piping. Yay, I got my frosting shiny, yay, I got it to stand tall and proud, but boo, it wasn’t consistent. Practice makes perfect and I need to continue to frost my heart out. Plus I am attending some classes mid-May to improve my skills.

4. No salt. Or maybe two families of cupcakes. More traditional and then more gourmet. I put beautiful French (damn expensive!!) hand harvested Fleur de sel on my cupcakes and there were mixed reviews. Some people got it and others didn’t. Clearly two different opinions, two different groups.

5. Questionnaire user friendliness. Hmmm, didn’t expect so much resistance to my itsy bitsy 7- page questionnaire but I guess I was wrong on that. I will look at condensing it and adding and removing some questions for future use. What I loved is that some people took it really seriously and gave tons of feedback. What I was annoyed about is how people just wanted to have a cupcake while the others around them diligently filled out their questionnaires. Don’t worry, I was strict and I didn’t put up with any shitty excuses as to why they couldn’t fill out the questionnaire. No, ma’am.

Verdict on the chocolate recipe: Definitely a keeper

Verdict on the frosting: Definitely a keeper, although will try some different recipes in the future also

You know I have to say that although the cupcakes still need more work and not everyone was perfectly pleased, I really felt the support come through on the questionnaires. Even if their were some criticisms on the salt for example, there was still a ‘good luck’ and smiley face in the comments sections of the questionnaire. And those ‘good lucks’ were plentiful. I love love loved the support and it makes me feel all warm and cosy inside, even if the cupcakes aren’t quite up to par yet.

So, 31 chocolate caramel cupcakes, 3 hours of baking and decorating and 17 questionnaires later, I feel enlightened, motivated and satisfied. That kind of enlightenment you get when you watch Oprah. That kind of motivation you get when you know you get to do something you love. And that kind of satisfaction you get when you know your doing something good.

The real deal cupcakes posing on some questionnaires. See how small they are compared to North American ones, yet they fill the entire paper liner, so I am no scrimping on the batter.

P.S. It feels awesome to have 12 fans on my Facebook fan page, even if I am one of them.

P.P.S. Reaction to first fan review on my fan page: How wonderful it is to be supported. Five stars!! How psyched am I! *doin’ a happy dance with sweaty hands of excitement*

The Beginning

14 Jun

So the dream begins to take life. Yesterday I baked my heart out for my first cupcake testing day today. Leading up to my 2am baking session, the work day was a whirlwind and I didn’t get home until 19:15. At which point I began to prep my ingredients, consult the recipe every few seconds and finally bake my cupcakes. Alongside baking, I was also cooking. I totally overbooked myself and scheduled my first cupcake recipe development baking on the same night as an advice night with a good friend of ours who has set up his own business. He is totally the creative type and we chatted and brainstormed for hours. He came up with tons of good ideas for promotions and he really questioned me about my motivations and key drivers behind starting my cupcake business. It was really enlightening because I had never really formally formulated why I wanted to start this business. So he gave this homework assignment. I have to answer the following questions:

Why do I want to live this idea?

How will I live this idea?

What parts of me are in this idea?

Stay tuned for my journey of self discovery. Luckily, while preparing dinner earlier, I managed to cook all the cupcakes, so those were done and dusted. So after dude left at ridiculous o’clock, I started to make the homemade caramel that went into the middle. It was a beautiful process although I was a bit overly paranoid about burning the sugar since I don’t have a candy thermometer, so the process was slow and careful and slowly but surely, the sugar turned amber and started to smell heavenly and I took it off at just the perfect time. Easy does it! is what I say. I added some homemade heavy cream (i.e. what you get when you find double cream (48%) and whipping cream (36%) in Germany and then combine the two to get some percentage in the middle 40ish% (percentage for heavy cream), see how good I am at math!) and viol(insert symbol)à! Homemade caramel…I quickly poured the caramel into little wells inside my perfect chocolate cupcakes. Hey, wait, I never told you about the chocolate cupcakes. Well there are two secret ingredients in there my friends: a cup of freshly brewed coffee and vegetable oil. One to accent the chocolate flavor and the other for moistness. Mmm mmm, good. So it was already 1:30 in the morning and I still had the ganache icing to do. And I did it. I got a blissfully shiny chocolate icing to frost my chocolate caramel cupcakes with…however the frosting would have to wait as I decided to call it a day come 2:15am…I fell into bed and fell into an anxious sleep wondering if it was time to get up and frost cupcakes already and finally woke up, thinking of butter. And what time the grocery store opened so I could get more if I ran out of frosting and had to make more that morning.

My long night and my early morning filled with anxious thoughts about butter and frosting and then onto thoughts about the cupcake testers not liking my cupcakes after I put so much work in, (yet they still looked amateur) really made me realize that this is what having your own business is like. You put yourself out there, you work damn hard and your mind is never free of business improvement ideas. Is this what I really want? That question was unexpectedly answered, as I packed the freshly frosted cupcakes into my car to take to the taste testers and my car filled up with the glorious smell of chocolate. How rich, how decadent. Yes, I am really going to do this.

P.S. How many parentheses did I use in that second paragraph!??