Patio Days and Thunderstorm Nights

For once, Cleveland’s blustery winter hangover went into hiding long enough for a beautiful Indians Opening Day. Of course, the sunshine would be no help in beating the Yankees, but maybe we can blame that on the storm rolling in?

Meanwhile, I was sitting outside of Chipotle enjoying the first patio meal of the spring. And we only had to duck inside once to dodge a few raindrops.

I never thought I liked Chipotle, but I learned the trick to eating there. I just don’t like those soggy, overstuffed giant burritos that deliver more rice than meat in each bite. Now, I know to order a burrito bowl and four small tortillas on the side, so I can craft my own manageably-sized, appropriately-stuffing-proportioned burritos.

Throw in a couple (not-quite-ice-cold) Coronas, a warm wind off the lake, and the buzz of Downtown Lakewood passing by – and I’m glad we had the patio to ourselves.

It was only appropriate, then, that the first patio day of spring would become the first evening thunderstorm of spring. The rumbling thunder and flashes of lightning were a fitting backdrop to the new episode of Bates Motel on A&E.

Baseball games, patio tacos, and lightning storms – Spring is Here!

Birthday Baseball Cupcakes

General consensus: the cupcakes I made for my CEO’s birthday/Indians home opener party came out delicious and adorable. And I didn’t even have to slave in the kitchen all night like I feared I would.

I started with these Chocolate Chip Cupcakes from Taste of Home, but left out the chocolate chips and replaced the chocolate frosting with homemade vanilla buttercream, as my co-workers had requested a chocolate alternative. Thus, they became…
Home Run Vanilla Pudding Cupcakes with Baseball Buttercream Frosting

Home Run Vanilla Pudding Cupcakes with Baseball Buttercream
1 package yellow cake mix (I used a Golden Butter Recipe Cake Mix)
1 package (3.4 ounces) instant vanilla pudding mix
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter (substituted for the canola oil called for in the original recipe)
4 eggs

Combine all these ingredients and beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then beat on medium for 2 minutes. You can stir in 1 cup of mini chocolate chips at this point, or skip them like I did. Pour this batter into paper-lined muffin tins, filling two-thirds full. These only took about 12 minutes to brown and set in a 375° oven, even though the original recipe stated 18-22 minutes. 
Between my butter substitution and the vanilla pudding mix, this recipe made a buttery melt-in-your-mouth cake. I made a few mini cupcakes for practicing my decorating techniques, and I don’t want to admit how many I ate — even before they were frosted at all. One of my co-workers said she could detect an extra creaminess, but couldn’t decide what it was. Pudding makes softer chocolate chip cookies and now, I know, softer cake.
I probably got more feedback about the decorations, though. On top of the vanilla buttercream icing, I piped baseball laces. I also made a Birthday Plate with some cupcakes topped with blue and red stars. The little baseball laces were not nearly as meticulous or time-consuming to pipe as I imagined. But I should have remembered how impossible it is to make red frosting; it just turns darker and darker pink. When you’re making cupcakes for a boy, that may not be the best choice. Maybe buying red icing is the way to go – I was just really excited to make my own frosting so I could use my new Pampered Chef decorating kit.
Home Run Vanilla Pudding Cupcakes with Baseball Buttercream frosting

You can see the coloration difference between the creamy homemade buttercream frosting (on the star cupcakes) and the unnaturally white vanilla frosting (on the Happy Bday cupcake) – I turned to pre-made frosting after I ran out.

The second batch, Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Cupcakes from Taste of Home, were also delicious — this coming from a girl who only eats chocolate cake when it’s the only option; in other words, it’s not my preference. While the result was good, the recipe was a holy mess and needs a few modifications. Here’s how I adapted…

Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Cupcakes
For the filling:
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips

Beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Then beat in egg and salt until combined. Mix in chocolate chips and set aside.

For the cupcakes:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine these dry ingredients in one bowl. Then, in another bowl, whisk together:

1 cup water
1/3 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Stir this into the dry ingredients until just moistened.
Fill paper-lined muffin tins half full with this batter. Drop a heaping tablespoonful of cream cheese filling in the center of each one. Bake at 350° – mine were done in 20 minutes, but the original recipe called for 24-26. You’ll know they’re done when a toothpick inserted in one comes out clean.
Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Cupcake Recipe
The original recipe also included a chocolate frosting to top these off, but it was disastrous so I’m not even going to waste your time with it. Use your favorite chocolate frosting recipe or frosting from a can instead. Or skip it altogether, like I did – the chocolate chip specked cream cheese dressed up the cupcakes enough to forgo frosting.
My first sign of frosting failure should have been that the recipe involved dumping certain ingredients into a bowl in specified amountsand blending. This is a red flag for me, because frosting is a fickle sweet; that’s why I usually follow my mom’s approach: starting with some some soft, maybe melty butter (not melted), lots of powdered sugar, and enough milk to make the right consistency of frosting – adding vanilla or other extract. If you were still waiting for my Buttercream Frosting Recipe, that’s it. For the chocolate version, just cocoa powder.
Unfortunately, the proportions in this recipe were way off, and quickly swung past the delicious balance frosting requires. It was very runny, even after adding additional powdered sugar, and the vanilla was so overpowering it tasted like alcohol – and not in a good way. I followed the recipe precisely, which I rarely do for frostings. Apparently, the eyeballing method serves me well, because this recipe was just nasty.
There were other issues with this recipe, too. The cream cheese filling could easily be cut in half if not third, because I had two or three times as much filling as I had cupcakes to fill. The leftovers are in the fridge, waiting to be refashioned into something else – perhaps a chocolate cake with chocolate chip cream cheese swirl, or maybe mini chocolate chip cheesecakes on Oreo crusts. In fact, the wreck of an attempt at frosting is in there too, hoping to be salvaged. (Edit: The chocolate frosting was later sacrificed instead.)
So the lesson here, kids, is to never take a recipe’s word for anything. Play around, substitute, experiment. And the best part is: you can (usually) eat your mistakes.

Birthday Cupcake Planning

My company asked me to make the cupcakes for our CEO’s birthday party/Indians’ home opener celebration lunch on Monday. Which was a compliment to me, because they could have just as easily bought a cake. My boss keeps joking that I should open up a bakery in the back of the office — and I kind of wish he wasn’t joking, because I would be totally satisfied doing that.
This request came at the perfect time, because I had been planning to make cupcakes this weekend anyway, to try out the Pampered Chef decorating kit I bought at my co-worker’s party a few weeks ago.
So I’ve been sifting through my cupcake recipes this evening trying to decide. I have to make chocolate cake to appease the CEO, but several other people have requested a white alternative. One co-worker specifically requested buttercream frosting.
Here’s what I’m planning:
Chocolate Cream Cheese Cupcakes, but instead of the nuts on top, with some extra decorative frosting. Just the picture makes me drool.
Chocolate Chip Cupcakes, but instead of the plain frosting with extra chocolate chips, with buttercream frosting and decorated like baseballs, with red stitching, thanks to my new decorating bottles and tips. I’ve never thought of adding pudding mix to cake mix, but it makes wonderfully moist chocolate chip cookies, so why not?
Oh man, that sounds like a good midnight snack right about now. Which is precisely why I didn’t make them tonight, because I’d be eating them tonight. And tomorrow. And our CEO would be lucky to get one.