Sunday, December 19, 2010

Details, Mistakes and Good Little Cakes: Butter Rum Cupcakes

Butter Rum Cupcake topped with Pecans

Life never ceases to remind me of the importance of small details.  I feel as though all of my efforts seem to go to managing and remembering numerous seemingly small facts that make up perfecting a larger picture.  Honestly, this can often overwhelm me. Of course it also makes me better at the things that I do.  I am determined, therefore, to continue onward in my quest for perfection and find new ways to collect techniques and adjust small details in cooking and designing and other aesthetic pursuits.

I feel I have more control over cooking than many other aspects of my life sometimes.  Cooking is never out of control.  There are always things that I can be sure of.  For instance, I know that if I slow cook onions in fat they will melt into a sweet, aromatic translucent deliciousness.  I know if I stir arborio rice for an hour it will release starches and become a creamy, base with pearls of rice to absorb whatever flavor you add to it.  These I have learned over many years of trial and error cooking.  

Baking, on the other hand, is a newer experience for me and one that requires a lot of exacting details.  Let's face it, there is no turning back once you have forgotten the baking powder.  However, most of the time forgetting an ingredient while cooking is not cause for ruins.  There is something to be said for the ability to improvise and learn from the step you have forgotten.  So goes the adventure of my Butter Rum Cupcakes.

Nick and I were visiting our friend, Janice, in Beacon for her birthday.  She was throwing her own birthday dinner and the least I could do was bring the birthday dessert.  I am not yet up to the task of baking a whole cake, mind you.  There is no sensible reason why.  I am just intimidated.  I am working up my nerve.  What better way to do that than to bake cupcakes?  Essentially miniaturized versions of cake. That might not mean that they are less of a challenge but it seems that way.  Besides, this was my third attempt at cupcakes and, since my first two were relatively successful, I figured it can only get better.  I am having fun with the idea of making a really good cupcake because, in all earnestness, they are not my favorite dessert.  Yellow cake and not-so-chocolaty chocolate frosting doesn't light my flambe`.  I would like to recreate this cutie dessert with more interesting flavors and textures.  Maybe it will appeal to a more sophisticated palate than the second grade classroom birthday party.  If cupcakes are mini cakes, why can't they be strawberry shortcake, molten chocolate or even lemon meringue.  Well, this sweet-toothed girl can dream, can't she?

The final result was something I call a Butter Rum Cupcake.  I say final result because the end result strayed from my intended recipe.  The original recipe was from a book on fanciful cupcakes and was called a Tres Leches Cupcake.  It involved preparing a mixture of heavy cream, condensed sweetened milk, evaporated milk and rum, ahead of time with which to soak the cakes when they came out of the oven.  It seems that I had confused evaporated milk with dry milk (no, in fact, they are not the same thing) and the result was not only ineffective in creating a soaking agent but downright distasteful.  The dry milk was a powder and essentially soaked up all the other liquid ingredients and, to make it worse, the whole thing smelled like baby formula.  Ick!  Maybe, I wondered, this time I can skip this step.  Next, I took on an unfortunate and dreaded task that is harder for me to face than all other culinary tasks.  I threw it out and moved on.

Now for the cake, sans leche.  This recipe is a adapted from Cupcakes, by Shelly Kaldunski.  I doubled the recipe for the amount of guests that would be at dinner and replaced half of the vanilla extract with rum since there is no longer a rum soaking liquid.  This cake is very spongy and I would definitely be willing to try soaking it in a rum mixture another time.  Lucky for me, it was flavorful enough with a not too dry texture to hold its own without drowning it in milk and rum. 

Rum Cake Sans Leche  (makes 22 - 24 cupcakes)

2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 eggs 
1 cup milk 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon dark rum

Using a bowl and whisk or a kitchen mixer, mix together flour, sugar baking powder, and salt.  Then add eggs, milk, vanilla and rum and mix until all ingredients are blended.

Line your cupcake or muffin pan with paper or foil liners.  Fill them two thirds of the way with batter.  Bake at 350 degrees.  Make sure your rack is positioned in the middle of your oven.

Buttercream is one of those classic icings that if is done well, can be amazing and if it isn't just tastes like sugar.  So buttercream was something I wanted to know how to do from scratch and to do well.  Besides here is where I was really going to get my butter flavor to validate the name Butter Rum for my cupcakes.  The first recipe I tried for buttercream used egg whites.  I am not sure what part of the recipe didn't work honestly.  I combed through it a few times and could not find the step I missed or misinterpreted.   I meticulously whisked the egg whites and sugar in a heat-proof bowl over a low simmering pot.  I transferred that to my mixer and added the butter piece by piece along with the exact amount of rum. Still, it fell flat and began to separate.  Despite the recipe saying to put in under the mixer on high if such occurs, I could not revive it.  I did the unthinkable for the second time that day.  With a heavy heart I threw it out and started again, all the while hearing the chiding voices of my parents reminding me of starving children all over the world.

Trusted Mark Bittman to the rescue again.  His recipe was much easier and got a much better result.  It had that real butter taste that married perfectly with the rum.  I could have kicked myself for not trying it sooner.

It is hard for me to accept I have made a mistake that I can't fix.  My early New Year's resolution is to shrug my shoulders and start from scratch.  Something might just turn out better that way.

Rum Buttercream Frosting  (adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything)

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
4 cups sugar  (The original recipe calsls for confectioners sugar but I was out.  I probably will try it that way next time to see the difference.)
6 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons dark rum

Cream the butter and add sugar and milk alternately.  Add more milk if frosting is too thick.  Stir in the rum.

1 comment:

  1. Looks amazing! Let's face it - I'll try anything that calls for rum, especially if it involves frosting!