Happy Birthday USA!

Tristan and I hope that everyone had a wonderful 4th of July holiday. In honor of the U. S. A., I made my strawberry cupcakes with homemade buttercream icing and decorated them in red, white, and blue. We took them to a family party and everyone seemed to enjoy these cupcakes a lot – some people even chose to eat them over a David’s cheesecake from Costco.

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Strawberry Disappointment

Issue

Let me first say this: Tristan and I both agree that the strawberry cupcakes from Battle 1.2 are sinful, delicious, fluffy diet offenders. Having said that, I am a worrier. I was worried that converting Smitten Kitchen’s cake recipe into cupcakes might not have produced the best possible cupcake. I was wondering if a recipe specifically designated as a “strawberry cupcake recipe,” instead of a “strawberry cake recipe,” would actually produce a better cupcake and outperform the one we just perfected.

Solution

We scoured the internet for an alternate strawberry cupcake recipe. We agreed that La Mia Vida Dolce’s looked the most promising. I whipped up half a batch of these cupcakes in order to see how they would stack up against our version of Smitten Kitchen’s cake.

Result

The Dolce recipe looked like it would be stiff competition from the get go. It used fresh made strawberry puree, which we thought would definitely make the strawberry flavor stand out even more. Then, when baking, the Dolce cupcakes rose like champs. I only filled the liners 2/3 full (I usually just fill to the top of the liners) and they rose well above the top of the muffin pan! However, things went downhill from there. While cooling, these cupcakes also shrank like champs, so much so that they pulled completely away from their liners. I was still optimistic about taste at this point, but that fell flat, too. You can’t taste any strawberry in these cakes (as compared to Smitten Kitchen’s which you can 100% taste and even smell from across the room!)

Product 

  • Shrinkage (notice how they pulled away from the liners entirely?)

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  • Our revised rendition of Smitten Kitchen’s cupcake (top) vs. La Mia Vida Dolce’s cupcake (bottom)

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Conclusion

We have found and perfected an extraordinary strawberry cupcake recipe (thank you Smitten Kitchen for providing the inspiration).

Battle 1.2: Strawberry Cupcake Rematch

I will try to keep this as concise as possible. Here are the results of my second attempt to bake Smitten Kitchen’s Pink Lady Cake recipe.

(SPOILER ALERT) Results

  • Ambre: WINNER!!!
  • Cupcake: KO

Battle One Lessons & Challenges

  • I added the butter and strawberry puree to the dry ingredients before they were room temperature, a mistake that resulted in a huge time penalty.
  • The recipe, as is, does not ask you to foam the eggs, which we think contributed to the denseness of the first cupcake batch.
  • The temperature in the kitchen was well over 80 degrees, which didn’t help the batter remain light and airy, also contributing to the density of the cupcakes.
  • We made the whole recipe, which produced 24 cupcakes (excessive). While the first 12 cakes were baking, the batter sat for 25ish minutes in the hot kitchen (warming up and losing its fluff).

Executing the Revised Battle Plan

  • First I got suited up and started our kitchen cooling device – a massive fan that Tristan bought to ensure proper air circulation. We are 110% committed to getting these cupcakes light and fluffy!

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  • I pureed the heck out of my strawberries and kept checking their temperature to ensure that they were warm enough to add to the dry ingredients. At this point (see below), you can see that I still need the temperature to rise about 40 degrees before I’ve reached optimal conditions.

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  • For this recipe, you add all the dry ingredients and then beat in the butter and strawberries. This is what that looks like before and after.

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  • MOST IMPORTANT CHANGES – In the next step, the recipe tells you to beat some eggs whites and milk (with awesome red food dye for the perfect pink look) and add them to the batter. This is where we tweaked the recipe the most. We dropped the 2/3 cup of milk in this step (instead, we added 2/3 cup extra strawberry puree) since the milk will only serve to mask the taste of the berries. Then, we decided to foam the egg-dye mixture to semi-stiff peaks. There was no way on God’s green earth that these cupcakes were not going to rise. Before foaming the eggs, Tristan added just a pinch of cream of tartar. The acid in the tartar helps prevent the foam from collapsing (a super important safeguard in the event that you accidently over-beat the eggs).

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  • After incorporating the eggs into the batter, we ended up with 12 beautiful cupcakes. The liners were pretty full, so we were worried about the cakes spilling over in the oven, but…

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  • They turned out perfectly! These little gems are light and fluffy just like we were hoping. These cupcakes can hardly even be compared to those produced by Battle One!!!!

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  • And look at this cupcake cross section. I think the pictures speak for themselves (compare to the cupcake from Battle One  on the right).

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Conclusion – Mission Accomplished

  • There does not need to be Strawberry Cupcake Battle 1.3. In our opinion, we have made this recipe as perfectly as we could have hoped for. The extra strawberry we added in place of the milk just makes the berry flavor stand out even more (in a wonderful way). The cakes are so moist and fluffy it is like eating a cloud, but they also are still structurally sound enough to hold icing properly. Truth be told though, we will not be adding icing to these gems, they just taste too freaking good as they are. Bake them yourselves to find out just what I mean!

Done, Done and Onto the Next One. Look for Battle Two Soon! I think I want to try out a vanilla cupcake recipe next time. 

Battle One: Strawberry Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

Results:

  • Winner: Cupcake
  • KO: Ambre

What is this all about you ask? Well, we (mainly me, Ambre) have begun a cupcake baking hobby. I like decorating and tasting these cute little cupcakes. Tristan likes answering my questions about the physics behind the baking and providing emotional support for times when those devious cupcake bastards thwart and defy me.

For this cupcake showdown, I decided to make Smitten Kitchen’s Pink Lady Cake recipe (which can be found here: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2008/10/pink-lady-cake/). This produced 24 strawberry cupcakes with cream cheese icing. I had a fantastic time piping my own homemade icing and choosing the decorations for these little diet destroyers.

However, this story is not all roses and buttercups. Let’s just say that there were some challenges along the way. Most notably, I thought my strawberry puree was room temperature, but it was still so cold when I added it to my batter that it clumped everything up and forced me to wait 2 hours for everything to warm back up to the right temperature before I could proceed. Fortunately, this didn’t affect the final result one bit.

Here is how the cupcakes turned out:

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Everyone agreed that the components of this cupcake were delightful. The icing was smooth and super flavorful and the strawberry flavor of the cupcake was easily distinguishable. However, there were two major problems. 1) The delicious cream cheese icing overpowered all of the flavor of the cupcake. I recommended that people eat the icing first and the cupcake separately so that they could actually get the chance to taste the strawberry flavor of the cupcake. This leads us to the second problem, which was how darn dense these cupcakes were. It looked like this and had the consistency of pound cake:

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So, I have decided that the goal of this new baking hobby of mine is to not only bake, but also perfect each recipe that I decide to try out. Tristan and I have had a formal conference about what can be done to improve this recipe and battle two will be occurring this weekend. Stay tuned to see how our recipe tweaking works out.