Monday, May 30, 2011

Graduation Cupcakes

So, who would have thought that I (and Kevin) would have the energy to make more sweets after making 125+ cookie favors last weekend? Well, I guess we are crazy because we wanted to take on more even though we don't have AC in our kitchen. Its a hot one here, 60 miles outside of the nation's capitol. In fact, today its almost 100 degrees in the shade.

So what did we try to tackle in this heat? Cupcakes with CHOCOLATE graduation cap toppers. What happens to chocolate when its hot? It MELTS!!!! So, this is not a project I would advise anyone to do this time of year if your house is not climate controlled.

I have seen so many great graduation cupcakes online, but by far the best have been by Glory of Glorious Treats. Her cupcakes are gorgeous, but I thought that I could make grad caps much tastier than the fondant ones.

So I thought chocolate!!!! Okay, so I will say upfront, we had some "make it work" moments that would have made Tim Gunn proud. Chocolate is quite messy at high temperatures, it won't set up, you can't touch anything with out melting it or leaving your fingerprints... I left quite a few on the caps, even though we eventually moved into my office where there is a room air conditioner, but in 90 degree weather that only does so much...

and then there's the humidity. Water and chocolate don't mix because when chocolate comes in contact with water it "blooms" which is a fancy way to say that it develops white spots all over your beautiful finished product. Again, the humidity in the kitchen was awful and it was only slightly better in the A/C. But we made do.

So here is how we made the grad caps... Kevin made peanut butter fudge which we cut into circles with a small cookie cutter. The cutter was about 7/8 of an inch and I then cut the circles to be about the same height. Refrigerate the fudge for a little while so its nice and firm for dipping.

I used a double boiler to melt my chocolate, but you can also use the microwave on a very low setting if you stir it often. Also, use really good chocolate!!!

Place a fudge circle on a fork and drizzle chocolate over top.

After the fudge is completely covered, tap the fork on the bowl until the excess chocolate drips off. Before you place the chocolate on wax or freezer paper to dry, drag the bottom of the fork against the edge of the bowl.

Normally, when I dip chocolates (instead of using molds) I let them set up at room temperature. These were not so cooperative, since our kitchen was sweltering, so I eventually put them in the fridge for a few moments until the chocolate hardened.

If you are short on time, you could skip a step and use these little gems... Same idea, less mess!

Only problem with using Reese's is that then you don' t have swiss cheese shaped peanut butter fudge left over! Now what could I possibly do with this? ;-)

To make the cap tops, print out a sheet of squares that are about 1.5-1.75 inches. Tape the sheet to a cookie sheet with painters tape and them tape a piece of wax or parchment paper over top. Pipe chocolate squares by tracing the outline and then filling it in. As you can see by the looks of my hand, chocolate can be messy, but this really isn't too hard. Place the cookie sheet in the fridge to let the chocolate set up. Once both parts are set up, gently remove the squares from the wax paper. For this task I used an offset spatula. Glue a square to the bottom of a fudge piece and let set up again.

For the cupcakes, I made the Chocolate Stout Cake that I made for my St. Patrick's Day post. For the frosting I made peanut butter buttercream. I wish I had a recipe to share with you, but the one I used was way too soft and I had to play with it to get the right consistency.

Once you pipe the buttercream on the cupcakes, place a chocolate graduation cap on top. What's left? The tassel of course! I was making these for some of my students who are going on to pursue a career in music/acting, so I piped a line of chocolate onto the cap and then covered it with star sprinkles. I did this with tweezers to keep everything neat.

Okay, so back to the humidity issue, you can see in the photo that there is condensation on the chocolate. This is because when you remove the chocolates from the fridge, the water in the air condenses on the chocolate. This may cause your chocolates to bloom, but we got really lucky.

Refrigerating chocolates is not usually a good idea, but of course buttercream must be stored in the fridge, so I wouldn't suggest making these days in advance of your graduation celebration.

I found these awesome boxes at Michael's as well as some premade creations by Making Memories that were ideal for budding performers. I thought the Reach for the Stars stickers were perfecto!

The package looked as pretty as the cupcakes which is always one of my top priorities! Again, I used a color scheme, gold, black and white which makes coordinating easy.

So enjoy looking at the baked goods, because its too hot to bake now. I'll have to come up with something sweet that doesn't require the oven!

Congrats to all the grads out there!

Sweet Charity

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wedding Cookie Favors

Our amazing friends Paul and Angie got married this past Monday at Glen Echo Park. Its this really cool old amusement park that is now owned and run by the National Park Service. The only ride left is the carousel but there are all these awesome neon signs throughout the park. They got married in the Cuddle Up and the reception was in the bumper car pavilion.

Because I love love this wonderful couple, I offered to make them cookie favors. Keep in mind this is the largest production of cookies I've least that are decorated. They decided to serve popcorn late in the party, so we went with a popcorn cookie.

I spent weeks designing and redesigning the labels because I just wasn't happy with my work. I finally came up with this one after some inspiration from the hubby. So this is like version 472....okay not really but I made a lot. It just shows that two heads think better than one.

I had planned to do all of the packaging stuff in advance, but things have been crazy busy so we started about 10 days before the wedding, making dough, ordering the paper, making the bows etc. I couldn't have done it without my awesome husband who on top of working and cookie baking, officiated the wedding.

I'm sorry that I didn't take more pictures, but I wanted to have fun, and I was so busy crying so often...very happy tears. It was so beautiful and I hope to share with you the photos from the official photographer later. I could never do photographic justice to this wedding. It was magical from the beginning to end. When the wedding started it was raining and the bride came out with her parents under a thinly striped umbrella. She looked like a vision under a parasol, like something out of a Jack Vettriano painting. Once the couple got to the front of the Cuddle Up, the rain stopped and by the end of the ceremony the sun was shining brightly. It was truly one of the most beautiful days of my life and just so touching because everything was so personally crafted to reflect Paul and Angie. I just don't have enough words....

So, I will leave you with a contest. This is try two. Cupcake Creations gave me these wonderful cupcake liners to give away. If you would like to enter the contest, subscribe by email (top right corner of the page) and then leave a message telling me which liners you would prefer. There will be two winners chosen at random. The first name chsosen will receive 4 packages. the second winner will receive 3 packages.

Good Luck and Happy Baking!

Sweet Charity

(there are two packages of #5 available)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Cinco de Mayo Cookies

My wonderful neighbors Jim and Diana hosted a Cinco de Mayo party on Saturday night so Kevin and I made some lovely Cinco de Mayo cookies. I wanted to go all out and make many different shapes, so in all I think we made 12 different types of cookies. Because I decided to do these last minute, we didn't use cookie cutters. I printed out pictures of Mexican icons and cut them out. You cut out the cookies templates and place them on the rolled out dough and then cut them out with a paring knife. This method is time consuming but it saves so much storage space since you don't need to but cookie cutters.

I wanted to create a cookie that was original so I thought of the wonderful Mexican folk dancers with big, colorful and ruffled skirts. I drew a picture and then made a photo copy to use as a template. Before I decorated the cookies, I drew guidelines with food-safe markers so that I wouldn't be completely free handing the design.
I am mostly happy with the results. This is the first time in a long time that I hav used meringue powder to make my royal icing. I usually use egg whites because the flavor is so much better, but there are obvious safety issues. I must say though, that I have never gotten sick from using raw eggs. But I decided to test the meringue powder because I am making cookie favors for a wedding later this month and I wouldn't want a salmonella disaster!

So anyway, royal icing using meringue powder.....I HATE IT!!!! The icing is gritty, it is much flatter in color, and it so different in texture. And the taste is awful!!! I found it much harder to work with, but there were a couple benefits. It set up very quickly and it had a nice fluffy texture but I don't think I really want to use it again!

I really shouldn't complain too much though because they were a hit at the party. I flavored the icing with orange and pineapple extracts which brought a tropical flavor to the cookies which was fitting to the theme!

We made a lot of cookies, so we packaged some of them for guests to take home. The ribbon I found at AC Moore and was the color inspiration.
We made peppers...

and pinatas...
and cacti....

and limes, magaritas, chihuahuas, maracas, cacti, guitars, sombreros, panchos and bowls of guacamole and chips!!! All the hard work making these cookies made me hungry for Mexican food, which Jim and Diana so graciously provided. Yum yum!!!! The food was incredible and made me want to make some savory food for the blog... maybe once I run out of sweet ideas!!!

Happy Baking,

Sweet Charity ;-)