Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Strawberry Cupcakes


These strawberries are about to go bad.

What do I do? What do I do?

Okay, okay, I'll just puree them and think of what to make later. It'll be fine.

I really didn't think at all while pureeing the strawberries, but it turns out that strawberry puree is great for making fresh strawberry cupcakes. No artificial coloring or strawberry Jell-O needed. In fact, I think these look and taste much better than the strawberry cakes that are made with Jell-O. You can really taste the freshness of the pureed strawberries rather than tasting the artificial sweetness of the Jell-O. 

I searched everywhere for a good recipe. A lot of the ones I found used strawberry Jell-O or needed diced strawberries that would be folded into the batter. However, since I already pureed my strawberries, I kept searching for one that could work with what I already had. Finally, after about an hour or reading through recipes, I found the perfect one...at Confections of a Foodie Bride.

I knew, the second I saw their finished product, that this recipe was going to help me create a fantastic strawberry cake. I could tell just by looking at their pictures. The color and texture of the cake reminded me of a certain strawberry cake my family always bought during special occasions. I'm talking about the cake from Yeh's Bakery in Flushing, NY. It is absolutely the most divine strawberry cake I have ever had. 

Realistically, no cake will ever compare to the cake from Yeh's Bakery. However, for a self-taught baker baking at home, this recipe comes pretty close. I decided to make a swiss meringue buttercream in fear that making a cream cheese frosting would overpower the delicate strawberry flavor and the cake itself. Although a swiss meringue buttercream isn't the easiest to make, it really does complement the cake well. Let's review this recipe, shall we?

Recipe Review:

Taste: You can definitely taste strawberry in this cake. In fact, you can just smell the fresh strawberry while mixing the batter. It isn't too sweet either. Even the buttercream doesn't make it extremely sweet.
Texture: It is extremely moist, with a nice crumb. The cake is very fluffy because of the addition of egg whites only. However, if you seek a denser cake, you can use whole eggs instead.
Level of difficulty: This cake could easily be one of the simplest cakes to make. It's not a one-bowl recipe, but it definitely is not difficult. All you need is a mixer, stand or hand-held will do. The "difficult" part of the recipe would definitely be the making of the buttercream.
Appearance: Beautifully light pink. For those of you who desire a darker shade of pink, you can add a drop or two of pink food coloring. I liked the natural shade of pink though.

Strawberry cupcakes
makes approx 20 standard sized cupcakes

Strawberry Puree  
24 oz ripe strawberries, hulled, cut in half
1 tablespoon sugar

Strawberry cake
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
6 eggs whites, at room temperature; or 4 whole eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup strawberry puree 
2 1/4 cup cake flour
1 3/4 cup sugar 
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks butter, at room temperatur, cut into cubes 
2 tablespoons strawberry jam

For the puree: 
Combine the halved strawberries and the sugar in a bowl. Let sit for 15 minutes to let the juices from the strawberry come out. This is called macerating.

Put the strawberries in a blender and blend until completely smooth. Set aside.

For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F and line two cupcake tins with liners. Set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the milk, egg whites, vanilla, and strawberry puree and mix lightly with a fork. Set aside. 

In the bowl of your stand mixer, sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Mix, with a paddle attachment, until the dry ingredients are just combined.
Continue beating at slow speed and add butter. Mix until combined and resembling moist crumbs.

Add wet ingredients and strawberry jam and beat at medium speed for about 1 minute or until full and evenly combined. Stop mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl and hand beat for 30 more seconds. At this point, if the color of the batter is not to your liking, add some food coloring. 

Divide the batter evenly among the lined tins. Fill each tin about 2/3 of the way up. These cakes rise a bit. Bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking process to ensure even baking. Let the cupcakes rest in the pan for 10 minutes before inverting them onto a cooling rack. 

Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercrean
4 egg whites
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 sticks of butter, at room temperature, cut into cubes

1/2 cup strawberry puree 

In a medium bowl, whisk together egg whites and sugar. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water, constantly whisking, until the mixture reaches 160°F or until all the sugar has dissolved. Transfer the mixture into the bowl of your mixer. 

With the whisk attachment, whisk the mixture on medium-high speed until it reaches stiff peaks and is thick and glossy. Then slowly add in the butter and continue beating until everything is evenly combined. The buttercream should be extremely smooth and silky. Lastly, beat in the strawberry puree until fully mixed in. 

Pipe the buttercream onto the cooled cupcakes however you wish to. I used an Ateco#827 and topped the cupcakes with royal icing flowers.

Make. These. Cupcakes. I promise you, you will not regret it. They have so much strawberry flavor and are so light and delicate. They are beautiful too, especially for a little girl's birthday party or a tea party. 

As always, Happy Baking! 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Summer fruit tart

There's just something so different between the fruits of summer and the fruits of winter. Summer fruits are so much more refreshing and clean, for lack of a better word. The desserts that you make with them reflect the fruits themselves. That's what I love about this tart. All the fruits are raw, crisp, and super fruity.

The fruits that are in season during Summer are just too beautiful: strawberries, blueberries, peaches, blackberries, etc. They are so vibrant and just bursting with flavor. I couldn't think of anything better than to make a refreshing fruit tart, which is actually quite simple to make. It consists of only pâte sucrée, lemon pastry cream, and your choice of seasonal fruits. You can even make the pâte sucrée and pastry cream a few days ahead. They keep well in the refrigerator.

Originally, I was just going to make a plain vanilla pastry cream, but then I realized that adding lemon zest would really enhance the refreshing fruits. I think I made a pretty good decision because the addition of the lemon zest really added a nice burst of citrus and acidity. I would recommend adding the zest rather than the juice of a lemon since the zest carries more flavor than the juice. Also, it wouldn't mess with the consistency of the pastry cream. 

As for the fruits, you can really choose to use any fruits that are in season. I chose strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries because I had them all on hand. Any combination of fruits that you enjoy will suffice, though. You really can't go wrong.

Summer Fruit Tart
makes 1, 10-inch tart

Lemon Pastry Cream
adapted from Christine Beanie
2 cups milk
1/4 cup white sugar 
2 egg yolks 
1 egg
1/4 cup cornstarch 
1/3 cup white sugar 
2 tablespoons butter 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon lemon zest 
In a heavy saucepan, stir together the milk and 1/4 cup of sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks, egg, and 1/3 cup of sugar until thick and pale. This should take about 5 minutes of vigorous whisking. Then stir in the cornstarch. When the milk comes to a boil, drizzle one ladle full of it into the egg mixture. This is called tempering. Once mixed, pour the egg mixture into the the saucepan, and slowly bring to a boil, stirring constantly so the eggs don' t curdle or scorch on the bottom.

When the mixture comes to a boil and thickens, remove from the heat. Stir in the butter and vanilla, mixing until the butter is completely blended in. Pour into a heat-proof container and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until completely chilled, about 4 hours.

Pâte Sucrée
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cold and cubed
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
On a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Mix until just combined. 

Next, with the mixer on low, slowly add the cubed butter. "Beat" the mixture until the butter resembles the size of peas. While the mixer is still running, add the egg and egg yolk. Keep the mixer running until the dough mixture forms a ball. Take the ball of dough out of the mixer and knead until the dough is no longer crumbly, it should take only 5-7 kneads. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for one hour. 

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to about 1/8-inch thick. Make sure that the dough is about 2 inches wider than the diameter of the pan. Gently place the rolled out dough into the tart pan. Trim the edges of the dough by rolling the rolling pin over the edges of the pan or by using a knife. Prick the dough with a fork. Chill the dough for another 45 minutes or place in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Put the tart on a baking sheet and bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown. If you want, rotate the pan halfway into the baking process to ensure even browning. Cool the crust in the pan, completely, before you fill it with the pastry cream. 

Place the cooled tart shell onto a cake stand. Fill the shell with the lemon pastry cream. (I used a piping bag fitted with a round tip). Smooth out the cream and make sure that there are no gaps. Top the tart with your choice of fruits. (I started with layering blueberries, then added raspberries and blackberries on top of any gaps, and then placed a few strawberries randomly to add more color). Finished! 

Like I said, this tart really is quite simple. The only "difficult" part is waiting for all the elements to cool down. It is also so forgiving. If you crack the tart shell just a bit, no worries, because the pastry cream will cover it all up. I hope you try this recipe and enjoy it as much as my family did.

As always, 
Happy Baking!