Carnival of the Cakes

I’ve been a little too excited about blogging on these two cake ideas. Mind you, I am always an advocate for taste over decoration…but every now and then I give in and run wild with cute frosting ideas. Two occasions merited these frivolous tendencies, and the result couldn’t have been cuter! The first was for the going-away celebration for my dear friend Jenny from work, and the second was for my friend Diana Wensley’s birthday party.
The Terrier Cupcakes were almost too cute to eat, while the Kermit the Frog Cake was a definite hit with Diana (a huge Muppets fan!). My piece of advice on decorative frosting: the freezer IS your best friend! Frost some, let it chill, frost some more, let it chill. Time and patience are the unwritten rules here, but they will make all the difference in the end result. The idea for the cupcakes came from this video, and the kermit design from this blog.
While design was clearly an incentive behind these two, I couldn’t abandon my standards on taste. As such, I used my go-to chocolate cake (a la Ina Garten) for both occasions. With coffee and buttermilk listed, this is a super rich dessert! These ingredients, though, represent two of the few instances where I take shortcuts in baking: instant espresso and powdered buttermilk. While I don’t recommend these for recipes where coffee and buttermilk are the key flavors, they are perfect companions to a recipe featuring more dominant ingredients (like chocolate!). Check out my chocolate cake staple by clicking HERE.
I also paired both of these cakes with cream cheese frosting (one of the easier frosting type to decorate with during the hot summer months – buttercream is definitely a bust). As for the other ingredients, the terrier cupcakes are made with: big marshmallows (snout), halved mini marshmallows (ears) with pink sprinkles, M&M candies (eyes), and chocolate-covered pomegranates (nose). I separated the frosting into three parts for the Kermit cake, using only green and red food coloring. The lines are upside-down chocolate chips.
As a side note: there was another cupcake at the office party worth sharing – I have a vegan coworker, so I made a batch of vegan chocolate cakes that turned out remarkably well! While not frivolous in nature, these cupcakes were undeniably delicious in taste! They were super easy to make, and apple cider vinegar did wonders in making these look and taste like the real deal. The terrier cupcakes occupied the better chunk of my evening, so I made a simple swirl of peanut butter melted with honey for the topping – it was perfect! Check out these vegan delicacies by clicking HERE.
These adorable desserts deserved a piece that could represent both the spirit of their appearance and the enjoyment of their taste. Subletter Erin came to the rescue with the perfect suggestion: Le carnaval des animaux (The Carnival of the Animals), by Camille Saint-Saëns. Only 30 minutes in length, this suite consists of 14 separate movements that each represent a different type of animal. Much the way that I rarely indulge in “frivolous” decorating, Saint-Saëns was nervous this piece would debase his musical reputation. He only published one of the movements during his lifetime: “Le cygne” (The Swan), arguably the work’s most famous movement. The remainder of the work was published posthumously, and has since become one of his best-known works.* I’ve included the “Finale” movement, performed by the Chicago Symphony with James Levine for the Disney production Fantasia 2000 (which I recommend watching if you haven’t yet, even though they’ve made cuts throughout the works featured in the film). Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8W98Ig39f2U&feature=related

Sources Cited:
*”The Carnival of the Animals” Wikipedia.com

Two Cupcakes, Both Alike in Delectability

One guaranteed way to brighten up a roomful of people is to present them with a platter of cupcakes. While other desserts can be equally as enchanting, there is something more special about the personal enjoyment cupcakes can provide. Each one is its own little present, waiting to be unwrapped and enjoyed. My office loves it when I make cupcakes, so for the monthly birthday celebration (when we acknowledge all of our coworkers with birthdays that month), I brought two very distinct varieties: Sour Cream-Chocolate Cupcakes with Nutella and Vanilla Bean-Coconut Cupcakes with Coconut Frosting.
Ever since visiting Germany with my youth orchestra when I was 16, I have had a true appreciation for the genius of Nutella: a sweet, spreadable delight that has no parallel in either flavor or form. Nutella is truly a baker’s best friend, given it is sure to please any who try it. In fact, it’s so amazing I decided to just use it AS the frosting alone – perhaps one of the tastiest shortcuts I’ve ever taken.
The cupcakes themselves are a little tricky – the sour cream gives them an inherent lightness in texture, to which the melted chocolate lends a beautiful silkiness. This makes the batter a little capricious (I had to toss 3 or 4 that sort of collapsed within the cups – they were that delicate). I cut holes out of the top to fill with the nutella, and I suggest using a serrated knife so you don’t “drag” the cake. The flavor of this cake made the effort all worthwhile – click HERE to check out these chocolatey delights.
This next recipe has been in my repertoire for quite some time now, and it has never failed to please. It is quite time consuming, given all the prep work and steps involved. The reduced coconut milk isn’t too scary to make, just be sure to keep an eye on the pot to prevent scorching. Vanilla bean is absolutely necessary here – it is what gives these cupcakes their profound taste. Trust me, you won’t regret taking the time to create these – click HERE to learn how to make these fantastic cupcakes.
Now I mentioned I made these for an office birthday party – someone had purchased a gallon of vanilla ice cream, and I started noticing that a few of my coworkers were halving one of each cupcake and placing the two types in a bowl together with a scoop of ice cream. I thought I had seen it all, but this was definitely a novel concept: pairing together two entirely different flavors with a “loving” scoop of ice cream. Funny thing is, they were a match made in heaven!
This inevitably led me to choose my musical pairing for this piece: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture. I had initially intended to post these two recipes separately, but this was the perfect way to combine the two:  This piece is styled in sonata form (fast-slow-fast), with the middle section containing the work extremely well-known “love theme.” This work, which runs at just under 20 minutes, hopes to capture the passion and color of the story, rather than narrate the tale itself. Below I’ve included a recording of the London Symphony Orchestra with Valery Gergiev – Enjoy!