Monday, October 13, 2014

Limnos Bakers - Capetown, South Africa

Here's another throw back from my travels from Africa back to the U.S.

South Africa is one of the places I had always wanted to visit. When I decided to take a two and a half month trip across Africa and parts of Southeast Asia, I knew South Africa had to be on that list. Not only was I fascinated by the amazing cultural differences along the way, but the fact that I could find cupcake bakeries in so many different places that were actually good really blew my mind
Along my travels I missed the opportunity to visit cupcake places in Dar Es Salaam and Lusaka. I felt really bad, as if I had slightly failed on my mission to find the best red velvet I could. Once I arrived in South Africa I was determined to find a cupcake bakery. Lucky for me, Google provided the top cupcakes in Capetown! Another great move was to have multiple free days during my 10 day trip to Capetown, giving me the opportunity to explore Capetown and find various cupcake bakeries.

One day I just happened to be wandering around the waterfront when I saw a picture of a cupcake on a jumbo screen...I was on the hunt! After wandering around for a few minutes, I found Limnos Bakers.

Red Velvet Cupcake by Limnos Bakers

Lucky for me, the only cupcake they had was red velvet! The icing tasted very strongly of cream cheese and was smooth and perfect! The cake was moist and spongy, as it should be. The pink sprinkles on top was the perfect finishing touch for a very simple but elegant cupcake.

The cake itself was light, sweet, but a little dry.  Unfortunately it did not have the traditional chocolate flavor red velvet should but otherwise it was a delicious cake.

Price: 20 rand (about $1.80)
Cake: light, sweet, airy
Icing: good amount of cream cheese flavor,
Decorations: simple
Overall Rating: 6/10
Website: Limnos Bakers

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Homemade Goodies

I've taken a financial hiatus from my quest. I had to make a large purchase recently and now am going to have to  be a little more frugal with my money, at least until my next paycheck.

Meanwhile, I've been trying to do some more baking at home. I was inspired by a friend at work who made some red velvet cupcakes from scratch!

A Friend's Homemade Red Velvet Cupcake with Cream Cheese Frosting
She made the cupcakes using a recipe she found online (Southern Red Velvet Cake):

Vegetable oil for the pans
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons red food coloring (1 ounce)
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 pound cream cheese, softened
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter (1 cup), softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil and flour 3 (9 by 1 1/2-inch round) cake pans.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In another large bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla.

Using a standing mixer, mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined and a smooth batter is formed.

Divide the cake batter evenly among the prepared cake pans. Place the pans in the oven evenly spaced apart. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through the cooking, until the cake pulls away from the side of the pans, and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

Remove the cakes from the oven and run a knife around the edges to loosen them from the sides of the pans. One at a time, invert the cakes onto a plate and then re-invert them onto a cooling rack, rounded-sides up. Let cool completely.

Frost the cake. Place 1 layer, rounded-side down, in the middle of a rotating cake stand. Using a palette knife or offset spatula spread some of the cream cheese frosting over the top of the cake. (Spread enough frosting to make a 1/4 to 1/2-inch layer.) Carefully set another layer on top, rounded-side down, and repeat. Top with the remaining layer and cover the entire cake with the remaining frosting. Sprinkle the top with the pecans.

In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand-held electric mixer in a large bowl, mix the cream cheese, sugar, and butter on low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to high, and mix until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. (Occasionally turn the mixer off, and scrape the down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.)

Reduce the speed of the mixer to low. Add the vanilla, raise the speed to high and mix briefly until fluffy (scrape down the bowl occasionally). Store in the refrigerator until somewhat stiff, before using. May be stored in the refrigerator for 3 days.

Yield: enough to frost a 3 layer (9-inch) cake

Chef: Sara Moulton

The cake and frosting were absolutely delicious. The only complaint I had was that there wasn't enough cocoa to taste, but other than that it was probably the perfect cupcake! The cake was airy and fluffy and super moist. The frosting was creamy and had the taste of cream cheese without being too overpowering. The garnish was perfect and simple.

After tasting this cupcake I thought I'd try my hand at baking.

My first attempt was a chocolate cupcake with peanut butter brown sugar frosting, the recipe to which I found on the Cupcake Project blog (Cupcake Project):

Chocolate Cupcake:
1/4 cup (2 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
2 ounces of your favorite chocolate (You can use any plain chocolate that you like except white chocolate or candy melts. The chocolate doesn't have to be one typically earmarked for baking - any chocolate bar that isn't flavored and doesn't contain mix-ins like nuts, Rice Krispies, nougat, etc. will work.)
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon (4 1/2 fluid ounces) vegetable or canola oil, measured in a liquid measuring cup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup (2 3/4 ounce) full-fat sour cream
1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (2 ounces) cocoa powder (natural or dutched will both work with this recipe)
1/2 cup (4 fluid ounces) room temperature water, measured in a liquid measuring cup

Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, mix butter and sugar until fully combined. The end result should look like wet sand.
Melt the chocolate in the microwave or in a double boiler.
Once the melted chocolate is cool enough to touch, add it to the butter/sugar mixture and mix until just combined.
Mix in eggs and egg yolks one at a time until just combined.
Mix in oil, vanilla, and sour cream until just combined.
Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, and cocoa powder into a separate medium-sized bowl. Use a fork or a whisk to ensure that the ingredients are mixed well after sifting.
Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients in three additions, mixing until just combined after each addition.
Mix in water until just combined.
Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full and put in the oven.
Check for doneness at 18 minutes - a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake should come out clean. If they are not done, check again every three minutes until they are done.
Immediately remove cupcakes from the cupcake tin and place on a cooling rack or on the counter to cool to room temperature. Although they are really good when they are hot, be sure to wait until they are room temperature to give your evaluation.

Brown Sugar Peanut Butter Frosting:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup milk
somewhere between 2 and 3 cups chunky peanut butter

Melt butter in a small saucepan on medium-high heat.
Add the brown sugar and bring to a boil.
Lower heat to medium low and continue to boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add the milk and return to a boil, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat and cool to lukewarm.
Gradually mix in peanut butter. Add just enough peanut butter to make the frosting spreadable.
Spread on cooled cupcakes.

Chocolate Cupcake with Brown Sugar Peanut Butter Frosting

These recipes turned out amazing! The cake was delicious, almost like a devil's food chocolate cupcake. It was so moist and airy and the frosting was the perfect pairing.

The second cupcake I tried was a homemade funfetti cupcake. Now in order to do this I went with the recipe for the ultimate vanilla cupcake found on the Cupcake Project's website with the vanilla buttercream frosting and added sprinkles to them for the funfetti style. Here are the recipes for the cupcakes and frosting:

Vanilla Cupcake:
1 cup (225 grams) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 3/4 cups (175 grams) cake flour, not self-rising
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (57 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup (75 grams) full-fat sour cream
1/4 cup canola oil or vegetable oil (60 ml)
1 tablespoon pure (not imitation) vanilla extract
2/3 cup (160 ml) whole milk

Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C).
In a small bowl, combine sugar and seeds from the vanilla bean. (For those of you who are new to using vanilla beans, check out this video to learn how to get the seeds out of the bean.)
Using the back of a spoon, move around the bowl and apply pressure to break up any clumps of seeds and to better infuse the vanilla flavor into the sugar. Set aside.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, mix together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Add the vanilla bean sugar and mix until well combined.
Add butter and mix on medium-low speed for three minutes. Because there is so little butter, you'll end up with a very fine crumb texture.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, sour cream, oil, and vanilla extract until smooth.
Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined.
Slowly add milk and mix on low speed until just combined. The batter will be liquid. (Don't worry, you didn't do anything wrong. It's supposed to be that way.)
Fill cupcake liners just over 1/2 full.
Bake for 14 minutes and then test to see if they are done. They are done when a toothpick comes out without wet batter stuck to it. The cupcakes should appear white with specks of vanilla bean. They should not turn a golden brown. If they are not done, test again in two minutes. If they are still not done, test again in another two minutes.
When the cupcakes are done, remove them immediately from the tins and leave them on a cooling rack (or just on your counter if you don't own a cooling rack) to cool.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting:
1 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar (add more until it reaches your preferred consistency)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (add more to taste)
1 tablespoon milk

Mix together sugar and butter until they are blended and creamy.
Add vanilla bean paste and milk and continue to beat for another minute.
If desired, add more vanilla bean paste to taste, or more confectioners' sugar to make it stiffer.

Funfetti Cupcakes
With these cupcakes, I have to admit something went wrong. The cakes tasted under-cooked. I think next time I'll try to keep them in the oven for a little longer. I had to keep them in the oven for almost five minutes longer than the recipe requested, but even then the cakes were much too spongy and doughy. The frosting also didn't go as planned, though it turned out much better than I had hoped. I couldn't find the vanilla bean paste that the recipe requires so I went with an almond paste. After adding bit by bit, I finally got the almond cream flavor that I wanted and it ended up pulling the cupcake together very well.

Overall, I have to say baking at home isn't easy, but it's definitely fun! I feel like I'm in a science lab...of course being the nerd I am this is the most exciting thing I can think to relate baking to.

So let the baking games begin as I continue my hunt for the one red velvet to rule them all!