Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Sweet Celebration: Baker’s Dozen Celebrates 20th Anniversary

Last Tuesday, April 21, I joined an amazing group of bakers from throughout California to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Baker’s Dozen.

How important was this event? Well, when I received my jury duty notice to appear that exact day for jury duty, I quickly asked for a postponement until the next day.

And I made the right decision. This was my first meeting as a member of this group and I’ve never seen that much baking prowess assembled under one roof.

More than 70 bakers from the Napa Valley to San Diego came together at Foreign Cinema restaurant on a sweltering day in San Francisco to reminisce and of course to eat.

The Baker’s Dozen was founded 20 years ago by well-known cookbook author and baking teacher, Marion Cunningham and professional baker, Amy Pressman. Their idea for the group was simple: what if groups of like-minded bakers were to meet to exchange ideas and solve baking problems?

Their two goals for the group then and now are: share what you know about baking and learn from one another. They have no officers, no dues or newsletters. And you don’t need to be a professional baker to join; many members are dedicated home bakers – like me!

It’s just all about the baking. And as Baker’s Dozen member, cookbook author and teacher, Flo Braker observed, “we came with our passion for baking and not our egos.”

An oft-told story of the first meeting is how 40 bakers showed up with forty lemon meringue pies. The topic of the meeting was weeping and shrinking meringues and how to prevent them from happening. In a nod toward that first meeting, a question posed just a week before on the Baker’s Dozen website to all the bakers was on that very topic.

According to member Nancy Kux, “there isn’t much new under the sun in baking but there is always someone who is attempting a recipe for the first time and would welcome the knowledge of the Baker’s Dozen membership.”

In fact, this week I made a cheesecake. When a massive crack appeared in the top of my beautiful cake, I turned to the Baker’s Dozen online forum for help. Within minutes I had answers from people whose cookbooks line my shelves!

Speaking of cookbooks, in 2001 these master bakers came together to produce and publish the Baker’s Dozen Cookbook. The book includes recipes and detailed baking techniques from such industry luminaries as Flo Braker, David Lebovitz, Marion Cunningham, Fran Gage, Peter Reinhart and many more.

But back to the celebration: In typical baker fashion, instead of traditional appetizers, we were asked to bring treats from the Baker’s Dozen cookbook – either the original recipe or our own version.

I took a deep breath and tried to put out of my mind all the more experienced bakers who would taste my cake. I selected Flo Braker’s Angel Food Cake from the Baker’s Dozen Cookbook.

If you didn’t look too closely, it looked pretty good. It only had a slight slope to the top. I have always seen angel food cake with a soft, brown crumbly exterior. But according to Braker, it should be snow white.

Hmmm. Time to start experimenting.

I met many amazing bakers: Cindy Mushet, Evie Lieb, Annie Baker (yes, baker) Shirley Lipscomb, Michael Recchiuti, Laura Martin Bacon and many more.

It was a day to remember. I look forward to our next meeting – I hear Harold McGee, well-known author of On Food and Cooking, might be speaking to our group. I’m already starting my list of questions.

Foreign Cinema is located in the Mission district of San Francisco. This area is home to a large Hispanic population. As I left the restaurant, I came upon a lovely woman selling what she called quesadilla cakes. But these cakes didn’t look like any quesadilla I had ever seen – not a tortilla or gooey cheese in sight. Using my very very limited Spanish, I discovered that it was a sweet cake similar to a pound cake. I, of course, bought one to take home to devour and to figure out how it was made.

It was indeed very lightly sweetened but with a subtle savory taste. A quick internet search revealed that the cake is traditionally served as a coffee cake in El Salvador. The savory flavor I tasted was cheese. I discovered that parmesan cheese is typically used although some recipes I saw found specified queso fresco, a fresh farmers-type cheese or a similar Spanish cheese called cuajada. had a recipe so out came the baking pan and bowls. The recipe took all of ten minutes to mix together and pop in the oven. I liked a slice with a cup of tea and my teenager snacked on it as she drove to school. I will happily add it to my repertoire of great snacking cakes.

Why am I telling this story of my quesadilla cake? It seemed a fitting end to the Baker’s Dozen meeting to discover a new delicacy and to figure out where it came from and how it was made.

And of course, also in typical Baker’s Dozen fashion, I’m sharing the story and the recipe with everyone.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge: A Challenge of Biblical Proportions!

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

Most bakers have made cheesecake before but Jenny challenged the Daring Bakers to take her basic recipe and play around with it. Make it unique.

Jenny’s recipe instructions call for baking the cheesecake in a bain-marie, a French term for placing a pan of food in another pan with water in it to stabilize the heat reaching the food. A bain-marie is used not just in cooking but also in science and industry. Legend has it that Miriam, sister of Moses, who was thought to be an alchemist, invented the bain-marie or Mary’s bath.

I just call it a water bath and I’m in the Mark Bittman camp: he despises using a water bath “about as much as anything in all of cooking.”
It just seems such a messy and time-consuming method. But a water bath almost always ensures a cheesecake that doesn’t have a massive crack down the middle.

Most recipes for cheesecake are fairly quick to blend together. The only time-consuming part is making sure you have your ingredients at room temperature before you get started.

So for me, the two challenges would be to see if I could come up with a way to make a great tasting AND great looking cheesecake without using a water bath and with my ingredients right from the fridge.

I decided to do a bit of research both online and in my collection of cookbooks.

There was a general consensus from my research that in addition to using a water bath the best way to have both great taste and good looks in a cheesecake, the cook needs to keep the following in mind:

•A cheesecake isn’t a cake at all but a custard. Therefore it needs to be treated gently.

•Overbeating the batter will cause cracking.
Air bubbles expand in the heat of the oven, causing the cheesecake to rise. In the case of cheesecake, too many air bubbles cause a dramatic rise and since cheesecakes don’t have any flour in them to set the structure and hold the rise in place, it collapses once it is removed from the warm oven causing an earthquake in the middle.
•Bake in a low oven – about 325 degrees. If the oven temp is too high, the protein from the egg whites in the surface of the cheesecake bind too tightly and dry out, forming cracks. To prevent cracks, once the cheesecake is done, shut off the oven, open the door and let the cheesecake sit in the turned off oven for one hour. •Improper cooling – everything contracts as it cools. If you don’t quickly run a knife around the edge of the cheesecake after it is done, it cannot contract away from the side of the pan causing cracks. Also need to allow plenty of time for the cheesecake to cool. If you put a warm cheesecake in the fridge to chill so you can serve it quickly, it will crack.

I also thought it was amusing to find out just how many recipes called for a sour cream topping on the cheesecake not just for taste, but because it hid any cracks that had appeared!

This was all good information but what about that darn water bath. I keep researching. And finally, in The Best Recipe cookbook by the amazing Cook’s Illustrated folks I found the following:

After much testing of a way to make the perfect tasting and no cracked cheesecake: “We were almost there. We had the lush and creamy and the light and fluffy cakes perfected, but we had not come up with a crack-free, smooth-textured, dense cheesecake. We finally decided to try the absurd.”

Now that last sentence had my attention. And here is what they did:
They baked the cheesecake at 500 degrees for 10 minutes then at 200 degrees for one hour. No water bath involved!


A bit more digging and I found my solution to using ingredients direct from the fridge. According to Cindy Mushet in her excellent book, The Art & Soul of Baking, “A food processor allows you to make a cheesecake on the spur of the moment, using ingredients cold from the refrigerator. The food processor incorporates less air than a mixer and blends the mixture beautifully."

Now I was ready to make my cheesecake.
So, how was I going to change the flavor of my cheesecake? I’m not much of a graham cracker crust fan so I decided to substitute Nabisco’s Famous Chocolate Wafers – many of you might remember the retro dessert called the Famous Chocolate Refrigerator Roll that used these thin chocolate wafers.

I also decided to use a raspberry puree on top. I thought the look of the red on top of the cheesecake with a dark crust would look snazzy – and of course, taste good.

I set the oven to 500 degrees and got started. After 10 minutes I checked the cheesecake, no cracks so far. I then opened the door to lower the temperature to 200 degrees. I baked the cheesecake for an additional hour. No cracks. I let it cool on the counter for two hours. No cracks. It was a thing of beauty!

I then poured a bit of raspberry jam that I had heated then cooled on top of the cheesecake. Remember when I mentioned Moses earlier? Well, I thought of him again after I poured the jam on top. Once I poured the red jam on top of the cooled cheesecake, my beautiful cheesecake parted like the Red Sea parted for Moses.

I will do more research to find out exactly why the cheesecake cracked when I poured the jam on it but it most likely cracked because of the difference in the temperature of the cheesecake and the jam even though I had cooled the jam.

I put it in the fridge and decided that although it wasn’t a good looking cheesecake, at least next time I would know what I did wrong and could use my new methods of no water bath and food processor. I actually enjoy learning from my baking failures so I wasn’t too upset. I just wish I knew for certain that it was the warm jam that caused the cracking and not some other factor.

Next thing I knew I was heading to my grocery store for more cream cheese and Famous Chocolate Wafers.

Yes, I made it again. The cheesecake once again didn’t crack during cooking. No raspberry jam this time around. I put it in the fridge as directed to chill. Still no cracks when I removed it from the fridge and released it from its pan.

My cheesecake was a bit plain looking so I jazzed it up with a bit of dark cocoa powder and a stencil.

Thanks Jenny for the challenge. Now that I have a quick and easy method for making cheesecake, I can’t wait to try different flavor combinations: dulce de leche, caramel, chocolate, lime………

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Preacher a Teacher and a Seeker: Peter Reinhart, Flo Braker and Molly Wizenberg

I’ve been pointing my car in the direction of Omnivore Books on Food in San Francisco quite a lot these days. Owner Celia Sack has been hosting quite an amazing group of culinary Rock Stars.

Peter Reinhart

The day I witnessed the ministry of Peter Reinhart I had missed church. But I didn’t need to worry about not listening to a sermon that day.

A group of about 50 of the faithful crowded into the small bookstore to hear Reinhart evangelize about all things related to bread. And we weren’t disappointed. We were regaled with a charming talk on his passion for bread that covered Dante, the Bible, and Mel Brooks.

Along the way we got to hear such fire and brimstone talk such as

“It’s not about the yeast at all – enzymes do all the work – the yeast has to sacrifice itself to the cause!” or
“Bread is better living through chemistry!”

Peter Reinhart is a baking instructor at
Johnson & Wales University in North Carolina. He was the co-founder of the legendary Brother Juniper's Bakery in Sonoma, California, and is the author of five books on bread baking, including Brother Juniper's Bread Book and my personal favorite, The Bread Baker's Apprentice.

But this bread evangelist is so much more: he is also a food consultant, a
pizzeria owner and an inspiration and certainly a testament to the fact that if you pick a profession that gives your life purpose and meaning, you will never lack for energy and never be bored.

I was first introduced to Reinhart's books when the Daring Bakers were challenged to make lavash from his Bread Baker’s Apprentice book. I was immediately taken with his writing style – I felt like he was standing right next to me in the kitchen telling me what and how to do it in an exacting but noncritical way. The Daring Bakers later made pizza from the same book. I had no idea I could toss pizza dough in the air but with Reinhart cheering me on, I now can!

Technically he was at Omnivore to talk about the release of his latest book,
Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor. Reinhart said that with this book, he wanted to show that you could bake whole grain bread that people will actually eat. “My bread recipes in this book really wring all the flavor out of the grain,” said Reinhart.

But the crowd was also treated to about a dozen types of bread that had been prepared for a photo shoot for Reinhart’s new book that will be out in Fall 2009, Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Fast. The smell of chocolate and yeast in the room was intoxicating. The focus of this book is how to produce artisan breads that require minimal effort and time. I don’t think I’ve ever heard “minimal effort and time” applied to bread making!

Reinhart’s enthusiasm and passion for his craft certainly energized the crowd. You could almost hear the crowd hold its breath when he said that after his latest book is released in the fall, he didn’t think he would have anything more to say on the subject of bread.

We collectively released our breath when he then said he hoped to write a book about his adventures in bread making – all his travels and people he had met along the way and how they influenced him to become the person he is today. I know I wasn’t the only one who wished they could pre-order that book.

Flo Braker

My next trip to Omnivore was to hear the amazing Flo Braker speak about her latest masterpiece,
Baking for All Occasions.

As soon as I heard Flo Braker say that she “sugared the bowl of strawberries,” I just knew she must be from my home state of Indiana.

And she was! I know that putting sugar on strawberries sounds like gilding the lily but you really must try it.

As she spoke to yet another filled to capacity room, I felt like I had known Braker for years. She makes you feel like she is speaking just to you and she has the greatest faith in you that you can be a successful baker.

I kept trying to think of one word or even just two that would sum her up but I can’t so here are a few:
Nurturer, Genuine, Artistic, Exacting, Organized, Sharer, Precise, Creative, Unassuming, Curious, Inspirational…….

And I had just met Flo Braker!

Like Peter Reinhart, Braker was one of the early baking pioneers in the SF Bay Area. She began her baking adventures in the 1960s as a self-taught home baker. That led to a career as a baking teacher and as a caterer. In addition to Baking for all Occasions, she is also the author of the indispensible, The Simple Art of Perfect Baking and the adorable and practical Sweet Miniatures, The art of making bite-size Desserts. She also writes a column on baking for the food section of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Braker is also one of the founders of the
Baker’s Dozen – more on that group in an upcoming post.

But Braker didn’t start out to be a professional baker and cookbook author. She didn’t even learn to bake as a child but instead learned what she could by observing the family’s much loved and admired housekeeper and cook, Dorothy Temme, work her magic on pies and cakes and much more.

As a child she was given a chemistry set and as she tells it, spent many hours first perfecting the experiments that came with the set then making up her own. Just like baking – first master the basic recipe then make it your own.

Braker has her undergraduate degree in political science and was thinking of pursuing her law degree. And the baking world is much relieved that she did not!

What comes through when Braker speaks about baking is the simple joy she still has for baking. And her books inspire the same. Braker doesn’t want to keep to herself any of the tricks or techniques she has learned often the hard way, by many many trial and errors in her own kitchen, she wants to share her secrets with the reader.

She not only gives you the techniques you need to be a successful baker, but she also inspires you to put your own mark on it after you have mastered it. After all, as she says in the
Simple Art of Perfect Baking, in our profession you can almost always eat your failures!

Braker spoke with great conviction when she observed that baking is viewed as a precise and exact science. She agrees but also believes that baking has other variables that aren’t so precise and that’s where a baker can bring their own creativity and artistry to the kitchen.

Over and over in her books I would read “bake with love and serve with pride” and that to me is a fitting tagline for anything Flo Braker decides to do.

Molly Wizenberg

Most of you know Molly Wizenberg as
orangette, as her delightful blog on cooking and baking is called.

Molly had been invited to speak at Omnivore about her new book,
A Homemade Life – Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table.

Most of the people in the room, including me, were dying to know how, in just a few years after launching her blog did she:

•become an award winning food blogger

•find herself on a book tour promoting her first book

•be asked to write a monthly column for Bon Appetit without first paying her writing “dues”
•come to be on the verge of opening her first restaurant in Seattle with her dream man who she met, oh yes, when he became a fan of her blog and sent her an email

Now, who wouldn’t want to know the story behind all of that!

Even Molly said, “This all still feels like a big surprise to me and if I repeat my story enough maybe it will start to feel real to me!”

And Molly obliged the crowd by telling us the amazing story of her journey to find out what she should be doing with her life.

Unlike many people who say they want a career that is the right one for them, Molly kept seeking and didn’t settle. It would have been easy for her to go to culinary school. But first she tried an internship at a restaurant. Nope, that didn’t feel right. An editor at one of her school’s journals? Nope.

Molly’s ah ha moment came when she realized that to her, food is about relationships, about interacting with people around a table.

If that was her ah ha moment then her guiding beacon was one that she learned from her father: wake up each morning wanting that day.

In the her book, we get more details and get to follow her from college to Paris to Seattle with a few stops in her home state of Oklahoma. Best of all we get to see her interactions with her beloved father who everyone affectionately called Burg.

And even though it seems like a fairy tale with the proverbial happy ending, this journey had more than its share of detours and of plain old-fashioned hard work.

And not to be overlooked, she is a talented writer.

In her capable hands, a discussion of macaroons becomes: “they were dense, toothachingly sweet, and rich enough to cause hot flashes.” In describing her favorite scone recipe: “when something clicks with me, I want to keep it around. That goes not only for recipes but also for facial cleansers, chocolate, and men.”

As Molly finishes the tale of her journey (so far) I find myself marveling at how such a poised and accomplished individual could ever be uncertain about anything let alone about the big decisions in life.

Truly her hard work and yes, a bit of serendipity led her to where she is today – leading a homemade life.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cannelle et Vanille Solves Basque Country Mystery

In September 2008 I blogged about my trip to Bilbao, Spain where I discovered a hard to pass up breakfast treat.
This is a photo of the treats from our Bilbao trip.

Morning after morning we would have what appeared to be a soft yeast roll usually shaped like a round bun. The filling appeared to be a whipped cream. Although it looked like it might be a gut buster, the roll was incredibly light and not overly sweet.

A kindly caf√© owner told me the buns were called bollo de mantequilla or in English, ball of butter. Now, doesn’t the Spanish name sound so much better than butter ball?!

In my blog entry I chronicled my attempt to find a recipe for these delicious treats. I was unsuccessful in doing so and the recipe remained a mystery until I happened upon the solution quite by accident. I had heard that The Times of London had recently published a list on their online site of the “50 of the world’s best food blogs.”

I checked out their list and saw that the blog cannelle et vanille was written by a pastry chef, Aran Goyoaga, who was from the Basque country.

Since the blog name was French, I assumed she was French Basque. Bilbao is in the Spanish Basque country but I thought she might be able to help me since the French Basque country is so close to Spain.

I emailed Aran Goyoaga, creator of cannelle et vanille, a fan email and asked her that while I knew she must be French Basque, had she by chance ever heard of bollo de mantequilla and if so, could she possibly help me find a recipe.

Much to my delight she emailed me back and said that in fact, she is from the Spanish Basque country and she is from a small town outside of Bilbao!

In one sentence she solved the mystery of bollo de mantequilla:
“Bollos de mantequilla are brioche dough filled with plain Swiss or Italian buttercream,” explained Goyoaga.

What?? I was so surprised – these delicious rolls did not bear any resemblance to the brioche I’ve had in the U.S. and to me, buttercream was something you used to frost a cake – brioche and buttercream sound like a very heavy and sweet combination but the rolls I remembered were anything but that.

In fact, I wasn’t much of a brioche fan. Brioche always looked so pretty in the pastry case but was usually dry and uninteresting. A croissant usually won out if it was a choice between the two.

Goyoaga nicely gave me two links on her blog – one for brioche and one for the buttercream. Her brioche recipe was adapted from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum.

Although I had made brioche once before with pastry chef Jim Dodge, I was pretty much a novice. Goyoaga’s recipe looked a bit complicated to me.

I decided to turn to the well-know culinary teacher Peter Reinhart and his book, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, to guide me in my first real attempt at brioche. If successful, I would try Goyoaga’s recipe next time.

Reinhart gives three recipes for brioche, which he amusingly calls Rich Man’s, Middle-Class, and Poor Man’s Brioche in his book.

The difference is the percent of butter to flour ratio. I chose the Middle-Class Brioche recipe, which has a 50% butter to flour ratio. I thought it might be easier to handle than the Rich Man’s Brioche recipe which has 87% butter to flour ratio but a bit tastier than the Poor Man’s Brioche which has a 23% butter to flour ratio.

As most bakers know, making brioche is an all day affair. I started early in the day and prepped my sponge. My final product was out of the oven at about 8 p.m. that night.

The dough came together beautifully. It did indeed look like a big slab of butter! The only real difficulty I had was in shaping the dough into the ball (bollo) shape. I decided to make several different sizes since I didn’t know how big the final rise would be.

After an hour I peeked at my dough – the balls had flattened somewhat and had unfortunately, risen into each other. I gently separated them and placed them on additional cookie sheets to finish rising. Not surprisingly, the dough was not happy to be handled in the process of rising.

In the end, I ended up with about five out of ten balls that looked like what I remembered from my Bilbao breakfasts.

Next, I turned to the filling. I had recently met master baker Flo Braker at an author event for her new book, Baking for All Occasions. What a delight she is but more about her in another posting. Her first cookbook, The Simple Art of Perfect Baking, included a step-by-step guide for making Italian meringue buttercream.

Under Braker’s gentle but exacting guidance, my buttercream came together beautifully.

But I was still skeptical just how these two luscious ingredients could become the addictive treat I remembered from Bilbao.

I gently cut my brioche rolls in half and thickly spread the buttercream on the bottom half. I sprinkled powdered sugar and a bit of baker’s sugar on top.

Although a bit rough around the edges, my rolls looked pretty good. But what about the taste? Would it taste like a frosted yeast roll or an oily tub of butter?

I gingerly cut one in half and took a bite. I was completely amazed to once again taste the treat I had first experienced in Bilbao! As you can see by the photo, they are pretty close to the ones we had in Bilbao.

This is one Basque mystery that is solved.

Thank you Aran Goyoaga, creator of cannelle et vanille – I truly could not have done this without you!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Creating Cupcakes with Anita Chu at Tante Marie

Last week was cupcake heaven for me as I had the good fortune to take a class with Anita Chu at San Francisco’s Tante Marie – a cooking school located in North Beach.

Anita writes the Dessert First blog and is the author of the recently released, Field Guide to Cookies. She is also a graduate of Tante Marie’s Professional Pastry program. But this was her first teaching gig at the school.

Anita taught a Cupcake Technique class for three days. Unlike other classes I have taken at Tante Marie that were primarily attended by experienced bakers, this class was a mix of novice bakers, dedicated home bakers and at least one professional baker. I fell into the dedicated home baker category.

I mention this because it was an unexpected pleasure to witness a novice baker acquire enough basic skills in only three days to be successful at baking cupcakes. And I mean good looking and great tasting cupcakes! One woman had never used a stand-mixer and in fact talked about she almost sold hers at a recent garage sale! Now, of course, she couldn’t wait to fire that puppy up and bake!

Many of the students left with a spark in their eye and a bounce in their step – this could have been caused by all that sugar we were consuming but I have a feeling cupcakes were only going to be the beginning for them of many future baking experiments and accomplishments.

I had signed up for the class because although cupcakes aren’t that difficult to master, I had never had good luck with a good-looking final product. Some of my cupcakes turned out with a big domed top and others with a flat top or some that had a dense crumb and some that were light.

I also wanted to expand my knowledge on how to fill cupcakes with caramel, marshmallow, and other fillings that I’m sure I hadn’t even considered yet.

Anita covered all that plus she taught us how to include infusions to our cupcake repertoire. Infusions refer to steeping a dry ingredient with a liquid. For example, we paired saffron that had steeped in milk with a vanilla cupcake batter. The frosting was a buttercream that had a bit of rose syrup added to it.

I’ve been to several of the new cupcake shops that seem to offer the strangest flavor combinations but this combination worked. The saffron added a very subtle flavor to the basic vanilla batter. Topped with the rose petal buttercream – it was a revelation.

While I enjoyed the vanilla and saffron combination, the espresso powder infused in milk was more my cup of well, coffee. This resulted in a cupcake Anita called appropriately enough, “cup of coffee.” I topped this creation with a bittersweet chocolate ganache and sprinkled an almond praline on top. Yum!

So although I tend to be a plain chocolate or vanilla cupcake girl, I was inspired by many of her creations.

Most of Anita’s cupcake recipes resulted in a small–sized cupcake with a fine crumb texture. The top was smooth and not overly domed.

Anita is clearly an accomplished baker who can produce just about any pastry or bread you desire. But I think she really shines when she is developing new taste combinations while keeping the integrity of the product intact.

While all the cupcakes had an excellent taste, I wondered where were the more domed cupcakes of my youth? Like most bakers in the sixties, my mom used a cake mix – Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines were her favorite mixes to use.

While I didn’t like the slightly chemical taste produced by a commercial cake mix, I did like the impressive presentation of a sturdy cupcake with a slightly cracked and domed top.

In the interest of research, I thought a field trip to my local Sprinkles cupcake outlet was in order.

I ordered a cinnamon sugar cupcake, which is a lightly spiced buttermilk cake, dusted with cinnamon sugar. My husband selected a chocolate marshmallow cupcake, which is a Belgian dark chocolate cake and marshmallow cream with bittersweet chocolate ganache.

My cupcake was similar to a breakfast muffin and his was a blast from the past – it tasted just like a hostess cupcake albeit an organic version! I was smug in my knowledge that thanks to Anita, I now knew how they had filled the cupcakes and obtained that uniform look to their cupcake offerings.

But their cupcakes were also not the texture and look I was searching for.

I spent a few hours searching through my cookbooks at home and surfed various baking sites online.

The ingredient that kept coming up that was different from Anita’s recipes and from Sprinkles was sour cream.

A recipe from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa at Home cookbook seemed to have all the ingredients I was looking for. I decided to test a batch.

The finished batter was pretty thick and made about 18 cupcakes. The cupcakes were light in texture but had a nice cracked domed top. The flavor had a smooth roundness to it most likely from the sour cream and buttermilk.

This looked like a cupcake from my youth but tasted much better.

Using Anita’s swiss meringue buttercream frosting and fleur de sel caramel filling recipes, I filled the cupcakes and gave them a twirl in a chocolate glaze (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking from My Home to Yours) or a swirl
of buttercream frosting on top – sometimes both!

I was pleased that in les
s than a week I felt more confident about trying new flavor
combinations and I also had found the look and texture I wanted in a cupcake.

What more can you ask from a cooking class – new skills and the inspiration to become an even better baker.