Sunday, October 31, 2010

Easy Skull Cupcakes for Halloween

This would be one of those "catching up" posts I mentioned. I created these cupcakes a couple years ago, but they've been pretty popular on Flickr and on the Cut Out + Keep Community.

They are basic chocolate cupcakes, which were filled with 'slime green' cream cheesiness and topped with buttercream skulls. Peanut M&Ms and chocolate Jimmies provide the decorative details.

Lessons: Plain M&Ms can be used for eyes if you want a more uniform look -- since some of those peanuts are huge. Or, you can combine plain and peanut for a kooky appearance without worrying that the eyes will overwhelm the skull.

Skull Cupcakes for Halloween (9863)

Also, mini-chocolate chips would make a better nose (hole) since they're triangular in shape naturally.

Jimmies make cute "teeth," but I would buy a large container next time for more options. Also, a pair of kitchen tweezers makes it easier to select and place the candies and embellishments. I didn't have a pair then, but I've since invested in a pair--they're larger than typical tweezers and the tips are off-set.

Skull Cupcakes for Halloween (9862)

If/when I make these again, I also might put a light layer of chocolate frosting or ganache down first, so that the cupcake top will be covered to the edges.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

And the winner is...Black Forest Cupcakes!

Sundays are often my day to bake and, frequently, that means experimenting with different cupcake flavors. Some flavors are unique and some borrowed from classic cakes, cookies or candy. This past Sunday, I played with concept of translating Black Forest Cake into cupcakes.

Although they don't look exactly as I'd envisioned them, they're still rather pretty in deep rich reds and cocoa browns. My husband and my colleagues seemed pleased with the final product as well.

This is a semi-homemade recipe (more about that later in the blog); it starts with a chocolate Devil's Food cake mix. I typically use egg beaters and applesauce (in lieu of whole eggs and oil or butter) when I bake from a mix. For the liquid, I chose a cup of espresso with a 1/3 cup of water. A splash of a good quality vanilla extract further enhanced the chocolate flavor and a few drops of almond extract to add just a hint of cherry.

Rich chocolate batter (6144)

Baking cupcakes (6157)

The cherry filling/topping is made by cooking frozen dark cherries in simple syrup.

Frozen Dark Cherries (6137)

Dark cherries cooking (6141)

Adding a little cornstarch and letting it come back up to a boil, thickens the sauce and gives it a beautiful sheen. Let the cherries as well as the cupcakes cool completely before bring them together.

Dark cherries glistening (6150)

Rather than make a buttercream for these, I used a basic ready-made vanilla icing. I piped the frosting around the perimeter of the cupcake top to form a well for the cherries to rest.

Black forest cupcake (6165)

A final touch of decadence to push these over the top? Mini-chocolate chips!

Black Forest Cupcake (6184)

And what did we learn? As I said, this was an experiment, which means I have some "take-aways" from my test batch.

Devil's Food Cake: It seems I'm always pulling chocolate cupcakes out just a smidge early. The cake tester comes out clean enough, and they taste fine but they tend to sink and/or shrink a bit. Under-baking is listed as a potential suspect.  Next time, I'll err on the other side of doneness and add a couple extra minutes to reduce the center slump (although it did give the cherries a nice area to fill).

Cherry Topping: I've made this as a filling in varying degrees of thickness before. As a topping, the cherries definitely can make due with far less liquid and should not be cooked as long to retain their lovely round shape, which is far less of a concern when used between layers of a cake.

Frosting: A buttercream might be preferable not only for flavor (who doesn't love the creamy sweetness of a well-made buttercream) but for texture; the store bought variety softens far too quickly and is a little sweeter than go-to recipe. A large round tip rather than a star tip would create a smoother surface for adding the chips (or chocolate shavings) to the edges. Alternately, given an amble supple of buttercream, this technique by EatAllAboutIt could work to create a nice well for the cherries and edge for the chocolate chips.

So I think I need a cute, catchy phrase or signature to close my posts -- especially the baking posts. But...a final answer will have to wait. I can't think of anything clever just now. Hasta la feasta, baby? (Maybe?)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cupcake Flavor of the Week: TBD

More than a few of my friends on Facebook have let me know that my Sunday forays into experimenting with cupcake flavors have become a much anticipated ritual that they quite enjoy--I tend to microblog them as I bake. One of the most recent beta tests was a S'mores cupcake, which I'll talk about in another post.

I've been pondering flavors for this week and hadn't quite settled on one. As I wrote to one long-quiet friend who commented on my 7 am status ("Is it too early to start baking cupcakes?"), I am still in the mood for pumpkin--having made a pumpkin pie last week.

That said, last weekend I purchased the ingredients for black forest cupcakes (chocolate cakes with cherries). I've made black forest cake before but don't recall taking it to the individual serving size model of the cupcake. I've been playing with my own personal logistics for execution all week. On the other hand, we had a rough night last night thanks to our adorable but often puking (and sometimes on the bed while we're sleeping in it) cats, and I'm not sure I'm up for too many creativity. So, as peanut butter is staple in our household, I also could whip up chocolate peanut butter cupcakes, which I've made a few times before. Of course, it might be seen as missing something without the miniature peanut butter cup on top.

At the grocery store this morning, I also toyed with the idea of chocolate-caramel-pretzel. I love the idea--that seems to be everywhere--of pairing just a tiny bit of salt (preferably sea salt) with caramel and/or chocolate. The idea of using a pretzel as the conduit for the salt and acting as a decorative element to boot, seemed to strike a chord with me. But, alas, I didn't commit to it and so I don't have the ingredients to attempt it.

The cupcakery at our local "schmancy mall" had cinnamon dulce de leche cupcakes, which sounded intriguing. Even though I have no cream or sweetened condensed milk and therefore cannot produce any dulce de leche, I did a search for recipes to amuse myself. I found this recipe for Churro Cupcakes with Dulce de Leche Whipped Cream (on "All the Trimmings" Blog) particularly intriguing and a satisfying read.

Finally, I have the necessary ingredients for margarita cupcakes, and recently happened across a gorgeous way of presenting them in margarita glasses. It's a possibility, but fall just doesn't really scream "margaritas" the way it does pumpkin spice or rich chocolaty goodness.

Hmmmmm. Decisions. Decisions. Decisions. Well, if you want to know my final'll just have to check back later.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I've got a bad feeling about this...

Okay, not really...actually, I feel pretty good about how this little experiment turned out. I'm not thrilled with his hands or his eyes, but I knew those would be my biggest challenge.

I enjoy a variety of stitching activities, including embroidery, but often struggle coming up with or really settling on a pattern or idea. I know that I want to do a series of pop culture pieces, including my favorite film and television quotes.

Thursday night, I decided to jump in, stop overthinking it and just start stitching. I borrowed this image comes from a Clone Wars coloring book [Star Wars Troopers Sticker Play Book to Color (Star Wars; the Clone Wars); no copyright infringement intended--just needed an image to get me started].

Today, I stopped at Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores and picked up some red and black fat quarters that I may use to trim this out or that may become part of a patchwork if I try some more redwork based on the Clone Wars characters.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Who Loves Books? I Do! I DO!

I am a bibliophile. Biblio signifying books and phile meaning lover. A bibliophile or book lover doesn't just enjoy a good book and read frequently. He or she adores everything about books and collects them. If money or space were no object, I would amass a frightening collection. And, in fact, my collection of magazines is a bit frightening at the moment (time to weed).

That said, I'm not what I'd personally consider a great reader of books--my husband is. He can devour books in days. I linger. Flip and ponder. Muse. I don't always read all the words in the books I procure. I love the photography and illustrations in them. I adore the pieces of them that inspire me--even if I never take a single step towards creating a project based on them.

Of course, most of the inspirational books I'll talk about here are about arts, photography, crafting, writing, food, entertaining, home decor, sewing and, well, you get the idea. BUT, there are many more books that inspire me and I hope you, and...I digress.

So, what do I currently have around me? A ton of books, actually, but let's start with a recent acquisition, by which I mean purchase. The book is Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir, and More, which I confess I picked up in anticipation of starting this blog.

I love books on writing, although to reiterate my embarrassing confession above, I'm not often disciplined enough to read them cover to cover. Of course, my hopes are always high, and I fully intend to read this one all the way through and learn from the author's teachings. Thankfully, even she states in the beginning that hers a book you can read "out of order" if you choose and/or just take what you need of it.

Please note that this book was 40% at a recent Borders store closing sale, so it was both affordable on our money diet and quite timely. Even if purchased at (via my Amazon Associate link, if you choose), it is a good price.

The balance of the not-quite-a-ton-but-too-heavy-to-carry stack of books (30 total) that I'm currently engaged in come from the Cleveland Public Library and Cuyahoga Public Library System. CPL is an institution that I love with a great passion and respect for providing so much to and for our humble household and asking so little. You'll certainly hear about them again in the future (probably ad naseum), and I encourage you to both patronize and support your local libraries.

Rather than listing them out, I'll merely acknowledge that I hope to do brief reviews for each (or at least some) of them in the coming days, weeks or months.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Start at the Beginning

Good advice, right? Whenever you start a new endeavor, there's a lot of build up to that moment of commencement and a lot of options. BUT, once started, the options and possibilities become instantly limited. This makes starting, for me anyway, the hardest part. After all, who wants to limit their options or possibilities right off the bat?

Even so, one needs to start if they intend to go on. In fact, that is podcast episode title based on an interview of one crafty person by another, the podcaster, on a favorite (albeit on hiatus) podcast that I adore. Brenda Dayne, who produces Cast-On titled an episode: "Start as you mean to go on." Hopefully the "start" to my blog does not mean that I will go on to "babbling" incessantly. No, I hope instead that it conveys an eagerness to get started while somewhat setting a relaxed but energetic tone.

Many blogs don't start with any type of introductions or prologue, and that's fine. I felt like this one might need it to set some ground rules, including some disclaimers to "cover my 'assets'," so to speak (you'll see them further down, if you actually make it to the end of this post).

Why A Blog - Why THIS Blog?

I am starting this new blog on my website to keep track of cool sewing, arts and craft-related stuff (a technical term, I assure you) in the world and around the web, to make a record of creative things I've tried and inspirational adventures experienced and generally to express the crafty side of my personality with wild abandon (Whoa! Watch out world--she's knitting...again!).

While I could publish these posts on my main Over Coffee blog (which I do hope to resume soon), I wanted to create a place that was uniquely about the sewing, arts and crafting.  There also may be overlap with my photography blog. HOWEVER, often when I'm taking quick shots while creating something--from cupcakes to curtains--they're not my best or most interesting photographs, and aren't worth showcasing on my Mugging...Over Coffee photoblog. In addition, since that blog serves as a gallery for my work (and is formatted as just that), it doesn't allow the space for me to point out and/or discuss some of the mega-talented photograph-makers. Nor does it lend itself to sharing some of the amazing advise sites/posts, many of which include tutorials on how to craft "things" (there's that word again) for your shooting. This blog does and will.

Finally, part of my day job is blogging, but it is writing for another party and represents their voice and only a part of my own. I've discovered often in my past that as soon as I start doing something I love professionally, I stop doing it for pleasure. I hope to turn that around a bit because I want and need to express my own voice. I've lost that a bit in recent years, and I miss it. Because this is just me and not a corporation, I am anticipating that this blog will be less formal...after all, it's about what I'm making and hopefully inspiring others to try making or at least enjoy virtually...and maybe drool a little over the food crafting bits.

Expect Change

"If you're not changing, you're dead," or so I've heard it said. You can expect the look and feel of this blog to change, probably dramatically. As I'm trying to jump in with both feet, I'm grabbing a template to start and fully intend to change the layout and appearance of the blog itself. Also, from a post perspective, I hope to include variety and let you learn along with me. While food crafting is my most often participated in craft, I also knit, crochet, embroider and sew and hope to include anything and everything creative that catches my fancy.

Material Sources

Here's that disclaimer I promised. Let's just get this out of the way for all those FTC rules: Books, magazines, tools and supplies are likely to come from a few limited resources.

Me, Myself and I (and my husband, technically) -- The first being my own limited resources (i.e., things I/we buy and pay for myself/ourselves). With a day job working for one of the largest fabric and craft retailers in the country that includes an employee discount, you can rest assured that most of my sewing and craft supplies will be purchased there for both affordability and accessibility.

For the record, food crafting products may come from a host of different resources and may not mention the specific source unless it seems useful. I will state from the start that one of my favorite places for "hardware" related to food, cooking, baking, etc., (besides my own employer) is William-Sonoma. You pay for quality and quality is what you get there, period. 

Since this is NOT a company blog nor is it endorsed or supported by my employer, I will spell out for perfect clarity that I'm not blogging here on their behalf and all opinions expressed are completely my own. Also, I will be abiding by company policy regarding personal blogging as well as FTC best practices by disclaiming my relationship, as appropriate and proper.  When I use products purchased from one of my employer's stores, I will note it for clarity and to avoid an FTC entanglements.

Gifts -- Some tools and/or supplies will be gifts from family. My mother-in-law especially and occasionally my seester-in-law (her preferred title) love to give me foodcraft-related gifts.  My grandmother-in-law has reached a point where she can't do a lot of the crafts she used to do, so I'm slowly but surely inheriting her stash.

OCCASIONALLY, I will receive a gift are from work. Because of my day job, I occasionally have access to or may receive a sample of products or books. Most often this is in the form of outdated magazines set for recycling--I adore magazines almost as much as books. Samples or review copies that I am permitted to accept must be worth less than $25, according to corporate policy.

For example, a meeting with a representatives of Martha Stewart Living yielded the latest issue of the magazine. Later, I was sent a copy of the Martha Stewart book "Cupcakes." Each of these was under $25, even if the latter was just barely (retail: $24.95). If I share a recipe, review or comment that mentions the book, you now know that I did not pay for it.  On rare occasion, I may be loaned tools or machines that exceed that value or may borrow a book from our resource library, which are not my to keep. I'll make ever effort to note when that occurs.

The Public Library -- I cannot extol the virtues of the public library enough. I am a bibliophile and a dataphile (if that's a word). I love to pour over books, words, photos and research--gathering information, ideas and insights from as many sources as I can. I cannot even begin to afford the number of books and magazines I borrow from our impressive Cuyahoga County Public Library system. I thank them for being a resource and often "donate" to the cause by forgetting to renew or return a plethora of books on time...from time to time (10-cents a day ads up quickly when you take our 24-36 books at a time!).

My Stash -- Like so many people and especially crafters, I spend a lot of time both collecting things I love and trying to make do with things that I have. The combination, and current budgetary restrictions, means that I am using a lot of supplies that I have amassed over a long period of time or items that are reclaimed and reused from other areas of my life and home. T-Shirts provide a plethora of material, for example, that can be used as fabric or made into string that can be knit, etc., and who doesn't have a gajillion (not an actual accounting) t-shirts lying around?

Since I abhor waste and trash, I make every effort to recycle (thanks to the great city of Cleveland Heights) or repurpose as much as I possibly can. My moto, if I had one, might be: Go green or go home...and when you get there, go green AT home!

On a related note, this dedication to the planet, means that I also strive to do the least amount of harm with materials, cleaning products, etc. Typically, I opt for fresh ingredients when I can and local and/or organic when we can afford it for cooking and baking.

I Got Some Catching Up to Do

I have a backlog of crafted projects to talk about ranging from creative cupcakes to puffy pillows, small embroidery projects to knit/crocheted scarfs aplenty. While I hope to blog about what I'm currently working on, I'll probably start with and throw in occasionally creations from the past to assemble them in a single space (see also: Why THIS Blog?). Many have been documented in some form, including being shared on Facebook and Flickr, but I'd still like a more complete accounting of them.

Without any further ado, I take a deep breath and jump in...knowing that the very posting of this introduction means I've already restricted my options regarding how to start my new blog.

C'est la vie!

p.s. OH! And I reserve the right to edit any blog post after it is published to correct typos or grammar errors that might make me look like a total tool. As every writer/editor (myself included) knows, it's nearly impossible to proof yourself as you would others, and often errors only becoming glaring obvious after pressing that "Publish Post" button. I wonder what mistakes I'll find in this post once I hit...