Experimenting with Gluten-Free Baking

March 19, 2012

My neighbor mentioned to me that she would be hosting/attending a few events in the near future and she might want to order some cupcakes. Then she asked if I could make the cupcakes gluten-free (GF). Well…I’m sure I can, but I’ve never done any GF baking before and I honestly don’t know anything about it.

So I Googled around looking for recipes and trying to get a handle on the ingredients common in GF baking. Most regular cake recipes have the same basic ingredients: butter, sugar, eggs, flavoring, flour, leavener, salt, liquid (like milk or water). Luckily, all of those ingredients are already GF except for the flour (and some leaveners are not GF, but many are). I found in my search for recipes that many GF recipes replaced the normal white or cake flour with a GF flour mixture plus xanthan gum as a binder.

I chose a really simple recipe to experiment with – it simply called for a GF flour instead of a normal flour and did not call for xanthan gum. After a tip from a friend on Facebook, Caelan and I headed to the organic section of our grocery store in search of an all-purpose GF flour. I was utterly overwhelmed when I saw all the options. They had every different kind of flour you could imagine. Or, more accurately, they had every different kind of flour I had never heard of: rice flour, potato flour, tapioca flour, bean flour, quinoa flour, spelt flour, etc. But I didn’t actually see an all-purpose flour (even though such a thing does exist and I’ve now learned that it is usually a mix of some of the aforementioned flours). Not wanting to buy 5 different bags of flour (and I would seriously have no idea which ones to choose anyway), I grabbed a bag of brown rice flour and was on my way.

I mixed up a 1/4 batch (6 cupcakes) of this recipe for GF chocolate cupcakes. They looked like regular cupcakes. The batter was similar to regular cake batter. They appeared to bake like regular cupcakes (though for a little bit longer). And when they were all done and I iced them with a chocolate buttercream, they tasted pretty much like regular cupcakes. They were slightly drier and crumbier but if someone just gave me this cupcake to eat and didn’t tell me it was GF, I wouldn’t know. So I call it a success 🙂

Next time, I am going to experiment with a vanilla cupcake recipe. The ones I found in my Google search pretty much always called for xanthan gum. Though that was available in my grocery store, I really didn’t want to spend $12 on an 8oz bag that would last me 500 years. I think I may try to find a smaller quantity from my BFF (Amazon).

C is for Cookie

January 11, 2012

[pictures from Kristy]

I made a baby shower cake last October for Benjamin’s mom, Kristy, when she was pregnant with him. It’s one of my all time favorites! So when Kristy asked if I could make cakes for Benjamin’s first birthday I was happy to do it AND she had a great idea. We used the pictures below (click on them for the sources) to come up with a plan for a 1/4 sheet cake and 2 dozen cupcakes.

I decided to use the yellow cake recipe I found over at Smitten Kitchen. I’ve used this recipe once before and I know it makes a nice dense cake which would be great for carving since the plan here was to carve the sheet cake into a #1. I added chocolate chips into the mix since Kristy wanted a chocolate chip cake.

I made up 1 batch of chocolate buttercream icing to fill the sheet cake and I made up 2.5 batches of vanilla buttercream for the top of the cake and the cupcakes.

For the fondant decorations, I used white and black fondant to make 25 sets of googly eye balls. I also cut out some large dots in red, orange, green, and blue for the cake. I used mini Chips Ahoy cookies for the cupcakes.

For the Cookie Monster topper, I decided to make it out of blue fondant and then use royal icing for the fur. I was sort of winging it here because I wasn’t sure if the royal icing would stick to the fondant, but it did. I used a grass tip (Wilton’s #233) for the fur for both the Cookie Monster topper and the cupcakes and it worked perfectly.

I made these cakes and their decorations over the course of 4 days. I meant to count how many hours I spent on it, but it was hard to tell. I took lots of breaks to take care of my son so that made counting hours tricky. I think it was about 8-10 hours total though.

As much as I am happy I took on this project and as proud I am of how it turned out, it reminded me that I do not have the luxury of 8-10 extra hours in a week for cake baking. It’s really hard to make it work these days. I am in awe of those moms out there who work full time, take care of munchkins, and still have time for a time-consuming hobby like this….’cause I really don’t.

Brayden’s Winter One-derland

January 25, 2011

The cake that I worked on at the beginning of January was the most advanced order I have received to date. Meaning, I was asked and I agreed to do this cake about 5 months ago. I normally don’t take orders that far in advance, and I probably won’t in the future, but this one worked out well.

Amy is a very old friend of mine from kindergarten all the way through high school graduation. We hadn’t really been in touch in the last 10 years or so, but that’s what Facebook is for, right? Amy asked me if I could make two cakes for her son, Brayden’s, first birthday party. One cake would be a sheet cake for the adults, and the second cake would be a smash cake for Brayden.

The theme for the party (and the adults’ cake) was mostly blue, silver, and white snowflakes. The cake was to be a half sheet cake – half chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream filling, and half yellow cake with chocolate buttercream filling. The whole thing would be covered in vanilla buttercream. I made two 11×15 cakes – one chocolate and one yellow – and then cut each one in half and filled it. I then pushed the two half cakes together to form the whole cake. I made a double batch of vanilla buttercream that I used to cover the cake and fill the chocolate half. For the decorations, I used two different snowflake cookie cutters to cut snowflakes out of plain white fondant. I used pearl dust and lemon extract to paint the snowflakes blue or white. I also cut out letters using my letter cutters.

For the smash cake design, Amy sent me a picture of Brayden playing with his favorite toy – a set of nesting cups similar to the ones shown here [source]. She asked for the cake to be banana cake with vanilla buttercream icing and in the shape of this toy.

I had never made a banana cake before, but I had a starred recipe in my Google Reader for banana cupcakes so I planned to use that recipe. The tricky part was figuring out how to get the shapes/sizes of cake I needed. I decided to make the cake 3 tiers – one 5″, one 4″, and one 3″ round. I could have purchased tiny cake pans or something for this, but I really didn’t want to add that expense since I wasn’t sure I’d have a use for them again. I ended up deciding to make two 10″ round cakes that I could then carve the pieces out of (I used a 1.5 batch of the cake batter). I had plenty of cake leftover, but this still seemed like the best way.

My original plan was to somehow fashion giant “cookie cutters” out of heavy cardstock to use to cut out the circles. But as usual, my plans changed at the last minute. Paper didn’t look like it would work, so I ended up using a metal cookie cutter, a plastic 1 cup measuring cup, and the lid to a tub of butter. The cookie cutter was great because it sliced right through. For the others, I carved around them with a knife. I was thrilled to find out that not only did this banana cake taste amazing, but it was dense and super easy to carve – YAY!!

I mixed up another batch of vanilla buttercream icing and tinted it 3 different colors – blue, red, and green. Thankfully with such small amounts, I was able to get really good bright colors! I trimmed, filled, and iced each layer separately and put them in the freezer for a few minutes. I then stacked them all together and piped a ring around each layer. I was pretty pleased with how it turned out, though I wish I had not had to carve the larger two layers by hand because it made for a not-perfectly-smooth surface. But it was close, and it was destined to be smashed by an excited 1-year-old, so it worked out 🙂

Tiny Toes for a Baby Shower

October 26, 2010

My friend Leslie asked me if I could make a cake for her friend’s baby shower, and I was happy to! The mom-to-be and her mother requested a chocolate chip cake with chocolate buttercream filling and vanilla buttercream icing. They also gave me the picture below as inspiration for the cake decoration.

[photo source]

I made two 9×13 cakes that I would then stack to make a quarter sheet cake. I had made chocolate chip cake once before, but while that cake was good, it was SO buttery that the cupcake liners were greasy. I looked around for another recipe to try this time, but I had a hard time finding anything. I ended up using my normal yellow cake recipe and adding about a cup of mini chocolate chips to each cake.

For the filling, I made a single batch of chocolate buttercream. For the icing I made a double batch of vanilla buttercream. I had plenty leftover but I prefer to have too much rather than too little!

For the decorations, I made up 6 different colors of fondant (blue, green, yellow, tan, white, and brown). I used letter cutters for the inscription and circle cutters for the “bubbles”. For the feet, I enlarged the inspiration picture and printed out a copy. I cut out the feet and placed it over the rolled out fondant and cut around it.

Happy Birthday Nancy

August 30, 2010

August 2010

Saturday was my aunt, Nancy’s, birthday. She happened to be in town so we got to celebrate with her this year. My mom asked me to make a cake for her and I was happy to! Nancy said yellow cake and chocolate frosting was her favorite, so that’s what I went for.

I made a 2 layer 8″ round cake with my go-to yellow cake recipe. The cake turned out a little dry this time so I’m thinking that I overcooked it slightly. It’s either that or the fact that I used whole milk instead of skim had some kind of effect. For the frosting, I made a chocolate buttercream.

After icing the cake, I decided to try a technique called “the paper towel method”. Using a non-patterned/textured paper towel (Viva brand) you lay the towel onto the crusted cake and basically iron it with a fondant smoother. I wasn’t pleased with the results. It did smooth any bumps or ridges out of the icing, but it made it look wrinkled – like elephant skin. I thought the icing that I’d done with my “putty knife” looked better. I’d like to try this again with a different icing recipe and see if that works better.

But back to this cake. For the decorations, I tinted some fondant blue and orange and I cut out some flowers. For the white centers, I used some white pearl sprinkles and secured them with a tiny spot of white buttercream.

Baby Turtles

July 31, 2010

July 2010

Yesterday morning I delivered cupcakes to my first repeat customer! I asked my husband if that was a good sign and he assured me that it is!

I made the IU engagement cake for Tyler back in February and a few weeks ago she asked if I’d be willing to whip up some cupcakes for her pregnant sister-in-law. Now since I have a baby shower cake for this weekend also (stay tuned for that post!), normally I wouldn’t take another order in the same week just to save my sanity. But I thought that they wouldn’t be too difficult and the cupcake idea was so cute that I couldn’t resist taking the job 🙂

Tyler showed me these inspiration pictures from Georgetown Cupcake.

She asked if I could top the cupcakes with little turtles and though I don’t own (and couldn’t find online) a small turtle cookie cutter, I was sure I could use what I did have to come up with something cute!

I tinted some plain white fondant light brown and green. I used various icing tips (and upside-down icing tips) to cut out the shapes I would need to create the turtle. I used the lid on my container of toothpicks to cut out the perfect size brown circle for the background. I am nothing if not resourceful!

For the actual cupcakes, Tyler asked for chocolate chip cupcakes with chocolate ganache, and chocolate cupcakes with chocolate buttercream…oh my! Someone is a chocolate lover! I was excited to make the chocolate chip cupcakes because that was a new one for me. I used a recipe from Annie’s Eats. This recipe is for chocolate chip cookie dough cupcakes, but I just used the cake recipe. Honestly, I thought they were good, but VERY buttery – probably too much so. For the chocolate cupcakes, the chocolate ganache icing, and the chocolate buttercream I used recipes that I have used before.

I purchased an extra large round icing tip (2A) intending to pipe giant blobs of frosting on each cupcake. But, can you believe it, the tip wasn’t big enough! I must need a really HUGE one for those blobs. Side note on the blobs: I see this on a lot of bakery cupcakes and I honestly thought, how boring. I mean it’s just a big blob of icing (have I used the word “blob” enough?). But I must admit that when tasked with actually piping a giant blob (one more time, sorry) it was harder than I thought! I ended up using my 2A tip to pipe rings of icing on the cupcakes that were then covered with the little turtles. The effect was pretty similar so I was pleased with it.

Jungle Baby Shower

January 16, 2010

January 2010

Months ago, some friends and I got together (via email) and started to plan a baby shower for another friend. Right away, I volunteered to make the cake.  I was really excited for this and I had about 8,000 ideas! We were doing a jungle theme so I was thinking monkeys, elephants, grass, trees, etc. After changing my mind many times, I finally decided on the design a few days before the event.

The cake is Wilton’s golden yellow cake which I have made before and really liked. I made two 10″ rounds and one 6″ round. It is filled with Oreo cream cheese and the icing on top is chocolate buttercream (my mom’s recipe). The green is actually a jar of Betty Crocker icing (eek, I know, but I was already making two kinds of icing, so I thought I’d get the third ready made). And then I used blue gel for the water and light brown sugar for the “sand”.

I got the little animals at Michaels – they came in a set. And I made the palm tree out of royal icing and a pretzel rod. This was my first time making and using royal icing (with meringue powder). The palm tree in the picture is actually the second one I made – the first one was sort of messy! Royal icing needs to dry overnight before being handled – not just 30 minutes – lesson learned!

This was also the first time I used the multi-opening tip #233 to make the grass. After my first test, I was thrilled at how it really looks like grass!

I am really pleased with how this turned out – it may well be my best effort yet! I definitely worked on it for about 3 days and I am so glad that I could contribute this to the shower. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the actual shower so I haven’t got the verdict back on the taste yet, but hopefully it went over well!