12 May 2018

Small Batch Lilac Chocolate Cupcakes

As I am writing this, the honeyed scent of lilac flowers leftover from these cupcakes perfume the room. The sun is hitting my translucent lace curtains, producing the most beautiful shadows on my wall adorn with photos, postcards, and a calendar still displaying the month of April. There's a great sense of stillness but as the gentle breeze moves my curtains, the shadows start dancing on my wall and it disrupts my gaze from here to over there. The light and the shadows change, but the sugared scent of lilacs stay as a constant. I was never aware of my affinity towards lilacs until last weekend, when I was strolling around the farmers market and I saw a sea of purple petals accompanied by the sweetest scent. The scent also carried some sort of nostalgia, reminiscent of the undertones of perfumes I grew up smelling. I picked up a bouquet and then another for good measure. Lilac sugar, lilac simple syrup, and all the ideas for buttercreams, cakes and decorating just flowed steadily.

Here is a simple and small batch recipe that is perfect for Mother's Day tomorrow. It makes six devil's food cupcakes that are not overly sweet, which means you want to use a good quality cocoa because it is what sings here. A light brush of lilac simple syrup keeps the cake extra moist and renders the sweet scent of the beautiful flowers into something edible. When you are the at the market, remember to double check if the lilac flowers you are getting are organic and do not have any chemicals sprayed on them. A whipped cream cheese frosting tops off the cupcakes and I chose for them to piped to resemble the lilac petals. This can easily be achieved with a drop flower piping tip. If you do not have a drop flower tip, the frosting piped in whichever way you are most comfortable with will work just as well.

Small Batch Lilac Chocolate Cupcakes
Yields 6 cupcakes

Lilac Simple Syrup
1 cup lilac flowers, washed and trimmed
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 water

In a small pot over medium heat, combine lilac flowers, sugar and water and let mixture come to a boil.

Cook the mixture until it becomes slightly syrupy, roughly 10 - 15 minutes.

Transfer the syrup into a small jar and let cool. Syrup will thicken slightly more once it has cooled.

Devil's Food Cake
4 1/2 tablespoons (60g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (80g) brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
100ml whole milk
3 tablespoons sour cream

Preheat oven to 350F.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream together butter and and brown sugar until smooth. Add egg and beat until mixture is fully-incorporated and fluffy.

In a bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large measuring cup, combine milk and sour cream. Set aside.

Alternating between the dry and wet ingredients, add them to the butter-sugar mixture in two parts.

Using an ice cream scoop, scoop out cake batter into the cavities of the lined cupcake pan.

Bake for 20 - 22 minutes, or until cake insert comes out clean.

Cream Cheese Frosting
6 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 - 3 cups icing sugar
2  tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 drop violet food colouring
1 drop dusty pink food colouring

In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat together cream cheese and butter until smooth.

With the mixer running on low, add icing sugar one cup at a time. Add milk and vanilla.

Beat on high until frosting is fluffy.

Separate frosting into two small bowls. Colour one bowl purple and one bowl pink. 

Fit the piping bag with a Wilton 2D (drop flower) tip. Fill one side of the piping bag with the pink frosting and the other side with purple. I find it easiest to fill the piping bag with an offset spatula. Do not mix the colours inside the piping bag to ensure a two-tone frosting.

Once the cupcakes have cooled, use a pastry brush and brush on a thin layer of the lilac syrup.

Start at the centre of the cupcake, pipe dollops of the frosting using the 2D tip. continue piping around the centre dollop until you reach the edge of the cupcake.

Repeat with the remainder of the cupcakes.

If any point the frosting is too soft, chill the piping bag in the fridge for fifteen minutes and continue piping.

Happy baking!

28 April 2018

Whipped Strawberry Cheesecake Crêpe Cake

When I was in Paris two springs ago, I ate so many crêpes that it started to become embarrassing to still be keeping count. Is that a very cliché thing to do? My mom and I would go to the markets everyday, pick up whatever produce was in season (lots of white asparagus!) and turn it into a savoury crêpe/galette situation that evening. We would try out different coffeeshops and restaurants during the day, but the evening was reserved for enjoying the freshest produce we could find in the market. It was so lovely.

Back here in Vancouver, my crêpe count has not been as high and I am always looking for a way to change that. I would occasionally visit a Japanese crêpe shop for a crêpe filled with some sort of mochi-matcha-cream concoction but my go-to place for crêpes in Vancouver is Le Marché St. George. I would spend hours at Le Marché enjoying my crêpe, sipping on my cafe au lait, and soaking in the jazz they have playing in the background.

Though I have eaten quite a number of crêpes, making them has never been high on my to-do list. I constantly feared that my attempt at making them would translate into a sad reality of a pile of overly thick crêpes or overly thin pancakes. It was not until I started noticing the influx of cafés offering beautiful crêpe cakes that I thought I should finally try and make my own. Before you make a crêpe cake you should know that it takes a lot of time and patience. It is not overly difficult to execute but you have to be prepared to stand by the stove repeating the batter ladling wrist movements about twenty five times. And yes, I am finally sharing this crêpe cake recipe. I posted a photo of it back in January and many of you were super excited about getting the recipe. Unfortunately my hard drive crashed and I lost all the content I have been working on for the last few months. The only fortunate thing from that entire situation is that I managed to retrieve one set of photos — this one. So please, carve out some time on a weekend afternoon to make a crêpe cake. It is quite fun, but more importantly it is mighty delicious.

Strawberry Cheesecake Crêpe Cake
Yields one 20 - 22 layer crêpe cake

Recipe from Bon Appetit
4 large eggs, room temperature
4 cups whole milk
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Butter for the pan
*Note: Bon Appetit has a great Crepe Making 101 article!

Blend eggs, milk, granulated sugar, and vanilla in a blender until smooth and frothy. Add flour and salt and blend just to combine.

Transfer batter to a large measuring cup, cover, and chill at least 1 hour.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium, then brush lightly with some butter. 

Whisk batter to reincorporate. Ladle quarter-cupful into skillet. 

Working quickly, swirl pan to evenly coat and cook crepe, reducing heat if browning too quickly, until bubbles form on surface and edges are light golden, about 2 minutes. 

Slide a spatula underneath to loosen and carefully flip. Cook on other side until a few brown spots appear, 15–30 seconds; transfer to a flat plate. 

Repeat with remaining butter and batter, stacking crepes on plate as you go. Let crêpes cool.

Whipped Strawberry Cheesecake Filling
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
275g full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
3 - 4 tablespoons your favourite strawberry jam (without fruit)

Pour heavy whipping cream into bowl of standing mixer. With the whisk attachment whisk the whipping cream until it becomes fluffy and forms medium peaks. Transfer whipped cream into a clean bowl.

With a paddle attachment on your standing mixer, beat cream cheese until light and fluffy. Gradually add in three tablespoons of strawberry jam and beat until well-combined. In the same bowl, gently fold in the whipped cream with a rubber spatula.

Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pour heavy whipping cream into bowl of standing mixer. With the whisk attachment whisk the whipping cream until it becomes fluffy and forms medium peaks.

Place one of the cooled crêpes on a cake stand or plate. 

Put a large dollop (3 - 4 tablespoons) of whipped strawberry cream cheese filling on crepe. Use an offset spatula to even out the filling.

Place second crêpe on top of the filling layer you just smoothed out. Place large dollop (3 - 4 tablespoons) of whipped cream on crêpe and smooth out with spatula.

Repeat process with remaining cheesecake filling and whipped cream, alternating between the two fillings.

Place remaining crepe on top, wrap in plastic, and let cake chill in refrigerator for 1.5 - 2 hours

When ready to serve, remove plastic wrap and dust with icing sugar.

Happy baking!

15 April 2018

Dairy-Free Coconut Lemon Bars (from Simply Citrus)

Dairy Free Coconut Lemon Bars

On some days it feels like winter is still lingering in our pockets. Spring comes for a brief moment, and then it is gone. The crisp morning air, the intermittent rain, and the fleeting sunshine shroud my memories of past Springs. Then I see cherry blossom trees in full bloom and get reminded that it is indeed Spring right now and it is beautiful.

It is finally starting to feel like Spring. It look a while but we got there. More varieties of flowers are available at the grocer. Ranunculus stems no longer cost $12 a stem because they are not in season. Cherry blossoms create a canopy for the streets and their petals create a blanket for the ground below. Stone fruits are starting to make their appearance at the store. A bit delayed, but the first signs of spring are finally arriving – slowly, but surely. Spring is a season of renewal and I feel a renewed sense of urgency to create for this blog. Lemons might be considered a winter fruit but they feel and taste like Spring to me. I recently made a lemon ricotta cake for Easter weekend and it was everything I would want in a Spring cake. Another lemony favourite of mine is this lemon tart from two years ago and from the looks of it, many of you are into it too because it is one of the most popular recipes on the blog. If I ever want a simpler springtime lemon dessert, I would default to lemon bars. They are not fussy to make and I feel slightly less guilty eating a bar than a full slice of cake. They're easily portable and any dessert I can eat on the go is a win in my books.

Marie of Food Nouveau recently released a cookbook called Simply Citrus and it is one of those books I never knew I needed. I love books that focus on one ingredient because that means I have a go-to baking bible when I have an excess of a certain ingredient in my pantry but lack the inspiration to create something with it. As the title suggests, Simply Citrus is a wonderful collection of savoury and sweet recipes that showcases all the different things you can make with citrus fruits. The recipe I decided to make first are her dairy-free coconut lemon bars. The base of bars use coconut oil instead of butter and the addition of the toasted coconut add an unexpected tropical twist to this classic bar. The lemon filling is equal parts sweet and tart, and something I could eat by the spoonful. 

Dairy Free Coconut Lemon Bars

Dairy Free Coconut Lemon Bars

Dairy Free Coconut Lemon Bars

Dairy Free Coconut Lemon Bars

Dairy-Free Coconut Lemon Bars
*Recipe from Simply Citrus by Marie Asselin, reprinted by permission of Gibbs Smith
Yields 9 large bars or 12 small bars

Coconut Crust
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup toasted unsweetened shredded coconut
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup melted coconut oil

Lemon Filling
3/4 granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch of kosher salt
3 large eggs
2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

To serve
Powdered sugar
Toasted unsweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan and line with parchment paper, letting it overhang on both sides.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, coconut, powdered sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Stir the oil into the flour mixture until fully incorporated. Place the dough in the prepared pan, and firmly press all the way to the sides. Bake the crust until it just starts to brown around the edges, 15 - 20 minutes.

In a separate bowl, whisk the sugar, cornstarch, and salt until well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking until each one is fully incorporated before adding the next. Add the lemon zest and juice; whisk until mixture is completely smooth.

Pour the filling over the hot crust. Bake until the filling is just set, 15 - 18 minutes. The filling should start to turn golden around the edges and the centre should be a bit jiggly (it will firm up as it cools). Let the squares cool completely to room temperature and then refrigerate for 2 hours before cutting.

Just before serving, dust the bars with powdered sugar and garnish with coconut.

Simply Citrus Cookbook

Happy baking!
You can read more about Simply Citrus and pick up your copy here

8 April 2018

Peanut Butter and Jelly Birthday Cake!

...and then another year has passed by. It seems like it was just yesterday when I was writing about turning 26 and how 25 has been a year of change that I did not expect but learned to fully accept. It seemed like it was just yesterday when I was talking about unintentional indifference and how sometimes absolutes turn out to be conditional. I was sharing all those sentiments along with images of a celebratory rich chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream. I took last year's lessons and kept them in my pocket for safe keeping for all of this year. This past year has been a year of new beginnings instead of termination. It has been a year full of cliché-sounding (which does not make it any less true nonetheless) self-discovery; I am now surer of what it is I want, though I recognize that desires may not be unwavering and stagnant across time.

How are we celebrating 27? An everyday childhood staple rendered a bit more celebratory with a tad more maturity. It is the classic combination of peanut butter and jelly in a tall and layered form - moist peanut buttery cake layers and sweet strawberry jam. You can use a homemade strawberry compote in between the layers, but a store-bought seedless strawberry jam is exactly what I need to bring me back. Then, a vanilla buttercream encases all this childhood nostalgia. One thing I love about having an April birthday is that it is peak cherry blossom season. I dress the cake with fresh cherry blossom and blossom-toned piped buttercream to continue the cascading effect of the blossoms. Finally, the addition of edible gold stars and gold candles make the cake even more worthy as the centrepiece of a celebration.

Thank you Wilton for sending over so many goodies so I can make the perfect birthday cake. You can find all the products I used to make this cake (including the gold stars so many of you having been asking about!) in the assembly instructions below. For more birthday cake ideas and inspiration, click here!

Peanut Butter and Jelly Birthday Cake
Yields three layer 6-inch cake

Peanut Butter Cake
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter*
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
200 mL milk

Note: You want to use peanut butter like Kraft or Skippy's, not the natural peanut butters where the nut butter and the oil separates.

Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare three 6-inch cake pans

In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream together butter, peanut butter, and sugar until smooth.

Add in eggs one at a time, adding the second one only after the first has been fully incorporated. Add vanilla and mix well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

Alternating between the dry ingredients and the milk with the mixer on low, combine with butter-sugar mixture.

Mix until just incorporated.

Divide batter equally into the three prepared cake pans. Bake for 28 - 31 minutes, or until or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in their pans for 15 minutes before carefully transferring them out and onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Vanilla Buttercream
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 - 5 cups icing sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons milk

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter, powdered sugar (one cup at a time), salt, vanilla.

Once combined, beat in milk. Use more or less milk depending on desired consistency.

Separate butter cream into three bowls - half the buttercream in a large bowl (to frost the cake) and the remaining half divided into two bowls (to colour).

For Assembly
1/2 cup strawberry jam

For Decorating (All from Wilton!)
Disposable Decorating Bags
Pastel Gel Food Colouring (Garden Colours Set)
Round and Open Star Decorating Tips (as part of Stainless Steel Master Tip Set)

Transfer plain vanilla buttercream into a piping bag with large round tip and coupler. Transfer the other two coloured-buttercreams into piping bags with open star tips and coupler. Set aside.

Once the cake layers have cooled, level cake layers with a serrated knife or cake leveller. Place the first cake layer cut side facing up onto a cake stand. Using the plain vanilla buttercream, pipe a ring of butter cream at the edges of the cake layer to create a "mote" for the strawberry jam. Put ¼ cup of strawberry jam inside the ring of butter cream. Using an offset spatula, even out the layer of jam.

Gently place on second cake layer. Repeat previous steps of creating a ring with buttercream. Use remaining ¼ cup of jam.

Press on the final cake layer, cut side facing down.

Using the piping bag of plain vanilla buttercream, pipe big dollops of the white buttercream onto the sides of the cake. Using a bench scraper, smooth out the buttercream. Use more buttercream if a less naked look is desired. 
Using white buttercream and an offset spatula, cover the top of the cake.

Using the coloured buttercreams, create small dollops of star-shaped of buttercream on the tops and side of cake.

Apply additional cake decorations like flowers, edible gold star accents, and candles.

Thank you Wilton for supporting Constellation Inspiration!
Happy baking!


© Constellation Inspiration.