The Construction of a Cupcake (Class)

March 16th, 2009

Vanillacaramel

Let's rewind a bit to last fall, when I was still afloat on the excitement of the Field Guide to Cookies having just been released, and honest-to-goodness actually existing in physical form, like a dream materialized. At the same time the reality was also sinking in that I had agreed to do a second book, on the intimidatingly far-ranging topic of candy, and I was going to have to really buckle down and start stocking up on bags of sugar and chocolate molds.

In the midst of this sugary maelstrom I received a call from Tante Marie's Cooking School, my alma mater. Would I be interested in teaching a class on cupcakes for the school? It would be a 3-day workshop in March, almost five months away. At that moment, five months away was like envisioning the first flowers of spring budding upon bare branches in the middle of a frozen winter: in other words, an eternity and a world away. I'd never formally taught a cooking or baking class before, but the class seemed so far off that it dampened any incipient nervousness. Surely, I thought, I'd have plenty of time to pull a class together. It would be fun – I saw it as another facet of sharing my love for pastry, just like I do on this blog.

Fast forward about three and half months, flitting by on candy-colored wings. When I looked up to take a breath from the manuscript, it was nearly February, and – yikes! March seemed a whole lot closer than before. Now dreams of cupcakes intertwined with the familiar candy phantasmagoria at night. What did I want to teach? How should I organize the class? How would I fill up the three days? What if I was a boring teacher?

Fortunately, I already had a lot of notes and recipes from all the testing I've done for this blog – joy! One of the reasons I began blogging was to keep track of my various dessert ideas and inspirations over the years. Now this blog was proving the perfect resource, not just for recipes but for remembering all the mistakes and questions that popped up as I experimented in the kitchen, from whether all-purpose or cake flour would work best, or what happened when I used silicone cupcake liners instead of paper ones, or, most importantly, what was the most delicious frosting I could come up with?

Lemonchocolate

Constructing a class on cupcakes proved to be a most worthwhile and illuminating exercise for me; I firmly believe that teaching helps you understand the material much better, and exploring the intricacies of something as simple as a cupcake actually yields a mini-encapsulation of many basic baking tenets. To wit:

- Techniques for creating butter cakes, including the importance of ingredient temperatures, how to cream butter and sugar, the necessity of sifting, how to avoid overmixing batters, and how to know when cakes are baked properly.

- Tips on creating flavor variations, including how to make infusions, how to combine flavors, and how to consider seasonality

- Methods for making filled cupcakes, and recipes for various fillings, including caramel, curd, and ganache.

- Recipes for different frostings, including buttercream (both confectioners' sugar and Swiss meringue), ganache, cream cheese, meringue, and whipped cream

- Techniques for decorating, including piping with a pastry bag, glazing, using rolled fondant, and bruleeing meringue

I'm really excited to be incorporating all of these baking pointers into my class. It's my hope that the class will serve as a primer and a springboard to encourage bakers to experiment with confidence in their own kitchens!

Of course, one of the most highly anticipated parts of any cooking class is the recipes, right? Suffice to say that for a while candy testing was mingling with cupcake in my poor overworked kitchen! Much tweaking and obsessing later, I've arrived at the following offerings for my class.

Tahitian Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Buttercream (first photo)

Deep Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache (second photo)

Summertime Strawberry Cupcakes with Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting

Chocolate Cupcakes with Fleur de Sel Caramel Filling and Candied Pecans (first photo)

Meyer Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Curd Filling and Roasted Meringue Topping (second photo)

Almond Cupcakes with Raspberry Filling and Chocolate Buttercream (third photo)

Coffee Cupcakes with Espresso Buttercream (third photo)

Lavender Cupcakes with Honey Whipped Cream Frosting

I'm so looking forward to meeting the class and diving into the world of cupcakes! The class will be next week from March 23rd-25th. I don't know if there will be other ones scheduled afterwards, but if you are interested please do e-mail Tante Marie's and let them know what classes you are interested in seeing!

If you're interested in some other cupcakes I've played around with on this blog, check out:

Vanilla Saffron Cupcakes with Rosewater Buttercream

Vanilla Bean Fig Cupcakes with Orange Blossom Honey Frosting

Chocolate Cupcakes with Hazelnut Mousseline and Coffee Buttercream

Goji Berry Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache and Himalyan Pink Salt

Olallieberry White Tea Cupcakes

Almondcoffee

Also, this Saturday I'll be speaking about Field Guide to Cookies at the San Francisco International Chocolate Salon, a gathering of chocolate connoisseurs and aficionados. It promises to be a slice of chocolate heaven – I hope to have some yummy photos to share of the event!

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