apple + bacon = baby cakes!

I might not have spent my Friday night at The Whalesbone – but I think I got to do something just as cool (ok… well since I’m a baker first… it might just be a tad cooler – but just a tad)… Kate, the head of catering for The Whalesbone Catering asked me to bake some baby cakes for her.  Yep.  That’s right.  I was asked to make the little cakes that would be on display and on offer for her annual Whalesbone Catering Open-House.  HOW COOL?????  Super, duper, amazingly cool.  I think you can all tell that I’m still excited about being asked to do this.

When Kate asked me, she specifically requested:

1.  40 mini cakes please – no cupcakes!

2. a few different flavour options – not just chocolate.

3.  make them look like what you could find in a bakery / gourmet shop

Done & Done… & Done!

I pretty much went straight home that night and started to work on a template. 

1.  I grabbed my biscuit rounds and figured out the best size… I baked a cake and started cutting out some nice rounds – 2 inch, 1.5 inch and 1 inch rounds.  I stacked those up for added height, took some pictures to send to Kate, and then brought them into the office for some feedback.  Everyone felt that the 1-inch rounds were the perfect size.  Baby cake template – check!

2.  Flavours.  I really, truly love my lemon cake.  No matter how many times I make it – I still heart it.  I Love to bake it and I love to eat it.  Making a batch of lemon cakes was pretty much a given.  I also heart my marble cake recipe.  Sigh.  That batter has been my dinner on many an occassion… and really… I’m ok with that.  Marble cake was therefore a must (plus Kate’s boyfriend loves marble so they were both stoked that I picked that).  Finally, the third flavour… how about… apple bacon spice cake with maple buttercream?  Doesn’t that sound delish?  Doesn’t that sound like a donut I recently sampled?  Well… my San Francisco delight was turned into a the moistest cake ever.  Plus my kitchen smelled amazing.  I think Kate was as excited as I was when I told her my plan.  Flavours – check!

3.  How to make them gourmet shop pretty?  Obviously it meant… fondant.  That’s right folks – I willingly offered to make something that required me to use fondant.  Can I just say… thank you Emily!!!!  Once my template had been made I went over to Emily’s house and she gave me a 5 minute demo on how to work with it.  That demo was a life saver.  So working with fondant – check!

I’m really thrilled with how my baby cakes turned out.  Seriously… they look so… professional.  I’m used to being the baker and then handing it off to Emily to make it pretty – it was nice to see that I could make it pretty too!   

lemon baby cake – nicely decorated with yellow ribbon

marble baby cake with marbled chocolate fudge & vanilla fondant… pretty eh?

apple bacon spice baby cake – green ribbon and a sprinkle of bacon bits… amazing!

This cake is great if you love a really moist cake – the apples honestly keep it so light – and I was able to punch up the flavour by sautéing the diced apples in bacon fat and also by grating in some fresh nutmeg.  Then to top it all off… well I obviously had to add some bacon to the top of my baby cake… doesn’t it look pretty?  I was up until 2:30 am finishing off my little baby cakes… I am so super proud of how they turned out.

I’m going to post about the Open-House too… but not today.  Today is all about my little baby cakes… my pride and joy at the moment.  Plus… it’s about time I share a recipe with all of you.  It seems all I’ve been doing is eating and blogging about the food… when really – I do spend a lot of time baking (I swear!).

apple bacon spice cake

ingredients:

1 ½ c. packed dark brown sugar

3 eggs

1 ¼ c. sunflower oil

¼ tsp vanilla extract

2 1/3 c. flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground nutmeg

pinch of salt

10 oz (about 3 large) apples, peeled, cored, diced

4 large slices of bacon, finely chopped

Pre-heat your oven to 325 F.  Spray two 9-inch rounds (or a rectangular slab) with non-stick spray.  I obviously was using a rectangular slab for this recipe since I needed to cut out perfect rounds for the mini-cakes.  Set aside.

In a large non-stick pan over high heat, cook your chopped bacon.  Get it nice and crispy, them remove the bacon bits from the pan and place on a paper towel.  Set aside.  Turn down the heat and toss the diced apples into the bacon fat.  Sautée the apples in the fat until they soften.  About 3 minutes.  Remove the pan from heat and set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat together the sugar, eggs, oil, and vanilla.  You want everything to be really well incorporated, increase the speed to medium.

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.

While the mixer is running, slowly incorporate the dry ingredients.  Allow everything to be well mixed.  At this point, turn off your mixer, toss in the diced apples, and fold them into the batter.

Pour the batter into the pans, and bake for 35 – 40 minutes – – until golden brown and the cake bounces back when touched.  Allow to cool slightly (about 20 minutes) in the pans on a wire rack before turning them out and cooling completely.

the beginnings of the baby cakes – apple bacon spice cake

Once cooled, make your frosting.

Seriously people… maple & coarse sea salt buttercream is probably the greatest thing ever.  Salty sweet – which plays off the salty / sweetness of the cake as well… sigh.  DELISH.  I first started making maple buttercream as a teenager.  I can remember discovering the combination and my eyes widening in delight.  True story :0)

I have to tell you something… I have a problem with it comes to making buttercream frosting… you see… I “cook” my recipes.  What the heck does that mean right?  Well…when I bake, I pay attention to all my measurements… when I cook, I just toss things into the bowl.  In this instance I started with the following:

1/2 c. salted butter, room temperature

3 c. powdered sugar, sifted

And I just mixed those two ingredients together using my paddle attachment in my stand-mixer.  

This is when I start to “cook”.

I just add maple syrup until I think it looks right.  And then I add some coarse sea salt a pinch at a time.  And then to loosen up the batter a little (at this point my mixer is at a faster speed), I add some milk.  Maybe 1 tbsp at the most… maybe a little less.  I don’t know.  I really just keep an eye on my buttercream, I ensure that the sides of the bowl are scraped down and I dip my finger in and taste.  If I think it needs to be sweeter or saltier I add accordingly.  But that’s my buttercream secret… oh yeah… and I let it mix for about 10 minutes.  That’s it.

But it looks good eh?

maple and coarse sea salt buttercream

It was time to cover each baby cake in buttercream.  A little more difficult a task than I originally thought… small cakes – big hands… oh well.  They still turned out exactly as I had hoped.

lemon baby cake covered in buttercream

Then things got really fun.  FONDANT!  I learned through Emily’s demo that fondant is basically like pastry dough… only you can knead it way more than you would pie crust.  I didn’t make the fondant from scratch.  Nope.  I went to Artistic Cake Design and bought their fondant – which is delicious (seriously… it’s pretty darn incredible).  I pulled out a handful of fondant at a time, kneaded it well (since it’s pretty firm when packaged), and then got to work.

1.  Using non-stick spray, spray directly on your clean surface.

2.  Toss some powdered sugar on top of the sprayed area (exactly like using a well floured surface for pie crust)

3.  Place your disk of kneaded fondant on top of the powdered surface and grab your rolling-pin.

4.  Roll it out and then cover your cake.

That’s it.  Simple eh?  One thing to note – don’t roll the fondant too thin – otherwise it will pucker or tear when you place it on your cake.  Overall, my first experience was pretty painless… a little more time-consuming than I thought – but my goal is to get faster at it :0)

Once the baby cake was covered, I then trimmed the excess fondant with a sharp knife.  It really is exactly like pastry dough!

I even decided to mix together some chocolate fudge fondant with the vanilla fondant to create a marbled effect for my marble cakes.  I was super pleased with how those turned out.  Such a cool effect!

As a final touch (and to make it look more professional), I wrapped different coloured ribbons around the base of each cake (it totally tidied up the bases), held them in place with a pretty little pin, and then topped the apple bacon spice baby cake with a sprinkling of bacon bits.

I’d say job well done.  Actually… if you saw me on Monday – I was saying that and patting myself on the back.  ;0)

no more cupcakes…

*author’s note – some of the pictures used in this blog have been shared by Rick Bond, who attended and took some pretty fabulous photos.  Thanks Rick for allowing me to use them. If you’d like to view more of Rick’s photos – please feel free to click here*

Capital Cupcake Camp 2010 has come and gone… and I can say… it has really impacted my life.  I went.  I sat.  I tasted.  For 2.5 hours.  That’s right friends, Chef (Michael) Blackie, Kady O’Mally, Alan Neal and I sat, tasted, talked and voted on our favourite cupcakes.  For 2 and a half hours.  That… is intense.  And perhaps a little insane.

But we sure did laugh.

Maybe it was the sugar.  Or our own witty little comments… but Cupcake Camp made us laugh and smile… and I think it made everyone who entered feel the same way.  Bakers and tasters united to raise over $6000 for Women Alive / Femme Active Program and the Youth Services Bureau.  How amazing is that?  All thanks to the little ol’ cupcake!  I’m so stoked to have been a part of that.

But back to the judging.

We decided that we would rate the cupcakes on a couple of things… obviously taste, moisture level in the cake, cake to icing ratio, sugar vs. flavour, and frosting consistency.  Sounds pretty professional right?  Armed with our note pads, pens and critical taste-buds, we set off – starting with the BestVegan category.

Holy heck… we were really impressed.  Great flavours, interesting textures, super creativity.  We voted #56 – a carrot ginger cupcake the winner.  I LOVED how moist the cake was.  My first comment was “solid.” That was one solid cupcake that won us judges over.  High Five to #56!

Then it was time to sample the 27 cupcakes entered in the Tastiest Twist on a Traditional (fyi – I love the name of this category…since it includes a twist).  Someone made a french toast with strawberry filling cupcake (#22). And the cake really did taste like french toast!  Another contestant created a peppermint twist cupcake (#46) – a pretty little red and white cupcake – that looked like a chirstmas mint – it was even encased in plastic.  Solid interpretation of a mint in cupcake form.  There was even a margarita cupcake (#17) – real alcohol – spot on with the flavour and well executed.  We were all pretty wowed by a lime coconut cupcake (#47) – super fresh, intense lime flavour… my personal favourite of the bunch (I heart limes) – I do believe I can quote Chef Blackie who’s first reaction was simply “wow”.  In the end however, the four of us decided to award #16 the winner: a chocolate 5 spice cupcake with caramel topping.  Super intense flavour – but in a good way.  Nice and dense cake and excellent (really excellent) frosting.

the tray that awaited our judgment…

We made the mistake of taking a little break.  The thing is… when you stand up and walk around after having sampled 38 cupcakes in less than an hour… well you kinda, sorta realize that you’re full.  And yet… we still had to judge: best savory cupcake, best filling, best decorated (no tasting required! hooray!); then we also had the PRO categories to judge: most original, best overall, and again, best decorated.   The good part about the break though is that I got to talk to some of the bakers and tasters (including some of my friends who showed up: Audrey, Mary, Zarah!!!), which is really what this entire thing is about.

It was time to get back to the tasting.

Best savoury cupcake – a nice break from all the sweetness we’d been sampling – there was a successful basil and olive oil cupcake (#79) – the cake was excellent, and moist.  I remember Kady really enjoying it.  But the cupcake that got all of us excited was the “coleslaw” cupcake (#3) – so named by Blackie because of the cupcake liner used… a brown butter pumpkin spice cupcake – AMAZING.  Super moist, super flavourful… so well balanced.  We all agreed it was our top for the category.

Best filling in a cupcake – more sweetness in the belly.  Seriously at this point we moved the jug of water a little closer to us, and I think Alan might have wanted to bow out of the judging.  We wouldn’t hear of it… and so we all just dug right in.  Literally.  Fingers dug into the cakes searching for the filling that would excite our taste-buds; nanaimo bar, salted caramel, peanut butter, boston cream pie, ricotta stuffed cupcake, orange, pumpkin, and Irish chocolate (really tasted of good ol’ Bailey’s Irish Cream).  We picked #48 – a salted caramel that was so gooey and delicious, I think we all dug in more than once… which at this point in the judging says a lot.

Best decorated provided all of us with a little reprieve… heck… perhaps we haggled our decision a little longer than necessary just in order to allow our stomachs and taste-buds a little break :0)

the winner

my favourite… and my own picture… not as clear as I’d hoped

I personally (and yes, this is my own personal opinion) was completely enamored by #28 – it was simple, and pretty, and I just couldn’t stop looking at it.  In the end we picked #2 to be our winner – Blackie and Kady were especially impressed with the beautiful workmanship in creating the little acorn and leaf.

Time for the PRO’s.  I have to say… Auntie Loo’syou’re cupcakes were BEAUTIFUL!  Those trees were perfect!!!  I fought for you’re cupcake to win the PRO best decorated…. but… well #101’s cupcake won.  It had a scull.  That was pretty darn impressive.  And the skull glittered… another bonus feature.  It really was a difficult category to judge… everyone that came out produced a solid cupcake.

the winning cupcake

but this one is super cute too… right?

When it came to PRO most original we um… picked a pumpkin cupcake (#97).  It was AWESOME.  I particularly enjoyed the frosting… or at least that’s what I wrote down in my notes :0)  (I have to trust my notes at this point… I was in a deep sugar haze)

Finally it was time for the PRO best overall.  This is where there was a bit of a controversy… it seems that some people didn’t appreciate the fact that we didn’t actually sample each and everyone of the cupcakes entered in this category.  In our defense (yes… I’m defending us judges), being best overall means that we had to be pretty darn wowed by the decoration and aesthetic of the cupcake.  And when you’re comparing some of them… well you are drawn towards the ones that look pretty spectacular.  And when you’re coming up to almost 100 cupcakes sampled, removing ones that don’t qualify for best overall (and decoration is a huge component of that category) kinda makes sense.  Non?   Therefore we set aside some of the cupcakes.

one of the PRO options… awesome looking eh?

That left us with 5 more cupcakes to sample.  Seriously people… I won’t lie – it was getting a little difficult to willingly grab a piece of cupcake and place it in my mouth.  My stomach was starting to hurt a little (ok, alot) and it took all my self-discipline to actually want to try and eat anything else.  My favourite of those judged was #87.  It was Blackie’s, Alan’s, and Kady’s favourite too.  Done and Done!

That was pretty much the end of our afternoon.  2.5 hours of cupcake tasting and giggling.  All for a good cause.  I’ve never experienced a sugar high like that one… and I need at least another year before I can do it again.

But Capital Cupcake Camp 2011 count me in!!!!

*special thanks to the organizing cmtt – Don, Jenn, Jenn,  Andrea, Ian… thanks for including me in the event.  Super awesome fun times!   yes… even if I had cupcake heartburn :0)

p.s.  i heart your t-shirts ;0)