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The Story of Mum, and her Christmas Parfait Cupcakes <3

Posted on January 8, 2012 at 2:39 AM Comments comments ()
My grandmother and I had a very special bond. One that to this day, I don't think I've ever duplicated with any other family member. We connected on multiple levels, especially creatively. I like to think she shared her creativity with me. Doll houses were her hobby of passion, and from a very young age, I remember that whenever my sister, Kara, and I were over my grandparent's house, every activity we ever did was creative. Playing with clay, painting miniature stacks of books my grandfather carved out of wood, or even constructing our own doll house with their help, I couldn't wait to see what it was that Mum had in store for us.

My prized Kitchen-aid mixer was the first item to go on my wedding registry, and Mum was the one who bought it for me. Out of all the other gifts, from the crystal Vera Wang champagne flutes, to the new espresso machine, it was the one I was most excited to see as I peeled back the silver and white bridal wrapping paper. Of course it was from my sweet and loving Mum. She knew it'd be my favorite. It was the single gift that gave me more ambition and sparked ideas quicker than I could take note. I definitely wouldn't be where I am today without it, and I think somehow, 5 years ago, she knew that.

Ever since she passed away on February 14, 2010, I had been torturing myself trying to think of a dessert I could name after her, as I do all my loved ones. At first, I had renamed an already existing coconut cupcake to Mum's Coconut Cream Cupcakes- since my mother's coconut cream pie was my grandmother's favorite- but I was never happy with it. It didn't feel as if I was truly honoring her in my own way. So, for months, I scoured my brain, searching the corners and folds of my mind for past memories, stories of her life in Paris, anything that could jump out at me, but nothing did. 

As the holiday season approached, we were all saddened in knowing this would be our first Christmas without her. I would drive home from work at night with the windows down, feeling the cold breeze (for Miami, anyway) and be flooded with memories of Christmases past with her: helping her wrap presents, placing them all under the tree, the tiny Christmas decorations she made for the doll houses, a picture of her and I from my 2nd Christmas where she was telling me all the presents were gone, the Christmas ice cream parfaits she would make us... "That's it," I whispered, "That's IT." I remember when it hit me, I started crying for so many reasons. For how much I missed her, for this coming Christmas without her, for finally finding the answer to this thing that had been plaguing me for the last 10 months, and more than anything, because I felt her at that moment. There was a calmness that came over me, and I knew that 
she had to be the one who placed the idea in my head. 

As I pulled into my driveway, I sat in the car and conjured up how to make this Christmas Parfait Cupcake come to life. The Christmas parfaits were what she made for us 6 grandchildren every year. They were layers of vanilla ice cream, crushed candy cane, and crushed oreos. Many of us customized them, for example, I wanted only oreos and ice cream, and she never forgot those modifications, year after year. But despite our changes, even mine, I knew if I was going to make these, I had to do them how she originally intended to. I ultimately came up with a vanilla cupcake swirled with crushed oreos, a peppermint filling, and vanilla buttercream topped with crushed candy cane. I decided to debut them on the day of a Cupcake & Champagne Party I was already hosting, on her birthday of all days, December 12, I couldn't think of a better way to honor her.

During the chaos of setting up for a party, everyone and everything can get a little crazy; but as I started on these, there wasn't a single thing that went wrong, or second guess that I had. It was almost as if my hands were being guided by the creative ones of another's, and taking that first bite, I knew I had never been, nor would I ever be, happier, with anything else I made. My parents and my brother loved them, they're my brother's favorite flavor, even requesting them during this past summer. My sister, has never been a fan of peppermint, but because of who they were for, she knew she had to try them, and agreed the flavors were perfect. My grandfather, in his own special silent way, smiled, grabbed my arm and squeezed it, his way of saying "Good job", and my aunt Sandy and I cried for a second as I discussed the night in which the idea came to me.

I made them for our family Christmas dinner, and was anxious for my out of town cousins, Shana, Jordan and Lainey, aunt Cindy and uncle Sheldon to try the cupcakes that had our special Mum's name on them. Their reactions were just like the other's. I was so happy that I managed to conceive of, construct, and have them for our first Christmas without her. Even though there's no comparison, I felt it was the best possible way for us to feel her there. 

And to top off the icing on the cupcake, they are the most popular holiday flavor. All those who try them are completely surprised by them, and certainly can't limit themselves to only having one. They evoke holiday cheer in every way, just as she did. Every time I make them, it's a quiet time of reflection and love for me. I make them slowly and lovingly, in my beloved Kitchen-aid mixer, and every time they turn out precisely, exactly, completely, as she intended them to be. 

"So much of me is made of what I learned from you, you'll be with me like a hand print on my heart."

Giving Thanks, with Pumpkin Bread Pudding

Posted on November 27, 2011 at 2:49 PM Comments comments ()
You know, I can do much more than cupcakes. In fact, cupcakes are the most recent addition to my kitchen. Sometimes I miss the chewiness of a cookie, the building of a bar, or the swirling of brownie batter; but in this world, you have to do what customers ultimately want, and shell out the money for, and currently, that's cupcakes. 

I decided this year for Thanksgiving I would recreate a dish I originally made for Thanksgiving 2009: Pumpkin Bread Pudding. I can't remember what I put in it back then, but it was the last Thanksgiving we had with my grandmother, Mum, and she couldn't get enough of it. I also wanted to get back to my B.C. (before Cupcakes) roots, and bread pudding is always a crowd pleaser. I'll be honest I also wanted to make sure I could still do things other than cupcakes! But what to put inside it? I've never been a fan of nuts in desserts (unless it's Mom-Mom's famous Carrot Cake), so I decided not to include them unless someone specifically requested it. Apples? Raisins? Cranberries? Liquer? White Chocolate? The list went on a little more than that, but I ultimately decided on raisins soaked in brandy over night, and white chocolate chunks, along with a brandy caramel sauce. Sounds good doesn't it? I was excited!

So the process to bread pudding, starts with the pumpkin bread. The recipe my family has had, we've become pretty famous for in our social circles. So moist, perfectly spiced, it really makes it feel like Fall to me. I usually try not to eat it until October 1, or the first cold day, but this year, 3 days from December, we still haven't received our first "cold front" (which for Miami is 65 degrees or lower), so I broke my own unofficial rule nearly 2 months ago. Pumpkin bread is the main source of sustenance in our house October  through December, and even the first few days into January :) 

I've gone off on a tangent, I know, I know, I do that. Okay, back to the bread pudding.

So you cube and dry out the bread just as you would for stuffing, or you can dry it out in the oven at anywhere betwen 200-225 degrees for about an hour or so. Once that's done, you make the custard with eggs, egg yolks, heavy cream, vanilla, and brandy (or rum, whiskey, or bourbon, just please no tequila or vodka!).  I then saw the egg nog in my fridge and remembered a cinnamon roll bread pudding I had made years ago with it-- YOINK! I poured in a generous amount of egg nog, sprinkled in some cinnamon and nutmeg, added the bread cubes, and let them sit and bathe in the deliciousness for about 40 minutes. I tossed in the white chocolate chunks and raisins (that had been soaking in brandy for the last 12 hours), tossed them all around and poured everything into a 13x9 pan, and into the oven it went.

As it was baking I started on making my (from scratch) caramel sauce. It's SO EASY and SO MUCH BETTER (and cheaper!) than anything from a jar. Melted butter, brown sugar, vanilla, cream, and I decided to add some brandy as well. Finally I added some powdered sugar just to thicken it a bit, and it was done, and perfect, exactly what I was going for!

So to assemble a perfect plate of bread pudding, for most people, ice cream has to be involved. However, I'm a purist when it comes to desserts like this. I like to really taste the crafting of the love that was baked into it. With a heavy drizzling of the brandy caramel sauce on top of a warmed piece, paired with the spices of the pumpkin, and moist raisins that nearly pop in your mouth, and the white chocolate thats melted just enough, oh it's like heaven. Bread pudding is definitely one of those desserts that doesn't get as much recognition as it deserves. 

When I placed it on the Thanksgiving table, my cousins kept picking at it before we even ate dinner! They couldn't keep their hands out of it, and it hadn't even been warmed up yet, much less, the sauce wasn't with it. So I guess that was a good sign. Once it was officially served, as full as everyone was, it was definitely the single dessert on the table that inspired the most "ooooohs" and "ahhhhhhs", and on a day when we all think about the things we are blessed with, it definitely made one thankful for sugar <3

Falling for Fall

Posted on November 2, 2011 at 12:46 AM Comments comments ()
Fall. Pumpkin. Spices. Candy Apples. Naturally, you know where this is going...Every year, every August really, I start counting down the days until I will allow myself to eat any pumpkin, so to compensate for it, I let my imagination run wild thinking of different flavors to pair with my favorite fall flavor to create come October 1.

My Pumpkin cupcakes make me indescribably happy. They are perhaps one of my favorite flavors I make. So when I got the idea for Pumpkin Caramel Apple Cupcakes, I knew they could only be as delicious as I imagined them: Moist and fluffy pumpkin cupcakes, spiced and sauteed apples, caramel filling, and caramel buttercream. Where could I go wrong? Well, I know I've said that before.

Sauteing apples is perhaps my favorite part of the whole process. After the time consuming tedious dicing of the apples, and the slow melting of the butter and brown sugar, vanilla and brandy, the smells envelope you. This is usually when my husband peaks his head into the kitchen to see what he can get his hands into!  After a few minutes of permeation, I toss the apples in and let them bathe in it. 

Whenever I make the pumpkin cupcakes for the first time each year, I always, without fail, forget something. This was no exception. Brown sugar. The one thing I can't live without! Figures I wouldn't have it. Well, thankfully I know a little trick to whip some up in no time. 1 cup of white sugar to 1 tablespoon of molasses in the mixer and you're good! Crisis averted. Pumpkin cupcakes back on!

Once the batter came together, I folded in the apples, and baked them per the usual time.  I've mentioned how I watch them in the oven like a new Mama would her new baby through the nursery window... It's love <3
Once out and cooled I heated up the caramel and squeezed some into the middle of the cupcake so each bite would burst with caramel goo. And then of course, the topping of caramel buttercream. Spicy, sweet and sinful! 

I'm definitely proud of this original flavor, and the verdict among friends and family? SWEEEEET!

September Spice

Posted on September 8, 2011 at 10:54 PM Comments comments ()
Vanilla Chai Tea Latte Cupcakes. How can that not sound good?
I came up with these little babies a year ago. So I figured what better way to celebrate their 1st Birthday than to blog about 'em! :)

Chai, for those of you who don't know, is a blend of Indian spices including cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and cloves. The spices paired with creamy milk, can be such a soothing and delicious drink. So to quell my craving for spice notes one day last September, I found my favorite Chai Tea in my cupboard right above my stand mixer, looked back and forth between the two, and thought "Hmmmmm...."

I thought that this could be too good not to try out.

So, I steeped a cup of tea, and let it cool, while I mixed up a cake batter and dropped in some extra dashes of cinnamon and ginger for added ooomph! Finally, I mixed the tea in, slowly, until it all poured out into the mixer and splattered about! The batter turned into a spicy, runny, liquidy mess, and I immediately began cursing myself for wasting the last bags of tea, and not having a more careful and steady hand.

Often times when I know something is on the course to becoming an absolute disaster, I put it in the oven anyway (unless the taste is beyond awful) to see how it bakes up. There's always a lesson to be learned or a surprise to be enjoyed. As they were baking, the scents permeated the house and the air was thick with spices and vanilla. Due to the extra liquid, I watched them rise in the oven like a hawk; I knew I would have to add a few minutes more than usual, which made it tricky because they could be dough one minute and over done the next.

While I waited for the last few minutes I figured I may as well create the perfect frosting to pipe on top, given these were edible. Butter, powdered sugar, vanilla bean, a dash of cinnamon and cloves, and the last drops of the tea I managed to save from falling in the batter- as if it would have made a difference!

As the oven timer went off I glanced into the oven and saw they could probably use 1 more minute, in which afterwards I pulled them out and did the toothpick test. Mmmmm. Again, the spices. Breathing them in I pictured crisp blue skies with orange tinted trees painted against it. Football and sweatshirts. Pumpkins and piles of brown and gold leaves. (You know, a typical Miami Autumn!) I placed them on the cooling rack- I hate this part. The waiting game. You can't get a good idea of the *true* texture of a cupcake until it's completely cooled, and there are so many times I just bite into one because I can't wait to taste it, but I waited this time. A whole hour for them to completely cool before I swirled on the Vanilla Cinnamon Buttercream, peeled off the wrapper, and bit into it.


They were perfect delicate morsels of spiced delight. And the frosting was a perfect balance.

The husband loved them. (He tells me he loves everything but I can tell when he's lying!)

I brought them into work, and everyone loved them. I was proposed to by multiple people, including a straight female. Another one of my co-workers, Angela, was speechless except for a spanish phrase that loosely translated to "so delicate like a perfume". Haha, I don't remember the spanish version of it, and I don't like to toot my own horn, but I did give myself a pat on the back for making someone speak another language!

A year later, they're still one of my favorite flavors. As a precursor to October and all the pumpkin flavors that come with it, it definitely is the perfect flavor to transport you from the heat of the summer, into the crispness of the fall.

Cuban Summer

Posted on August 31, 2011 at 8:40 PM Comments comments ()
The Miami heat is pretty unbearable this time of year as we head into the fall and all the delicious flavors that come with it. Every summer, I find myself experimenting more and more with fresh fruits and tropical flavors than any other time of the year. This summer, I came up with multiple fruit flavored cupcakes that have since become favorites of my customers, and I don't think I could possibly be happier with the outcome. Although I was happy with all of them, one flavor definitely outshone the rest, a favorite among the Miamians thanks to the cuban influence, Guava!
I have never been a fan of guava. Ever. While I love most cuban food, the guava was the one thing that sent me running; and despite the numerous requests (and begging) I received from both my mother and my cuban best friend to make a dessert featuring their favorite fruit, I always thought I couldn't bring my high standards of perfection to fruition (hehe) if I didn't care for a specific flavor. Finally one day in the beginning of the summer, I received a customer's request for guava cupcakes...... CRAP. It was always easy to quell my mom and Leslie, because I could offer so many other things in its place to distract them... But you can't do that to a customer who prefaces their initial email with "Guava is my absolute favorite!" So, off to the store I went, clueless as to what to buy, much less how to use it. Luckily I found organic guava preserves. The ingredients included 100% organic guava, water, and xantham gum (a natural thickener). PERFECT. I also grabbed some guava paste (unfortunately there's a lot more added sugar in that) figured I could use it for something, maybe a dollop on top. I already had definite plans to use a cream cheese frosting, since they are such a delicious tried and true pairing.
I whipped up my go to vanilla cupcake batter, and added in the guava at the proper time. I was nervous as to how they would turn out (I always get nervous with experiments), and I sat in front of the oven and watched my little babies bake and rise to their domes. "Okay, " I thought, "so far, so good." I took them out and let them cool and thank God they never fell like I was worried about. I decided to make this a true experiment, to fill half with the remaining preserves, and leave the others unfilled. I made my classic cream cheese frosting, piped it on and used the guava paste to create the dollops as planned.
Finally, I popped one in my mouth... they were.... delicious. Yes. Delicious. I hate guava, and I loved them. Then the thought entered my head, "Oh no, if I hate guava, and I love these, then that must mean they don't taste like guava!" I quickly rushed over to my parent's house (as I usually do on experiment days) and forced the newly created sweets on my mom, dad, and brother. They all loved them, and all agreed the filled ones were the way to go. I couldn't believe I got it on the first try. As a person who's always had such determination to get it right per the specific vision in mind, and will try over and over to get it that way, I'm usually used to doing the same thing multiple times, each time changing something subtly or drastically, but everyone agreed, they were perfect. I even took some into work the next day, and they were devoured in a matter of minutes. That was the extra reassurance I needed, since the majority of my co-workers are of the guava loving breed.
Inspiration is everywhere, oftentimes right in front of you, in this case, disguised under old men playing dominos, mojitos, and cigars.