March 16, 2016

Naturally Green St. Patrick's Day Cupcakes

Having a sensitivity to food coloring confuses people sometimes, especially since mine is restricted to blue. What they don't seem to understand is that my body doesn't actually care if it looks blue, just if it contains the pigment Blue 1. You know what else contains Blue 1 besides blue food coloring? Green food coloring. Purple food coloring. A variety of foods that don't fall anywhere on the blue side of the color wheel, also known as my list of reasons I hate everything (because I usually discover these foods contain blue food coloring the hard way).

Reasons I Hate Everything List

  • Store bought marshmallows (even the gingerbread ones)
  • Cranberry ginger ale (ironically bought to make my stomach feel better)
  • Chocolate animal crackers
  • Peach Mango Crystal Lite
  • Reese's Pieces
  • Almost anything berry flavored
There's probably more, but since I've become obsessive about checking the ingredients on foods before I buy them, there's a lot less accidental blue food coloring ingestion, so I'm less angry about it. That's not to say I never slip up (sometimes on purpose, damn you sour gummy worms), but since my system has usually been cleaned out of all blue by that time, it's usually less "I hate everything" and more "well, that was not smart."

But when this time of year rolls around, and everyone decides to dye everything green, the subject starts to come up again. Well I tell someone I can't eat something that has green food coloring, they go, "Why, it's not blue," and I have to go back to the elementary school color wheel to explain how you make something green.
Enter the naturally green cupcakes. I originally made them last year for a friend who wanted "baby friendly" St. Patrick's Day cupcakes for her son's day care. I didn't know what baby friendly cupcakes meant, so I figured I'd just make something low sugar with no artificial ingredients and some hidden healthy stuff. (I topped those original cupcakes with an avocado cream cheese frosting, which made me sad because avocado+cream cheese tasted really good and all I wanted to do was add some garlic and onion to it and spread it on toast. Instead I, very reluctantly, had to add sugar)

I had low expectations for those cupcakes, as they were meant for tiny people who hadn't yet grown all of their teeth, but they were surprisingly tasty. I decided to try and make them again for Christmas, tweaking the recipe up a bit for adults, and topping them with some red velvet frosting. Those were really good, but I decided to make the full recipe in the blender, and the flour got overworked, so they came out a bit on the gummy side (which was also sad, because making them in the blender was so easy!)

So here we've come full circle and I decided to once again, this time with the tweaked recipe and without trying to make everything in the blender. Whattaya think?
Green enough for you? Except for the candy decorations, there is not a drop of food coloring in these bad boys. Have you guessed what makes that possible yet?

The answer is spinach. These cupcakes are loaded up with some green leafy goodness adding color and nutrition without tasting like it. While the cupcakes do have a different flavor than a straight up vanilla cupcake would, nobody can tell you made them with spinach unless you tell them. Plus, they're a lot healthier than a regular cupcake. You've got spinach, you've also got unsweetened applesauce, and there's only one stick of butter for the whole batch. It's practically health food. I've totally eaten these for breakfast and not felt one whit of guilt.

Of course, I've also eaten pie for breakfast and not felt guilty about it, so I may not be the best judge of food related guilt.

These cupcakes are a little more dense and a little more coarse than the ideal cake texture would be. You could skip the frosting and call them muffins, but then you don't get the moral superiority of eating spinach for dessert, and I'm not down with that.
As for the toppings, those are not healthy, but that's the part that makes them cupcakes.

The frosting is a cream cheese frosting, and it wasn't half bad, considering I'm not a huge fan of cream cheese frosting, but it refused to stiffen. I have never made a cream cheese frosting that stiffened properly. I don't know if it's because I purposefully use less powdered sugar than most recipes (most cream cheese frosting recipes are way too sweet.Tooth-achingly so. I don't think I will ever understand), but it never happens for me.

Decorations wise, I went super simple. I separated out the yellow M&Ms from a bag of spring colored ones (spring yellow is paler, but there's more per bag), and placed them on top to look like gold coins. Then I sprinkled some rainbow-colored Nerds around the edges to represent a rainbow. You could totally use rainbow sprinkles instead; that was actually my plan, but I saw the rainbow Nerds in the grocery store and I got excited. XD

I realized afterwards that using neon-colored candies to decorate my naturally colored cupcakes was a bit contradictory, but they're pretty so I don't care. (I actually didn't end up eating any of the decorated ones, so it all worked out in the end)
Spinach Cupcakes
Yield: 18

5 cups packed fresh spinach
1 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar*
2 eggs
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Cream cheese frosting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Add the spinach, maple syrup, applesauce, and vinegar to a blender and blend until completely smooth.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated. Add the vanilla.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add about half the flour mixture to the butter, beating on low until just combined. Add half the spinach mixture and continue to mix, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the remaining flour and spinach mix, and beat on low speed until well combined.

Line a muffin tin with paper liners and fill three quarters of the way with batter. Bake 18-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool completely on wire racks before frosting.

*I have skipped the sugar before with no ill results, besides being not quite sweet enough, so if you prefer to not use refined sugar, you can leave it out.

Recipe by Kim

February 26, 2016

The Longest Journey Balance Cupcakes

Hot Chocolate and Chai Tea Cupcakes with Chai Spiced Buttercream

Do you guys know what my favorite video game of all time is? Probably not, because I've never talked about it on the blog (although I have talked about one of its sequels), and I don't think you're psychic. I'm not even sure that you'd be able to guess, as it's pretty old now and a bit on the obscure side.

That game is The Longest Journey. It's one of those old point and click adventure games that used to be all the rage in the 90s where gameplay was focused on puzzle solving rather than killing all the things. In fact, The Longest Journey is best known for one of it's puzzles. All you have to do is mention "the rubber ducky puzzle" and anyone who has played the game will know exactly what you're talking about.
Don't let its cute and innocent appearance fool you. It's an instrument of pure evil

The rubber ducky puzzle is famous for being really ridiculously difficult. I honestly don't know how anyone could solve it without help. It never occurred to me that I had to feed bread to the seagull and fix the water pressure machine in order to open the electrical box across town so I could sneak into the movie theater. (I skipped like 25 steps in that description. I didn't want to spoil all the fun).

Rubber duckies notwithstanding, The Longest Journey amazed me with the most fantastic storytelling, world-building, and character development I've ever seen in a video game. If you don't mind dialogue heavy games (and there is a lot of dialogue) I highly recommend it. Don't let the dated character animations put you off a spectacularly enjoyable game.

Anyway, with the newest installment of The Longest Journey saga, Dreamfall Chapters, almost complete (I don't want it to end, but I also WANT MAH BOOK 5 NOW PLS), I really wanted to make some cupcakes inspired by the franchise. I did consider making rubber ducky cupcakes, but they'd have to be blue and with my food coloring sensitivity, I wasn't about to let the rubber ducky make me sick. He's caused me enough suffering.
The Balance between the parallel worlds of Stark (the world of science. AKA us) and Arcadia (the world of magic. AKA I want to go to there), however, is a consistent theme throughout all three games, and is the driving force behind the events of The Longest Journey (and is in peril again with the dream conspiracy in Dreamfall Chapters), so the Symbol of the Balance is an immediately recognizable representation of the game. When I found some chocolate cookie icing on clearance at the grocery store, I figured I could use that to make some royal icing transfers to decorate with.

Now, I've worked with royal icing twice in my life (and once was just to draw a smiley face on Sherlock Cupcakes), and I've never made royal icing transfers before. However, I have read a lot of cookie decorating blogs (at one point in my life I decided I was going to start decorating cookies. Then I remembered how much I hate roll out dough. But they're still fun to look at), so I figured I knew enough to swing it. And actually, it wasn't that hard. Time consuming? Most definitely. But once it's dry, a royal icing transfer will keep for ages in an airtight container, so it's great for making ahead. The symbol of the balance actually lent itself well to royal icing, as it's mostly made up of fluid lines and not sharp edges. I did have to coax it into place a few times with a toothpick, but from all the cookie decorating blogs I've read, that seems normal.

All you need to do is print out the image you want (in my case, the symbol of the balance), tape it to a cookie sheet or similar flat surface, tape some waxed paper over top. Take your cookie icing in your "outline color" (I used Betty Crocker brand chocolate flavored) and follow the pattern. Let dry for a few hours.

Then I mixed up a small batch of flood consistency white royal icing (I just halved the recipe that comes with the Wilton meringue powder) and fill in all the empty spaces (use a toothpick to get the corners). I ended up doing a reverse image type deal because that was just easier, but either way works. (And if you don't know what "flood consistency" means, check out this post from LilaLoa. I'd try to explain it, but I'd probably just confuse you). Let dry at minimum over night. They take a very long time to dry, and if you try to remove them from the wax paper before they are, they'll be unsalvageable.
Then very carefully and gently remove them from the wax paper. These were thick enough that I had no trouble removing them, but I've seen people remove royal icing transfers using a knife and a sharp corner, so if you're making a delicate design, please refer to someone who actually knows what they're doing.

The Betty Crocker icing worked great (especially since I don't own tiny decorating icing tips, so using the pouch was easier for me) but it did bleed a little into the white. The bleeding itself wasn't that noticeable, but you can seen see in the photos that it makes it look like the chocolate has bloomed, which is not a thing you normally want chocolate to do.
The air bubbles are totally on me, though
There was no food coloring in the icing (I checked the ingredient list), so I didn't expect there to be any bleeding. I'm not sure if I just didn't let it dry long enough before flooding with the white, if it's just a problem with the prepackaged recipe, or if this is the reason it was on clearance. I can't actually seem to find anything about using Betty Crocker cookie icing to make a royal icing transfer, so it might just be that it was never intended for stuff like this and I should have realized that.

So in conclusion: Royal icing transfers are a surprisingly easy, though time consuming, way to make decorations, and you probably shouldn't use the cookie icing you bought on clearance to make them. Moving on...
Cupcakes! It took me a while to figure out exactly what kind of cupcake to make for these, because I wanted something that could represent the Balance flavor wise. I also wanted there to be a visual distinction between the two flavors. I considered doing just vanilla and chocolate, but I wanted it to be two flavors that wouldn't necessarily seem like they went together, so it would be a balanced flavor. Get it?

I also briefly considered making them yam flavored, because that would make Kian happy, but I ultimately decided against it. Mostly because I don't actually like yams.
Kian will never forgive me

I'm not completely sure how I ultimately ended up with chai tea and hot chocolate. It might have had something to do with the fact that it was about 10 degrees out when I made them. (It's 50 degrees out right now. WTF, nature? Pull yourself together) But when you think about it, tea has a reputation of being very cultured and refined, so it could stand for logic (Stark). Hot chocolate is sweet and frivolous, and therefore could stand for chaos (Arcadia). Plus, they're both related, in that they're both hot beverages that you want to drink when it's 10 degrees out and probably add milk to.

Boom. Nailed it.
The cupcake will remember this
So technically, the whole cupcake is tea flavored, because it was easier to steep the tea in the milk than to figure out how to add it after I halved the batter. I started with my very favorite vanilla cupcake recipe, added the tea, and divided the batter in half. To one half, I added a packet of dark hot chocolate mix, and to the other, I added a chai spice mix of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, allspice, and cloves. The flavors meld together well, but are still distinctive enough that you can taste the difference between the two halves. And what bridges the two halves? Storytime, of course.
Storytime is definitely the prettiest location in Dreamfall Chapers. Although Propast is still my favorite
Just kidding. I wouldn't know how to add a Storytime element to the cupcakes. Gooey dream-filled center? (Because Storytime is the world of dreams and dreams flow between the two worlds bridging the divide.)

Maybe the frosting? But no, the frosting is kind of more like the House of all Worlds. It touches both halves, it's part of the cupcake, but it's still separate from the actual cake part.

Whoa, this is getting deep.

The frosting is just my basic buttercream with some chai spices. I would have loved to do some whipped cream on top of these cupcakes, but I needed something sturdy for the RI transfers, so I went with my old standby. And it's still delicious.
So the moral of the story is that awesome video games deserve awesome cupcakes. And if you're not playing Dreamfall Chapters, you should go do that immediately. Or play The Longest Journey. Or Dreamfall: The Longest Journey (which is the middle game of the series and my least favorite. But still great, storywise). Because if you haven't played any of them, then you haven't earned these awesome cupcakes. Also, it means that you've never met Crow, who is basically just the best ever, and I feel sorry for you.

I kind of want to feed Crow all the cupcakes.
ILU Crow
Hot Chocolate and Chai Tea Cupcakes
Yield: 24 cupcakes

For the Chai Spice Mix:
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cardamom
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. allspice

For the cupcakes:
2/3 cup milk
3 black tea bags
2 1/2 cups cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 eggs
8 oz. sour cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 packet dark hot chocolate
1 tbsp.  Chai Spice mix

For the frosting:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup solid white vegetable shortening (Crisco)
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 tbsp. milk
Remaining Chai Spice Mix (2 tsp.)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch salt

In a small bowl, mix together the Chai Spice Mix ingredients. Set aside. In a small saucepan over low heat, bring the milk to a simmer. Add the tea bags and remove from heat. Allow to steep until the milk has cooled to room temperature. Remove and discard the tea bags.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 muffin tins with 24 cupcake liners. In a medium mixing bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and sale. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large mixing bowl with electric beaters, beat the butter and sugar together at medium speed until fluffy. Add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and sour cream, and mix until fully combined. Mix in the milk and then the other half of the flour mixture. Beat until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Divide the batter equally between two bowls. In one bowl, stir in the packet of hot chocolate mix. In the other bowl, stir in 1 tbsp. of chai spice mix. Divide each batter equally between the 24 baking cups. Bake 15-17 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes our clean. Cool completely on wire racks.

For the frosting: With an electric mixer, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until smooth. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the powdered sugar. Add the milk, vanilla, and chai spice mix and gradually increase speed to high. Whip on high until smooth and fluffy.

Recipe by Kim
These cupcakes are an essential part of a well Balanced diet.

Crow would have appreciated that joke.