Buttercream in Bloom
Ever since I’ve begun blogging, I’ve noticed that 17 and Baking does have an effect on what I make. I still daydream about unusual flavor combinations and sketch out cupcakes in class, but I’m also influenced by what I’ve already done.
I realized that I also try not to repeat myself, despite the clear trends in my preferences. I can’t resist pumpkin, basil, and blood oranges, but their appearances on my blog have been limited since I always try to keep things different. I find myself aiming for new recipes instead – I can’t blog about something I’ve already made!
But I’ve found that some of my favorite desserts, the creations I’ll ultimately keep closest to my heart, have been the ones created not for my blog, but for my own life.
From Boston Cream Pie to Lemon Chiffon Cake, the treats I bake for my family inevitably turn out well and become favorites. And I only make things that I myself like (which is why the chocolate tag on my blog is nearly visible from space, but I keep making chocolate desserts.)
Maybe it’s because I like the creativity and the challenge of it all, or maybe it’s because I just love to see how people light up when they’re happy… Whatever the reason, I think birthday cakes are the most fun to make. I love designing and baking birthday treats especially for my friends based on what they like. I think about whether they’re a chocolate or vanilla person, and whether they’d like buttercream or ganache.
Beyond taste, the best part is deciding how to decorate whatever I make. I try to really think about what my friends are like, what makes them the happiest, and what would really make their day a little sunnier.
So when I set out to make these these Chrysanthemum Cupcakes for my artist friend M-, I already knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to make something as beautiful and light as her art, something that was really “too pretty to eat.” I also wanted to make something as delicious as attractive, so I made chocolate cupcakes filled with meyer lemon curd. Then I used my favorite swiss meringue buttercream to pipe each petal on top.
One of the most frustrating things is when the vision in your head doesn’t match the dessert you produce. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started out with a gorgeous picture in my head… and then four hours later, my counter is covered in granulated sugar and I’ve got food coloring on my nose and a temper.
But these cupcakes came together without trouble. Nobody was more surprised than me when the flowers emerged from the piping tip petal by petal, delicate and smooth.
The bouquet of cupcakes on the table put a smile on everyone’s face when they walked by… I hope they brightened M-‘s birthday too!
Update – recently I wrote this article for the Seattle Times. The recipe at the end features the piping technique from this post. A few days after publication, I got an email from Lisa of West Seattle. She and her daughter made the cupcakes, shared them with friends and family, and emailed me this lovely poem about them. I got her permission to share it here.
THIS IS NOT A CUPCAKE
This is spring
on a bone china saucer
rimmed in gold.
Lemon zest–that’s the sharp snap of a twig
as you brush past fairy chandeliers of indian plum
blooming along the creek.
There’s pistachios–earthy and green, like lilac buds
or the tip of a tulip;
bulb-bursting and shooting for the clouds.
And the flour–‘flower’. Ha!
Are you smiling yet?
Because this is not a plate of cupcakes.
It’s my affection,
spread with buttercream and set with camellia petals–
crinkled, pink, perfect.
So go ahead. Indulge.
Take a taste
of the promise of sunshine
of my heart–
there’s more where that came from.
– Lisa K., West Seattle
These cupcakes are the quintessential American chocolate cake: light, moist, and full of chocolate flavor. They’re a snap to make and worked great with the buttercream. As for the meyer lemon curd, I picked a recipe that didn’t require a ton of yolks, and I couldn’t have been happier with the results. It’s thick and tart – maybe a little too tart on its own – but paired with the chocolate cupcake and flower of frosting, it was a perfect complement to the sugar.
Adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa at Home, via Alpineberry
Makes around 36 cupcakes
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee (or hot water)
Preheat oven to 350F. Line 36 cupcake tins with paper liners.
Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed to combine the ingredients. In another bowl, gently whisk together the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix to combine.
With the mixer still on low speed, add the coffee and stir just to combine. Scrape the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula to make sure everything is well combined.
Fill cupcake tins 3/4 full (I like to use a little cookie/ice cream scoop) and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
Meyer Lemon Curd
Makes about 1 2/3 cups
3 to 4 Meyer lemons (about 1 pound)
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
Grate 2 teaspoons of lemon zest and squeeze 1/2 cup of juice. Whisk together zest, juice, sugar, and eggs, then add the butter pieces. Set over a saucepan of gently simmering water and whisk until smooth and thick, 160 degrees F on a thermometer. Strain curd through a fine sieve into another bowl, cover with wax paper, and cool completely.
To assemble Chrysanthemum Cupcakes (technique adapted from Martha Stewart): Fill a piping bag fitted with a plain, round tip with the cooled meyer lemon curd. Poke the piping tip directly into the cooled cupcakes and fill with curd. (Alternatively, you can cut an upside-down cone out of the top of the cupcake, fill with a small spoonful of curd, then replace the top of the cone.)
Using your favorite buttercream (I used my favorite Swiss Meringue Buttercream), set aside a small amount and dye it green with food coloring. Smooth a small amount into a thin circle on the top of the cupcakes – don’t worry about the center, just focus on the edges of the cupcake.
Take the remaining buttercream and dye any colors you want for the petals (I chose light pink and yellow.) Fill in a piping bag fitted with a coupler to easily change tips. Start with a No. 12 round tip and pipe a 1/2″ round dot on the center of the cupcake. Switch to a No. 80 tip (I used a No. 81, and this is the tip that looks like a “U”). Hold the tip at a 45 degree angle next to the dot. Squeeze and pull out in a quick stroke. Continue around the dot, then make a second, third, and fourth layer of petals on top of the first, making the petals shorter each time.
Finally switch to a No. 3 tip (a tiny open circle) and pipe three little dots on top.
Printer Friendly Version – Chrysanthemum Cupcakes (includes Chocolate Cake, Meyer Lemon Curd, Swiss Meringue Buttercream, and assembly instructions)