Today, AJ left on his 10th fundraising ride for the AIDS Lifecycle in support of The San Francisco AIDS Foundation. It’s still not to late to donate to his ride (every dollar counts), if you haven’t had a chance or didn’t know about it! I’ve written about his ride twice before (in 2006, and in 2007) in my former, now defunct, blog. I’m always a little sad when he takes off (a whole week without him!) and so proud of him as well (a whole week cycling from San Francisco to Los Angeles – that’s 535 miles on a bike!). And every year there is a pre-ride dinner with his cycling team, the Gutterbunnies. This year, the annual dinner, was held at one of the bunny’s house, and it was a potluck. Of course I was tasked to bring the dessert and I decide to try a new recipe for black bottom cupcakes, paired with AJ’s favorite frosting – salted caramel cream cheese. Because I had such a great time with spun sugar, I decided to top the cupcakes with a little caramel decoration as well.
However, I didn’t really think that far ahead in terms of what my schedule was going to be like this past week when I volunteered to bake a dessert. Starting with Memorial Day weekend, I had something planned EVERY SINGLE evening of the week (a long weekend trip to Sonoma, dinner with the Gay Straight Alliance that AJ is the advisor for, dinner with a friend from out of town, dinner with ANOTHER friend from out of town, and then the dinner his cycling friends). On top of that work was ridiculously insane. It was a four day work week, but I ended up billing 40 hours worth of work, running from work to each event (ever so slightly late for them) and then going home and collapsing in bed, starting all over again in the morning.
Yes. This is my life right now.
But somehow, SOMEHOW, I was able to squeeze in making cupcakes. I made them in the hour break I had between coming home from work and running out to dinner with friend Number 1 (skipping the drinks before that they had suggested). And then I made the frosting the night of the dinner, along with the caramel decorations.
Oh yeah, I also baked some chocolate chip cookies because I was a little worried that I had overbaked the cupcakes (I had, but they were salvageable with the frosting). The chocolate chip cookies don’t really count though, because I had emergency chocolate chip cookie dough in the freezer (something I suggest EVERYONE do in case of baking emergencies) so that was just pulling them out and stick them in the oven for 15 minutes.
The annual dinner is named “The Sub-Zero Dinner” because each day of the ride has a number, starting with Day Zero which is when you register, Day One when the riders cycle off into the distance, and so on to Day Seven when the riders arrive into Los Angeles.
The Sub-Zero dinner has fluctuated in size from large groups (35+ people) to much smaller. This year it was the core bunnies, down to 13 people (I was initially told it was going to be 11 people, which is why you see 11 cupcakes in the carrier). Each bunny in the group has a nickname and there are rules as to how you get the nickname. The nickname can’t be mean or spiteful, you cannot pick your own nickname, it has to be given to you, but you do have veto power over the nickname.
This year, they went around the circle and related the story of each of their nicknames. From Rebound Bunny to BandAid Bunny they talked about how they joined the group and how they got their names. This year, there was a new bunny Eleanor, who had been riding with the group but had not yet gotten a nickname. She was christened Detour Bunny (because she had a habit of getting lost on the training rides).
Side note. I COMPLETELY put my foot in my mouth when I sat down to dinner next to her. I totally knew who she was, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember how I knew here. I figured that I just knew her from various cycling functionsr. So I just sat down and said “Hi! I don’t know if we have ever formally been introduced, but I’m Irvin.” She just looked at me, and replied back “Um. I was at your dessert party last year. I met your parents there.” AND then it all clicked on how I knew her. And I felt completely ridiculous.
Not much you can do to recover from that one. But Eleanor’s such a sweetheart, I’m sure she’ll forgive me. In my defense I was coasting on minimal amounts of sleep and was completely exhausted and brain fried from the week. So there’s that.
The dinner was fantastic. The bunnies told stories about former bunnies and what they were up to. They talked about AIDS rides from the past and previous trips across the country and the world. AJ competed with the bunnies at the Gay Games in Chicago, winning one gold and several silver awards in cycling (another former blog post) and a group of bunnies are going to Cologne, Germany later this summer to compete in this year’s Gay Games as well.
We ate a leafy green salad, a great vegetarian friendly pasta and a lovely citrus rosemary infused chicken, and, of cou
rse cupcakes (my own and some from Mission Mini that Chatty Bunny had brought) as well as the emergency chocolate chip cookies for dessert.
A few bunnies had already had my chocolate chip cookies before and they were SUPER excited to see them again. One bunny said that he had actually dreamed about the cookies after he had them previously, so he was totally thrilled to have them again!
And the cupcakes seem to be a hit. Though I thought they were a little dry from my overbaking them, no one seemed to mind, and the caramel cream cheese frosting (I went generous with it) seemed to make up for that. One of the bunnies (who actually is in the hospitality industry) actually asked me if I catered, and that I totally should. Ha! Someone pay me for my baked goods so I can quit my day job please!
In the end I’ll miss AJ for the next week, but I’m taking off on Friday to drive down to LA to meet up with him (and friends). I wish the bunnies the best ride! I’m so proud of them, and think they are truly all amazing. Go Riders!
Whilst baking these, I listened to the new Robyn album Body Talk Pt. 1. Intelligent disco electropop. Perfect for the start of the summer.
Black Bottom Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting and Caramel Decoration
loosely based on a recipe from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook
If you’ve never had a black bottom cupcake, get crackin’! They are dense and chocolaty with a creamy cream cheese center and top. I sometimes have them for breakfast (they aren’t super sweet) without the frosting. But the frosting put them over the top and definitely moves them into rich dessert territory. Just make sure not to overbake them (like I did) as they are so dense that they can dry out fairly easily.
chocolate cake batter
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbls brown sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not dutch-processed)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup milk (not skim/nonfat)
1/4 cup canola (or other neutral flavored) oil
1 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
cream cheese filling
4 1/2 oz cream cheese
1/3 cup white sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp unbleached flour
a pinch of salt
2/3 cup of chocolate chips
1. Line a standard 12 cup muffin tin with paper liners (I use fancy ones because I keep on finding them at the clearance section at Sur la Table, but really any paper liner will work).
2. Preheat the oven to 325˚ F.
3. Make the cake batter by combine the flour, brown sugar, cocoa powder and baking soda together in a large bowl from a standing mixer, stirring the ingredients on slow with a the paddle attachment until well blended.
4. Whisk the cream, milk, oil, vinegar and vanilla together in a small bowl or large glass measuring cup. Slowly pour the liquid into the bowl, with the mixer turned on medium low, increasing the speed once all the liquid has been poured in, until incorporated. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the mixture at some point so that everything is mixed in.
5. Make the cream cheese filling batter by beating together the cream cheese, sugar, egg, vanilla, flour and pinch of salt until smooth. Once the mixture is the right consistency, fold in the chocolate chips by hand.
6. Assemble the cupcakes by spooning a base layer of cupcake mixture (about a tablespoon and half) into the paper liners. Spoon a tablespoon of the cream cheese filling into the center of each cupcake, and then spoon the rest of cake mixture onto the cupcakes. Don’t worry if the top cake layer doesn’t cover all the cream cheese. You want some of the cream cheese to peek through on top.
7. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until the cupcakes are firm and the cream cheese filling starts to turn golden. Like I said before, don’t overbake. Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for ten minutes or so and then move them from the pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
Note 1. If you don’t want to use the heavy whipping cream, or if you are concerned with making the cupcake too rich, try substituting 2/3 cup of lowfat milk instead of the the cream and milk. I’d still recommend not using skim/non fat milk, but if you that’s all you drink, then certainly you can use that. I’m just not a fan of it. Your cupcakes won’t be quite as rich tasting. That said, you have to buy the heavy cream for the salted caramel cream cheese frosting, so just suck it up and use it. You’re cupcakes will taste all the much better, and really, why are you watching your weight anyway if you are making cupcakes? Go eat some nonfat yogurt if you really want to lose weight.
Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from the Cupcake Bakeshop Blog by Chockylit
This is a two step process. Make the salted caramel and then make the frosting from the salted caramel. I recommend making the caramel while the cupcakes are baking, and then letting the caramel cool while the cupcakes are cooling. Once they are both cool, you can finish the frosting and pipe away!
1 cup white granulated sugar (not organic)
2 Tbsp light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp sea salt
1. Combine the sugar and the corn syrup medium size pan (make sure it’s deep) and stir the sugar and syrup over a medium heat with a whisk until they are blended together.
2. Cook the sugar over the heat until it starts to melt. Paying attention to the sugar, swirl and shake the pan gently to stir the caramel so it cooks evenly. I don’t recommend stirring it as it’ll start to crystalize. But I’ve been known to do it (and then frantically try to break up the crystallization that occurs, so um, don’t do it).
3. Once the caramel turns a deep golden amber color, pour the heavy cream into the mixture. It’ll totally steam up and bubble so be really careful (this is why you need the deep pan). Other people recommend wearing oven mitts while you do this, but I live
dangerously (and also have burn marks on my hand, so yeah, don’t listen to me…put on some oven mitts).
4. After the caramel bubbling and steaming subsided, stir it to make sure there aren’t any chunks left. It should all dissolve, but if it doesn’t or if you are having a hard time with making it smooth, return it to the stove over very low heat until it is completely liquid. Stir in the butter lemon juice and salt.
5. Let cool until it’s the consistency of molasses. You can make this two or three days ahead of time. Just cool it to room temperature and stick it in the fridge wrapped with plastic wrap. Take it out 30 minutes before you make the frosting to bring it back to room temperature.
Note 1. This makes more caramel than you need. You can drizzle the rest on ice cream, or over the cupcakes if you want. AJ just eats it with a spoon straight up, but then he loves salted caramel.
Note 2. I don’t recommend using table salt at all in this recipe. It’s way too harsh. You want a softer salt like fleur de sel or maldon sea salt. I used a 250 million year old Pink Himalayan Sea Salt that claims to contain all 84+ minerals that are the foundation of life and has impregnated into the salt crystals inherent information and vibrational frequency energy patterns that allows the body to remember and reshape itself into it’s original healthy harmonious condition. I mean with that a pedigree like that, how could I NOT buy the stuff? Well actually, I really bought it because it was pink and I though it would look pretty in my salt mill….
Salted Caramel Frosting
2 sticks butter
8 oz of cream cheese
4-5 cups of powdered sugar
1 cup salted caramel
1. Take the butter out of the fridge and warm it up by chopping it into 1/2″ pieces and leaving it on the counter for about 10 or 15 minutes.
2. Beat the butter and the cream cheese in a standing mixer until they are light and fluffy. Sift in 3 cups of the powdered sugar.
3. Then beat in the salted caramel.
4. Sift the rest of powdered sugar. I use about 4 cups, but the frosting tends to be really loose at that point, so you might need more sugar to thicken it. It gets pretty sweet though. If you don’t want it super sweet, but it’s not thick enough, stick it in the fridge for 30 minutes. It should solidify up.
1 cup of white granulated sugar
1/4 tsp fresh lemon juice
1. Pour some ice and water into a large metal bowl (something a large enough to hold the medium pan you’re going to melt the sugar in). This will be a water bath to stop the caramel from cooking. Put the bowl of ice water on a silicon pad or kitchen towel so it doesn’t slide around on the table.
2. Place a piece of parchment on a baking sheet. Lightly spray/brush it with neutral cooking oil (canola or sunflower). Don’t use too much though.
2. Put the sugar and the lemon juice in a medium pan over medium heat. As the sugar melts, shake and swirl the sugar around to make sure it melts evenly.
3. Swirl/shake the pan until the sugar caramelizes and turns an golden amber. Don’t go to dark with this stuff, as you aren’t going to be diluting it with cream, you’ll just be using it straight out of the pan.
4. Once it reaches a golden amber color, pull it off the heat and stick the bottom of the pan in the ice water bath. This should stop the caramel from cooking.
5. Using a spoon, carefully spoon up some of the melted caramel and drizzle some onto the parchment paper into swirls or whatever design you want. Keep in mind that the caramel is HOT and you will burn yourself if you aren’t careful. Also keep in mind that if the caramel is too hot, your decorations will spread a lot. The more you play with the caramel, the better you’ll get at knowing what the right temperature and consistency should for the designs you want.
Note 1. As the sugar starts to caramelize you may want to reduce the heat on the pan, so you don’t scorch it to fast. Sugar can go from caramel to burnt fast.
Note 2. Don’t use organic sugar as it has too many impurities. I ran out of regular sugar so I used vegan sugar, which works, but came in larger crystals which made it more difficult to dissolve and caramelize. I wouldn’t recommend it necessarily for making the decorations, but I was so pressed for time that I didn’t want to start from scratch again after I made the first batch.
However, if you have baker’s sugar/casters sugar that caramelizes beautifully because the crystals are more fine. Don’t use powdered sugar though, it has tapioca/corn starch in it that will get in the way of the caramelization.
Note 3. The caramel decorations don’t really hold up well in humid weather. Just keep that in mind if you are making them on a muggy day (which I was). Use them within two hours, or they’ll melt and not look quite as pretty.
Assembling the cupcakes
1. Put the frosting in a pastry bag, fitted with a large star tip.
2. Pipe the frosting generously on the cupcakes with large swirls.
3. Stick a caramel decoration on top.