Monday, January 31, 2011

Busy Bees

On my last trip home to Columbus, Ohio over the holidays I finally had the chance to make a long-neglected visit to Beehive Bread Company in the historic village of Powell.

Opened in 2007, I don't know what took me so long to stop in, but I always made a mental note whenever driving by, as the bakery literally fills the neighborhood with the amazing smell of fresh-baked bread.  I'm glad I finally popped in because the bread is to die for. And for good reason.  Not only is it a family-run operation, but they also mill their own flour on site and focus only on necessary, natural, organic ingredients, leaving out things like preservatives and high fructose corn syrup.

Beehive has three standard loaves on offer daily: Honey Whole Wheat, Great White and Sourdough (except Monday) as well as a rotating menu of 12 speciality breads.  But, honestly, it doesn't matter which day you stop in because they are all incredible.  Luckily I got my hands on a loaf of the Caramel Apple (above) and you can see that it is chock full of apple chunks and gooey caramel pockets.  And, let me tell you, that caramelized crust on top puts those Panera Cinnamon Crunch bagels to shame. Just sayin'. 

Not sure which to pick? Beehive Bread Co. also offers a generous selection of free samples.  When I asked if the ones on offer were the selections of the day, the bubbly sales girl was quick to tell me that it was only a sample, and that there were plenty more in the back if I'd like to try them.  Not in the mood for bread? Beehive also has several sweet choices including cookies and sweet breads.  This is not a camera trick...those brownies really are as big as your hand.

Beehive Bread Company is a shining example of the type of localized businesses that can offer an excellent product because they focus on quality, not quantity, and as a result become true assets to their communities.  If only there were more like them in Columbus, DC, and beyond.

If you go
Beehive Bread Company
50 S. Liberty St.
Suite 166
Powell, OH 43065

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Making Magnificent Macarons

Whenever I tell people about The Baking Blog, I almost always get the same response; "I'll cook, but I don't bake.  It's so hard!"  I completely understand because I usually have the same reaction to cooking (all that chopping!), but there are definitely lots of baked goods that I find plenty intimidating. Croquembouche, I'm looking at you. Until recently, macarons had also been one of those "off limits" projects that I had always promised myself I'd get around to baking one day, but their finicky reputation preceded them, and I just presumed that I was doomed to fail.

If you're not familiar with macarons, you're probably asking yourself, "What's so difficult about those coconut cookies my grandma always makes?"  Those would be macaroons.  Not macarons. The extra "O" makes all the difference. Macarons are the iconic cookie of France, a miniature sandwich cookie made from almond flour and confectioners sugar, and able to be flavored or colored in myriad ways.  More than likely though, you're familiar with macarons because, like cupcakes, they've become one of the newest "it" desserts.  Yes, they've even been sold by Starbucks.

When Parisian Spring (obviously an expert on all things France) suggested that we finally bite the bullet and try out a recipe she had, I knew it was time.  Believe it or not...these cookies were so easy!! The cookies themselves have only 3 ingredients, and the most difficult part was piping the rounds onto the cookie sheets because the batter is very viscous, so you have to work quickly.  Other than that, simply let the cookies set for 15 minutes before baking and voilá!

So, while I might not be attempting a bûche de noël and it's accompanying meringue mushrooms any time soon, it's good to know that, for some foodie challenges at least, all of the hurdles are just in our minds.

1 3/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 1/4 cups almond flour
3 egg whites, room temperature
food coloring and extract as desired

1. Preheat oven to 315 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine the confectioners sugar and almond flour and sift together into a bowl.
2. With an electric or stand mixer beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form (do not overbeat).
3. Add the flour mixture to the egg whites in quarters, folding together with a spoon or spatula. Stir only until just combined, but not beat.
4. Add color or flavor as desired.
5. Spoon or pour the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a round tip (plug tip with your finger if necessary) and pipe quarter-sized rounds onto prepared sheets.
6.  Allow the cookies to set for at least 15 minutes then bake for 12-15 minutes.  makes approximately 30 sandwiches.

1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
food coloring and extract as desired

1. Beat the cream nearly until the consistency of butter, then stir in sugar.  Add in flavor or coloring as desired. 
2.  Once macarons have cooled, spread a small amount of filling between two halves and sandwich together.

Friday, January 21, 2011

And The Winner Is...

CONGRATULATIONS to Tanya Brothen, winner of the Cupcake Avenger's second annual birthday cupcake contest!! You can send your congrats along to Tanya on Twitter, and also be sure to stop by her awesome travel blog, Parisian Spring.  A big thank you to all of you who entered, and be sure to stay tuned for the next great contest!

Checkout Tanya's swag:

Cupcake wrappers from Bella Cupcake Couture

Silicone baking cups
Cupcake-shaped cookie cutter

*Note: winner selected via

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Boys of Baking, Part Deux

And now the moment you've all been waiting for...the second installment of Boys Who Bake!  Please welcome my friend, writer of a phenom dance blog (seriously, someone hire this kid already), and all around amazing-at-everything-he's-ever-tried guy: Steve Ha.  All the way from Seattle and just in time to use up all that leftover dried fruit from your holiday baking, he brings us his family recipe for *GASP* an edible fruitcake.  If you'd like to be featured in the next installment of Boys Who Bake, hit me up at!

Fear Not The Fruitcake
Fruitcake, is something of an enigma in American culture.  It’s regarded as a brick of malevolence that old people mail to their “loved” ones around this time of year, but like sharks and opera, fruitcake’s bad reputation is a misunderstood one.  Admittedly, store bought fruitcake is truly vile—but have you ever tasted one that was homemade?  The plot thickens…

I was introduced to fruitcake by close family friends and being the worldly people they are, had brought a recipe over from England.  I don’t know how for how many generations they’ve had the recipe, but fruitcake is a celebrated tradition in their lives, and not only for the winter holidays but for weddings too.  When I attended the wedding of the eldest son, a piece of fruitcake was given to each guest, which I understand to be commonplace in British culture.  I of course had sampled it before that at some Christmas party I’m sure, and the recipe was shared with my family because my mom loved it so much. 

Little did I know I would be enslaved into fruitcake duties from then on, but it works out for the best because I enjoy baking it and my mother is a disaster when it comes to desserts…we’re talking about a woman who melts marshmallows on high to hasten the process of making rice krispy treats, which would be fine if they didn’t fossilize when they cooled down.  She’s also been known to reduce sugar from the classic chocolate chip cookie recipe, which I can also understand…but when you cut an entire cup, you’re going to end up with very dry, bread-cookies. (Tip: if you like your chocolate chip cookies less sweet, use less chocolate chips before reducing sugar.  I would also add a little more salt, and would recommend light brown sugar instead of dark.  Dark has a richer taste to me).  Needless to say, for the sake of my own sweet tooth I banned her from baking and assumed the responsibilities myself at a relatively early age (to her credit, she is an excellent cook!).

Yes, a good fruitcake is still going to be dense, but with the right selection of dried fruits, it can be a wonderfully sweet and luscious.  A lot of the store bought fruitcake uses a lot of candied fruit, which I use very little of (in fact the original recipe calls for candied cherries, which I now replace with dried cranberries), and one of the fun things about a fruitcake is trying different selections of dried fruit.  Avoid sweetened dried fruit—a fair amount of sugar goes into the recipe and natural sugars in the fruit is more than enough.  I would highly recommend going to your local farmer’s market and look for unsweetened (or lightly sweetened) fruit…at my market I’ve seen tasty options like rainier cherries, blueberries and even dried strawberries.  For even healthier options, I would also suggest looking for dried fruit free of sulfides, which is a completely unnecessary additive that is only used to preserve color.  For example, I use organic Turkish apricots that are brown and not the pretty orange you may normally see, but it tastes better and is better for you.

So I give you this fabulous fruitcake recipe and urge you to just give it a try…it has never failed me, and guests are always surprised at how good it tastes (while I get satisfaction out of their enlightenment!).  This recipe is a bit of a time consuming process but I assure you none of it is difficult.  Even if the result isn’t good (and trust me, you won’t have to worry because it will be), I always say that the effort is more important than the result, and I believe that is the true meaning of baking for the holidays.  How better to show how much you value your loved ones than to slave away in a kitchen?

Rich Fruitcake
2 ¼ cups of golden raisins
1 ½ cups of raisins
1 ½ cups of dried currants
2oz of diced, candied orange peel
2oz of diced, candied lemon peel
3oz of dried cranberries
½ cup of dried apricots, chopped
2oz of chopped almonds
2 sticks of butter
1 cup of firmly packed dark brown sugar
½ cup of spiced rum
½ cup of water

Combine the above ingredients in a large saucepan. Stir constantly over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

5 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons of freshly grated orange zest
1 teaspoon of freshly grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons of almond powder
1 ¾ cups of all purpose flour
1/3 cup of self-rising flour
½  teaspoon of baking soda

*I've never been able to find almond powder in stores, although I heard Trader Joe's has "almond flour" which is supposedly the same thing. I’ll just use a food processor or even a good old fashioned mortar and pestle and grind some blanched and slivered almonds.  It really doesn’t have to be a super fine powder, so don’t obsess over this step.

Add beaten eggs and zests to cooled fruit mixture. Stir in dry ingredients (it says to sift...I never do).

Now the pan does take some prep work. First you grease a 9 x 9 square pan and then line it with wax paper (the butter makes the wax paper stick to the pan). Then, you wrap the cake tin in brown paper. I cut up a brown paper bag, folded up the sides and tied a string around it. It doesn't get dirty, so you can save the brown paper contraption too. I've been using the same one for years.

Spread mixture evenly into pan, and bake in a preheated 300° oven for about 1 ¾ to 2 ¼ hours. It's done when you prick a skewer in the middle and it comes out clean.

Remove the brown paper and tightly cover the tin with aluminum foil. Let cool (I usually cool it overnight). When cool, remove from the tin and peel off the wax paper, and splash 3 tablespoons of spiced rum on the underside of the cake (must be underside, so it soaks in). Wrap tightly in foil and store in the fridge (it also does really well frozen, I always freeze some sections).

 Here's a picture from when it came out of the oven (you can see the brown paper thingie). Also, make sure the pan is deep enough. I think mine is 9 x 9 x 2.25, and you can see how close it gets to the top.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New Year, New Cupcake Contest!

Happy Birthday to me!! Well, not ME really, but this month marks the second blog birthday of The Cupcake Avenger! I can't believe how quickly time has passed and I can't wait to start another year of sharing recipes, baking, desserts, cupcakes and all things sweet with all of you.  More importantly, this celebration also means sharing with all of you some of what I love best--awesome cupcake gear! So, if one of your New Year's resolutions was to finally bake more cupcakes the time is now, because I have some delicious swag that could be yours...

First up: A gorgeous set of 12 damask-inspired cupcake wrappers from Bella Cupcake Couture

Behind Door #2: A set of 12 Sur La Table silicone baking cups (You've always wanted to try these, right?)

And last but certainly not least: A cupcake-shaped cookie cutter! So you can still have cupcakes...even when you're having cookies :)

And now, what you really want to know...How do I win??

1. Just leave a comment here telling me anything about cupcakes. That's right. Anything. Just be sure to include your email in the appropriate comment box so I can contact you (don't worry, your contact info won't be published--unless you include it in your comment)

2. For an extra chance to win, retweet this contest on Twitter (be sure to include @Cancemini4 so I can find you!)

3. That's it. Seriously. The winner will be chosen randomly via computer and announced here in 1 week.  Prizes can be shipped anywhere in the world.  You have until midnight EST January 20th, 2011 to enter, so what are you waiting for?!

Thank you to all who have made the last two years truly a joy, and I can't wait to read all of your comments!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Cupcake of Shame

So I have a confession.

A few weeks ago I found my favorite cupcake.

Amazingly soft, incredibly moist, perfect cake-to-frosting ratio, by far the best cake I've had in my years of sampling...this seems like it would be a great thing, right? Almost.  I'm ashamed to admit that I bought this cake on a whim from none other than... Au Bon Pain.  That's right. A chain whose entry into the cupcake market signaled once and for all that cupcakes have jumped the shark in the opinion of mainstream America.  Okay, so maybe that was Starbucks, but still, in the foodie world, saying your favorite cupcake came from an industrial chain is like saying you had the most amazing burger and it came from that little shop down the street, "You know the one? MCDONALD'S?" Yeah.

So, you can see why I'm torn.  And why, obviously, I had to go back : ) I mean, what if the Red Velvet cake I sampled happened to be a fluke? A one-time anomaly perpetrated on a cranky mind by a hungry tummy? Inquiring minds want to know!  So when I was nearby the ABP tonight I did that thing where you tell yourself you're not going in but, deep down, you know darn well you're about to walk right through that door.  And, I mean, I had to break a $20 bill to do laundry, right? Totally necessary.

So here I sit. Completely sated from a French Vanilla cupcake with Cream Cheese frosting and mini Vanilla Chips. Another home run.  The picture above is courtesy of Nation's Restaurant News because I had so little faith in the cupcakes that I didn't even bother to take a photo before devouring them--oh me of little faith.  So now you all know the truth, but when people ask me for my cupcakery recommendations, I'm still going to suggest Red Velvet in DC, Bakeshop in VA and Bakery Gingham or Pink Moon back home in Columbus--sorry ABP, but I've got a reputation to protect : )

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Tiny Bubbles

I love bubbles. Prosecco, Spumante, Moscato, Champagne and their not-technically-champagne-but-totally-champagne American cousins, the "sparkling wines"... I love them all.  Maybe these wines hold a certain cachet because we typically reserve them for special occasions, but I think a little fizz is perfect anytime, and love to top off cocktail creations with a little sparkling whenever possible.

(P.S. If you're ever traveling through the Atlanta airport, stop off at One Flew South in the E Terminal and ask for "The Cardinale"--a cocktail of St. Germain elderflower liqueur, red grapefruit juice and prosecco. I made it up while delayed and killing time over sushi.  I can't take credit for the name, though. You can blame the bartender for that one.)

Anyway, I have wanted to make champagne cupcakes every New Year, and in addition to getting a sample of my favorite ingredient while baking, I love these cupcakes because they helped me knock out two New Year's baking resolutions at once: finally getting around to making a baked good with champagne in it, and also making my first ever filled cupcakes. And it was so easy! Just make sure your cupcakes are completely cooled and use a sharp knife and voila!

I also got an awesome cupcake corer for Christmas but, unfortunately, this cake recipe was a little too dense to use the plastic corer successfully without damaging the cupcakes.

This recipe is from the amazing Sprinkle Bakes, whom I found to have the best recipe after my annual champagne cupcake recipe stalking. This recipe is a little time consuming, but totally worth it; they were declared by a coworker to be "Possibly the best cupcake I have ever had. Even though I've only ever had about three or four cupcakes." : ) So there you go.  Happy New Year!

Sparkling Champagne Cupcakes
1/2 cup butter softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup champagne, Prosecco, or similar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and mix. Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt, set aside. in a medium sized bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup champagne and 1/2 cup sour cream (mixture will fizz and bubble a little). Add flour and champagne mixture alternately, beginning and ending with flour. Batter will be thick.

3. Fill cupcake papers with 1/4 cup level measures of batter. Bake for 17-22 minutes. Set aside.

Champagne Filling
1/2 cup heavy cream, divided
1/2 cup champagne or prosecco
2 tbsp cornstarch
5 tbsp granulated sugar
1 whole egg
2 egg yolks
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla

1. In a medium bowl, whisk cornstarch in 1/4 cup of heavy cream. Combine the remaining heavy cream, sugar and 1/2 cup champagne in a saucepan; bring to a boil then remove from heat.

2. Beat the whole egg and egg yolks into the cornstarch/heavy cream mixture. Pour 1/3 of boiling champagne mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so the eggs do not cook. Return the remaining champagne/heavy cream mixture to a boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla.

3. Cut a divot into the top of each cupcake and fill with pastry cream. Trim the cut-out cake pieces flat to make a "lid" and place on top of the filled divot.

Champagne Frosting
1 cup plus 1 tbsp. champagne or prosecco
2 sticks of butter softened
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

1. Place 1 cup of champagne in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium-high heat until reduced to 2 tablespoons. Transfer to a small bowl or condiment cup and allow to cool.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, cream softened butter and powdered sugar together. Once the frosting is thick and fluffy, pour in the reduced 2 tbsp. champagne plus 1 tbsp. champagne from the bottle and mix well.

3. Frost the cream-filled cupcakes and decorate as desired.