Santa Fe Cupcakes for a Colorado Wedding
Posted: 02 November 2009 10:30 PM   [ Ignore ]
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This past September, my sister and I made 240 cupcakes plus a 6” 3-layer cake for our youngest sister’s wedding. It was quite a learning experience for us, and I want to share it with other readers here in the hopes that this may help someone complete a large baking project.

I live at sea level in Mexico. We baked the cupcakes in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at 7,000’ elevation. Even though I baked our two selected recipes—Golden Grand Marnier and Heavenly Coconut Seduction—at my home with great success as cupcakes, we had to bake them again and tinker with the recipes for successful high altitude baking.

I used to be a professional cook and it was all in a day’s work to bake cakes for 100 servings. In fact, that was when I first bought The Cake Bible in 1989 or ‘90 to find new cake recipes for our restaurant menu. Because of this experience, I had enough self-confidence to know we could bake 240 cupcakes, but it would take lots of planning and organization to do it in a home kitchen.

After we adjusted for the elevation (increase oven temp. by 25 deg. F., decrease baking powder and baking soda by 25%, the usual decrease of sugar was not necessary because Rose’s recipes are already lower in sugar than standard recipes), we baked again and again to make sure we had successful adjustments. We found that one recipe of Heavenly Coconut made 12 cupcakes, but one recipe of Grand Marnier made 9 cupcakes, so the latter recipe was increased by 33%. We had to bake them to test the altitude adjustment, we had to bake them again to tweak the adjustment—yes, we did need to raise the oven temp. Then we baked them again to make sure we got 12 cupcakes from the increased Grand Marnier recipe. And we baked them again to see if we wanted to use 1/2 cup or 1/3 cup of batter per cupcake.  And then we baked them again just for good measure. In all, we baked both recipes nine times at my kitchen in Mexico and my sister’s kitchen in Santa Fe to be extra sure there would be no surprises.

Then we started on the frosting. I had already made the Neoclassic Buttercream at home and thought it was a winner, but my sister and her husband declared the Neoclassic too heavy and buttery.  Mousseline Buttercream was tried next. Everyone thought it was a great improvement—very flavorful and creamy without the heaviness. Our first test batch caused some anxiety when it looked thin and lumpy, but about three-fourths of the way through it started to emulsify and turn into a luxurious cream, just as Rose said it would. Not knowing how sensitive it would be to the warm kitchen temperature, we had two bags of frozen peas at the ready to hold against the mixing bowl if it became too warm and started to curdle. I had bought a new instant-read thermometer for this project, one made by Tru-Temp, about $10 at Target. We made 12 perfect quarts of Mousseline and I credit the thermometer for keeping things from curdling. I would never make Mousseline without a thermometer. (My sister bought a new scale at Target, by OXO for about $40. It, too, did the job. I know more expensive thermometers and scales are recommended, but these two seemed right-on. My test for food scales is to weigh a pound of butter. If the package says 16 oz. and the scale shows 16 oz, that’s good enough for me.)

We made the Mousseline—six quarts flavored with Grand Marnier and six quarts flavored with coconut rum and coconut extract—five days before the wedding. It still had a great texture on the wedding day. We made flavored syrups to keep the cupcakes from drying out in the high altitude air.

Our Complete Organization included doing the math and checking it thrice when we increased our recipes. A calculator and double checking by both of us insured that our math was correct. Then the increased recipes were typed on the computer and printed out. They were our working copies on baking day.

Complete Organization also included a careful shopping list. Costco was the source of the usuals—butter, sugar, flour, chocolate chips, Grand Marnier. But a few of the unusuals had to be hunted down—canned cream of coconut, coconut extract, powdered coconut cream. Thank goodness for Ziggy’s, an import food store in Santa Fe. But we couldn’t find real coconut extract. McCormick only had artificially flavored coconut extract, a product we both thought would compromise our quality standard. I found a recipe on line by Alton Brown (Good Eats on the Food Network) for making coconut extract. Start with a fresh coconut…but the coconut we bought was moldy inside, and we were running out of time. Why not use the same recipe, but with dried coconut steeped in vodka? I had brought several pounds of organic dessicated coconut from Mexico, which had a wonderful taste and aroma. It produced a satisfactory coconut extract, and absolutely better than McCormick’s chemical compound.

Finally, Complete Organization meant mis en place, the French term for “putting in place’. It is the practice, used in professional kitchens, of measuring and weighing every ingredient before mixing or cooking begins. This meant, on the day before we baked, pulverizing our sugar in the food processor, pulverizing dry coconut, weighing and scaling out the butter and sourcream, separating eggs, pre-weighing and measuring all dry ingredients, counting out the cupcake papers, having all utensils laid out on the kitchen counter. The wet ingredients were put into empty yogurt containers, the dry ingredients were placed in recycled yogurt containers and large coffee filter papers. Everything was lined up on the kitchen counter in order in which it would be added to the mixing bowl. This practice, even for one recipe to make just one cake, insures that no ingredient will be left out, that your kitchen and your head will stay organized throughout the mixing and baking project. I can’t emphasize enough how important mis en place is for baking and cooking.

To be continued.

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Posted: 02 November 2009 10:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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“Santa Fe Cupcakes” continued…

It took seven hours to produce 240 cupcakes. When we were done, all that remained on the kitchen counter were empty coffee filters and yogurt cartons, a well spattered Kitchen Aid, spatulas, a few dish towels and an almost empty bottle of Grand Marnier.

The cupcakes were syruped, cooled on racks, and packed into one-gallon zip lock bags, which were then put into large, flat plastic storage containers, the kind meant for under-the-bed storage. They also came from Target at a low price.

On the day of the wedding, 3 days after baking day, including a 5-hour car trip, we frosted the cupcakes at the bride’s home. Coconut cupcakes were decorated with sweetened dried coconut. Grand Marnier cupcakes were decorated with toasted almond slices. The 6” wedding cake (my avatar) was decorated with dried coconut ribbons, hollyhock flowers (yes, they are edible) and a clay angel. Our only hitch was how long it took the Mousseline to reach room temperature in the cool Colorado air. Even though I had taken it out of the fridge at 6:30 a.m., by 10 it was still too cold to beat and spread. The containers were set on a table in a sunny window and I periodically took the temperature with the instant-read thermometer. It was almost one in the afternoon by the time the Mousseline reached 70 degrees and we could pipe it. The wedding ceremony was scheduled to take place at 2 p.m., so this was cutting it close, but with lots of extra hands to beat Mousseline and decorate the cupcakes, it all happened in good time and received many compliments.

Baking at this altitude (very dry air) and not having space to refrigerate 240 cupcakes made the syruping necessary. Because of the syrup, the cupcakes retained a nice level of moisture and tenderness, despite being baked three days before the wedding. Many guests commented on the tenderness of the cupcakes, one asked for the Mousseline recipe, and one guest gave me an extended rhapsody of complements—music to my ears.

Notes:

Make sure the baking powder is newly purchased.

Our 5-quart Kitchen Aid nicely handled a double recipe, making enough batter for 24 cupcakes. We also doubled the Mousseline recipe, though it threatened to slop out of the mixing bowl until it came together in a smooth mass.

We had to make a temperature adjustment for making Mousseline at 7,000’. For each 1,000’ above sea level, it is necessary to subtract 2 degrees from the temperature called for in the recipe. The Mousseline syrup is supposed to be cooked to 248 to 250 degrees. We cooked it until it reached 234 deg.

On the morning of the baking day, dry ingredients were at room temperature, in the low 70’s. F. Wet ingredients were each at their recommended temperature, 60 deg. for eggs, 70 deg. for butter, 60 deg. for liquids. I’m a great believer in having all ingredients at their correct temperatures, even if that means putting something back in the fridge for a while or heating eggs or other liquids in a container of warm water.

Other purchases: large piping bag, large star tip, a 1/3 cup capacity ice cream scoop, a copy of The Cake Bible by my Santa Fe sister, and a new BeaterBlade Plus.
The use of the latter meant that once we turned on the Kitchen Aid, we didn’t turn if off until the batter was finished, a matter of minutes. There was no scraping down the sides and we were both in awe of the ease the new blade provided.

All purpose flour was used instead of cake flour. As I can’t buy cake flour in Mexico, a.p. flour was used for my test baking. It produced such tender cupcakes—but not too tender to fall apart when eaten out of the paper liners—that I didn’t want to change to cake flour.

After it had cooled from the oven, the 3 layers of the 6” wedding cake were syruped, layers spread with a chocolate ganache, assembled and then coated with a crumb coating of Mousseline before going into the freezer. It, too, remained very tender and moist when it was served four days after being baked. I would make this cake again—a combination of two Coconut Seduction layers, Golden Grand Marnier layer in the center, chocolate ganache between layers, Grand Marnier syrup and Mousseline. The various flavors blended wonderfully and produced a real taste sensation in my mouth.

As we could not find 6” cake pans anywhere, a friend was called upon to cut a gallon can down for us into 2 6” pans. We had purchased a gallon can of coconut milk for the baking, and it proved to be the perfect diameter. He even folded over the sharply cut edges and welded on a cute, little handle.

Not only did we present our youngest sister with beautiful cupcakes and a wedding cake, but my Santa Fe sister and I were able to share a unique experience. The memories of this baking project will stay with us for a long time. Thanks, mi hermana, for sharing your kitchen with me and for a wonderful time together.

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Posted: 03 November 2009 12:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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What a nice story. And what a labor of love! Your youngest sister is lucky to have two older sisters who were willing to create such a memorable gift!

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Posted: 03 November 2009 10:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Kathleen, thank you so much for sharing that story in such detail. It’s a wonderful primer for newbies to scratch baking and a great reminder of the basics and good baking principles for those who, like you, have been at it for a while. Also, great info re: switching altitudes. How satisfying for you and your sister that you were able to do this and, as Christine said, what an incredible labour of love for your youngest sister!

A couple of questions to round out my understanding:
1. During the three days after baking the cupcakes, did you store the large, flat plastic containers at room temp somewhere, refrigerate or freeze?
2. Was your AP flour bleached or unbleached?

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Posted: 03 November 2009 01:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Christine and Carolita,

Thank you for your kind words.

Carolita, the plastic containers were kept at room temperature, probably in the low 70s, because we didn’t have fridge or freezer space for that many cupcakes. Because my sister had been warned by a professional baker not to attempt this project if we couldn’t keep them refrigerated, and because the air is so dry in New Mexico and Colorado, we decided to syrup them to maintain moisture. We used bleached AP flour.  They could not have turned out nicer.

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Posted: 03 November 2009 10:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Kathleen, what a great story. Thank you for taking meticulous notes on everything and sharing them with us. Such a wonderful labor of love to produce a memorable wedding day for your sister!

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Posted: 04 November 2009 11:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Your sister is so lucky. Thank you for sharing the details. Very useful and interesting.

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