Sunday, July 24, 2011

Girls Just Wanna Have Dessert

Remember a few posts ago when I said I had a bunch of orders come in? Well, those just happened. One was for my coworker Becca's friend's engagement party, and the other was for my friend Liz's all-girl family dinner. Becca's specification was "pink cupcakes," and Liz's specification was something I've "never made before," with the underlying motivation of a featured blog post. Duhhh, what else do I have to write about... The best part about telling these stories is that both girls gave instant feedback and even gave me pictures of them enjoying the treats, so I am sharing that all here.

I'll start with Becca's pink cupcakes. The engagement party the girls were throwing involved lying around the pool all day, then going out that night. Since the cupcakes were going to be served at the pool, I thought a frozen drink-inspired cupcake would be fun. I had made a "Miami Vice" cake in the past, so I used that as a starting point. A Miami Vice is a drink composed of a piña colada and strawberry daiquiri swirled - essentially, the best of frozen drinks in one glass. My Miami Vice cake recipe is a soaked cake, but I wasn't sure how a soaked cake would translate to cupcakes - sounded like a sloppy mess that required a fork, which defeats the purpose of a cupcake. So, I tweaked the recipe a bit to still include all the same flavors, but not be soaked.

What I came up with was a fresh strawberry cake, made with no gelatin or artificial ingredients - just fresh pureed strawberries giving the pink tint (requirement fulfilled). Once the cupcakes came out of the oven, I brushed the tops with spiced rum -  Tortuga rum from the Cayman Islands, to be exact, which holds a special place in my heart after consuming many rum cakes during my childhood vacations in Cayman. Once the cupcakes cooled, I scooped out the middles and filled them with a pineapple cream cheese filling. Then, I topped them with rum coconut cream cheese frosting. Finally, the pièce de résistance: a topper of a pineapple wedge, a mini umbrella, and a straw. I loved the way these turned out, and I had a feeling they were going to be delicious, especially if you are the kind of person that can eat cream cheese frosting/filling by the spoonful (like myself).

A couple hours after Becca picked them up, I received a text from her: "Omg those cupcakes r amazing! The frosting is insane!!!" Then another later: "It's amazing, that frosting is crazy good! How did you do that?" So clearly they went over well. On Monday at work, Becca confirmed they were an absolute hit. The girls loved the drink theme and thought they were perfect for the occasion. One friend even disappeared for awhile, came back to the party, and said, "Oh my god, I just ate three of those cupcakes... I'm about to explode, but it's totally worth it!" All the girls shared Becca's love of the rum coconut frosting, wondering how it could taste so much like a piña colada. When they first tried it, they each just took a finger swipe of the frosting - then loved it so much they devoured the rest off the top of the cupcake. Becca is a wonderful PR woman as well - she passed out my cards to all the girls, told them how delicious everything has been that she's ever tried, and convinced a lot of them to place future orders. So, I am hoping to hear from some of these girls soon!

I did hear from one of these girls the next weekend - Becca herself got ENGAGED!!!!! So, that's two future orders: an engagement treat for their upcoming party, and then THEIR WEDDING CAKE. That's right - Becca is already insisting I make their wedding cake next spring/summer! Praying the first one goes well...

Finally using my cupcake packaging!
Some good logo-worthy shots.
Sipping on the mini straws. Wonder if the frosting comes through...

Onto the next one. As I mentioned before, when I asked Liz what she wanted for her family girls-night -out, she said she didn't care so long as I made something I had never made before so as to further my culinary prowess. Well, I instantly knew what that meant for me: I had to make pies. Not only had I never made a pie crust from scratch, but the speculation of pie as the "new cupcake" also meant I had to stay up with the competition and industry trends.

I had to admit, I was scared... something about homemade pie crust sounded so daunting, mostly because my lifetime's pie experience had been filled with some pretty terrible crusts, which I did not want bearing the Dolce + Decadence name. What was the key to a great pie crust? I started scouring the Internet, searching recipes, blogs, and articles on pie crusts. However, it did not take long to recognize the culprit: almost every pie crust recipe I found used shortening as the fat. Shortening?! I was stunned. While it may be more stable, shortening could not possibly provide the flavor that butter gives, which is why I use butter as much as possible in baking. And I hate the greasy, fatty feeling that shortening leaves on your fingers even after repeated washes and scrubbing.

Visible butter chunks = flaky goodness.
I eventually found what seemed to be the perfect all-butter crust recipe from Smitten Kitchen and got to work; her explanations and tutorials are awesome. Following are several techniques that are crucial to achieving flaky, flavorful pie crust (also read the linked Smitten Kitchen post if you are still curious):

  1. Freeze the butter beforehand and touch as little as possible in the process so as not to melt it. You want the butter to melt while baking, which lets off steam and creates the little air pockets that we describe as flakes. This same principle applies to other pastries and scones as well.
  2. Cut the butter into small chunks before adding to the flour/sugar/salt mixture, refreezing for a bit afterward if it softened in the process. This will reduce the amount of work you have to do incorporate the butter as small pea-sized pieces later.
  3. Use as much flour as necessary when rolling out so that the dough doesn't stick to the counter or the rolling pin. A scraper is clutch to getting the dough off the counter without ripping it.
Empty shells ready for filling.
I cut the pie crust into small circles to fit into my mini pans (so cute!) and crimped the edges to feign pie-crust mastery. Once it was all done, I was actually surprised and impressed with myself: the process was MUCH easier than anticipated, and I had a feeling that my first attempt at pie crust might actually yield one of the better crusts I have ever tried.

Filled shells ready for baking.
Liz had specified a chocolate/richer pie flavor (i.e., not fruit), and I wanted to do a baked pie (i.e., not cream-based/cold), so I settled on chocolate bourbon pecan pie (i.e.,"Derby pie," although apparently this name is trademarked and the recipe heavily guarded by the creators, Kern's Kitchen). Essentially, derby pie tastes like a just-baked chocolate chip cookie in a pie crust - just pure chocolatey, gooey deliciousness. I had made it once before but with a frozen pre-made shell, so I was interested to see if a homemade crust elevated an already good pie.

The mini pies turned out really cute - a little boring in the color department, but I had a feeling they were going to be delicious. I dropped the pies off with Liz and anxiously awaited feedback.

Mmmmm can't you see how flaky that crust is?

Liz, like Becca, was great at the instant feedback. She texted me pictures of her family eating the pies and followed up on my question of how people eat mini pies, posed in my previous post about pie as the new cupcake. Some, like her sister, are hands kind-of-people - just pick it up and take a bite. Most of the rest of her family used forks and knives, however. I have a feeling it comes down to convenience and composition. A pie such as this one can be easily picked up, as it is like a cookie inside, and is therefore a good on-the-go pie option; however, it would probably be eaten with a fork sitting down, especially if in a restaurant. Others, such as fruit pies, probably could not be bitten out of as easily and therefore require utensils; I am picturing blueberry filling spilling on my shirt as I type.

Pie with hands.
Pie with utensils.

She also texted that everyone loved the flavor, and that the crust was incredibly flaky and buttery, which confirmed the butter-over-shortening debate. Luckily, she had a couple leftover so I was able to try one. After taking a bite, I wanted to give myself a pat on the back or a round of applause or something - this was hands down one of the best pie crusts I had ever tasted. No wonder I never really cared for pie: my mom and grandma were not pie makers, and any crusts I had ever had were probably of the horrible shortening or frozen pre-made varieties. If I had tasted crust like this before, I would have been a pie advocate all my life. While the filling was delicious - just like an underdone chocolate chip cookie and would have been spectacular warm and with some vanilla ice cream - the crust just absolutely stole the show. I am so excited to make more pies and things that use a pie crust now, so thank you Liz for forcing me to broaden my horizons!

1 comment:

Becca said...

Nicole! Love this post!! Can't say it enough your cupcakes were to die for! Umm now I reallly reallly really want to try one of your pies. Those sounded amazing as well! Can't wait for my engagment goodies and even better the WEDDING CAKE!! You pretty much rock.