Tag Archives: muffins

Mardi Gras praline cupcakes …or pecan muffins

11 Mar

In honor of Mardi Gras, I wanted to bake something with a down-home Southern flavor. I toyed with the idea of red velvet, which is widely known as a Southern recipe, but after a little research learned that its Southern origins might actually be the stuff of myth. I’ve never spent much time in the South, so it took a lot of thinking and Googling, but I finally found a flavor that is distinctly Southern–and better yet, distinctly New Orleans: praline.

To tell you the truth, I don’t think I’ve ever had a praline. I didn’t even know what they were made of. But there were plenty of praline cake recipes online, and I had all the necessary ingredients on hand, and it sounded pretty tasty. I compared the recipes I’d found and realized most of them were identical. Here’s the one I followed most closely: Praline Cupcakes from cupcakerecipe.com.

Step one was to chop and toast the pecans. I got creative and looked up how to toast them with a little melted butter, sugar, and cinnamon. They smelled amazing when I pulled them out of the oven.

The rest of the mixing process was pretty unremarkable (except that I got to use my new measuring cups!), and I felt confident with my final batter. I’d been especially careful not to overbeat it, because I suspect that’s one of the main reasons some of my cakes have turned out tough in the past. I even went so far as to add a few ingredients not listed in the recipe–a bold move for an amateur like me! Of course, they were only spices, but straying from the recipe even a little made me feel kinda badass.

As usual, I filled the one cupcake pan I own and ended up with just a little batter left over (four cupcakes’ worth, as it turned out).

I was a little surprised to see that the recipe called for a 375-degree oven, because all the recipes I’ve been using have required a 350-degree oven instead. I went with it…but I’m wondering if it’s why the cakes came out looking browner than I’d expected:

Things went downhill from there.

I bit into one of the cupcakes…and was really unimpressed. The texture was dry, and it didn’t have much flavor at all; even the pecans were lackluster. Thank goodness they’d been toasted, though, because they would have tasted even blander plain. Oh, and once again–just like with my champagne cupcakes–the cupcake liners were stuck to the cupcakes like cement. Are you supposed to grease liners before filling them?… I kinda thought the whole point of using liners was not having to grease anything. Or maybe it’s just to keep cleanup simpler.

In any case, the whole thing was a big letdown.

Nonetheless, I soldiered forward, hoping that the praline topping would salvage the cupcakes themselves.

No such luck! The super-simple topping recipe directed me to mix melted butter with brown sugar, spoon the mixture over the cupcakes, and return them to the oven. Things went wrong immediately. First, I realized that the brown sugar I had was old…potentially really, really old. When I mixed it into the butter, I ended up with gross-looking clumps that didn’t look particularly “spoonable” in the way intended. I tried everything I could think of to get the sugar to melt more: I microwaved it, I heated it over a double boiler, I mashed it with a spoon. All I got was an even grosser mess that only kept getting harder and clumpier.

Still optimistic, I decided to make three cupcakes my guinea pigs and topped them with the sugar mixture. Almost all of it rolled right off the domed cupcake tops. I stubbornly stuck them back into the oven, as directed, but realized after two minutes that the sugar was only getting drier. Plus, since the cupcakes were already extra-brown, it hardly seemed like more oven time was going to help. I took them out, brushed them off, and tried to think of a way to top off these disappointing little cakes. I considered making a pecan buttercream, or even real pralines, but the thought of wasting more time and yummy toppings on such unexciting cupcakes was just depressing.

Then it occurred to me that I still had a little bit of batter left to bake. I realized that even though I hated the cupcakes I’d already made, this was my chance to tweak the batter and see if I could come up with at least a few decent cakes. The worst part about the cupcakes was their dry texture, so I added some canola oil. Then I added even more cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice to amp up the flavor. For good measure, I threw in all the pecan crumbs I’d produced when chopping the nuts. And since I knew the praline topping was a bust, I topped them with a single pecan, just to make ’em a bit prettier. Finally–out of curiosity–I greased the cupcake liners.

I also took them out of the oven sooner than before, so they came out paler and softer on top.

The good news? They were a little softer and moister than the others. The bad news? Their flavor wasn’t that much improved, and although they weren’t glued to the liners, they kind of fell apart when unwrapped.

Yeah…I don’t think I’ll be making these again.

Despite all my complaints, I have to admit that when I sampled another one later, it wasn’t all that bad–it just wasn’t a cupcake. As my brother said: “as cupcakes, they’re not that great. But as muffins, they’re not bad.” It’s a good thing I was too disheartened to make any attempt at frosting these, because I’ve realized that they actually make decent pecan muffins. They’re solid and kind of buttery in flavor, so with a little jam or margarine, they’re downright tasty.

I also learned a few valuable things from this little debacle. I’ve decided that from now on, when I bake cupcakes, I’m only going to bake half my batter at a time. That way, if I don’t like the outcome, I can adjust the second half and still end up with half a batch of decent cupcakes. I’ve also learned to grease my cupcake liners–or maybe do away with them entirely. And more than ever, I realize the value of moistening ingredients, like canola oil. Pretty soon I’d like to experiment with some more creative ones, like sour cream and applesauce. (I welcome any and all recommendations!)

After I’d come around to my “pecan muffins,” I decided to dress up the last of them, to make them feel a bit more special. After all, they were supposed to be Mardi Gras cakes! In lieu of doing anything too extravagant or green/gold/purple-hued, I went with a simple, sweet, ever-so-slightly fattening dusting of powdered sugar.

Hey, what better excuse to tack on a few more calories than Fat Tuesday, right?

Advertisements

Ginger carrot muffins: my favorite recipe yet

6 Mar

After making a vegetable stir-fry for dinner the other night, I found I still had lots of carrots and lots of fresh ginger root left over. My solution? Bake them into something, of course!

I did a search for “ginger carrot cake” and was surprised to find a huge number of recipes. I hadn’t known it was such a time-tested and well-loved flavor combination. It took me a long time to settle on one recipe, but I finally chose this one from cooks.com. I picked it for a few reasons: I had all the necessary ingredients; it called for freshly grated ginger, not powdered; it called for lots of interesting spices I don’t use very often; and it featured a cute picture of a bunny.

Instead of preparing the recipe as a cake, as called for, I opted to make muffins. You may have noticed that I keep making cupcakes instead of cakes, and while I’ll admit that I do have a soft spot for mini-cakes, the main reason for this is more embarrassing: I still don’t own a cake pan. My only cake-appropriate pan is the heart-shaped one I used on Valentine’s Day–which will hardly do on any of the other 364 days of the year, I think. Don’t worry, I’m about to place an order for a new cake pan or two! My only concern is…what type do I get? The number of options out there is staggering. If you have any insight into what type/brand of cake pan is best, I’d love to hear it. Otherwise, I’ll just close my eyes, point to one, and order it. (I’m only slightly kidding.)

The recipe I’d chosen looked very simple and quick, and it was–except for one very long detour. Did you know that it takes freakin’ forever to grate one and a half pounds of carrots by hand? It’s also a hell of an arm workout. Still, it was kinda fun. And I ended up with a glorious heap of carrot shreds.

It also didn’t take long for me to discover that grating fresh ginger is much easier said than done. My attempts to grate it over the finest holes on my grater left me with a mushy wet mess. Then I remembered reading that ginger becomes easier to grate if it’s slightly frozen, so I stuck it in the freezer and left it there until I’d prepared everything else.

My batter looked pretty disgusting–brown and gooey and full of carrots. But it tasted good, so I figured I was on-track. I became a little worried halfway through when I found that the recipe was less specific about the order in which to mix the ingredients than the other recipes I’ve used recently; for instance, I wasn’t sure if I should thoroughly mix the wet ingredients separately before adding them to the dry ones, and I ended up kind of improvising.

While mixing everything together, I discovered that I love Jamaican allspice and I really, really love ginger. It’s got such a fresh, lively taste. I’ve decided to start finding ways to work it into other things I cook and bake. Oh, and the trick about freezing it did help a little–but I still had to use a grater with bigger holes before I got anywhere with it.

Into the oven they went, and 25 minutes later, out of the oven they came:

They weren’t the prettiest things ever, and I was a little worried when I first peeked into the oven and saw them rising a lot more in the center than on the sides. But they evened out slightly once they’d cooled, and they smelled lovely. And then I took a bite.

I’m not kidding when I say it was one of the best things I’d ever tasted. It was fragrant with ginger and nutmeg, and perfectly moist. I actually scarfed three of them, I think, before they’d even cooled off. My family swooped down upon them and managed to make six more disappear in the blink of an eye. Even my mother, who tries to avoid all pastries and sweets, ate one without hesitating.

Now I’m not tooting my own horn here–I give full credit to the author of the recipe. Still, it felt amazing to have made something on my own, from scratch, that tasted so damn great.

A few quick notes to anyone who might like to try out this recipe: I used canola oil, and I think it really helped make these muffins especially moist. Also, I’m pretty sure that if I made these again–okay, when I make these again–I’d add almost twice as much fresh ginger. I could definitely taste it when I took that first bite, but the flavor kind of faded after they cooled off.

When I first planned to make these muffins, I decided I would make a thin white glaze, drizzle it over the muffins, and top them all off with handmade crystallized carrots and crystallized ginger. I even studied up on how to make an icing with the right consistency and how to crystallize things, and I was looking forward to trying it all out. But when I tasted the muffins, I realized that they truly wouldn’t benefit from any toppings, as sweet or pretty as they may be. I think that an important part of being a baker or a decorator is knowing when to quit–so I did. I left them plain and more than a little homely.

…But damn, if they didn’t taste amazing!

%d bloggers like this: