Monday, January 2, 2012

Road Trip Cupcakes

It's becoming a thing; I'm just as likely to pack a piping bag as I am a tube of toothpaste for a trip that involves a hotel room. There's something just so nice about having freshly decorated cupcakes to go with that silly coffee service on the highly-lacquered table with its faux burl inlay. I planned ahead and threw together a batch of naked cupcakes that would travel well. When a quick dozen cupcakes are all that is required (as opposed to the standard 2-dozen a box mix yields) this is my new mix of choice: FUN da-Middles by Betty Crocker. Here's what the box and the pouch of cream filling look like…
There's also a version with yellow cake; haven't tried it yet. The directions are very accurate; when they say to fill each baking cup with 2 tablespoons of batter, don't approximate. The cream filling is a bit more open to interpretation, but after squeezing a dollop measuring about 1.25" across, they'll look like this…
It's a bit of a trick to carefully divvy up the last of the batter to cover those dollops without disturbing them, but I found my small Le Creuset spatula did the job perfectly.
By the way, when I'm not working with a particular theme in mind, I really like the foil baking cups by Reynolds. You can find them almost anywhere. They cost a bit more than the paper ones, but they're so worth it. They're durable, they go with almost any color theme, and supposedly eliminate the need for a cupcake pan; they're sturdy enough to stand on their own on a cookie sheet (however, they wouldn't eliminate the likelihood that I'd inadvertently slide them off the sheet onto the floor, so I park them safely in a cupcake pan and use a dinner fork to help lift them out of their wells). When these cakes are done, they're beautifully domed:
You can't do the toothpick test with them; you'd withdraw a toothpick covered with yummy, yummy filling. They're done when they're dry to the touch and noiseless; if they're no longer making that damp, cake-y noise, get them onto a cooling rack posthaste.
It's time to get your bag packed, and I don't mean luggage. You can easily load an entire can of frosting into a 12-inch disposable pastry bag for the road. Ignore all the warnings about keeping the open container refrigerated; unless you're headed for some part of the world where the temperatures are in the astronomically high 3-digits, that frosting isn't going to go off during a road trip. Here's what the set-up looks like:
That's a 9" offset spatula, a 12" disposable pastry bag, a large tip cover, a bag tie, and a large star tip (#195; a recent find). Snip about an inch off the end of the bag and drop the tip in; you may need to snip off a bit more. About half an inch of the tip should extend beyond the bag. Throw those bag trimmings out immediately; they have a sneaky way of working their way into your frosting. When the tip is in place, cuff the bag over your hand; it should look like this (excuse the fuzzy focus; that's what I get, trying to take a shot of my own hand):
Use the offset spatula to fill the bag as much as you can, adjusting the cuff as you go (by the time it's filled the cuff will be gone; it's helpful to have it there early on for structure as you're filling the bag).
Cover the star tip with the tip cover and do what you can to get as much air out of the bag as possible before you wrap the bag tie around the other end. Store the filled piping bag inside a Ziploc bag, in case that tip cover comes off or some other unforeseen disaster. When you get to where you're going and the time to bust out the cupcakes arrives, an easy way to decorate them in a flash is to squeeze out the frosting in a spiral; wrap your hand around the bag about two inches above the tip, and at a 90 degree angle start squeezing a continuous spiral from the outer edge, working your way in toward the center. When you get there, stop squeezing and pull the bag away; hopefully you'll get that Hershey's Kiss-esque top. The end result might look something like this:
Sprinkles are optional. Oh, and I need to finish with this quick story: a few months ago I brought a tray of similarly-decorated cupcakes to an event, and found out someone there didn't try one because he figured they were store-bought, and therefore probably "sucked." So be mindful of the concept that if your cupcakes look too perfect, everyone will be afraid to eat them.

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