Wednesday, April 30, 2008

pin cushion swap

So I joined my first swap on Ravelry. It is for pin cushions. The woman I am trading with is in Brooklyn. We both filled out questionnaires to get an idea about what the other might like. From her questionnaire, I decided to run with a gnome and wool theme. Here's the results. The mushroom is in the front (it does have a stem) is filled with emery, as in the stuff that emery boards are made of. It is also the sharpener for needles that the strawberry attached to the tomato pin cushions have in it.
On the bottom, I used a four inch square coaster, followed by a little bag filled with sawdust (from the store bought tomato pin cushion that I dismantled), and finally, a little polyfill. The entire pin cushion is 1/4 inch think wool that I got at Hobby Lobby.
I really hope my swapper likes it!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

My Mom's Etsy Site
Check it out!
She has new crochet hook organizers up!

Hello Cupcake!

The book Hello Cupcake! by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson is a wonderful gem. My sister, Karla, sent it to me. So far, I have made the owls and the sunflowers.

Owls (very easy!)

My niece, Lauren, made these butteflies.

My sunflowers for Katie's birthday.

Making Vanilla Cupcakes

I have tried a lot of different recipes in the last 2 years of cupcake baking. I think that the best vanilla cupcake (for me) is Amy Sedaris's which you can double check if you are so inclinded in her book I Like You, off of her blog, or off of Chockylit's blog which is an excellent cupcake baking blog with some of the best recipes I have ever made. I have copied it from Chockylit's blog with a few additional notes.

Of all the cupcakes I make this one consistently is an adult-crowd pleaser. It is moist, not too dense, vanilla-y, and yummy.

Vanilla Cupcakes from Amy Sedaris This always makes 24 for me.

1½ sticks unsalted butter
1¾ cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla Do not use imitation vanilla! If you are that person, then you should really just not be baking and get it from a bakery instead.
½ teaspoon salt
2½ teaspoons baking powder
2½ cups flour
1¼ cups milk

Best when all ingredients are at room temperature! This is a key!

1. Preheat over to 350 degrees.

2. In large bowl, cream together butter and sugar.

3. Beat in eggs, vanilla, salt and baking powder.

4. Add flour in 3 batches, alternating with milk. I like to start on a flour and end on a milk. If you have a stand mixer you never need to stop the machine, just add in small batches flour-milk-flour-milk-flour-milk.

5. Beat at low speed for 30 seconds or until mixture is smooth and satiny.

6. Divide batter evenly among cups. I use an ice cream scoop about 2/3rds full.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until tops are pale gold and toothpick or skewer inserted into center comes out clean.

7. Cool on wire rack for 45 minutes or until at room temperature. If you don't have a wire rack, you should still take them out of the muffin pan to cool on the counter.

Note: This recipe makes more than 12 cupcakes. Be careful to fill only 2/3s to 3/4s full so they don’t overflow.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Making Buttercream

The perfect buttercream is an illusive goal. Several key factors are involved in creating an excellent butter cream.
1. The butter. You need to make sure you butter is at room temperature. Always use unsalted butter. I usually buy the generic HEB brand in Texas for $1.99/4 sticks.

2. The sugar. Powdered, and most importantly sifted. Don't buy a stupid metal sifter that you have to fuss with the handle. It's too slow going. I prefer to use a mesh strainer and bang my hand on the edge. Whatever doesn't fall through the sieve, do not reuse or crush or force through the mesh. Toss it. Those little bits are the arch enemy of frostings: lumps.

3. The ratio of butter to sugar. Tricky. Depends on what you like, sweeter or buttery-er. I prefer a less sweat buttercream. Thus my ratio is 1 stick of butter 2 cups powdered sugar. You can of course adjust to your own preferences. If you do this in small increments, you can experiment quite a bit to make sure you have the ratio to your preferences. Add the sugar slowly after you hit 1 1/2 cups. Perhaps in quarter cup increments until you get the consistency you want.

4. The extras. I like to mix in pure vanilla extract (get it at Costco it's cheap and great quality). At least 1 teaspoon. Sometimes, up to a tablespoon. Again, add in small increments and taste a lot. You will find your perfect buttercream. You can also try various other extracts such as raspberry, almond, lemon, orange...all in small increments until you get the desired flavoring.

5. The milk. Depending on what's around the house, I prefer to use half and half as the 'milk' of the buttercream. Add a tablespoon at a time to control the consistency. You can always add more, you can't take milk out. If you dump in too much milk then the consistency is off and crappy, so you add more sugar, which then needs more bueno. You can use heavy cream or you can use nonfat milk if you are insane. All should be at near room temperature. You don't want your ingredients at all different temperatures, causes freaky deaky things to happen.

Now that we have covered all the ingredients, you have two mixing options: a stand mixer or a hand mixer. I've used both. It doesn't matter, just use what you have already. Mix the butter by itself first. Less than a minute of mixing. Add in the sugar (2 cups sifted), the vanilla or other flavoring, and 2 tablespoons of milk or cream. Beat. Check flavor and adjust accordingly with sugar and milk or cream.

I like to frost immediately, but frosting cupcakes is often just a nuisance to me. I am not a master decorator and I have never noticed anyone complaining about my cupcakes because they are not masterful works of art. Spoon on about 2-3 tablespoons of frosting in the center and you can use a knife, a spoon, or some fancy utensil.

If you like to pipe frosting on, I like to chill my frosting in the fridge for about a half hour before frosting. I like the control of the frosting better that way.

Buttercream can be colored with simple food coloring. Buttercream can be saved in the fridge for about a week. Buttercream can also be 'cut' with cream cheese. If you substitute half the butter for cream cheese, you will have an entirely different frosting, which is an excellent substitute when you want to mix it up.