Tuesday, November 23, 2010

And the winner is...

Salty Sweet Caramel Treat!

Well, second place in the Best Taste - Amateur category, but I'll take it! 

The weekend was a bit of a whirlwind but it really couldn't have gone better. The weekend kicked off on Friday. After a hair appointment, and before heading to the pub for a few drinks, I managed to get the rainbow chip cakes baked off for the birthday party. I'd never made these before but they went well. Adding a few sprinkles to Paula Deen's 1-2-3-4 cake really makes a difference.

Dora cupcake liners at the request of the birthday girl

After a rather sleepless night, I was back in the kitchen at 7:00 getting everything finished before heading to Montreal. The Dora cakes were topped with a cooked flour frosting (sounds gross but it works!) tinted with some purple gel color. I finished them off with a custom blend of sprinkles to coordinate with the liners.

The finished product
After the birthday cakes were done, it was on to the competition cakes. My plan was to get them baked off and packed up for the road trip. Everything went pretty smoothly. I was a little worried I was going to run out of batter but it just worked out.

Fastforward to Sunday morning...the time seemed to fly by way too quickly and I didn't think everything would get done. First things first - caramel. Thanks to Lyndsay for acting as photographer through this step.

The caramel seemed fine at first but I soon discovered that something wonky happened and I ended up with a less than ideal texture. I think the issue was likely adding cream that was still cold from the fridge to the 360 degree sugar mixture. It became almost crystalized. I was told they still tasted alright, if not the ideal chewy texture I was going for. At least the delicious, and ridiculously decadent, frosting decided to cooperate. As did the previously made caramelized sugar for the decorations. In the end, I was pretty happy with the finished product. The 6 I set aside for the judges were given special protection in their container. Amazing what you can do with some tin foil and a muffin tin. Worked like a charm.

Everything got done just on time and we made it to the drop off about 3 minutes before they'd asked for everything to be there. The stressful part was over and a bunch of us headed off for a delicous breakfast before heading back to check out Cupcake Camp in all its glory.

How do I describe this event? Insane is the first word that comes to mind. The line snaked through the lobby of the Fairmont, through a shared entrance with the next building and then twisted around outside. We were lucky that we only had to wait outside for maybe 10 minutes but I heard people were out there for over an hour. Over 2000 people turned out for the event which I think was WAY more than the organizers ever imagined. Great for the charities but not ideal for those of us trying to get a look at the cupcakes. Once we got in it was pretty much impossible to see anything. People were 3 and 4 deep at every table. I did get a chance to look at the cupcakes in the Best Decorated categories and they were quite impressive. Sadly, I don't have any pictures from inside. I was just too overwhelmed to get out the camera.

I was lucky enough to get to meet Chuck Hughes, one of the judges, host of Chuck's Day Off, and owner of Garde Manger in Montreal. I mostly tracked him down because my friend, Carolyn, loves him so much but I ended up being really glad I did. He was so nice and really open to taking pictures and talking to everyone who flagged him down. I also may have told him he should definitely vote for my cupcake if it made it to the judging round ; )

We were kicked out around 4:00 just as they were finally starting to judge for the taste categories. There were still hundreds of people outside and they needed some of us to leave so others could enjoy. I then spent the next 24 hours in suspense waiting for the winners to be announced. I really didn't think I had a shot especially with the results of the caramel. I was really just interested in finding out which ones made it to the second round of judges. Thanks to Kristen for finally finding the results from the Montreal Gazette on their blog and letting me know I actually came in second place. So exciting! It's now 48 hours later and I still haven't heard from the organizers to let me know about my win but I'll cut them some slack...20,792 cupcakes, $35,000+, and a couple thousand people is a lot to deal with in a weekend.

This post has gotten pretty long but I'm just so excited about the whole thing that editing myself was hard. Thanks to all of you who left comments and sent emails, texts, etc, of support and encouragement. I really appreciate it. Another competition under my belt. 

Now it's time to move on to Christmas baking. Woo!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Getting Ready for Camp

In an effort to minimize the madness to come this weekend, I decided to start getting things together for the cupcakes a bit early. The goal for tonight was to get the chocolate frosting and caramelized sugar decorations done for my competition cupcakes. This frosting is kind of out of control. The ingredients include 2 1/4 cups of butter and a pound and a half of chocolate. It's a Paula Deen kind of thing but, surprizingly, it came straight from Martha. If you ever wondered what that much chocolate and butter would look like, wonder no more.

Next up was come caramelized sugar. This was something I didn't think I could possibly mess up...but I did. Boy am I glad I decided to get this stuff out of the way early. Here's what happens when you try to make caramel and the sugar doesn't dissolve. Rock candy!

Needless to say, that went straight to the garbage can. The second go round was much more successful. I added more water and made sure the sugar was totally dissolved before it got to a boil. I was a little too careful and it took forever for the water to boil off but ended up with a much better result. I decided to try my hand at forming the sugar in molds. I'd been reading about it online and it seemed easy enough. I pulled out my collection of woodland creature cutters from Ikea and some random ones from the drawer.

A couple of them turned out alright but none of them are fantastic. I think I'll end up breaking them up and sticking them in the icing. I also made some bubble sugar which I'd never heard of until today. You crumple up the parchment, cover it with some vodka, and pour on the molten sugar. The sugar and alcohol react and create bubbles. It was a pretty cool little science experiment.

The dry ingredients for both batches of cupcakes are measured and ready to go. Hopefully the rest of the prep will work out as well as tonight. I'm really looking forward to this weekend. Not only do I get to make cupcakes and witness what 20,000+ cupcakes look like in one room, but I also get to spend some time with a few of my friends I don't get to see too often. Yay! I'll be sure to update when I get back from the weekend. Wish me luck!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Adventures in toffee

Until last weekend the only experience I'd had with candy making, or molten sugar of any kind, was the caramel and caramelized sugar decorations I made for my cupcakes for CupcakeCamp Ottawa. I had always been intimidated and figured that anything requiring constant and precise temperature monitoring just wasn't going to work for me. I was pleasantly surprised. It's kind of amazing what some sugar, corn syrup, water, and cream can turn into.

First attempt with a candy thermometer

Salted caramel
This past weekend I decided to break the thermometer out of the cupboard again and try my hand at some sponge toffee. If you're unfamiliar, it's the delicious crunchy hole-filled toffee in the middle of a Crunchie bar. In other parts of the world you may hear it referred to as honeycomb, sea foam, or hokey pokey. Sugar, corn syrup, water, vanilla, and baking soda - that's all it takes.

Two friends in the office were declaring their love of the stuff last week so I decided to make some for one of their birthdays. I was amazed at how easy the process was and how much candy I ended up with from so few ingredients. The 9x13 pan suggested in the recipe (from Canadian Living) barely contained it all.


To make the treat a little more gift appropriate I decided to dip the pieces in melted semisweet chocolate.

Finished product

The resulting confection got rave reviews in the office the next day. As a result, I decided to add sponge toffee to the list of treats available from the Holiday Sweatshop. Let's hope every batch turns out as well!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

And so it begins...

My first blog post! Yay me. I'm new to this whole thing and I really have no idea how I'm going to approach this project. I figured since I'm gearing up towards a few crazy weeks of baking and travel now was as good a time as any to start this thing up. It's something I've been meaning to do for awhile. I guess my aim is to show you what's possible from a teeny tiny apartment kitchen.

There are a few baking challenges heading my way in the next couple of months...

I'm really excited I decided to take on the challenge of CCC Mtl. I'm hoping the award winning cakes I made for CCC Ottawa will stand up to the test in Montreal. Salted Caramel filled Chocolate will live to see another day. This time there's a preliminary tasting round before they even make it to the celebs. I think this time success will be measured by just making it to the "real" judges. I'm wimping out a bit and only making the minumum of 24 + 6 for the judges + 6 for my friends (you're welcome ladies!) because I've also commited to...

#2 - 30+ cupcakes for a friend's daughter's 3rd birthday party
Not a big deal on a normal day but the party happens to be on the same day as CCC. The birthday party cupcakes will just be fun. Fluffy frosting, probably something pink, and lots and lots of sprinkles! This will be the first time I've ever made cupcakes to order. Since there won't technically be money changing hands I think it's fair to still enter myself into the Amateur category in Mtl.

#3 - Holiday Baking Sweatshop 2010 edition
This will be the third year I'm offering to do holiday baking for my co-workers who aren't as comfortable in the kitchen as I am. The first year I didn't think I'd have any interest. Boy was I surprised. I never realized how many people either can't or don't bake. The first year was not much of a money maker. Hundreds of dozens of cookies and about $100 later, I wanted nothing to do with cookies ever again. Last year I improved my business sense and everything went much better. Already this year I've had a few people ask if I'll be doing it all again. Why not? The email will go out this Friday. I'd better brace myself.

So, this first post ended up being much longer than I intended. I guess it's giving you a taste of what you've got to look forward to...the trials and tribulations of baking with 3.3 square feet of counter space (I just measured). There will be many pictures to come in the future. Stay tuned!
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