Cupcakes! I really like cake, but with just two of us in our household I don't really like to have an entire cake laying around. My waistline doesn't need that much cake and Mr. Distortion must limit sugar and carbohydrates to keep from going into diabetic shock. Enter mini cakes ... more commonly known as cupcakes! Lovely little individual cakes that can easily be shared with others.
I consulted my Fannie Farmer Baking Book a couple of months ago in search of a good cupcake recipe. A friend was having a birthday and I decided that he needed cupcakes. Of course, there was the expectation that he would share [smile]. Fannie Farmer provided several yummy sounding recipes and I settled on a yellow vanilla cupcake with a butter cream frosting. I pulled together the ingredients and began baking.
I must admit here that I hadn't done any baking in awhile, but I was confident that my baking skills would return ... just like riding a bicycle. After allowing the little cakes the appropriate amount of baking time, I pulled them out of the oven. They smelled heavenly. But ... they were a bit on the short side. Hmmm. I really expected them to, you know, rise more than they had. I chalked it up to the 1800s recipe I'd used ... maybe people preferred short, chewy cupcakes in the 1800s? So I made a notation next to the recipe that these were dense and chewy and not really to my liking.
Fast forward to Christmas. The baking bug struck again and I decided to make a pumpkin roll as my contribution to Christmas lunch. I have made this recipe many times in the past and am the go-to-girl when someone in the family gets a hankering for pumpkin roll. I once again gathered my ingredients and began baking. The house was quickly permeated with the smells of cinnamon and pumpkin. I whipped up some cream cheese frosting while I waited for the thin cake to finish baking. I couldn't wait to slather on the frosting and roll it up into a log. When I took the cake out of the oven I had the most amazing sense of deja-vu -- the darned thing didn't rise. Yes, it is supposed to be thin enough to roll up into a log, but it also needs enough loft to make it flexible and cakelike. I wasn't sure what to do, so hoping for the best I frosted it and attempted to roll it up. Guess what ... a wee bit on the stiff side. Really, you shouldn't need to strong arm your pumpkin roll. Once rolled, it looked like a dehydrated log with gaps between its inner rings. Hmmph. Merry Christmas.
What was going on?? Had I lost my ability to bake? What did the cupcakes and the pumpkin roll have in common ... besides me? I started looking over the recipes to see what ingredient or process might keep things from rising and cause the baked item to be dense, tough and chewy. I finally narrowed it down to the baking powder. It was the baking powder. Did you know that baking powder expires??? I guess I didn't realize it has a shelf life. Apparently I've never had baking powder expire on me. I think I've had the same can forever, but at some point in "forever" the stuff just went way past the limit. So ... if you've got baking powder that expired in 1991 (Yes. You heard me correctly. I hang my head in shame.), GET RID OF IT!
[Sidebar] I did discover a test you can perform to see if your baking powder is still effective. Add a teaspoon of baking powder to a cup of hot water. It should start bubbling right away. If it merely fizzles a bit (or if it just sits there congealing like mine did), hie thee to the nearest store for new stuff. Fortunately it's cheap. [End Sidebar]
I am happy to report, dear internet, that after replacing my baking powder I found that I can indeed still bake. This leads me to the "latest obsession" part of my post. I know ... you thought I forgot that part of the post since I got sidetracked onto the mishap part for so long. Sooooo ... back to cupcakes!
I found this cookbook while wandering around in Williams-Sonoma fondling all of the beautiful kitchen items that would really look swell in my kitchen. But ... I digress. I found this specialty cookbook and decided that I want to spend the next year perfecting my cupcake baking skills and trying out all of the yummy possibilities. From Chocolate Mousse Cupcakes to delicate Spring Bouquet Tea Cakes, 2008 will be the year of the cupcake.