This weekend I had volunteered to make the cupcakes for my parents’ 4th of July party. I got a great idea to make red, white, and blue cupcakes, and got to work early on Saturday morning. I used the standard yellow cake recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook; it’s been an excellent choice both on Hubby’s birthday back in February (cupcakes at Disneyland) and on both Mother’s and Father’s Days. Fluffy and tender, it has taken my additions – lemon and almond, respectively – very well.
I started off by pureeing some ripe strawberries in one bowl. In another, I added some cocoa powder. Because what’s the use in having three colors in a cupcake if they’re not three flavors? The third bowl had a little almond flavoring in it, and I added flour, salt, and baking powder in equal amounts. I was so pleased with myself for taking an already-halved recipe (the original made 30 cupcakes! for 7 people, that was sort of excessive) and splitting it into thirds. I creamed the butter and sugar in the mixing bowl of my stand mixer, added vanilla (because even a chocolate cake needs vanilla) and eggs, and then split that into thirds into each of the waiting bowls.
Now, here’s where it gets messy. I already had the red and the white – strawberry and almond – and I wanted the chocolate to be blue. I’d seen a blue velvet cake online, but of course I didn’t use that recipe… I decided I wanted a little more oomph to my chocolate cake and added some melted baker’s chocolate. The flavor was dark and intense. Unfortunately, so was the color. So much so that when I added 30 or 40 drops of blue food coloring, instead of turning a beautiful shade of teal, it only made the chocolate cake batter a greenish-grey shade similar to… well, let’s just say it was truly disgusting. I tried to salvage it by adding a little more flour, a little more milk… It only got greyer and more totally unappetizing. Later on, I baked it – and while the flavor was gorgeous, the texture was truly spongy (too much filler, not enough structure from the eggs and butter and sugar).
So I started over. I should have just made extra at this point, but I thought I could be cool and only make a sixth of the recipe. I am convinced that I must have measured and/or mixed wrong – a half of an egg isn’t exactly the easiest thing to “measure” and creaming only a few tablespoons of butter is difficult no matter how small your mixer is. At any rate, this time I only used a bit of cocoa and, once I added the blue food coloring, came up with something kind of pretty and blueish.
So… It was time to layer. I used the cupcake cups I’d picked up for $1 in the Target clearance bins. I started with the strawberry layer. Those strawberries turned the batter a gorgeous dark pink, and with a few drops of food coloring it deepened into a light red.
Then it was time for the white layer. I tried to seal the edges as best I could so there wouldn’t be seepage between the layers.
Last was the blue layer. I made sure to seal off the edges on this one too.
I know it looks more green here but really it was a pretty nice blue for chocolate
Then into the oven… When they came out, there were strange little bits of white all over the blue layer! I’m still not sure why… Maybe the blue layer was too heavy and the white layer was trying to get out? I figured they’d be covered over in icing anyway, so it was no big deal… But I was SO pleased at how beautifully the layers turned out in the cupcake cup!
Weird little bits of white traveled up through the blue layer, but look how PRETTY the layers look in the cupcake cup!
Next was the frosting. Now, I’ve been making the buttercream frosting from the back of the C&H sugar packet for basically my entire life. I could do it with my eyes closed. In large or small quantities. It has never, ever failed me. Until Saturday. One minute I was mixing together a smooth buttery frosting, the next, it had all separated into oily bits and creamy bits. While it still tasted killer (‘coss, really, who doesn’t like sugar and butter and vanilla?), it looked pretty gnarly. Honestly, I think it was just too warm in the kitchen. I was so sad, too, because I was itching to try out the piping bag I’d gotten as a gift. I did pipe the stuff (I probably should have just started over, but I didn’t actually have enough butter!), but it still was runny and sort of nasty-looking, like cottage cheese.
Even so, I continued on. I packed the cupcakes up in my handy-dandy cupcake carrier (yay for wedding gifts) and took them to my parents’ house.
And that, you see, is where our pretty little illustrated story ends. I forgot my camera at home, sadly. Which means I also didn’t get any awesome fireworks shots, even though Melissa sent me a tutorial last week! I also didn’t take any cupcakes back home with me. For the simple reason that they were just not good.
Oh, they tasted great. And if you separated the almond and strawberry layers, you could see the potential in them. They tried to be fluffy and cake-like. But they were under the super dense and heavy chocolate layer. And so they didn’t have a chance to shine. Darn. All that work for “um, this tastes okay, at least…”
I did some research on it and I think it really was the fault of a) undermixing the butter and sugar, b) trying to half an egg, and c) overmixing once everything was put together. I want to try again, but not for at least a month or two… The whole process was SO time-consuming, and the result was underwhelming (although it looked stunning – if you could get past the chunky frosting). However, I think it’s definitely something fun to do again… Anyone want multicolored cupcakes? 😉