Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Recipe #2: Sweet potato cupcakes. Oh, and did I mention I am a weird-y?

   I am SUCH a picky eater, in the worst way. I know, I know, I claim to love food, but then I say I'm a picky eater, and when I say picky, I mean the list of foods I don't like is longer than I really like to think about. One of the things I dislike greatly are sweet potatoes. I hate them. I hate them in every form, from fries to pies to puree. They disgust me and remind me of the worst things about store-bought baby food, which my son really only ate when other people bought it, except the fruity dessert flavors. Instead we pureed whatever we were eating. For the longest time my little man hated sweet potatoes as well, and then he tried them covered in melted, toasty marshmallows, brown sugar, candied nuts and in a graham cracker crust. At that point, much to my dismay, they became one of his favorite things and I suddenly needed a way to prepare them that didn't offend every one of my senses.
   I found it. I made these for Thanksgiving, and even ate one without vomiting in my mouth, meaning I did it right. What's funny is that it's pretty much sweet potato pie in cupcake form. It tastes very distinctly of sweet potato, but the light, moist texture of the cake really lends itself to my ability to eat it. Not only that, but everyone loved them so much, I've been asked to make them for things other than Thanksgiving, which seems INSANE to me. Why eat nasty sweet potatoes for any reason other than tradition? I can't figure it out. On the plus side, we also eat brussel sprouts pan fried in bacon grease and topped with asiago on Thanksgiving, AND I'm not expected to eat any sort of breakfast food all day. Pretty sure that's the best kind of holiday.
   So, without further babbling or useless rambling, here is my recipe for sweet potato cupcakes. Keep in mind I use home-made graham crackers for the crust, but that recipe will come another day, and store bought grahams will work just as will, I assure you.
Sweet Potato Pie Cupcakes  Makes 2 dozen
  1. 1 1/4 cup crushed graham crackers
  2. 6 T. melted butter
  3. 1 T. Sugar
Mix cracker crumbs and sugar, then ad butter and toss with fingertips until moist and well blended. Don't over mix to the point of soggy though. Divide into lined cupcake cups and press against the bottom of the cup until fairly well packed.

  1. 2 large eggs
  2. 2 1/3 cups packed brown sugar
  3. (1) 15 ounce can of sweet potatoes, drained and mashed
  4. 1 cup melted butter, I use salted because I like the way the cupcakes taste better, but you can use either salted or unsalted
  5. 2 T. vanilla extract
  6. 2 T. orange zest
  7. 1/2 cup applesauce
  8. 2 1/2 cups ap flour
  9. 1 T baking soda
  10. couple pinches of salt
  11. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves (easy on those!) to taste
  12. 1 1/2 cup buttermilk
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line the muffin pan, then do the crusts.
Beat eggs and sugar on low, or just whisk by hand, until fully incorporated and no lumps are present. Color should be an even, dark brown. Mix in sweet potatoes, applesauce, vanilla, orange zest and butter.
Sift together dry ingredients including spices, then mix into the batter until smooth. I like to add it in 3rds to avoid annoying lumps. Mix in buttermilk completely.
Fill muffin pans 3/4 full, as this batter doesn't rise significantly. Bake for 17-20 minutes, until cupcakes are springy and don't jiggle. Allow to cool before filling and frosting. If filling, core cupcakes once cool.

Salt caramel filling:
  1. 1/4 cup water
  2. 4 cups sugar
  3. 2 cups heavy cream
  4. 1 1/2 sticks chilled unsalted butter, cubed
  5. 1 1/2 t. course sea salt
In a heavy saucepan over high heat, combine water, sugar and corn syrup. Cook without mixing until dark AMBER (that's my name! :D), so for about 13-15 minutes.
Remove from the heat and slowly, carefully mix in the heavy cream until smooth. Be sure to work slowly or the mixture will splat up at you, and melted sugar burns are the absolute most painful burns I've ever experienced. You don't want that. I promise.
Return to heat and cook to soft ball stage, or for those of you that AREN'T too ghetto for a candy thermometer, between 235-240 degrees. Try to shoot for somewhere in the middle. It should only take a couple minutes.
Remove from heat and pour caramel into a bowl that can handle the heat of ten thousand suns, so that the caramel stops cooking. Tupperwear? Yeah, not such a good idea for this. I learned THAT one when I was about 10 and was too excited to stop and use common sense.
Mix in your salt and mix in the butter one Tablespoon at a time until completely incorporated.
Allow to cool, and then fill your glorious cupcakes. This is the recipe I use for almost all of my salt-caramel fillings because it doesn't soak into the cake. It stays where you put it.
Save a little to drizzle on the cupcakes after they are frosted and bruleed, so the pecans have something to stick to.

Marshmallow frosting:
  1. 8 large egg whites at room temperature
  2. 1/2 t. cream of tartar
  3. 2 cups sugar
  4. 1 T. vanilla extract, OR if you're really cool, 2 vanilla beans, scraped
Use a double boiler with simmering water to cook the egg whites, sugar and tartar until the sugar is dissolved completely.
Pour into a mixing bowl with a whisk attachment and beat until stiff peaks form. The frosting should be glossy. Add the vanilla and mix until fully incorporated, retaining those peaks, people!
Frost your cooled, filled cupcakes. I like to then toast the frosting, but I don't have a blowtorch presently, so that's not an option for me. Trust me though, if you CAN, you SHOULD. It will make the flavor that much more incredible. Then drizzle the cupcakes with left over caramel that you hopefully didn't eat while finishing the components to these complex cupcakes.

Candied pecans:
  1. 1 egg white
  2. 1 T. water
  3. 1/2 lb chopped pecans
  4. 1/2 cup sugar
  5. pinch of salt
  6. 1/2 t. cinnamon
Preheat oven to 250 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, slightly greased.
Whisk egg white and water until frothy. Separately mix sugar, salt and cinnamon.
Drop pecans in egg white mixture and toss to coat evenly, then remove and toss them in the sugar mixture until evenly coated.
Spread onto baking sheet and bake for an hour, stirring, shaking and tossing every 15 minutes or so. Allow to cool and use to top some delicious cupcake.

   I know these were a bit time consuming and complex. They had a lot of components to them. Don't let that scare you away though. They are magical. I was able to choke down one of my least favorite foods, so not to toot my own horn or anything, but they are pretty freaking tasty. The buttery crust lends itself perfectly to the smooth, spiced cake, which in turn meshes perfectly with the salty, gooey caramel, which contrasts perfectly with the sweet, fluffy frosting with it's toasty top, which the heightens the nutty crunch of the candied pecans, which bring us full circle by making the buttery crust stand out even more.
   Basically, eat these. They will bring you happiness.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Recipe 1: Saffron cardamom muffins.

   These are some tasty muffins. They are the type of muffin that make the people that may not use a lot of spices in their food feel extra cool for making them. Saffron and cardamom are both excellent in desserts, and yet, at least here in Idaho anyway, they are so often overlooked in place of more familiar flavors like cinnamon and vanilla. I am sick to death of that nonsense.
   These muffins are inspired by the flavors of Kuwait, and I absolutely adore them. I know, I know... muffins. On a dessert truck. I'm not going to lie, if I went to someone's house and they offered me muffins for dessert, I would be a little upset. I mean, I wouldn't say anything, but inside I'd be all dejected and dissatisfied as I ate my breakfast for dessert. That being said, I promise, these are not boring, run of the mill muffins. The only reason I would classify them as muffins at all is that they are slightly denser than my ideal cake, and they aren't frosted or sprinkled, which I feel is absolutely necessary for cupcakes. They are moist and almost cake-y, loaded with flavor and texture, and topped in a citrus and rose honey glaze. They are still pretty healthy, but they are so delicious you won't remember, I promise.
   Now, there are a couple issues with me posting these recipes online:
     1. I can't afford to make them right now, so pictures aren't going to happen for a while. I promise that when I can, I will get photos added to the recipes, and I'll post that they have been updated with photos so the recipes are easier to follow for any visual learners that need them.
     2. I'm a little bit concerned that if I post these recipes, no one will purchase the food from my truck because they can make them at home. I'm hoping that everyone out there is pretty lazy and will spend the money.
   A final note before I write this sucker, I've been looking more into Kickstarter, and I'm thinking it might be a good idea once I get everything together. If it ends up being a bad idea and I don't get fully funded, no one will lose anything. I have a few people locally that are extremely supportive and that's made me a little bit more secure in my idea. I feel like there is hope that this truck could happen before I am old enough to retire. Yay!

Saffron Cardamom Muffins
3 cups whole wheat all purpose flour
1 teaspoon saffron strands soaked in 2 Tablespoons warm milk for about 20 minutes
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 cup orange blossom honey
1  1/2 cups chopped dates
1/2 cup date paste
2 eggs, separated and brought to room temperature
2 cups buttermilk
1 Tablespoon baking powder
2 Tablespoons orange oil
2  1/2 cup chopped, shelled, roasted pistachios

To make:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line muffin pan in muffin cups, or grease with butter and lightly flour.
  2. Beat egg whites to soft peaks, then very gently fold in cardamom, turmeric, honey, 1 cup of the pistachios, the dates and date paste, being careful not to lose all the volume in the egg whites.
  3. Beat the egg yolks with the saffron infused milk, buttermilk, and the citrus oil.
  4. Sift together flour and baking powder.
  5. Alternately fold flour mixture and egg yolk mixture into the egg white concoction until fully incorporated.
  6. Fill prepared muffin cups 3/4 of the way with batter, saving the remaining nuts to sprinkle on top after glazing, and baking for 25-30 minutes, until light golden brown on top. Careful not to over bake!
  7. Allow to cool and then dip the tops in glaze, recipe below.
  1. 1/2 cup orange blossom honey
  2. 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  3. 3 Tablespoons hot rose water
Blend honey, sugar, and water together until completely mixed. Dip cooled muffin tops into glaze, or brush on for more control. Sprinkle with remaining pistachios.

   These muffins require a little bit more work than the average muffin or quick bread, but they are so worth it. The technique and ingredients lend themselves to a lighter, more cake-like consistency, and the glaze keeps them really moist. They are healthy, as far as even muffins go, as the only processed sugar is in the glaze. The sweetness in the muffin comes from the honey and the dates. On a side note, I buy orange blossom honey in bulk at my local WinCo. I know it's carried other places as well. It's one of my favorites and I use it a lot. The citrus with the spices and the dates is lovely. The dates add a fruity, chewy texture while the pistachios bring a salty crunch to balance everything.
   Be brave, and give these muffins a try. And when you do, try your best not to eat them all in one sitting. You're going to want to share them with at least one person as evidence that they existed.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

So many details!

   Starting a business involves so many little details I never would have thought of had I just jumped in without doing research. I can't imagine not spending a HUGE chunk of my time learning about all the laws, permits, qualifications, and details that I need to immerse myself in to do this correctly.
   So far I have a notebook of information all nice and neat, bookmarks to legal resources, contact pages for small business assistance, tax and accounting forms, permit forms from health and welfare, the FDA, and various other government sources. I know what it's going to take as far as paperwork now, and while it is a lot, I am not daunted. I am in fact more driven to accomplish this.
   I'm working on initial start-up costs right now, including permit costs, rough estimate of raw ingredients, insurance, commercial kitchen usage, a truck or trailer... so far the cost is adding up really fast. We have very little in terms of money, so I'm looking into various avenues of funding. I was thinking about starting a Kickstarter, but I'm not sure if my dream is really worth backing to anyone.
   My end goal is to have a dessert truck. I want to make the goods in a commercial kitchen, so my truck doesn't need to be a mobile kitchen, just a catering truck, but I love the big, boxy trucks with the window and everything on display. I have a specific aesthetic. I love girly, sexy things. I want the truck to be bright pink with a dark-haired pin up girl wearing an apron holding a strawberry tart on the side next to the window. I want it to have my business name, Dirty Little Tarts, in teal. For the menu I want to use chalkboard paint to paint big circles in bright colors in the free space to write the menu on every day.
   I've been thinking about all the recipes I need to write down in order to figure out what the best ones are and what I'll be selling. I'm tempted to put all the recipes on this blog. I feel like if I write more often I update my progress, I'll be more motivate to succeed. I'm thinking I'll put up a recipe or two a week, when I have time.
   We have to make it to September, and then we'll be financially stable again. I'm waiting on a call back about a job I had a phone interview for yesterday. They are closed until Monday, so I'm holding out. If they don't call by 1pm I'm going to call and check in. Once we're on solid ground I'll be able to start investing in this business. That should give me time to get a handful of recipes on here.
   I don't have time to add one now. I'm getting ready to go on a girl's night out with my best friend. In fact, I'm running late now. I just said I was going to write every Saturday and I'm sticking to it. Tomorrow I'll add at least one recipe. I'm thinking saffron cardamom muffins with honey-pistachio topping. Yummy. Then again, maybe I'll post something a little more... sinful than muffins.

Friday, July 27, 2012

And so the beginning of the end

   My name is Amber and I love food. I've attempted this blog three different times, and it's always resorted to listless rambling without direction because that's where I found myself quite often.
   Not this time! Since having my son I've realized that there isn't enough time to think about the things I want without working to get them. I just finished my second semester of college yesterday (Yay!), and I've come to the startling conclusion that while I love my major and would settle for a career in psychology, the reality is it's not what I am passionate about (though I WILL still be working towards a masters degree at the very least). I am passionate about my family. I am passionate about helping people find happiness, but not in the way I thought. I am passionate about food.
   I love eating, of course, but mostly I love baking. I love it so much it's almost gross. I am constantly thinking about new flavor ideas, jotting down recipes, looking for inspiration everywhere, and perpetually improving things I've already come up with until I hit that perfect harmony of flavors.
   For as long as I can remember I've loved clothes and food. I was the kid that wanted to help cook, even though it meant having to do the dishes. I was the teen that made their younger sibling's birthday cakes while everyone else went to the movies. I was the high school drop-out with no focus, working graveyard fast food jobs and loving it because I got to create insane desserts using the shake machine and fryers when the manager left for the night. Now I'm the mom who has a little boy that sits in front of the oven on her lap, watching cakes rise and eclaires puff up and breads reach that perfect deep golden brown. I'm the college student that takes new recipe creations to share with the class every time I can afford it.
   Lately that hasn't been often. We've been extremely broke, looking for jobs for over 6 months now, living on about $50 a week to feed the three of us. We've been in worse circumstances, and being here now I feel compelled to finally go after the thing that I'm passionate about. I want to bake for a living.
   I've had no formal training, but that's ok. I understand food on a primal level. I don't want to work for a stiff bakery with menu limitations. In this economy opening a bakery would be a huge risk, and I have no savings. I don't want a traditional bakery anyway. I want to open a dessert truck. Finding myself I made a lot of mistakes. My credit isn't great. Still, I KNOW I can do this.
   I've started doing the research into what it's going to take to start this business. I've read the Health and Welfare food code guide, I've looked into the tax forms and assumed business name process, I've done tons of research on start-up costs and truck types and commercial kitchens. I'm ready.
   Luckily I have a fiance that supports my goals. He wants to be a part of this and knows how hard I'm willing to work to accomplish everything. I want to bake. I want to bake every day for other people. I love seeing people eat great food that makes them smile. I want to offer affordable bites of happiness. So I will. And once a week, every Saturday starting tomorrow, I'll update this blog with my progress. It may take a while, but it's so beyond worth it.