warning: mostly rambly post about cupcake design ahead. written during a late night cupcake wars marathon, allergy-groggy and sleep deprived. just thought you should know, hey?
Cupcake Wars is a show on the Food Network benevolently also broadcast on Hulu. Basic premise: four baking teams make cupcakes, their cupcakes are judged, and each round a team is eliminated until one person is left (the winner takes home $10,000 and presents their cupcakes at a star-studded event in LA). It's food reality TV, and not bad (the worst drama queen award going to Top Chef BY FAR, with Chopped in the middle, and Iron Chef my favorite, all about the food! But a bit less accessible to my day to day cooking, alas).
Anyway, besides the whole cupcake thing, I think my absolute favorite part of the show is watching the host, the Ryan Seacrest of the cupcake world, say a really awful pun...he does this often. Now, the best part of the puns is watching Candace, one of the judges, react. Sometimes there's a smirk, sometimes she rolls her eyes, sometimes it's like she's starting off in the distance trying not to laugh.
Anyways, after my cupcake adventure last year, it's always interesting to think, what would I do? How would I take their challenges and run with it? Now, there's a reason I would never EVER want to do a competition like this in real life (besides the obvious fact that I'm not a professional baker). Frankly, I'm not a good competitor or performer. Ask anyone who saw me in speech or drama in high school. And I don't like the pressure behind it--I just get really nervous. And I just don't like feeling that way, at all.
Yet, the challenges they pose are intriguing, and I like a challenge. Making tiramisu completely from scratch, homemade eggnog, vegan jello (my latest attempt! it was the taste and consistency of the inside of a pink lemonade gusher). I like the excuse to do something new.
One of the episodes I watched today was celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Hollywood Boardwalk. The first challenge was to use a classic drink as inspiration to make a cupcake with the following choices:
Whiskey and grenadine from a whiskey sour
Bitters and lemon peel from an old fashioned
Olives and vermouth from a martini
Cream and kahula from a white russian
What would I do? Let's see, for the whiskey sour, I'm confused, I thought whiskey sours had egg whites in them? Whiskey and pomegranate just doesn't do it for me in the form of a cupcake, I think...
Old fashioned --the bitter and lemon peel, plus whiskey, in a cupcake---that could be great. I'm thinking a lemon cupcake (moist with some sort of dairy product, either yogurt or sour cream), plus instead of vanilla, using whiskey with a couple drops of bitters plus oil from lemon peels. Add more lemon peel to the sugar that you use in the cupcake, and it'll be even better. Top with a lemon swiss buttercream, and you're set. I'd have to try the bitters to see how much I'd use, I've never used them in a buttercream, it'd be interesting to try.
I'd stay away from olives in a cupcake. In bread, yes. In sweet cake, no.
The cream and kahlua could be lovely, but if you want to stay true to white russian form, you want to avoid chocolate. Perhaps a vanilla cupcake with cream, removing part of the cake and adding a kahula ganache, and then doing a kahlua buttercream.
All in all, I think that the old fashioned would be my choice.
On the show the contestants made:
Martini: Lemon lime cupcake with candied olive mascarpone filling with a juniper and gin buttercream (topped with leftover olive juice/water/sugar turned into crystals)
--big gooey mess, unfortunately...very ambitious, but didn't turn out at all.
White Russian: White chocolate cupcake with Irish cream whipped cream filling and topped with coffeee liqueur frosting, dotted with chocolate nubs
--flavors too weak, needed more!
White Russian: coffee liqueur cake with an Irish cream filling and an Irish cream buttercream (with vodka in the icing), with chocolate cigars
--flavors are definitely there! but cake texture was off.
Old Fashioned: Lemon cake sprayed with whiskey and bitters, frosted with a dulce de leche bourbon butter cream topped with a whiskey/bitter soaked cherry and candied lemon peel
-- flavors weren't strong enough!
Oh oh! I would totally add orange to my old fashioned cake! It would play rather nicely with the lemon.
The next challenge is making three other cupcakes that celebrate Hollywood - and the contestants are judged on taste and presentation. This is when bakers usually do their best cupcakes, dressed up in some way to resemble the theme. Honestly, most of the time, the themes don't really allow for things tho be all that cohesive. As in, hey, a chocolate cupcake! The annual auto show! Right. They totally go together. ...not at all.
And to be fair, when you have only 75 minutes to make and bake and decorate three different cupcakes, you don't have the luxury of time. But still, it really does surprise me that contestants on the show who have obviously seen the show don't come practiced. If I was going to be on a show like Cupcake Wars, I would be doing a practice run in my kitchen every weekend for six months. I'd have a friend research all sort of different events and give me dummy parties to practice coming up with cupcake themes, practice putting together crazy ingredients. To me, going into a competition without that preparation is just silly. And giving yourself three minutes to come up with a cohesive theme is going to be worth it in the long run. With three minutes on the clock, here's my thinking:
Since we've already done a drink, we could do drinks based off of the signature drinks of famous people. Too bad my ideas are limited to James Bond's martini, The Dude's white russian, and that's it. Obviously my movie trivia is lacking.
Okay, maybe instead of drinks we can go ahead with stars matched to cupcakes. Um....Mickey Mouse? Kermit the Frog? Grace Kelly? Elvis? I seriously need to watch more movies. How about famous things...Dorothy's red slippers? This is hard. Everything feels either contrived. And doing something where you have one cupcake for the movies, one for music, one for tv and just having a decoration, that's no fun.
What about famous moments in sweets? Oh---definitely the Lucille Ball chocolate moment. And Willy Wonka is up there. Um, shoot. I need a third one. But I definitely like this one the best. Oh! I have TV, movie, now music! Katy Perry Cupcake. Done.
Lucille Ball and the Chocolate Factory: dark chocolate cupcake with a chocolate ganache filling; salted caramel swiss buttercream, garnished with a chocolate truffle
Willy Wonka's Imagination: you can't go too crazy here. But a malted milk chocolate cupcake, with vanilla buttercream dyed a couple different colors and piped on randomly to look like the candy room in the movie, plus a gummy bear, a molded chocolate mushroom with white dots, some other Wonka candies---that could be very fun.
Katy Perry's Firework: We know that's it going to be topped with whipped cream. Adding a maraschino cherry would be excellently tongue in cheek (literally?) but probably not all that family friendly, ha. So a really good cherry vanilla cupcake with my special boiled down cherry molassess (100% cherry juice boiled forever, til a very thick syrup) --topped with whipped cream, and to hell with it, the cherry on top.
I would probably get panned for my lack of "decoration." Frankly, though, I hate the fondant things and the edible glitter they throw around. I want to eat a cupcake whole and not have to pick stuff off of it. That misses the point completely. But then, I'm not the one competing, thank god. I'm just the one in the background wondering how to make a malted milk chocolate cake (here will be a great starting point! yes! next project!). Pa would have loved it.