As the title might suggest, I did not have the best night in my kitchen last night. I even started to write my post but was simply too embarrassed by the photos to continue on. So I shut everything down, feeling very sorry for myself, and went to bed. But as I was standing in the queue today waiting to pay for my new hand mixer (story to follow) I realised that I had the perfect opportunity. One of the main reasons for doing this blog is to show my friends and family the things I have come to learn along the way about baking. And what better way of showing you what to do than by showing you what not to do? So still a little embarrassed, I feel it is the right thing to do by sharing my story. (The outcome was meant to have been 12 (perfect) chocolate cupcakes with a coffee custard filling and dark chocolate ganache).
Last night started off with such promise and excitement, it was to be a pairing of two of my favourite ingredients – coffee and chocolate, I had found a good recipe for the cupcakes, an absolutely divine filling of coffee custard, I knew what I wanted to write, and I had time on my side. All went well, until my mixer broke. And by broke I mean really broke. The sound of scraping and grinding metal was an indication that my poor little mixer might have had enough. But upon shaking it out of frustration the sound of loose bits clunking around inside left me under no illusion that it was the last chocolate batter my loyal little mixer will ever mix again. So in the bin it went. Along with so many baking memories. Without wanting to get too sentimental about it, it was my first hand mixer that I bought when I moved out of home, and has been with me from the very start, helping bring so much joy and delicious treats to my table. Through the ups and downs of my incredible journey so far, it has mixed countless batters, whipped litres of egg whites, and creamed more butter than I care to mention. It has been wrapped up and packed away in several moving boxes over the last few years, and recently even crossed the ocean with us. But I digress…
At this stage things were still going okay, at least I was able to cream the butter and sugar properly before my little mixer gave up, and I just had to mix in the melted chocolate. However mixing the melted chocolate into the batter by hand was not as easy as I was used to with my electric mixer. I was really trying, first with a spatula then a balloon whisk then back to the spatula trying in vain to incorporate everything smoothly, but more importantly quickly. And so I come to Mistake # 1: Over mixing. Whenever making any type of cake batter, such as cupcakes or muffins, be careful not to over mix the batter. Once you add the flour to the creamed butter and sugar it should literally only be a few seconds of mixing to incorporate everything. The reason for that is, once you add the flour to the wet ingredients the gluten is activated and if you mix this too long it will cause all sorts of trouble once the batter goes into the oven.
I then proceeded to fill my 12 cupcake liners, but ended up with a bit of batter left. And in a weakened moment of what can only be labelled as What-Was-I-Thinking (or perhaps still mourning the loss of my little mixer), I continued to fill the liners with the leftover batter almost right to the top. That brings me to Mistake # 2: Over filling. Whenever making cupcakes, you should only fill the cupcake liner two thirds of the way. This is because you need a nice flat surface which is flush against the top of your liner to be able to pipe on your delicious frosting. If you fill your cupcakes too high, when they go into the oven and start to expand, the simple law of physics tells us that it cannot expand past the sides or the bottom of the pan. The only way out, is up (enter Exhibit 1 below). As you can see from the cracks, there was too much batter and the cracks at the top shows that it was already cooking on top while it was still expanding. And the slight slant of the top is due too over mixing.
I then started to make the coffee custard, and as I was stirring it I took my attention away for just a few seconds before taking it off the heat (which was on medium-high – which is too hot for a custard), and instantly knew that the eggs curdled. Which brings me to Mistake #3 (and thankfully my last for the night): Splitting custard. Make sure you cook your custard over a medium heat, whisking constantly and only keeping it on the heat until it has thickened (custard will continue to thicken as it cools down). Split custard is semi-salvageable, if you act quickly. By submerging the pot in some icy cold water and whisking in a little bit of water to the custard, the consistency will go back to that silky smooth custard you want, but it will taste very eggy. I tried this last night and honestly the taste really isn’t pleasant. I would recommend just starting from scratch, which I did. However this meant that I had to use some of the cream which I had set aside for my chocolate ganache, and at first I was really frustrated, but this ended up leading me to a great food discovery! I was absolutely not getting into the car at that time of night to go the store for cream. So to the fridge I went and found some sour cream which I used to make up for the cream deficit. And how delicious! The sour cream gave the ganache a wonderfully balanced taste. It just took the edge off tasting a little too rich. So from now on this will be the only way I make ganache. A quick recipe for that is:
100ml sour cream
100ml double cream
1 tbs glucose (or corn syrup)
200g dark chocolate
- In a saucepan combine the sour cream, double cream and glucose over a medium heat until it starts to bubble around the edges.
- Pour the hot cream mixture over the dark chocolate and stir until the chocolate is melted.
- Place in the fridge and stir every 5 minutes until it reaches a piping consistency (about 20 minutes is enough).
Note: the glucose is optional, it just gives some shine to the ganache. If you don’t have any glucose you can either omit it, or add a knob of butter (while the mixture is still warm) which will also make it nice and glossy.
In the end there was nothing wrong with the taste, I mean really nothing can deter from the perfect marriage between a chocolate cupcake and coffee custard. But aesthetically it probably wasn’t as perfect as what I would have wanted to settle for but hopefully it has helped somebody else avoid a kitchen calamity. I will be making this again soon to share the recipe, and hopefully a success story!
…be fearless, and have fun!