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Cupcake revelations, and request for helpful tips

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Yesterday I made a batch of banana cupcakes with vanilla and chocolate American buttercream for a friend's cookout. I've made many cupcakes in my life, but I tried a couple new, or new to me, things that I really liked. First, I had some buttermilk left over from the cupcakes so I used that in the frosting rather than regular milk, and I really liked the results. Definitely added some tang to counteract the sweetness of the powdered sugar frosting. Second, I baked the cupcakes without liners in the pan, then split them in half and put frosting in the middle and on the top, like a layer cake, and put them in the paper liners for serving so that they wouldn't slide apart. I don't recall the blog or article where I picked up that idea (maybe it was here), but I think it finally solved my issue with the cake-to-frosting ratio on most cupcakes. Plus they looked pretty cute.

As for the request for tips - I bake a lot, and I'm pretty good at it if I do say so myself. But I'm reeeeeeeally slow. For example, yesterday's normal sized batch of cupcakes, no fancy decorating or anything, took me about 2 hours. A basic batch of cookies or brownies would take me at least an hour, not counting baking time. Basically I'm not capable of "just whipping up a batch" of anything. Part of it may be I was trained to clean up as I go along, which is also kind of a necessity since my kitchen is small. So that may slow me down, but otherwise I'd just have more cleaning to do at the end, right? I'm not sure where my slowness comes in - assembling, measuring / weighing, and mixing ingredients just seems to take me a really long time. And then there's chopping nuts or chocolate. . . So I'm asking all you frequent bakers out there - any helpful tips for speeding up the from-scratch baking process? Thanks!

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  1. I chop nuts and chocolate in food processor, which works fine if you are careful.
    Weighing is much quicker than measuring, add an ingredient, zero, add an ingredient.

    3 Replies
    1. re: magiesmom

      Yes, I finally acquired a scale last year and I'm still getting used to using it. And of course many of my recipes are old (family favorites, church cookbooks, etc.) and don't include weights.

      1. re: cookie monster

        I am a recent convert to weighing ingredients, and the majority of my recipes just have measurements. Here is what I do:

        a) bookmark the ingredient weight list from the King Arthur website and have it available to reference when I am working with a recipe I haven't converted yet.

        b) measure out the ingredients for a recipe as I make it, but add them to my bowl while it's on the scale. With a recipe card and pencil to hand, I can jot down the weights as I go and by the time I am done, my recipe is converted and ready for next time.

      2. re: magiesmom

        I hate my food processor and would much rather either use the blender or chop by hand. Reason being that I detest getting that thing clean and in and out of the cabinet

        I basically avoid the fp at all costs.

      3. Are you chopping nuts and chocolate by hand? There are mini-prep processors out there that will make quick work of these things, and many others, whether baking or cooking.

        As far as assembling ingredients, are all your baking supplies on one shelf easy-to-hand?

        Cleaning up as you go is always best; but it should be possible to clean up while the cakes are baking, and again while they are cooling, if necessary. Holding up steps in the process to clean up isn't time-efficient.

        PS: I love the way you're layering cupcakes with the frosting. Banana cupcakes? Yum!

        3 Replies
        1. re: mcsheridan

          Yes, chopping by hand. I own a full-size food processor but perhaps I need a mini as well.

          Banana cupcakes were a big hit! Tried this recipe for the first time (just the cupcakes, not the frosting) and I will definitely be returning to it:

          http://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2014...

          1. re: cookie monster

            Mini FPs are fantastic! I actually have two of these: http://www.amazon.com/Cuisinart-DLC-2...

            One was a gift but I kept it because they are so handy. Great for chopping small amounts of nuts or chocolate, or making dressings and sauces (pesto, etc.).

            They go on sale often, and I paid $15 for mine at Bed Bath & Beyond with one of those 20% off coupons. Have had mine for several years and they're dishwasher safe and holding up great.

            1. re: nothingswrong

              That's the same one I use many times a week. It's easy to clean, much easier than a full-size FP, and inexpensive, too.

              In fact, I used it just this afternoon to chop chocolate for brownies. :)

        2. Nuts - if you don't want to drag out the food processor, then plastic bags and rolling pins get the job done in under a minute

          Chocolate - buy chunks. If you need smaller chunks, plastic bags and rolling pins get the job done.

          I keep small jars of zest in my freezer. If I'm eating an orange or using a lemon for a recipe, I grab my microplane and zest it first so it's ready to go when I need it for a recipe.

          The only thing that takes me a while is splitting and scraping vanilla beans. I suppose if I bought paste I could just avoid that.

          I also have a small kitchen. Despite the counter space it takes up, my stand mixer is invaluable. I still use my hand mixer to do my actual batter, but I can use the stand mixer to do the frosting, which beats for 10 minutes, at the same time. And while it seems counter-intuitive when you have a small kitchen, I actually have lots of supplies (I keep three sets of everything - bowls, cupcake tins, pans, frosting tips, cooling racks - actually the cooling racks are stackable and came as a set of three) as well as a healthy supply of those gladware plastic bowls. I keep it all in a big bin in the laundry room and drag it out when I bake.

          So, if I'm making a batch of vanilla, a batch of chocolate, and a batch of lemon, the dry ingredients are almost identical (save for cocoa powder in the chocolate) and while my butter and shortening are on the stove top softening while I preheat the oven, I'm sifting my dry ingredients in the other room into three separate gladware bowls (I do this now on my kitchen table, I used to do it on a folding table in the living room before I got this table). Then I put all of the dry ingredients away so I'm just left with my wet ingredients and frosting ingredients out. Then in my three mixing bowls, I'll measure out the sugar, extracts, butter or oil. I'll start on one batch, get it in the oven, start the frosting in the stand mixer, clean up the bowls from the first batch and put them in the bin, and start mixing and scooping out my second batch. Rinse and repeat for the third.

          1. Hints - Tools, tools, tools

            I use a hand-turn nut chopper like this one
            http://www.amazon.com/Norpro-576-Nut-...

            For cookies, a cookie scoop is much faster/easier than the 2-teaspoons method.

            If cooking from a printed copy of a recipe, maybe try larger font and placing the recipe in an easy-read location (e.g., taped to the cabinet above the mixer). I've been known to photocopy a cookbook page for easier reading.

            Two sets of measuring cups and spoons - one set used for wet, another used for dry ingredients. A paper towel swipe to dust off the dry measuring cups/spoons between ingredients. Wet-ingredient cups can be simply reused without rinsing (when all the ingredients are going into the same batter).

            Having enough pans to bake the entire batch without waiting in between for pans to cool lets you spend the first batch's bake time to prep the next batch. Cleanup while the last batch is baking.

            1. For cupcakes/cakes/cookies (everything at room temp):
              cream butter and sugar. While stand mixer does that, measure flour, leaveners, other dry in a bowl and whisk.
              Add eggs to butter/sugar, beat then vanilla. Add dry ingredients and measure out chocolate/nuts. Wash dry ingredient bowl. Add choc/nuts before dry is finished mixing. It comes together before the oven is preheated.

              I use the same cup for flour/sugar/chocolate/nuts. Same teaspoons for leaveners, salt, etc. I love the hand chopper everyone else has mentioned. Various size cookie scoops helps w/ portioning cookies and cupcake batter. When I measure out parchment, I approximate and have it slightly smaller for the sling or the base of the pan. I love my silicon cake circles and cookie sheet liners. When I'm really in a hurry, an oil based cake comes together in no time, although the oven still has to come to temp and that takes 8 minutes.

              1. Good advice so far.

                Just wanted to add mise en place. I try and have everything measured and ready to go when I start, so it's smooth sailing.

                Typically I'll set out butter or milk or eggs to come to room temp; meanwhile measure out flour and dry ingredients.

                A tip from Lidia Bastianich: pour your dry ingredients onto a sheet of parchment. You can use your hands to mix the flour/salt/leavening agents/cocoa/etc, then dump the whole thing into your wet ingredients. Saves a bowl and won't make a mess. You can use the parchment again for something else too.

                I have a fairly small kitchen, so as I'm going, I'll toss my first dirty bowl into the sink and fill it up with warm water and some dish soap. All dirty utensils, beaters, measuring cups get tossed in there too to soak for a bit. Once my cupcakes/cake/cookies are in the oven, the dirty stuff has soaked for a few and all batter comes right off. I rinse it all and stick in the dishwasher, then wipe down the counters while the goods are still baking.

                I also lay parchment down on the counters before kneading, rolling out cookies, or shaping breads. Parchment is the best--nonstick and easy cleanup. Or I lay wax paper down. A paper towel for resting my mixing utensils and measuring cups--it'll soak up any batter or milk or what have you that gets spilled.

                2 Replies
                1. re: nothingswrong

                  I will also sometimes dump my dry ingredients in a plastic bag and shake them up in there before dumping them in the bowl. But...not wild about adding dry to wet...prefer adding wet to dry because it mixes much easier in my experience and I can avoid the dreaded overmix.

                  1. re: jbsiegel

                    I suppose it depends what you're baking. I always add dry to wet when making cookies. Cakes, cupcakes, muffins--just depends on the recipe. Yeast breads, scones, pastry crust--I always add wet to dry.

                2. Lots of good tips here, some of which I've already been using while not really thinking about it. I recently acquired a second set of measuring cups and spoons so I'm not slowed down by having to wash and dry and re-use them. And I'm definitely too quick to throw cups, spoons, bowls in the dish pan after I've used them once, rather than thinking about whether I can re-use for another ingredient. I am pretty good about mis en place, and I've got most baking techniques down flat. I'm just slow at executing them :).

                  As for food processors, I'm with jbsiegel. I own one but find it annoying to use. One of the pitfalls of a small kitchen is that larger, less frequently used items have to be shoved to the back of a cupboard with other items then piled on top, so just getting the food processor out to use is an ordeal. And then i have to put it back once it's clean and dry. I actually had a shelf specially built for my 6 quart Kitchenaid stand mixer because it didn't fit in any of my cupboards and I couldn't sacrifice the counter space to have it out all the time. One of my dreams is to one day have a kitchen with more cupboards and shelves than I know what to do with . . ,