Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Grimm Feast: Wu's Carpet Cupcakes (S1E17)

Apologies for the delay on this post, everyone.  You see, Anna and I had to rescue a bus from a bunch of burning orphans and…well, we're back in town now and ready to serve up the next installment of baking shenanigans.

This recipe, you guys.  The research that went into this one nearly drove me insane.  And, as most writers find, the vast majority of that research doesn’t show up in the final product AT ALL.

While under the influence of a zaubertrank that was meant for Hank, poor Wu’s brain goes a bit haywire.  He starts eating everything without even realizing it, up to and including couch cushions, Chapstick, and carpeting.  I decided to make a cake and frost it to resemble carpet fibers.  Then I discovered that during the shooting of the episode, the couch cushion stuffing that Reggie Lee ate was made of pound cake.

“Perfect!” I thought.  “I wonder if I can make a replica of that.”

You guys.  If you are at all like me, don’t ever search Google Images for “couch cake.”  Google Images is a wild, dangerous place filled with novelty cake pans and fondant tutorials.  That way lies madness.

After my boyfriend talked me down off the ledge where I’d been ranting about sugar pearls and decorating tip #233 WE NEEDS IT PRECIOUS…ahem…I convinced myself that it was a bad idea to make this my first attempt at both cake carving and fondant decorating.  I decided to go a little simpler.  And smaller.  I’d still use pound cake as an homage to the couch cushion scene, but I’d do it in cupcake form for a more manageable version and go back to my original faux-furry-frosting idea.  I could use my icing decorator gun and everything.  It’d be fine.

I control the frosting.  The frosting does not control me.  (*Rocks self in the corner*)

Then came Wu’s episode with the Aswang, and I decided I wanted to add some Filipino flavors as a secondary homage to his heritage.  So I went back to researching.  I found a lot of cool information, (you guys, there’s a dessert whose name literally translates to “poke the booger,”) but most of it wouldn’t really work with pound cake.  I was excited to learn that both coconut and lemongrass are classic flavors in Filipino cooking, as these would translate easily to cupcakes.  But then I dug a little deeper and found that lemongrass is usually only used in Mindanao—a southern region, where there are more Malaysian influences.  Manila, where Wu seems to be from, is in the northern half of the country.  Dangit.  That’d be like somebody offering me a pot of jambalaya as a tribute to my culture: tasty, but entirely missing the point.

So back to the drawing board…where I found ube.  (Pronounced “oo-bay.”)  It’s a type of purple yam, similar to but not the same as taro.  I’d seen it before in speciality stores and was really curious to try it.  It’s a popular flavor all over the Philippines, and there were quite a few recipes for ube cake with macapuno (young coconut) frosting.  Awesome!  I’ll do that then!  Except that the Filipino grocery store near me closed last year, and none of the other Asian markets nearby carry ube extract.  The closest I could get was ube jam, and I wasn’t sure what that would do to the balance of moisture in the pound cake.

THEN I recalled Adalind’s Zaubertrank Cookies.  (That’s where Wu’s troubles started anyway, right?)  And I remembered: “I can inject stuff with stuff!”

So that’s what I’m doing here.  Pound cake cupcakes with ube jam filling and coconut buttercream frosting, which will be piped on using a star tip to create a carpet-like texture.  Why aren’t we just using shredded coconut for the carpet fibers?  Because CERTAIN PEOPLE around here won’t eat shredded coconut.  Ahem.

1 box Betty Crocker pound cake mix
1/2 stick butter
2/3 cup milk
2 eggs
1 (12 oz) jar ube jam

2 sticks butter, room temperature
5 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup cream of coconut


Step 1: Empty the box of cake mix (don’t judge me!) into a large mixing bowl.  Throw in the eggs and butter.  Oh and the milk!  Totally don’t almost forget the milk.  That would’ve been awkward.

Step 2: Beat the shit out of the ingredients.  YEAH ELECTRIC HAND MIXER!  I burned out the motor on my last one and this is the first time I’m getting to use the new one.  Whoo-hoo!  (Wait…who puts a protective zip-tie on the prongs of an electric hand mixer?  Were they afraid the mixer would plug itself in while it was still inside the box?  *Sigh.*  Okay, cut off the zip-tie and THEN beat the shit out of the ingredients.)  Start on low for 30 seconds to get everything blended, then medium for 2 minutes to make it nice and airy.

Step 3: OMIGOD I LOVE THIS MIXER!  Although I get the feeling that the batter wasn’t really supposed to be whipped that much.  Um.  Please don’t turn into popovers, little cupcakes.

Step 4: Oh right.  Preheat the oven to 350˚F.

Step 5: Suddenly remember that the only cupcake liners you have are the ones you bought for Valentine’s Day two years ago.  Um…well, a zaubertrank IS a love potion, right?  The cutesy-wutesy hearts of doom can still work, right?  Line a muffin tin with the cutesy-wutesy doom.

Step 6: Fill the cupcake liners about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way full.  Holy crap, the box said this batter would be thick, but it’s like marshmallow fluff.  Without the sticky.

Step 7: Bake for 15-20 minutes.  (20 worked for me.)

Step 8: While the cupcakes are doing their thing, wash your mixer attachments and take out two sticks of butter to soften at room temperature.  You’re gonna need ‘em for the frosting.

Step 9: Stick a knife into one of the cupcakes to test that it’s done all the way through.
Put them on a wire rack to cool completely.

Step 10: While the cupcakes are cooling, get started on the frosting.  Put the softened butter in a large mixing bowl and beat until smooth.

Step 11: Shake up the can of cream of coconut really thoroughly before you open it.  That’s cream of coconut.  Not coconut cream.  They’re different things.  (Coconut cream has no additional sugar in it, while cream of coconut does.) Put the rest of the can in the fridge to save for something else.  (“If you like piiiña colaaadaaaaaas…”)

Step 12: Add the cream of coconut and powdered sugar to the butter.  (5 cups of sugar, people.  THAT IS A LOT OF SUGAR.)  Beat on medium speed for a couple minutes until smooth and stiff.

Step 13: Refrigerate your coconut buttercream while you’re preparing to scoop out the hearts of your cupcake victims and fill them with jam.

Step 14: Open the jar of ube jam.  Get a spoon.  Take your first taste.

Huh!  It’s…huh!  Well, it’s good.  I’m just not sure how to explain it.  It’s similar in texture and sweetness to red bean paste.  Maybe a little sweeter and starchier, which makes sense seeing as it’s a yam.  It’s a very smooth flavor, and it’s kinda…huh!  Okay, I could just eat this whole jar.  I can see why this is such a big thing in the Philippines.

Step 15: Fit the icing gun with the Bismarck tip.  (Same one we used for the Zaubertrank Cookies.)  Load the barrel with ube jam and prepare to fire.

Step 16: Pick up the first cupcake.  (Holy crap, these things are light and fluffy.  I didn’t notice before when I was trying not to burn my fingers on them.)  Stab it with the Bismarck tip and inject the jam.  Urk…the jam is really thick and doesn’t like to go through the icing gun, you guys.  You’re gonna have to go a bit slow.  It kinda seems like the icing gun isn’t moving at all, but it is.  Each cupcake holds roughly half an ounce (or one tablespoon) of jam.

Step 17: Hehe…it’s fun when the cupcakes start to swell.

Step 18: Hm.  I seem to have a…jam jam.  Yeah, since the jam isn’t a perfectly smooth purée, you’re gonna end up with little bits of yam stuck in the Bismarck tip.  Carefully dislodge the hunk of yam using a barbecue skewer or outright brute force.  (No, not outright brute force.  Pampered Chef has already replaced my icing gun once; I don’t want to do that again.)  Try not to think about how it kinda looks like your gun is pooping purple.

Step 19: When you’re done injecting cupcakes, wash out the icing gun and fit it with a closed star tip.  Load up with your chilled coconut buttercream frosting.

Step 20: Nevermind, let the frosting sit at room temperature for several minutes because holy shit is it stiff.

Step 21: Apply a thin layer of buttercream to the top of your cupcakes.  This the crumb coat.  The idea is that it holds the crumbs in, gives your piped buttercream a smooth surface to hang onto, and makes a nice white background to cover up the spaces in between your piping.  Be careful not to smudge the ube as you go over it, or you’ll end up with a lavender crumb coat.  I found it was easiest to go around the outside of the cupcake first and then over the center last.

Step 22: Now, let’s try that piping again.  This should be a very simple technique.  Lower the closed star tip at a 90˚ angle to the surface of the cupcake and squeeze gently, lifting as you release the pressure.

Step 23: Er…you don’t seem to be with the program here, frosting.  You’re supposed to let go of the icing gun tip and form a cute little peak.  Let’s try again.

Step 24: No, frosting.  Let GO.  Clinginess is not an attractive quality.

Step 25: LET GO, DAMMIT!

Step 26: Fine.  Let’s try a star.  Will that make you happy?  …  Apparently it does.  (*Sigh*)  OKAY, I GUESS WU’S CARPET IS MADE OUT OF STARS NOW.

Step 27: So…the technique for a star is pretty much the same as the other thing I was trying to do, only don’t pull the tip away until after you’ve stopped squeezing.  Start with one star in the center, then do a ring of stars around it, then a ring of stars around that.  You can do one more ring if your stars were kinda small, but that’s about the limit.

Step 28: Remember, Wu is a busy cop who lives alone.  He probably hasn’t vacuumed in awhile.  Add some assorted carpet-debris in the form of sprinkles.

Step 29: Whip out your (borrowed) cupcake pyramid and serve!

Result: These didn’t come out looking quite how I’d planned.  (That’s what happens when you’re not using the right tip for the job, but I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t buy any new tools for this project.)  They’re still really pretty, though!  I may use this technique again when fancy cupcakes are called for.

Okay, now on to the taste.

…OMIGOD DELICIOUS.  The ube flavor blends in with the pound cake surprisingly well, and the jam is REALLY pretty when you bite the cupcake open.  I was afraid the super-sweetness of the frosting would overpower everything else, but somehow the cake holds its own.  The coconut flavor of the buttercream is very light; you can barely tell it’s there, in fact, so you may want to try adding coconut extract instead if you particularly like coconut.

Just to test, I did leave eight of the cupcakes without any jam filling so we could see the difference.  The cake was slightly dry, and actually resembled angel food cake more than traditional pound cake.  This is probably because of how much I whipped it.  With the jam, however, the moisture balance was PERFECT.

I would be interested in trying these with coconut whipped cream.  That’s basically a vegan version of whipped cream; I imagine it’d be lighter and a lot less sugary.  (Did I mention that holy crap there’s a lot of sugar in this?)  Oh and in case you were wondering—no, cream of coconut does not work for making coconut whipped cream.  At least not when I tried it.

Note: Due to the buttercream and jam, these cupcakes should be stored in the refrigerator.

Stick with me, Murderlings…next week, we leave behind desserts and get into entrées.  We'll be starting with a much simpler recipe, too: Juliette's Honey Pineapple Salmon.

Cake adapted from Betty Crocker.  Frosting from Cookies & Cups.

1 box Betty Crocker pound cake mix
1/2 stick butter
2/3 cup milk
2 eggs
1 (12 oz) jar ube jam

2 sticks butter, room temperature
5 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup cream of coconut


Preheat oven to 350˚F.  Line a cupcake pan with paper baking cups.

Beat cake mix, milk, butter, and eggs in a bowl on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase speed to medium for 2 minutes.  Batter will be thick.  Spoon batter into baking cups, filling 1/2 to 2/3 of the way full.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove cupcakes from pan and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

In a mixing bowl, beat two sticks of butter until smooth.  Add powdered sugar and cream of coconut and blend slowly until well combined, then whip on medium to high speed until thick and stiff.  Refrigerate while filling the cupcakes.

Fit an icing decorator or pastry bag with a Bismarck tip and fill with ube jam.  Press Bismarck tip into the center of each cupcake, careful not to go all the way through.  Slowly inject the jam into the cupcake; watch for cupcake swelling.  Jam will be thick and may be difficult to squeeze through, but each cupcake should hold approximately one tablespoon.  In the event of yam pieces clogging the tip, use a barbecue skewer to clear.

Remove coconut buttercream from refrigerator and allow to rest for 20 minutes.  During this time, apply a thin crumb coat to each cupcake.  Fit the icing decorator or pastry bag with a closed star tip.  When buttercream is soft enough, fill the decorator and cover the cupcake top with small stars, starting with one at the center and working outward in concentric circles.  (Hold the tip at a 90˚ angle to the cupcake’s surface.  Squeeze gently, easing off the pressure, and then pull back.)  Add decorative sprinkles and serve.

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