Saturday, November 03, 2007

gingerbread bakeoff: 9 x 9 vs. one dozen cupcakes.

and suddenly, it was cold as sh*t. and that can only really mean one thing. huzzah! baking season has begun! yes, with the sudden bite that finally made its way into the air in the last week of october, i once again was filled with the urge to bake. as some of you may know, last year i went cookie crazy. i'd estimate that i baked about two gross, total. in case you don't know, a gross is a dozen dozen. yeah, it's a lot of cookies. i threw myself over a sugar cliff at least 20 times... you gotta taste the dough to make sure it's coming out right... anyway.

this year, i got inspired to make gingerbread. this is partly because i used to get these really awesome squares of moist spicy gingerbread from one of my common haunts back in new orleans, and i've been thinking about that treat lately. but it's actually more because i just finished reading a book by jasper fforde called "the fourth bear". see, one of the main characters in the book is the gingerbread man... who happens to be a giant homicidal maniac. anyway, all that talk of his giant glace cherry eyes, licorice mouth and gingery, cakey body just made me get a craving... strange i know. but what can you do? the heart wants what the heart wants.

(the book comes highly recommended by the way, but you have to read the first one in the series first - "the big over easy". that one's about humpty dumpty. and it'd help if you read the first four books in the "thursday next" series before you did the two nursery books... but i digress.)

ok. so, due to various inspirations, i decided that gingerbread was the craving du jour. i further deemed it necessary to have a bit of an in-house competition: a classic 9 x 9 against a quirky cupcake number. i got the pan recipe from that there interweb-dot-net, but i don't really follow recipes how i find them... ever. so here's my (fairly vastly different) interpretation of a "low fat" gingerbread recipe i found via google:

the cupcake recipe is one that i've been wanting to try out for maybe a year from the very-famous-in-small-circles isa chandra moskowitz, of post-punk kitchen notoriety. i followed her recipe more closely, though i left out the crystallized ginger (mostly because i didn't have any) and made my own lemon icing, and got quite wacky with the decorating i must say. the recipe i followed looked like this:

all recipes gathered and ingredients accounted for, i got down to baking. the recipe for the pan type required some stovetop stuff and some cooling; that was somewhat intimidating but made my house smell really good, and allowed me to use sugar in the raw which is usually much too large grained to use in my baking. the recipe was actually pretty easy and fast, apart from waiting for the stovetop mixture to cool. one really funny thing you should know about my baking: i'm terrified of ovens. seriously. every time i have to reach in there you'd think it was a nuclear reactor and i was going in to save all of humanity or something. so when i looked in there and saw that the batter i'd poured in so nice and flat was rising - !!! - i was elated, but i had to throw my courage to the sticking place to poke a knife into the middle when that timer finally beeped.

the knife came out clean, so i let it cool for a while and then popped it out of the pan - my nonstick / oil-the-bottom-anyway combo didn't fail and it came right out. i let it cool some more, and then went in for a taste. to my fairly enormous surprise, it was really effing good. so... gingerbread-like! astounding. woot. pan one, cupcakes zero. but then, they didn't exist yet.

so then, to the cupcakes, which were of course already in preparation. when i first combined the wet ingredients, they turned into this crazy science experiment lookin' thing, and i was afraid i'd done something terribly wrong. but i whisked my little heart out and it all actually emulsified quite well, and stayed that way. ahh, chemistry. (you do know that cooking is just chemistry with foodstuffs, right? that's what makes it cool.) the batter was much spicier and more potent than was the pan batter - a bit too spicy i was afraid. but i charged ahead; i figured isa knows what she's up to.

trying to get the batter into the little cupcake cups was nothing short of harrowing - i've never tried to deal with cupcakes before, believe it or not. (this is just because i'm a coward. i love cupcakes.) but i did it. there was probably a lot of cursing coming from the vicinity of the kitchen - you'd have to ask my boyfriend (or the unlucky neighbors who share that wall with us). i was only able to fill 11 of the 12 cups. i was hoping that this was because i had eaten too much batter during preparation, and not because i'd put too much batter in each one and was going to have some kind of catastrophic spill-over event. my fears were unfounded, and not long after the mini-cakelets went into the oven, they too began to rise. i was so astounded, proud, and afraid of this fact that i had to take a picture of it. it looked like this.

testing the cupcakes for done-ness was even more of a trial, but i succeeded, and in the end i triumphed over the mouth of fire in my kitchen. once the cupcakes had been removed from the hell-beast and were cool enough to touch, i ate one. and would you believe it? it was amazing! totally different than the loaf - lighter and fluffier, and spicier too than the pan gingerbread. not better though; too utterly different to be called better. at that point i was just happy - two completely different, really good kinds of gingerbread! that i made! from scratch! on my first try for both types of baked goods ever! a successful evening, to be sure.

having grown up in a household where home-baked birthday cakes were standard, i know all too well that icing a baked good that's still warm at all is just asking for misery. as such, the cupcakes went into the fridge to be iced the next day, and the pan loaf got packed up to come to work with me. the co-workers who tried it liked it; sadly, i have no pictures.

on tuesday the cupcakes were iced, in preparation to bring them into the office for halloween! i made my own "buttercream" frosting, which is really just my mother's with vegan instead of animal ingredients. read: margarine, sugar, whatever extract, and however much "milk" it takes that day to get it to the right consistency. i did make it lemon, because i liked isa's idea of the lemon / ginger combo. i added yellow food coloring, because i wanted it to be pretty. spreading it was fun, and it was much easier than i thought it would be to make it look all fancy and professional-like. once it was spread, i added some orange sprinkle sugar, for the prettieness. and it sure was pretty, iff'in you ask me.

and THEN i remembered that i'd found these ridiculous halloween sprinkles on sale for like 90% off at the fancy schmancy baking store a few days before - purple and black jimmies with white ghosties. the sprinkles said, bring it, and it got brought. decorated and beautiful, my very first batch of cupcakes ever got boxed up to take into my place of employment... where i am the only person who even comes close to being a vegetarian, much less a vegan. let the fun begin.

halloween! there were treats a-go-go around the office, and my cupcakes had to contend with bagels, cookies, and at least five different kinds of donuts. and yet, they were devoured and loved by several appreciative co-workers. a few were skeptical at first. (how in the world did you make a cupcake without milk and eggs? is there like, broccoli in there or something?) but with one bite each one became a believer, including mr. j.b., who didn't even realize it was vegan until the next day. just look at their beaming faces!

and so, in the great battle of 9 x 9 vs. one dozen cupcakes, the winner is: both. i suggest either recipe, depending on what you're craving at the moment. maybe next i'll mix it up, and use the pan batter to make cupcakes... ha! and maybe i'll try crystallized ginger in the pan recipe. i know, i'm a wild woman. just try to keep up with me, i dare you. i mean, i spend my saturday nights blogging about baked goods... what does that, tell ya, huh? yeah, that's what i thought.

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