Saturday, March 31, 2012

Jayhawk Cupcakes

(This is the first attempt. For the improved version, see this post.)

You know those blog posts where I tell you that the recipe is totally easy and actually simpler than it looks? Well, this isn’t one of those times. These cupcakes took up my entire evening, required two different trips to the store, left me with blue and red stained fingers, and turned my kitchen into a complete disaster. I'm still finding frosting everywhere.

I should also warn you that this all happened because I saw a cute picture on Pinterest. I’d been warned that Pinterest is a major time waster. I’m guessing the people that told me this meant that you can spend hours looking at things and repinning them. In my case, I waste hours replicating recipes. One of the most infuriating things about that site is when I find something that looks really cool, only for it not to have a recipe attached. That is exactly what happened with these Jayhawk cupcakes, which I set out to replicate with nothing more than a single picture and absolutely no knowledge of where it came from.

After deciphering the picture, I thought that the body was probably an upside down cupcake placed on top of another cupcake. I thought the head was probably a cake pop, although I heard a really good theory today where it was suggested the head could also be a donut hole. I finally decided the beak must be a yellow starburst. I’m still not entirely sure I have the wings figured out, but I decided to use half a vanilla wafer for each wing. Now that all the parts were figured out, it should be easy, right? Nope, think again.

I don’t do a lot of baking with food coloring. If I had, I would have known that an entire bottle of royal blue liquid dye could go into a batch of white frosting and still come out baby blue. (However, my hands and fingernails had no problem staining dark blue.) What I had created was maybe North Carolina blue, but definitely not KU blue. (Had I done this before last week’s game, I might have considered it rather ominous.) I did a little research and found out that gel based dye is recommended for dark colors. That created the need for my second trip to the store. There was some improvement with the gel, but still not the royal blue I was hoping for. My poor Jayhawks were just going to have to be a little lighter. That would probably turn out to be the least of their problems.

I should probably back up and explain some of the basics. First, I made the cake pops. Most cake pop recipes I’ve seen are just crumbled cake or cupcakes mixed with either canned frosting or cream cheese. I let my cake cool before crumbling it all in a large bowl. Next I mixed in about one-third to one-half of a can of frosting. Next, I rolled the cake into balls and placed them on a cookie sheet in the fridge.

I made one batch of blue frosting and one batch of red frosting. I started with a vanilla buttercream.

• 2 tablespoons heavy cream
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• pinch of salt
• 2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

Mix cream, vanillas and salt together in a small bowl. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter until creamy. Slowly add the confectioners' sugar until completely combined. Add the cream mixture and beat for 3 or 4 minutes until fluffy and smooth.

I cut the tops off of the cupcakes to give them a flat surface. I placed one cupcake upside down on top of another, using a little frosting to stick them together.

I next attempted to frost them, which proved to be fairly difficult. I was having trouble getting my frosting smooth enough, which left some of the Jayhawks looking a little like they were molting.

Next I frosted the cake pop heads, which I had anticipated would be difficult. I stuck a toothpick in the bottom of each cake pop to hold it while I frosted. I figured I could also use the toothpick to secure it to the body. Not that this is surprising, but it turns out these are extremely difficult to frost.

The faces actually proved to be the most problematic. In the picture I was using, it appeared the Jayhawks had write frosting eyes with an M&M candy in the middle. I had bought some decorating gel for the eyebrows and figured I’d just use the blue gel for the eyes. I tried to place a white dot on the faces, but my frosting kept smearing & mixing with the red. I finally gave up and just tried the decorating gel. It wanted to string horribly and I ended up having to redo most of the faces. Some of the poor faces ended up looking somewhat sad or droopy.

For the beak, I cut down a starburst to a triangle, and then cut a slit in the middle. You’ll have to overlook this horrible picture, as it’s apparently impossible to get a decent picture of a yellow starburst.

I did the wings last. I cut vanilla wafers in half and frosted them blue. As you can tell in some of the pictures, I was getting fairly exhausted by that point and some of my wings may have gotten dipped in frosting more than actually frosted.

And here’s the finished product:

Granted, they need some work. I figured for a first attempt, they’re not all bad. My husband commented they look more like cute birds than fierce Jayhawks, which probably has a lot to do with the difficulty I had with the faces.

If I try these again (which may be a big if) I would have to look at some different options for food coloring. I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be possible to use some fondant to create a more uniform look for the eyes.

I’d made a small batch to test it out, so the few remaining Jayhawks went to work with my husband. He figured the KU fans would enjoy them and the KU haters would be ok with tearing them apart and devouring them. Everybody ends up happy.

Finally, here is one of my Helpers, who either thought the Jayhawks needed a fuzzy sweater, or saw them as easy prey. Those who ate the cupcakes can rest assured that she wasn't allowed any closer to them.