Monday, January 30

Fit - {Grapefruit Poppy Seed Cupcakes with Strawberry Rhubarb Jam and Cream Cheese Swiss Meringue Buttercream}

My budget-friendly, no-name, strap-covered, lace-up, too-small work shoes have finally worn in. Over the past month, I've gotten used their song over the wooden floors of the office and become accustomed to the funky way they make me walk up and down stairs.

I've discovered the ever-flowing source of coffee in the back room and - thanks to the help of our office assistant, C - located its neatly organized accompaniments within the nearby drawers and cabinets. Today I even learned how to make a decent pot under coworker N's instruction.

So, have you guessed? I got the internship! I apologize for my absence in recent weeks, but work, school and friends have been keeping me busy - and pleasantly so. I think, however, that things will be easing up now and I should be able to resume my regular posting schedule from this point forward. Huzzah!

But, back to work:

The office is so friendly and relaxed that I don't feel like I'm "at work" while I'm there. It's more like I'm hanging out with friends who just happen to be collaborating on cool projects 24/7. Does that sound weird? I can't decide. Either way, it's amazing and I plan to enjoy every second of it.

I credit much of my comfort to the presence of humor in the office - which I appreciate more than I'm capable of expressing - and the fact that everyone is so helpful and accepting and nice and witty and... Wow. I sound like a suck up. I swear that's not what I'm going for, but it's difficult to share the details of this experience without feeling like I'm coming off that way!

I'm learning so much from everyone and finally seeing the ways that things I've studied in class can be applied to life. I was even able to help analyze the results of a focus group in the same week that we went over them in one of my classes. Maybe it means nothing to you, but it was incredibly exciting for me! So much so that I emailed my boss at 9:48 on a Saturday night to let her know how giddy I was that I had, at that moment, just finished reading about focus groups in my textbook.

You know, because cool kids read market research textbooks on Saturday nights.

I certainly haven't learned everything there is to know and I ask lots of questions (computer ones, lately. I'm a PC in an overwhelmingly Mac world), but I'm settling in - and I love it!

But, before I get back to the stack of textbooks lovingly calling out to me from across my uncomfortably disheveled bedroom (can't wait to cleannnnn), I want to thank all of you for sticking with me, both when I am and am not here! Also, thanks for your continued encouragement - this blog was a large part of the reason I got the internship, and I couldn't have done it without your help!

All the best,

Grapefruit Poppy Seed Cupcakes with Strawberry Rhubarb Jam and Vanilla Cream Cheese Swiss Meringue Buttercream
I took these to work today and they were a hit! These cupcakes are tangy, bitter and sweet - definitely unique! Makes 15 cupcakes.

Printable Recipe

Grapefruit Poppy Seed Cupcakes adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

7/8 c (174g) sugar
zest of 2 grapefruit
1 1/3 c + 2 Tbsp (200g) flour
1/4 c cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp poppy seeds
1/4 c (60g) butter
1/4 c (52g) shortening
1 egg yolk
3/4 c freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, cold
2 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 325F. This recipe yields 15 cupcakes, so line the appropriate amount of cupcake tins and set aside.

Place the sugar and grapefruit zest in a small bowl and rub together with your fingers until it looks like wet sand and is very fragrant. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, salt and poppy seeds. Set aside.

In your mixing bowl, combine the butter and shortening and cream together until well combined, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and add the sugar. Beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape the bowl again and add the egg yolk and vanilla. Beat until just combined.

Alternating, add the dry ingredients and the grapefruit juice to the batter, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Begin with 1/3 of the dry, then add 1/2 of the wet, and repeat. Set aside.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar to soft peaks. Be very careful not to over beat!

Take 1/3 of the whipped egg whites and fold it gently into the batter. Add the remaining egg whites and fold just until no streaks remain. Divide between the 15 cupcake liners and bake until the top springs back when pressed, 18-20 minutes. Cool pans on rack, de-panning the cakes after 2 minutes. Allow to cool completely.

Grapefruit Syrup

1/2 grapefruit, juiced
1 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp water

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and strain, reserving the liquid and tossing out any solids.

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

1 1/2 c (100g) strawberries, chopped
1 1/2 c (150g) rhubarb, chopped
1 Tbsp grapefruit juice, freshly squeezed
1/4 c (50g) sugar

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and simmer, uncovered, over medium low heat until most of the liquid has evaporated and the jam is quite thick. Set aside to cool.

Cream Cheese Swiss Meringue Buttercream

3 (100g) egg whites
2/3 c (130g) sugar
10 Tbsp (142g) butter, cubed and at room temp
1 tsp vanilla
4 oz (113g) cream cheese, cubed and at room temp

In the base of a double boiler, bring water to a simmer. In the top bowl (or just a bowl to place over a pan of simmering water) combine the egg whites and sugar and whisk constantly until the mixture is hot to the touch (160F on a candy thermometer if you want to be completely accurate), about five minutes depending on the original temperature of the eggs. When the mixture has warmed sufficiently, pour it into the bowl of your stand mixer and whip on high speed until the bottom of the bowl is room temperature, ten to fifteen minutes. When the bowl is no longer warm, turn the mixer to medium-low and begin adding the butter piece by piece. Let each chunk incorporate completely before adding the next and don't rush the process!

After all of the butter has been added, add the vanilla and turn the speed back to high. Whip for about 3 minutes or until the buttercream comes together. Turn the speed down to low and add the cream cheese, then mix on medium to fully incorporate.

Grapefruit Poppy Seed Cupcakes
Sharp knife
Grapefruit Syrup
Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
Cream Cheese Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Piping bag, piping tips, sprinkles and gum paste flowers to decorate, if desired

Using a sharp knife, cut a cylinder in the cupcake about 3/4s of the cupcake's height deep. Using a spoon, core out the center in one piece. Flip over and trim off part of the bottom.

Drizzle a little grapefruit syrup into the cavity, then drop in a spoonful of Strawberry Rhubarb Jam. Top with the circle of cupcake you cut out previously. Pierce the cupcake with a skewer and drizzle with a little more grapefruit syrup.

Top the cupcake with Cream Cheese Swiss Meringue Buttercream and decorate as desired.

Friday, January 6

The Process - {Sweet Potato Ginger Spice Cake with Toasted Marshmallow Filling and Brown Sugar Maple Buttercream}

I've learned a lot of things in college. Some about the world, some about laundry, some about people, some about science... You get it.

Thankfully, not everything I learn gets pounded in my head. To the delight of students everywhere, profs - generally - seem to understand that not every little bit of information they share with us is something that necessarily needs to be committed to memory.

But if I have learned anything, it's that when an instructor repeats themselves - blatantly or not - you'd better take note. Pepper that definition in the margins and season your textbook with fluorescence; repetition means at least one of the following:

a) it's on the midterm
b) it's on the final
b) it's just plain important

So, to save my poor future self the headache, I do my best to just memorize the important stuff as it's delivered. It's the only way to be safe.

Which means that when prof started dropping dates and advice at least twice a class in regard to an upcoming career and internship fair, I made myself a note. Multiple notes on multiple notebooks and devices that I saw whenever I switched classes, sent a text, checked my email, or turned on my computer. That date was there, which I knew meant I would be, too.

But after sharing the date, prof would share his favorite line of advice with the class:

"First impressions are the most important."

Um. Duh. He threw out the tip as all-knowingly as he was able - a skill the man had truly mastered - and went about sharing tactics for being memorable. His rhetoric was laughable and simplistic as he carried on in that monstrous lecture hall; an endless stream of advice about standing too close and standing too far away and watching your language and not bad-mouthing other bosses and maintaining eye contact and being honest and - woah. Really, dude? I felt like I was sitting on on some sort of Remedial Basic Human Functioning course.

Naturally, I pulled my phone from my pocket and texted H about going shopping for an outfit to wear to the career fair later that evening.

I was feeling confident when we left the mall; one trip to the grocery store poorer and one dress richer. I had decided not to buy new shoes and accessories in the interest of practicality, choosing instead to wear what I had at home in addition to the professional robing that I had, until then, lacked. Everything was set, it seemed, until sleep began to lace my eyes. It was at that moment that prof's advice began replaying in my mind - each time louder than the last. It made me nervous, and understandably so, certain that his tedious repetition and over-explanation must have been of some importance. Suddenly apprehensive, I lost a lot of self-confidence in a matter of seconds.

When I woke up in the morning, I was distraught. The hair framing my face was at an awkward length - somewhere between barely ponytail-able and kinda cute left loose - and I had awful circles under my eyes. My mascara did that annoying thing where it leaves a trail of dots on your eyelids.

An unfortunately red zit had made a home on the side of my nose.

Outside it was stormy and cold, but I stumbled into my dress and only pair of black shoes - the ones that I had forgotten added 4 inches to my 5 foot 8 inch self - and stepped into the driver's seat of my impressively/embarrassingly old car. Of course, I'd incorrectly assumed I had an umbrella in my car, so I walked into the building with slicked-back hair and smeared makeup; a complete mess sporting a cheap binder with a pair of [thankfully dry] resumes waiting inside.

When I approached the booth of the company I most wanted to work for, I felt severely unprepared. I was awkward and choppy, and though I planned to avoid mentioning that I had never been to a career fair before (as prof had suggested many times), I found the words somehow floating in the air. He'd told us to appear confident so as to make ourselves more appealing, but it wasn't happening. He told us to speak eloquently and clearly, but... That wasn't happening. His common sense tips for respecting personal space and being honest came to me naturally, but other than that... Prof had done nothing but stress me out.

So I took matters into my own hand.

Instead of talking about only work and job experience, we talked about bacon. And breakfast. And blogs. I'm pretty sure she could tell I wasn't sure of myself, which probably helped make the irrelevant conversation more comfortable, but just talking about familiar things made me feel better AND sound like I wasn't a total moron. It was a quick exchange, no more than five minutes, but I dropped off my resume and headed home a little less stressed, and still positive of nothing.

But I did learn something. The last-minute stressing didn't do much good for me. In the end, if the company wanted me, they'd let me know. If not... Well, there'd be other opportunities. But in order to make their decision easier, I realized that the most important thing to do was to just be myself.

Which, for some reason, is something prof neglected to mention.

Autumn Delight Cake slightly adapted from Sweetapolita
I know it's no longer autumn, but we've been enjoying a mild winter for a number of weeks, so I'm keeping the autumn spirit alive with this cake. It's a combination of dense, fluffy and smooth that I'm sure you'll love. The toasted marshmallow filling is my favorite component!

Printable Recipe

Sweet Potato Ginger Cake

2 lbs (908 g) sweet potatoes (about 3 large)
2 c (230 g) cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp powdered ginger
2 c (400 g) sugar
4 eggs, room temp
1 1/4 c (315 ml) sunflower oil (or vegetable, safflower, canola oil)
2 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp brandy or dark rum
3/4 c (120 g) crystallized ginger chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Oil and line two 8" cake pans and set aside.

Place the sweet potatoes on a microwave-safe plate and pierce them with a fork. Microwave until they are tender throughout, about 7-8 minutes per side, and allow to cool. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the skin and mash into a coarse puree. Set aside.

In a medium size bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Set aside.

Combine the eggs and sugar in the bowl of your mixer and beat together with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the oil and beat to incorporate. Add the cooled sweet potato puree, vanilla and rum, then mix until well combined.

Sift the mixed dry ingredients over the batter in one addition and mix gently to combine, scraping the sides of the bowl. Fold in the crystallized ginger chips.

Divide the batter between the two prepared pans and smooth the tops with an offset spatula. Bake until the top springs back when gently pressed, about 40 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on a rack for ten minutes, then remove from pans and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the fridge to cool completely.

Brown Sugar and Maple Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Please click here for a step-by-step guide to making Swiss Meringue Buttercream and troubleshooting tips!

5 egg whites
1 1/4 c (250 g) light brown sugar
1 1/2 c (340 g) butter, room temp and cut into cubes
2 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp maple syrup

In a double boiler, cook the egg whites and sugar over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is hot, about five minutes (test by rubbing some between your fingers. If it's completely smooth, it's done). Pour into another bowl (a stand mixer is preferable) and whip on high speed until room temp. Then, on a medium-low speed, add the butter, waiting until each piece is completely incorporated before adding the next. The buttercream may turn into a soupy curdled mess during this process, but if you continue beating it for a few minutes it will become light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and maple syrup, then beat to combine.

Whipped Toasted Marshmallow Filling
This is best used immediately (but it keeps fine in the cake), and should be kept at room temperature until needed for assembly. Also, it tastes amazing. Try to save some for the cake ;)

12-16 standard-size marshmallows
1 c (227 g) butter, room temp
1 c (125 g) confectioner's sugar, sifted
2 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
7.5 oz Marshmallow Fluff
pinch of salt

Turn on your broiler and arrange marshmallows on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Place tray in lower rack of oven and broil until browned on top, keeping a close eye on them. Remove the tray and carefully flip the marshmallows. Return to the oven and broil until the other half is browned. Cool on a wire rack.

Whip the butter with the paddle attachment until very light and fluffy, about 8 minutes.

Add the confectioner's sugar, milk, vanilla and salt and mix slowly to incorporate, then beat for another 6 minutes.

Add the cooled toasted marshmallows and marshmallow fluff, mixing on low speed for about 2 minutes.

Click here for a tutorial for assembling layer cakes, and here for my preferred frosting method.

2 x 8" Sweet Potato Ginger Cake
Whipped Toasted Marshmallow Filling
Brown Sugar Maple Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Remove the chilled Sweet Potato Ginger Cakes from the freezer and level them. Cut each in half horizontally.

Set one layer down on your serving plate and top with 1/3 of the Whipped Toasted Marshmallow Filling. Spread evenly from the center out to the edges. Place another layer on top, and add another third of the filling. Spread to the edges and repeat one more time. After placing the last layer of cake on top, crumb coat the entire cake with the Brown Sugar Maple Buttercream to seal in any stray crumbs. Frost as desired with remaining buttercream.