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Friday, April 1, 2011

Sponge Cupcakes with Chocolate Swiss Meringue Frosting

Let it be known that I have never had a real job. Nope, not ever. I’ve never had a nine-to-five, five day a week, holidays off kinda job. Sure, I’ve been employed since I was thirteen, but I can’t seriously call any of my jobs a profession.

My first job was as a coat check girl at my mom’s hotel. I would take the coats and give out the tags. For the next three hours I would guard the coats and read a book. At the end of the night I would return the coats to the correct ticket holders and reap the rewards. Drunk people and guys with fancy hats were good tippers. Once everyone was gone my mom and I would head home, my pockets full of one dollar bills. And yes, jokes would be made as I paid for things, through the week, with lots of ones.

Eventually, I got myself a job with a paycheck. A job with tips. A job with an awesome title. I was a Soda Jerk. I spent evenings working at a diner, making ice cream sundaes, chocolate milkshakes and brown cows. I wore my hot pink t-shirt and a pony tail. I ate way too much ice cream every night and came home with caramel in my hair and down my leg and on my back. Not quite sure how it got where it did. I would inevitably slip on some ice cream, entertaining all of the customers with my mad falling skills.

The job I held for the longest actually started out as my senior internship. In high school, I decided that I wanted to be a photographer when I grew up. I was going to zip around the world and shoot for National Geographic. Since Nat Geo didn’t have a local branch, I got an internship at a portrait studio. I got to learn the ins and outs of taking portraits, camera equipment and running a studio. I learned so much more as the years went by and I became great friends with the owners. People I’m happy to say I stay in touch with, even though I haven’t worked at the studio for eight years.

Eight years ago is when I held my last real job. Now, I haven’t been unemployed since then, I entered into the world of academia. Academia is a totally different world from the industrial or consumer world. I’ve passed from undergrad in a lab to graduate student with a hood of my own to postdoc on a mission. Working seventy-hour weeks, seven days a week, getting one paycheck a month and eating very haphazardly.

The most noticeable thing about academia is the constant flux of people. Every year there are new people coming and old people leaving, someone never being around for more than five years. Your facebook friends list gets longer and longer as your labmates shift through the years. It seems like you’re either saying hello or goodbye to someone, just like today.

Ignore that missing one, I don't know what happened to that cupcake. 
Must have wandered off...
Today is the last day of a labmates academic life. I know, it sounds dramatic, but it is a great thing! He’s leaving us for a job in the real world, with all those real world benefits and pitfalls. It’s the day that everyone in the academic bubble dreams of. (Unless you want to be a professor, then you’ll live your life in the academic bubble!) To celebrate his departure I made him cupcakes. Good riddance! Get out of here! We won’t miss you! I’m just kidding, you’re awesome, but then again, you already knew that. It says so on your laptop.

Yellow Sponge cupcakes
This recipe makes about 24 cupcakes. I brought them into work and they were all gone by 4:00. We only have 11 people in our lab and two of them didn’t get a single cupcake, you do the math. These were very popular among a few people.

I know, I’ve been on a sugar kick this week. I promise I’ll feed you real food next week, this week was for celebration! I found this cake to be denser than traditional sponge cake. It is the perfect density for the weight of the frosting. You can prepare the cakes a few days ahead of time and store them in the fridge.

9 tbsp flour
6 tbsp corn starch
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
¾ tsp kosher salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
¾ cup vegetable oil

Prepare cupcakes tins with 24 paper liners. Preheat oven to 375.

Mix together flour and corn starch and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or big bowl with a hand mixer), beat eggs, yolks, sugar, salt and vanilla with whisk attachment. Beat on high until the batter is thick, about 8 minutes.

Fold in flour mixture, trying not to deflate the batter. Add vegetable oil and fold in, be sure all of the oil is incorporated and none of it is hiding at the bottom of the bowl.

Using a 3 tbsp ice cream scoop, scoop out cupcake batter into cupcake tins. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until puffed and slightly golden on top. Remove from the tins immediately and allow cupcakes to cool on a wire rack.

I'm so delicious, someone ate me and three of my friends!

Swiss Meringue Chocolate Buttercream

You’ll notice a half egg white in the ingredient list. I needed a two and a half egg whites for another recipe and did the following… Crack 5 egg whites into a tared bowl (on a scale), remove half the weight to another bowl. You must frost the cupcakes immediately after making the buttercream, do not put frosting in the fridge. It will harden and become impossible to spread.

2 ½ egg whites
¾ cup sugar
Pinch of salt
2 sticks butter, at room temperature, cut into 1 tbsp pieces
½ tsp vanilla
8 oz bittersweet chocolate
2 tbsp cocoa powder in 2 tbsp water

Place egg whites, sugar and salt in a bowl. Place over a pot of simmering water. Stir mixture until all of the sugar dissolves and eggs are warm. Transfer to stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high until meringue is shiny and stiff peaks form. Slowly add butter, one cube at a time, until it is all incorporated.

In another bowl, melt chocolate over simmering water. Let chocolate cool until just warm to the touch. Add chocolate to meringue mixture, add cocoa in water. Beat until the buttercream is cooled. Pipe or spread onto cooled cupcakes. Store the remaining buttercream in the fridge, eat with spoon, be happy.
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