Campfire Cupcakes

Nothing rings in July 4th like sizzling fireworks and campfires.  Whether on vacation or at camp, some of the best summer memories are built up around the ethereal glow of beach bonfires.  Even a backyard campfire is enough to spark major summer atmosphere.

Need some quick inspiration for an outdoor potluck or a kid’s summer birthday party?  Test out these sweet and salty mini campfire cupcakes.

This frosting technique can be used on any cupcake flavor, but I think it looks best on a deep chocolate color.  Build up layers of tufted orange and red icing piped with a star tip, and when you’ve reached your desired height, delicately arrange a tent of pretzel sticks.  You won’t find a tastier type of kindling!

In theory, this same technique can be applied to a larger cake, using jumbo pretzel sticks as garnish.  Just be sure to eat some cake with all of that frosting!

Get ready to craft some cupcakes with precision fit for a girl or boy scout.  Bring the fire to your next party!

Scroll down for the recipe.

Chocolate Cupcakes

(Makes roughly two dozen cupcakes)

Ingredients:
 
  • Butter or nonstick cooking spray, for the cupcake pans
  • 2 ½ cups (315 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans
  • 1 cup (95 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (150 ml) grapeseed oil
  • 2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1 ½ cups (360 ml) whole milk
  • 1 cup (240 ml) hot strong-brewed coffee
Instructions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
  2. Grease and flour two cupcake pans and set aside.
  3. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the oil and sugar on medium speed for 2 minutes.
  5. With the mixer on, add the eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, and almond extract.
  6. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.
  7. Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.
  8. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.
  9. With the mixer on low, stream in the coffee.
  10. Mix on medium low for no more than 30 seconds, or until combined.
  11. Evenly divide the batter between the prepared pans.
  12. Bake for 25 to 28 minutes, or until a tooth-pick inserted into the center of the cupcakes comes out clean.
  13. Let them cool for 10 to 15 minutes before removing the cupcake from their pans.

To Assemble: Mix white frosting (even store-bought vanilla will work!) with orange and red gel food coloring.  With a star shaped piping tip, pipe frosting onto the cupcake, building up layers that taper upwards.  As a finishing touch, place pretzel sticks in a cone formation around the icing.

Balsamic Berry Pavlova

With the first day of summer upon us, I can feel the pastry potential humming in the balmy New York air.  Are you ready to try something new in the kitchen?  Challenge yourself to create the feathery beauty of a pavlova.

The pavlova cake dates back to the early 1900’s, when Russian ballerina and choreographer Anna Pavlova began touring America, Europe, and the UK.  In 1911, she founded her own ballet company that was the first to tour ballet around the world.  Notice the parallels to her graceful dancer form in the soaring, fluffy pavlova dessert.  Her tutu truly looks like a billowing round of meringue cake!

The strength of the pavlova’s meringue base, coupled with its sweet strawberry topping lends itself to the same complex beauty of the powerful ballet dancers that wear airy, silky tutus.

If you manage to make this cake, you’ll feel pretty glorious and get this blissful look in your eye.  The process can be intimidating, but if you start practicing now, you can only improve.  Even prima ballerinas have to start somewhere!  In the case that you over-whip your meringue, you’ll still be left with a delicious dessert of whipped cream and balsamic berries.

There are many parallels between the pavlova form and the moves of a ballet dancer.  Arrange a loose, wide meringue, like this move, or mound the meringue tall and tight, as if it were a dancer pulling her arms in tight for a spin.

Scroll down for the recipe!  Unleash your inner baker-ballerina.  Bakerina, if you will.

Balsamic Berry Pavlova (originally seen in the New York Times)

For the Meringue

Ingredients:

  • 4 egg whites
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 ¼ cups superfine sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon white-wine vinegar
  • A few drops vanilla extract

Instructions:

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and draw a circle on the paper using an 8- or 9- inch cake pan as a guide. Flip the parchment over so the pencil marking is facing down (this ensures that the pencil won’t transfer to the meringue).
  3. In bowl of an electric mixer, combine egg whites and salt. Begin beating at low speed, slowly increasing to high. Continue until satiny peaks begin to form; gradually beat in sugar a tablespoon at a time until meringue is stiff and shiny.
  4. Sprinkle in cornstarch, white-wine vinegar and vanilla, and fold in gently.
  5. Mound onto parchment within circle, and shape into a disk, flattening top and smoothing sides.
  6. Place in oven, and immediately reduce heat to 300 degrees. Bake 1 hour 15 minutes. Turn off heat, and allow meringue to cool completely in oven.

For the Topping

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered
  • ½ teaspoon high-quality vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon high-quality balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons superfine sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream

Instructions:

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine strawberries, vanilla, balsamic vinegar and sugar.
  2. Cover with plastic wrap. Let sit at room temperature at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours.
  3. Whip cream until it is thick enough to hold peaks.

To Assemble: 

Carefully peel off parchment and place meringue on a platter or cake stand. Gently crack the top with the back of a soup spoon to make a shallow nest for the whipped cream and berries. Spoon cream evenly over meringue. Cover cream with strawberries, allowing a small amount of their liquid to dribble onto cream. Serve immediately.