There are a lot of things to take into consideration when doing something like this, but an important starting point was that I need to start gathering the tools I need. I found a Baker’s Bin shop nearby and went to have a look at what they have. The shop is still new and they are still in the processes of unpacking, but there was already a lot of stuff. They have a lot of legit baking ingredients. I was a bit at a loss where to begin and what to take since I went there with the idea of buying tools not really ingredients, but I walked through and took items that I thought I would probably need. Things like cake flour, various flavours icing sugar, baking powder, vanilla essence, chocolate/vanilla/caramel chips, food colouring, blue dust, blue flowers for decoration, yellow margarine, some red velvet premix, etc. I also picked up some blue and white cupcake wrappers and some piping tools. At Mr Price Home, I got two cooling racks, a muffin pan, small oven mits and a spatula. Neither of these stores had a cake tester, but luckily while I was buying milk at Woolworths, I found a set. So there are obviously still stuff I need, but this I will figure out as I go and stock up over time.

So naturally a lot of things didn’t quite go according to plan. When I got home, our water was off. The biggest issue I had with this is cleaning. You don’t realise how often you wash your hands while baking until you can’t. Luckily we keep emergency water in the house for occasions like this, so I had access to water at least, but this also meant I couldn’t really wash anything and cleaning the counters was a pain.

I remembered an important lesson shortly after starting: read the whole recipe first before starting. In the beginning of the recipe it states that you should mix all dry ingredients, so naturally  I assumed that includes the sugar, it does not. The next step was “mix the sugar with the margarine”. Damn. So now I had already added the sugar. Luckily it hadn’t really mixed with the flour yet, so I could scoop most of it off. They also only say at the end of the recipe that the oven should be pre-heated to 180 degrees, so I think as a rule of thumb, read the whole recipe first.

I have read on other blogs that it is a good idea to use room temperature butter/margarine. Since it is winter and my margarine came from a fridge, it was still fairly cold when I used it, so it was very hard. My beaters took a beating and sugar went everywhere. Luckily it became soft eventually. Using a hand mixer made it very hard to mix in one egg at a time. I basically had to mix, stop, add an egg, repeat. I tried breaking the egg one handed while still mixing, but the bowl started turning, so then there is the risk that it will spin off the counter and shells might sneak in with the eggs. I think what I should do next time is break each egg in a bowl before I start mixing and then just quickly grab a bowl while mixing. This also has the added benefit that if you have a funky egg, it isn’t in the batter. I once got an egg with blood in it, and since I cracked it over the batter, I had to throw the batter away.

Something I also need to figure out is quantity. Ideally I need a scoop that I fill equally each time, but I noticed that since the batter is sticky, it very hard to get equal amounts of batter in, so some of my cupcakes were bigger than others. I think this will be a practice makes perfect kind of thing. I had two sizes cupcake wrappers and to my horror, the one didn’t fit in my muffin pan. I basically had to balance it, which was doomed to fail. So finally I got my cupcakes into the oven. After baking them, and prodding them with my cake tester, they seemed ready to come out. The smaller ones looked a bit pale and the bigger ones were starting to get a bit too golden. When I took them out and let them cool, I started hollowing out the big ones and noticed that the were not baked through. I could not understand what was going on, was it just the size? Until, tum tum tum! I saw that the oven was on pre-heat the whole time. -.- No wonder they didn’t bake through. So all the big ones were a bust. So next rule of thumb: Make sure the oven is on bake before you put the cupcakes in the oven. The second batch I didn’t bother with the bigger wrappers. They seemed to bake correctly, even though I had to put them in longer than the recipe specified, since you know, awesome oven. I waited until they started getting a little golden before taking them out. After cooling them a bit on my awesome new cooling racks, I hollowed them out a little and melted some Nutella with chocolate chips to fill the hollow with. My only concern with this is that it kind of started setting when it cooled, so I think next time I should just add some icing to it.

Since I didn’t really have washing capabilities, I couldn’t use my hand mixer to mix the icing, so I had to use good old elbow grease. Now that was exhausting. The margarine still wasn’t as soft as I would have liked, so it was quite the process. I made the chocolate icing first. When I thought it was stiff enough, I placed it in my piping bag and had my first go at piping. Apparently it wasn’t stiff enough and the icing didn’t retain the nice shape that I wanted. When the chocolate icing was finished, I made some blue vanilla icing, this time a lot stiffer. It came out a lot better but I think I still need to search for a recipe that will work better. I decorated the cupcakes with the dust and the little blue flowers and afterwards I looked like a smurf (again, fun to try and wash it off).

All in all considering how many issues I had, they didn’t turn out too bad. Since this took quite a bit of time, it was really dark by the time I was done, which is not ideal for food photography. I tried setting them up under a light, but it just is not quite right. So I will try again with natural lighting. Something else I am going to have to do is set up a little studio for myself, because just using a sheet isn’t good enough. I will have to have a look at a few setups that people have done in their homes.

I gave the cupcakes to some people at work to test and everyone seems to like it, so I think I am on the right track. So now just practice practice practice, reading up on techniques, practice practice practice.

Published by Nadia Hoffmann