• For those with wings fly to your dreams

    Getting Creative in the kitchen

    Vegan Orange Cardamom
    (decorated for a wedding shower)
    This engineering baking life has been running me tired.

    Still, I've been super creative in the kitchen lately. Mostly thanks to the people in my life. If I had a nickel for every time someone suggested a cupcake/recipe to me, I'd be in a commercial kitchen by now.   A customer suggested  Orange Cardamom vegan cupcakes.  A security guard in my office building thought that
    blackberry merlot cupcakes would be amazing,  decided to go with a Chocolate merlot cake and blackberry merlot icing and I have to admit he was right!

    One of talents is being able to just go into a kitchen and bake a new idea without referencing a recipe.  Baking isn't like cooking though, precision counts and it's taken lots of baking to be able to do that. Admittedly these days because of the business I will write down a suggested recipe that way I can keep track and tweak as neccesary. Allot of times when I test recipes I also admit that I use some shortcuts that don't go into the bulk baking for the business but make for experimenting much easier.  Here's some tips that I hope will help you out whenever you want to try something new in your baking life (or get your baker friend to do for you)

    1. Self Rising Flour: For allot of people the hardest thing about just "baking up something" is the ratio of flour:salt:baking powder:baking soda.  For cakes, muffins, some brownies, and cookies, self rising(SR) flour (aka "biscuit flour" back home in the South) is a great shortcut.  Being a southern girl,
      Strawberry Cheesecake Chiffon cupcakes w/
      Strawberry Creamcheese icing
       (made with SR flour)
      SR flour is a staple in my house. If you recall my post last spring on wheat flour, you'll recall that SR flour is low in protein. It has about the same amount of protein as SoftasSilk cake flour (slightly more than my Brand of choice: Swan's down) so you can experiment with chiffon cake recipes with this flour too!  It's best to go by weight when using self rising flour though that being said if you go by volume adding about 20% more than the equivalent AP flour amount it should work out.

    2. Jams and Reductions:  Some of you know that I'm not a fan of chocolate cake. It's just not my thing, I much prefer creamy, fruity, and/or caramelly goodness.  Especially fruity goodnes.  Adding fruit to baked goods is art and a science. When it comes cake and icing, concentrated flavour is the
      way to go.  Now some of you will use flavorings such as Lorann's, which is okay. Sometimes I use jam, personally I don't ever buy jam with gelatin, HFCS or even regular corn syrup and I'm kinda picky about pectin. So needless to say I don't have a bunch jam in my life.   I like to use real fruit so the best way to get that flavor concentrated is to reduce it.  Fresh or frozen, when I use fresh I add a bit of water, about 1/2cup to 3 cups of berries/2 cups of apples, add sugar to taste, spices if that's part of the plan (ginger to strawberries, cinnamon and ginger to apples, cardamom to pears, etc.)

      This also great when you want to get wine, liqueurs, really into your baked goods.  I reduced blackberries and raspberries in Trader Joe's Merlot for the Chocolate Merlot cupcakes and Blackberry Merlot icing. I sieved it so there were no seeds.  It's also great because you can make a larger batch and store it in the fridge. This can also work with some hard liquor: whisk(e)y, bourbon, gin, southern comfort (is that hard liquor or liqueur? I feel a blog post coming on that!)
    3. Read a book:  If you can't just get started on coming up with ideas or if you're wondering "hmmm... can I really make Pear and Rosemary scones?" (answer: yes you can and should! well if you like both those things)  A food pairing guide is a great way to go.  I have two go-tos: The Flavor Thesaurus: A Compendium of Pairings, Recipes and Ideas for the Creative Cook  by Niki Segnit and Ratio: Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking by Michael Ruhlman.
    4. Infusions: Earlier this year I came up with a vegan Chocolate Chai cupcake. (I don't like chocolate cake but these are so good!). To really pack in that chai flavor, I ground the chai tea and mixed it in
      Chocolate Chai Cupcakes
      made with chai infused coconut milk
      the flour. I also steeped the chai into the coconut milk that was used in the cake and frosting.  I'll infuse lavender, rosemary into butter. With flower waters: ginger into orange blossom water and jasmine into green tea. Infuse herbs into oils (ground vanilla bean into coconut oil!) Sugar is another good place for infusion: with grated citrus zest, vanilla bean,  tea, coffee, etc. Keep it in glass jar a few days before you bake with it so the sugar can get a chance to absorb all the awesome.
    5. Break the rules:  When my sister-aunt would come from college and we'd try a new recipe it always seemed like she'd get to the sugar part and say "Nah, we're not adding all that sugar" and reduce it by 25-50% without blinking.  The recipe always turned out great.  One of my fave suburban holdover recipes is Cheese Squares, an ultra convenient recipe that consists of about 3-4 ingredients: Crescent rolls, cream cheese, lemon (optional), and egg wash.  The original recipe I found had 2 cups of sugar but we had only a little over a cup of sugar in the house so I just used that...planning to use some powdered sugar for a glaze to make up the difference.  But it was pretty sweet with just one cup, in fact these days I make it with 3/4 cup sugar. I couldn't imagine 2 cups of sugar.
    6. Think outside of the box:  Want coconut flavor? Try coconut milk, coconut flour, canned wet coconut, steer clear of flaked or use unsweetened.  Ginger? switch from powdered to grating fresh or dicing crystalized.   Use Maple syrup, blackberry honey.  Grind tea into baked good, steep chocolate
      Tired of sweet potato pie? try sweet potato cake!
      in wine reductions, top things with pink sea salt. Read a Norwegian cookbook, go to a wagashi making class,  make a baked good version of your favorite ice cream. Make something vegan just because. Make cheesecake with goat cheese.  Try a savoury cheesecake.

      When folks ask how I come up with some of the flavors I say thinking outside the box is the biggest thing. It's the part of baking that reminds me the most of my day job.  In engineering as well as baking being able to come up with new ideas and being able to implement them is very important.
    7. Keep a recipe journal of results and ideas: I get so many ideas from my own random brain, friends, coworkers, etc that I had to start writing them down. Also when I'm in the kitchen I write down the ratios I use so I will have recipe if it's a winner or if not I can go back and take a look and see what I need to tweak. While I was writing this post I looked back at my recipe journal (which has baking and cooking notes) and I have made some very random things over the past 5 years. lol. It's a fun look back.

      Hope this helps you out!
      Do you have any tips for when you get creative in the kitchen?  



    About me

    I'm a 20-something Southern girl living in the San Francisco Bay Area. I've been working in the wild and wacky world of non-profit green construction in one way or the other for over 3 years. I'm also the owner of Oakland's own Engineered Cupcake.