Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Happy Birthday, Little Ladybug

My blue eyed little girl turned one year old last week and we were determined to celebrate this milestone in style! Though she is utterly adorable, charming, funny, delightful, adventurous, bright and sweet, she was not, and still is not, always this way. Unlike my placid, easily pacified little boy, LL knows what she wants and will scream until she gets it. It took us a few colicky months to really get in sync with her and to this day, if we are not on her wavelength, she lets us know, loudly. I love her with a consuming passion, but getting through this first year with her, on top of parenting a toddler, has been the biggest challenge of my life thus far. So, we wanted to throw a party to celebrate her first birthday, but really, we wanted a party because we haven't thrown her or ourselves out of the window this year! We wanted everyone to see our little birthday girl and then send her off to dreamland while the grown ups could get down to the celebration. No kids were invited and even Z-Man was sent down the street for the night to play with neighbors.

The theme was "Cocktails and Cupcakes" because those are two of the most festive things I could think of. We decided to have the party catered because we didn't want to spend the few days before, the first few days in a row that DrRuckus had off at home all summer, in constant party preparation. Also, since this was to be a grown up party, we wanted to be able to relax and imbibe rather than fuss with entertaining. Because I love them, I decided to have Hubbell and Hudson do the catering. Their catering manager was delightful to work with and put together a fun menu of tasty nibbles and platters to please everyone. However, I could not entrust the cupcake aspect of the party to anyone but myself. I love baking too much, and really think that my cakes and cupcakes are way better than any you could buy anywhere else. Besides, it was way too much fun to plan which cupcakes I was going to make.

I have never been a fan of Martha Stewart, but I saw her cupcake book at Williams Sonoma a few weeks back and it really caught my eye because I opened it to the page on Ladybug cupcakes! Of course, I ordered it right up from Amazon and had it two days later. I got that book and poured over it like it was my Organic Chemistry textbook back in college. It was post-ited, highlighted, annotated and broken in within two days. I wanted to make everything in there, but finally narrowed it down to four cupcakes.

I also learned something very important: Martha Stewart is a huge pain in the rear! Her recipes are way more complicated and require way more steps than I am used to, and I bake a lot! Secondly, her recipes make really odd numbers of cupcakes. Not 24 regular size ones, but 32. Not 48 minis, but 56. Why? She obviously has a huge staff, so why can't they tweak the recipes so that the whole batter can fill regular muffin tins without having to start but not fill a third tin. Why?

Usually, I am a last minute lady, but I wanted to be relaxed for the party, and I was damn excited about my cupcakes, so I started baking early in the week and got some cakes in the freezer so that I could do a bit every night instead of being crazed the day before. My mom was there for most of the week and we had fun each night perfecting the "cuppersons". This method worked well for me, and I will have to remember in the future that, with a little planning, things are much more fun and less stressful!

1. Ladybug Cupcakes

I used Martha's recipe for chocolate chip cupcakes and wanted to make a caramel buttercream because I was still dreaming of the best cake I ever had, the Z-Man's third birthday cake which was made by a baker who has subsequently moved to Singapore. First, I tried to use the recipe for Magnolia Bakery's chocolate frosting, substituting caramel for chocolate, but this came out sickeningly sweet. I could not eat it and had to dump the whole thing (much to the chagrin of my sweet toothed sweetie). Then, I decided to try Martha's caramel swiss meringue buttercream. Boy, this one was a pain! Making a fresh batch of caramel, cooking, whipping and cooling egg whites, beating with two different mixers. But, it would have been all good if it was delicious. However, it was not to my liking at all. Where my improvised caramel icing was sickeningly sweet, this one was not sweet enough and just tasted like sweet butter. I still have it in the fridge, but I couldn't use it. I wanted to make the most delicious buttercream. So, I went to Old Faithful, the Magnolia Bakery buttercream, though I always triple the vanilla:

Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Buttercream Recipe

(Makes enough for a 2-layer 9-inch cake or 2 dozen cupcakes)

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
6-8 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

15 minutes 15 mins prep

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add in 4 cups sugar, then the milk and vanilla. On
medium speed of an electric mixer, beat about 3-5 minutes or until smooth and creamy.
Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well (about 2 minutes) after each
addition, until the icing is thick enough for good spreading consistency (you may not need all
of the sugar).
If desired, add a few drops of food coloring and mix thoroughly. Use and store the icing at
room temperature because icing will set if chilled. The icing can be stored in an airtight con-
tainer for up to 3 days.
**If making a 3-layer cake, use the following proportions: 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, 8-10
cups confectioner's sugar, 3/4 cup milk, and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract.

I then added some green gel paste and placed two marzipan ladybugs. My good friend, L, stayed until the wee hours of the morning making these, dying our hands black and red and cursing Martha the whole time. They came out so adorable and the completed cupcakes looked fantastic on a cupcake stand, but, even better, I thought that they were the most delicious of all that I had made.

2. Sel Your Soul cupcakes - These were directly from the Miss Martha's book. They were mini rich chocolate cupcakes, from which my mom cut a tiny cone out of the top of each, into which I poured Fleur de Sel Caramel. Then, they were topped with the richest, creamiest, most chocolatey frosting I have ever had. Martha, you more than made up for that yucky Swiss Meringue crap! BTW, I am a great baker, but not a very good decorator, and piping this slick, rich icing was quite the challenge for me, but I sprinkled each of these puppies with a little fleur de sel and they were out of this world. The definition of "To Die For".

3. Pucker Up Cupcakes - These were also from Miss Martha, though I made a combination of regular and mini sized ones. The cakes were delicious, lemony and crumbly. However, her curd did not set up right. I used her recipe exactly (8 egg yolks and 2 whole eggs, yikes!) but it did not set up. This kept me up at night and so I did some searching around and saw that there was not even close to enough butter in that recipe for it to work. I ended up adding another stick and a half of butter to Martha's recipe before my curd set up, but when it did . . . heaven! Who knew that lemon curd is one of the worst for you foods that there is? But, yum!

4. Raspberry Dream cupcakes - For my last and final cupcake, I wanted to do something in a cupcake paper that was not exactly a cupcake, so I made Martha's raspberry swirl cheesecake cupcakes. However, I had a clever twist. Later in the book, there are Oreo cheesecake cupcakes, and I used the crust from these: one whole Oreo in the bottom of the cupcake paper. Brilliant! I also substituted marscapone for half of the cream cheese. These ended up being the easiest of all, and were truly delicious.

I ended up with hundreds of cupcakes, so from Amazon (of course) I ordered a bunch of cupcake boxes so that people could bring cupcakes home to share with their kids. This was a stroke of genius on my part, as the kids got a little goody and all of the beautiful and delicious cupcakes went to good homes. In fact, we only ended up with a few the next day, definitely a very good thing after much indulgence!

And the party! Simply marvelous, darling! LL looked adorable in her French frock and managed to stay awake until about half of the guests arrived. We had friends from all different aspects of our life and it was wonderful to have them all here, mixing, at our house. We love our friends and don't get to socialize with them all that often, so it was great fun for us to have them together, meeting one another and enjoying a fun night out. Our neighbors even got a little nutty and played quarters in the entry way, always a sign of a good party.

The food was delicious, and having servers there made it so much easier for us and for all of the guests. All of the little "hors" from the coconut shrimp to the little prosciutto poblano cupcakes with goat cheese "frosting" were delicious, though I was partial to the tiny martini glasses filled with the vanilla corn chowder and a crab meat "surprise". However, my only regret was setting the bar and bartender up in the kitchen. I know that at parties people always end up in the kitchen, but I invited this to happen by having the bar here. I had set up beautiful cocktail tables with turquoise linens tied with silver sashes that set off my chocolate brown living room walls, and no one ventured into that room. Next time, I will put the bar where I want the people to be.

All in all, it was an awesome party. Happy Birthday, Little Ladybug. Daddy and I love you so much.

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