This year I had the wonderful opportunity of participating in a little friendly baking competition, held by the good people of Williams Sonoma and the SAIT Baking and Pastry Arts Club! Here's the deal: Williams Sonoma gives a participating SAIT baking student a bag of their famous "Peppermint Bark" with which said student must create some kind of tasty treat. All students then bring their creations to the three judges: two representatives from Williams Sonoma, and a Chef Instructor from SAIT. They taste all the treats, and pick their top three based on certain criteria. These lucky top three will then get to make MORE of their product, to serve at a Williams Sonoma event the following week, where they will be eligible to win a people's choice award, resulting in the publishing of their recipe in the Williams Sonoma Newsletter, and of course wonderful bragging rights!! Being somebody who enjoys peppermint bark, adores Williams Sonoma (I'm like a kid in a candy store there), and is pretty much constantly thinking about baking if not actually baking, this was a challenge I was eager to accept.
When I first signed up for the challenge I reeeeeeally wanted to get into the top three! It sounded so achievable and so awesome and I wanted to do well! The first idea I came up with was to make cupcakes: recently I had been making these grand chocolate cupcakes for the cafe where I work. They had been receiving rave reviews! I thought if I could make those chocolate cupcakes, with a frosting using the peppermint bark, I would have a decent chance of getting top three.
After a very long day of baking at school followed by baking at work, I came home to continue baking late a night for this challenge. This resulted in me feeling very exhausted and maybe not able to give my 100% passion and love into my baking. You might ask, why would you do this to yourself, Larissa? Well I am a busy gal and unfortunately I had no other ideal time and the competition is TOMORROW.
I set about making my frosting first: a basic cream cheese buttercream to which I would add the melted peppermint bark. I tasted the peppermint bark and was pleased to realize that it had a lovely peppermint flavour incorporated into the chocolate itself, not just from the chunks of candy cane that scattered it's surface. I knew if I melted this down and added it to my frosting, maybe with a bit of cocoa powder, I could create a chocolate-peppermint frosting! Perfecto!
I added some of the melted bark into some of my frosting and gave it a stir. WITH HORROR I suddenly realized that the chocolate mixed with frosting was beginning to SEIZE! A pastry chef's worst nightmare let me tell you! With achey legs and tired eyes I frantically assembled my standing mixer and tried to beat my frosting into something workable. But alas... it was to no avail. The mixer paddle just beat my gross, separated, greasy blob of frosting around the bowl...I felt utterly defeated. And mad at myself no less! I should know better. Temperatures are v v v important in the pastry world I was not paying enough attention to the temperatures of my ingredients. I tasted this sad excuse of buttercream and was re-assured the tiniest bit, as it still tasted delicious. It's texture however was all wrong and was very much un-usable... running out of time, I was given no other option but to throw it in the trash.
Lucky for me, I still had some of my plain butter cream left over. Time for plan B. Instead of incorporating just the melted peppermint bark, I would first use it to make a ganache to stir into my buttercream. So, I chopped the chocolate bark into small pieces and poured over some hot heavy cream. I patiently stirred until I had one cohesive mixture. I strained out the little bits of candy cane that remained, until I had the silkiest smooth ganache. It was this that I (carefully) beat into some more buttercream, along with cocoa powder to create a mighty tasty chocolate-peppermint butter cream. SUCCESS. My cupcakes are SAVED.
Meanwhile I had mixed up and baked my chocolate cupcakes and was eager for a taste test. I have made this recipe multiple times before but somehow when I tasted one this time something seemed different... I'm still unsure of what exactly it was, but they just didn't seem as good as when I have made them for the cafe.
So at this point I've had both major and minor failures and am starting to doubt my abilities as a baker and a human being and feeling pretty darn low. It's way past my bedtime though and I have to wake up at 5am to go to class the next day, and have a full/busy day ahead of me. So I say to myself "it's just cake" and try to turn off my negative thoughts so that I can go to bed.
As I moved on from the cupcake drama, I reassured myself. This cupcake does not define me. Perhaps this competition is not my time to shine, there will be other times, but this was just not meant to be. According to the circumstances and all the other things that were happening that week, fate would not let me shine in this competition. I knew that as long as I had a decently pretty, edible cupcake that I was semi proud of, that was all that I needed to make me happy. I was not going to win, but I could still enjoy the act of participating.
With this attitude, I completed my cupcakes the next day with the 45 minute time window I had to do so. I wanted to echo that two-toned chocolate look that the peppermint bark has. So I filled my piping bag with half plain white buttercream, and half of my chocolate-peppermint buttercream. This creates a super fun swirl effect when you pipe the buttercream onto the cupcakes. MAGIC! Garnished with a shard of peppermint bark and chunks of the candy cane, the cupcakes actually looked like something I could be proud of! I cut one into quarters to share with my family, and so I could get an idea of what I would be serving to the judges. Well gosh darn it, who would've known... it was delicious! Somehow overnight, my cupcakes magically transformed into a beautiful scrumptious treat. My family praised my efforts and suddenly I was feeling OKAY. Great even!
At peace with myself and my cupcakes, I carried them proudly into the judging room. To keep this long story somewhat short, I can tell you that I did not place in the top three, and I would not be moving any further along in the competition. I was okay with this now though, I was just proud of myself for trying, and for producing something that I was content with. I got some compliments from fellow competitors who sampled my cupcake which made me feel great!
BUT WAIT just when I thought that was that... the lovely Williams Sonoma representatives came bearing GIFTS for all the participants who were not selected as the top three! Not just little gifts either, but brand new, shiny, good quality cookware! I'm talking pots and pans of various sizes with lids so shiny you can count your freckles in. I was given a 1.5 litre saucepan and let me tell you I am thrilled. I was already excited to think about what I would cook in it first. How generous! Thank you to Williams Sonoma!
The best part of my evening however, happened when my chef came over to me at the very end. He quietly asked me, "Larissa, may I take three of your cupcakes home to share with my little ones?"
(BEST COMPLIMENT I COULD HOPE FOR)
"I would be honoured" I said, feeling like I had just won the ultimate prize.
So, I may not have gotten top three, and I will not get the chance to share my product with the public next week at Chinook mall, and I definitely won't get to have my recipe published in a fancy newsletter. However I did get to do what I love to do best: sharing my passion and creativity via dessert to people who will appreciate it. Also, I'm just gonna publish the recipe myself here, for you, the brave reader. Cupcakes for all! Plus, a fancy brand new saucepan for me!! I wonder, what shall I cook in it first...
Peppermint Bark Cupcakes
Cupcake recipe from Julie Van Rosendaal
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs, milk, oil, vanilla, and coffee. If the coffee is super hot, whisk it in carefully as to not scramble the eggs!
Add the liquid ingredients to the dry, and mix just until combined, do not overmix or you will end up with tough cupcakes.
Pour batter evenly into lined muffin tins, filling about 3/4 full. The batter will be VERY liquidy, don't fear!
Bake until springy to the touch or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean: Standard cupcakes: 20-25 minutes. Mini cupcakes 12-15 minutes.
Let cool for about 5-10 minutes in the pans before transferring the cupcakes onto a wire rack to cool completely.
First make the peppermint ganache: chop the peppermint bark into small pieces and place in a heatproof bowl. Scald the cream, you ca either do this over the stove or watch it carefully in the microwave. Once it comes to a simmer turn off the heat, and pour the hot cream over the peppermint bark. Let sit for 3-5 minutes, then use a spatula to gently stir the mixture. Keep slowly stirring from the centre, working your way out, and you shall begin to see a homogenous mixture magically begin to form! Once the ganache is completely mixed together, use a mesh strainer to strain out the bits of candy cane that are floating around. Now you have a super smooth silky peppermint bark ganache.
For the frosting: cream the butter and cream cheese until very smooth, no lumpies! Sift in the powdered sugar one cup at a time and mixing until totally smooth after each addition. Here you have your buttercream base which will also be the white frosting on your finished cupcake.
Reserve some of the buttercream (about half) in a separate bowl to be the white frosting. To the remaining buttercream in the mixer bowl, add about 1/2-3/4 cup of the peppermint bark ganache. If you add too much, you will run the risk of the frosting splitting, so be cautious. Also to the bowl, add about 1/4 cup of cocoa powder. These measurements are meant to be to taste and preference so they are not exact. Be sure to taste the frosting as you go along and make adjustments where you see fit. Mix until you have a smooth chocolatey frosting, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Fit a large piping bag with a start tip. To get the "swirly" effect with the two tones of frosting, fill half (one side, from bottom to top) of the bag with the white frosting, and the other half/side with the chocolate frosting. The goal is to randomly get the two colours into the same bag without completely mixing the colours together; this will create that marbled, or swirled effect. Fairly simple to do, but very impressive looking!
Pipe a spiral of frosting on top of each cupcake, top with a shard of peppermint bark, and a few pieces of the candy cane chunks.
et, voila! Tis the season for Chocolate peppermint!!!
All words, photos, and opinions in this article are my own. I was not paid by Williams Sonoma for this post, I just really like them and had a lot of fun participating in the competition. Thanks for reading!
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© 2015 Larissa Costella
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