I live to eat…rather than eat to live. Food means more to me than filling a grumbling belly; it means friends, laughter, creativity and inspiration. A meal is all about the experience, sharing and savoring the bite with others then talking about it and re-living the memories through photos and by pulling ideas from it for my future creations.
Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) Sweet Sensations at The Old Bowery Station was one of these deliciously entertaining events where the stunning desserts took a back seat to the remarkable bakers and pastry chefs who came together to support C-CAP in its mission to help at-risk high school students prepare for college and career opportunities in the culinary and hospitality industry. Stephen Collucci of Colicchio & Sons shared his witty humor along with his recipe for Black Currant Cheesecake.
Chocolatier Mehdi Chellaoui showed us techniques for making decadent Hot Chocolate and melt-in-your mouth Pavès (one of the smoothest that I have ever tasted!). Chef Chellaoui inspired me to revisit my chocolate making so you will see Passion Fruit White Chocolate and Smoked Bourbon Dark Chocolate here soon!
I am currently obsessed with my Polyscience Smoking Gun, and specifically got it to smoke chocolate. The first thing I made with it was Salted Chocolate Cocoa Puff and Almond Clusters…and I am now addicted to smoked chocolate! (No wonder I fell in love with the Sky Ice Campfire S’mores ice cream!)
Continuing my smoking addition, I created Smoked Sumatra Coffee Cupcakes for Sweet Sensations. The best part about an event involving inventive food bloggers is that many of the dishes are unique…not to be found or bought anywhere else. I had wanted to tantalize taste buds, push people’s flavor experience yet not scare folks with something a little too “out there.” (Follow me on Twitter and Instagram to see all of the crazy things that I bake up each week, such as Spicy Orange & Red Pepper Cupcakes and White Chocolate Wasabi & Green Tea Cupcakes.)
The earthy, hickory smoke-infused cupcakes provide a complimentary base for the creamy Sumatra Coffee Swiss Meringue buttercream. Sumatra is a smooth, sweet and intense dark coffee from the western-most island in Indonesia. This balanced coffee has cocoa, tobacco, earth and smoke notes. The resulting buttercream blew me away with its balanced smoothness and lack of bitterness. If coffee could be called “creamy,” this is the perfect example.
Thank goodness I stepped it up with my dessert, because the rest of the bloggers brought their A-game to Sweet Sensations. Eating with food bloggers is fun, but spending an evening baking with these delightful women at Sugar Flower Cake Shop felt like a hilarious slumber party…just swap the sleeping bags and pillow fights with tart shells and a mile-high pile of brownie ends. The bakery smelled like dessert nirvana!
Alejandra (Always Order Dessert) made her famous Springtime Italian Rainbow Cookies, lightening it up with apricot jam, lime curd and white chocolate. A client once asked her to make a Rainbow Cookie wedding cake—each layer was dense almond paste-based green, yellow and pink cake.
Angela (Mind Over Batter) used her homemade banana liqueur in Banana Pudding with Nutella Whipped Cream. She is always infusing spirits, with cantaloupe-infused vodka as her latest experiment. Lucky me got a bottle of her strawberry-infused vodka when I saw her at the Share Our Strength Bake Sale for No Kid Hungry.
Jacqueline (The Dusty Baker) tantalized everyone passing by The Old Bowery Station with her gluten-free Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip & Banana Scones, Lemon Poppy Seed Scones and Goat Cheese Chive & Walnut Scones. People kept trying to come in to our “bakery” to buy the scones cooling in the window! This inspired me to bake up Parmesan Chive Scones for my friend Ruth’s baby shower. The chives add a wonderful savory garlic and onion flavor.
Joanne (Joanne Eats Well With Others) baked up Wasabi & Crystallized Ginger Dark Chocolate Brownies. Forget “fudgy vs. cakey”…these brownies are the best of both worlds. Dare I say, they have the perfect texture! I packed up the pile of ends and turned them into chewy shells for Triple Chocolate Hazelnut Praline Tarts.
Josephine (Saucy Smile), my eating-partner-in-crime along with Lysa, made Matcha Pot de Crème with Black Sesame Glass. It was a grown-up dessert with intense green tea flavor—not too sweet with just the hint of matcha bitterness that I always look for.
Louise (Lou & Esi) whipped up Fruit Tarts with Lavender Pastry Cream. Her pastry cream was light and delicate, and her tarts were artfully styled just like her adorable tote bags. I asked Louise to teach me how to make her perfect tart shells…so keep an eye out for the ultimate dessert lesson with Louise (tarts), Lillian (macarons), Emilie (kouign amann) and myself (cupcakes) this summer!
Sweet Sensations was a fabulous event filled with friends, food and laughter—a day (and desserts!) that will continue to inspire my future creations.
My deepest thanks to Louise, Lillian and Niko for all their work, early mornings and late nights of coordinating that made Sweet Sensations possible.
Smoked Sumatra Coffee Cupcakes
Makes 2 dozen cupcakes
Smoked Chocolate Cupcakes
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cake flour
3/4 cup dutch cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
1 cup milk
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup canola oil
1 egg, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon hickory wood shavings
Preheat oven to 350F.
Whisk together the first seven ingredients. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl. While whisking the center of the flour mixture, slowly pour in the milk mixture. Continue whisking until combined (do not over whisk otherwise it will produce gluten and make the cake tough).
Bake the cupcakes for 13 – 16 minutes. Set aside to cool for 1 hour. Place the cupcakes into an airtight container and use the Polyscience Smoking Gun to pump in hickory smoke. Tightly close the container and set aside at least one hour (I usually leave it overnight).
Sumatra Coffee Swiss Meringue Buttercream
1/4 cup freshly ground Sumatra coffee beans
1/4 cup boiling water
3 egg whites
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) butter, softened and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Place the boiling water in a cup and let cool for 2 minutes. Add the ground coffee and set aside.
Combine the egg whites, salt and sugar in a large metal or glass bowl. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water (you are essentially creating a “double boiler”) so that the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl. Continuously whisk the eggs for 1 – 2 minutes until you no longer feel sugar grains when you rub the egg mixture between your fingers. Remove the bowl from the pot.
Add the cream of tartar and using an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whisk on high speed until the eggs just reach stiff peaks (flip the whisk upside down and the fluffy egg white should hold its shape and not fall over). Change to a paddle/beater attachment and beat the eggs on medium speed while adding the butter one piece at a time. You will need to beat the mixture for 8 – 15 minutes. The mixture will separate at first as you add more butter, but as you continue beating it will emulsify and come together into a smooth glossy buttercream.
Strain the coffee mixture through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth to remove the ground coffee.
Once the buttercream is smooth and glossy, continue beating the it while drizzling in the vanilla and coffee liquid. Beat for another 4 – 7 minutes until the liquid is fully incorporated.
Once the cupcakes are cooled and smoked, frost them with the buttercream. Optionally top each cupcake with a Chocolate Covered Espresso bean.