Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Cupcake Digression

Today is my birthday. In the German tradition, this means that I bring the cake. After a discussion a few weeks ago about the difference between muffins and cupcakes, I decided to make red velvet cupcakes with icing based using this and this recipe from the New York Times. I've never baked anything that wasn't brownies out of the box in my life. But I figured that most of the baking horror stories you hear about are because people are bad and reading and following instructions. I am very good at that.

Now, with no baking experience, shopping for ingredients would be baffling in the U.S. With the added twist of finding the German equivalent, it was basically a day-long chore. Go to store 1, look at shelves. Go home, Google. Go back, buy. Repeat with as many stores as necessary to find all the ingredients. Some things I've learned:

Cake flour = Weizenmehl Type 405 (No surprise, flour types are strictly regulated in Germany. Type 405 is the most popular, but there seems to be no equivalent of American "all-purpose flour." The other flour types seemed more suited to different kinds of bread.)

Canola oil = Rapsöl (Rapeseed oil)

Baking soda = Natron (and they don't sell boxes, just tiny packets, unless you go to an Asian grocery)

white vinegar = Essig (Essig means 'vinegar,' of course, but I guess the default is 'white.')

Vanilla extract is difficult to find in Germany. In general, I hear they use vanilla sugar to flavor. In the grocery stores, you'll find a light colored liquid labeled something like 'vanilla aroma.' It's not the right thing. I did find some vanilla extract in the basement grocery store of Galeria Kaufhof (a German dept. store), where they stock a lot of international stuff.

Food coloring isn't the same as in the U.S. The only kind I could find was less concentrated although thicker in consistency.

Unsweetened cocoa was also tricky. For one, I couldn't find anything but 'Nederland Kakao' in the baking aisle (which I presumed was Dutch processed). I looked at the chocolate drinks aisle (they're more popular than in the U.S.) and found something that looked promising.

I borrowed someone else's kitchen to do the baking (I don't have an oven!) and used some tools that I never had even when I lived back in States: an electric mixer, a sifter, a whisk (I don't think I even owned a whisk). Despite some difficulties with the baking times (the oven didn't really work properly), the cupcakes turned out pretty good -- maybe a little dry but not over or underdone -- and the frosting (despite being just fat upon fat) was quite light and yummy.

In total, following the recipes exactly produced 37 German-sized cupcakes (they looked fairly similarly sized, but I'm not sure how my cups compared to American ones) and maybe not quite twice as much, at least 1/3 more even if you love frosting, than the amount of frosting necessary (doh, oh well). Yay, cupcakes!

Unrelatedly to cupcakes, some friends got me flowers for my birthday. Wasn't that sweet?


Doug Rudd said...

Happy birthday Jackie! Also, thank you facebook for allowing me to never remember another birthday.

How many types of German flour are there? I'm imagining some large pre-war ledger with thousands of handwritten entries.

Jackie said...

Thanks! And I don't know how many there are. The number tells you how refined the flour is (ash content = how much is left after burning it or something). So there's a lot of dynamic range, but German grocery stores are usually small and don't carry a lot of different kinds of things. I saw 405, 550, and 1050 at Kaufhof and lists as large as 9 on online forums for expats (but those are just guides).

Eugene said...

Happy Birthday!!

And Yay Cupcakes!

Karianne said...

I usually use 550 for everything :-)
Your cupcakes were really good! I can't believe you haven't baked from scratch before! They tasted like you had done nothing else ;-)
Btw what is the difference between cupcakes and muffins? (I would call your cupcakes muffins..)

Jackie said...

Hi Karianne!

I didn't realize that any Bonn people read the blog. Yay! And thanks (Sherry helped and provided some guidance)!

As for the cupcake/muffin distinction: I think that muffins are supposed to be more like bread than cake. They are heavier in texture and are more likely to be savory (with fruit or nuts) and never have frosting. Cupcakes are little cakes, light in texture and decorated like a cake.

Karianne said...

And all my life I've been calling cupcakes muffins! European ignorance, huh?! ;-)

Don't remember how I found your blog in the first place, but your posts are really good and make me realise all the things I wanna see in Germany while I'm still here! :-)

Jackie said...

Well, cupcakes don't seem so common in Europe, and the difference between cupcakes and muffins are surprisingly minor when you really think about it. Besides, I had to clear up confusion between donuts and bagels for someone once.

And, thanks!

Tim said...

Hey, Happy Birthday! (somewhat belated)

Jackie said...

Thanks, Tim!