Food quote of note

"The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience"…Eleanor Roosevelt

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Big Job

Don't ask me how I get myself into these things...but somehow I agreed to make 1,000 cupcakes for my neighbor Greg...yes, you read that number right, 1,000 - three zeroes -- that's ONE THOUSAND CUPCAKES. 

It all started so innocently...

My neighbor Greg is a real estate agent and wanted to give his clients a "home baked holiday treat" this year - in October he asked if I might be interested in baking these for him...for PAY!!  A real baking job...what a great opportunity, I, of course I said yes.  The rub, however, was that he had almost 100 folks on his list - so, that would be alot of baking in my small kitchen.  Nevertheless - I put together a proposal for a "holiday assortment of hand-crafted cupcakes, packaged and ready for pick-up" - and he accepted my proposal!  I was in the baking business - I was doing my first real baking job - and it was The Big Job!

One of the reasons I agreed to do this crazy project was that I thought it would be great experience - and I was right - I learned so much!  A big part of the learning came before I ever picked up a measuring spoon or cupcake liner.  I spent several hours pouring over my cookbooks to select the right recipes - ones that were both reliable and yummy! The process of costing out the project, both ingredients and baking time/labor, was a very detailed exercise and critical to the overall project success - if I didn't get this part right I wouldn't make any money!  I shopped at several different places to get the best costs, I did lots of conversions (for example, there are ~ 12 cups of sugar in a 5 lb bag) and constructed a very detailed spreadsheet so I could figure out exactly how much my ingredients would cost for each of the three recipes I had selected (chocolate with chocolate buttercream frosting, coconut with white chocolate frosting and red velvet with cream cheese frosting). I  also identified on-line sources for buying cupcake boxes, inserts and liners in bulk (of course, all of these costs went into the spreadsheet).  I was finally ready to bake!

I pulled from some of my favorite sources to get my cupcake recipes.   Chocolate cupcakes from Martha Stewart, chocolate buttercream frosting from Magnolia Bakery, coconut cupcakes from the Barefoot Contessa and Red Velvet from George Geary - I got by with a little help from my friends!

Quite frankly, cupcakes aren't that hard to make - it wasn't the baking that was the challenge - it was the logistics - how was I going to bake 1000 cupcakes in my very average-sized home kitchen  - 1 small fridge, normal counter space, 1 oven?  This job was just as much a test of my organization skills as it was my baking skills – the only way I was going to make this happen without killing myself (or getting divorced) was to make sure I had it all organized, prepped and scheduled so I  could make 15-20 dozen cupcakes a day.  I had costed the job to complete in 5 days - but, my goal was to do the baking in only 4 days, so I could have the 5th day to clean and "de-cupcake" my house.  My approach was to mix up 3-4 batches of a single flavor at a time and then bake them off (my oven would only hold 2 dozed at a time) - and, while these were baking, I could wash dishes, mix up the next set of batches and get things organized for frosting and packaging.  In general, this approach worked very well - although there were some long and messy days, I was able to get all 1,000 cupcakes baked in 4 days.  

For one week, cupcakes took over my home!  My makeshift pantry - 5 gallon buckets
filled with flour, sugar and confectioner's sugar, large storage boxes
filled with all sorts of yummy ingredients.

Lots of bowls!! I actually borrowed bowls and muffin tins from
 friends so I would have enough to prep multiple batches at a time.

Mise en place - a French term that means "everything in place".  Getting everything measured, set up and in order was critical to keeping on schedule.  Overall, it served me well and kept me on schedule.  There was only one casualty - one batch of red velvet cupcakes that ended up looking like small, dense red hockey pucks - despite my best attempts at organization, I  had forgotten to add the baking soda/vinegar mix that acts as the leavening for this recipe.

Mmmm...chocolate cupcakes in the making!

Billows of chocolate goodness - the chocolate buttercream frosting from the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook was just as tasty to eat as it was lovely to look at.

It took alot of frosting to cover 1000 cupcakes!
One of the biggest challenges was space – 1000 cupcakes takes up a lot of real estate!  By the evening, every flat space in our house was covered with cupcakes in some stage of the process – waiting to be frosted, covered with swirls of frosting or packaged and ready to go.  

In addition to baking, I had to package up the cupcakes –boxed, with a ribbon, a card with Greg’s holiday greeting and a sticker advertising my baking services. It was usually the wee hours of the morning by the time I finished up the last of the packaging, ending the night with rows of lovely packages of cupcakes all boxed and ready to go... – and a few hours later Greg knocked on my door in the morning to pick them up and hand deliver them. And then, it started all over again…

Each night my dining room table (and kitchen island, and coffee table, etc) ended up
covered with boxes of cupcakes....

...and each morning we loaded them into Greg's car for delivery.

So, even though right now I feel like I never want to see a cupcake again, I’m glad I did this project.  First of all, the client was very happy – Greg really liked the cupcakes and got rave reviews from his customers and friends who received them as holiday packages.  Secondly, it was a great learning experience as it relates to costing, organizing and planning a large baking job, and, finally, it definitely built my confidence on my ability to do “baking for hire”. 

While all three of these cupcakes were very tasty, the true star was the chocolate/chocolate - this cupcake is a DREAM to make and a dream to eat.  This recipe was amazingly reliable and repeatable - pan after pan turned out perfectly formed and perfectly cooked!  This is definitely my new "go-to" chocolate cupcake.  This little brown cake was turned into a superstar when I topped it with the Chocolate Buttercream frosting from the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook - this was a match made in cupcake heaven (if I do say so myself!).  Both of these recipes are actually quite easy to make - the key to both of them is to make sure you follow the directions exactly (i.e., mix the frosting for exactly the time it states).  When you get a chance, make a batch - you'll love them!

Chocolate Cupcakes
adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes

Note: to melt the chocolate, place in a double boiler over simmering water on low heat for 5-10 minutes; stir occasionally until the chocolate is completely smooth and no pieces remain; remove from heat and let cool 5-15 minutes or until lukewarm.
  • In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter using an electric mixer on MEDIUM speed for about 3 minutes or until creamy.
  • Add the milk carefully and beat until smooth.
  • Add the melted chocolate and beat well for 2 minutes.
  • Add the vanilla and beat for 3 minutes.
  • Gradually add in the sugar and beat on LOW speed until creamy and of desired consistency.

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