Amanda: I really got into baking last summer. I made a batch or two of cupcakes with Kate of Domestic Empress in summer 2007, and I guess that piqued my interest in the whole cupcake world. But… I stuck to the box mixes for about a year after that and only made cupcakes for parties and actual events.
My cupcake “A-Ha moment” came in summer 2008. I was taking a course taught by a professor who encouraged, really demanded, that we bring some sort of snack to each class meeting. For some insane reason, I ended up making three batches of cupcakes in a period of six days. I think those cupcakes all involved box mixes in some way, but they went over really well. That’s when I became addicted. Since that then-uncharacteristic burst, I’ve made cupcakes, or some other really ambitious baked good, about once a week.
ND: How do you come up with new cupcake ideas? What is the creative cooking process?
A: I get most of my cupcake ideas and recipes from the blogs I read. Cookbooks also provide really great jumping points. Following recipes to the letter is fun, but I like messing with them too. I mean, what cupcake won’t taste better with a bit of white chocolate ganache between the cake and icing?
Usually I start with a theme or an occasion and then try to choose flavors and decorations from there. The Hokie Hi-Hat cupcakes are a perfect example of this: a friend decided on his PhD program so I started with one of his favorite cakes and went from there. Other times I start with a flavor that I just want to bake. Like right now, I really want to bake a chai cupcake that I found on my cupcake calendar. Sadly, I’ve been moving that recipe back for months because it just doesn’t really fit. One day…
Slicing up onions for orange chicken with vegetables.
ND: Biggest cooking blunder?
A: A few weeks ago I dropped an entire batch of lemon cake batter on the floor. It was so disappointing that I lost all words. I knew I should be crying or cursing or something, but I just couldn’t believe that it actually happened. I stared at it, took a bunch of pictures and then started all over again.
Flavor-wise, I completely failed on the dry run for Christmas party egg nog cupcakes. I didn’t have rum in the house, so I used bourbon. And I ended up eating four of the six cupcakes that weekend since I was just making them to test the recipe before the party. Something about the combination of bourbon and overwhelming sweetness has completely turned me off and I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to drink bourbon again. However … the rum version was a big hit at the party.
When it comes to the savory, I usually slightly mess up each thing I cook. I’m the girl who burns rice to the pan and forgets about the chicken in the oven. Cooking isn’t as exact as baking, so I think there are more opportunities for me to totally fail. I take advantage of those opportunities more often than I’d like.
ND: Biggest cooking triumph?
A: Hmm… that’s tough. I’d probably say that the dishes I made for Daring Bakers challenges have been my biggest triumphs. Each month, the Daring Bakers send out a challenge recipe for the members to make, bake, and blog. I joined the DBs in February, so I’ve only completed two challenges so far (lasagna & cheesecake). The lasagna was okay and my taste-testers loved it; I, on the other hand, did not. The cheesecake was so ridiculously good, though, that I would have to say that was my biggest kitchen triumph. I was really scared going into the challenge, but I was really impressed with the results. I made a chocolate, espresso, heath cheesecake after the flavors in Gifford’s Maine Deer Tracks ice cream. I might still be in love with that cheesecake.
Amanda's homemade pasta, laid out to dry.
ND: Favorite cookbook or recipe you'd like to share?
A: I highly recommend "Cupcakes by the Cake Mix Doctor" by Anne Byrn. Each recipe starts with a box mix and results in amazing cupcakes. No one has to know. If you want to try out some of Byrn’s recipes before you invest in the book, I have a tag dedicated to the Cake Mix Doctor on my blog.
ND: What is something you want to try, but intimidates you?
A: Oh… I would love be able to make pastries, the fancy, light, airy pastries that the pros are so good at. I’ve always just assumed that I would fail miserably and end up with wet, flat, nasty dough, so I’ve never tried. Each time the Daring Bakers put up a challenge I get equal parts nervous and excited that it will be some fancy shmancy pastry. Hopefully next month!