A month ago, Stef from Cupcake Project and I agreed to a waffled cupcake bake-off. We settled on a flavor — strawberry — but nothing else. Then we went off to work on our own.
Neither of us knows what the other did. Today we're posting our results.
I had plenty of time to work on this project, but it also fell in a busy month. In the end, I kind of felt like the kid who has all quarter to build the Eiffel Tower out of popsicle sticks — and starts Sunday at midnight.
And, no, I did not make that cupcake in the photo above. Are you kidding me? I am way too busy shoving stuff in a waffle iron and trying to make sure frosting comes out the right end of the pastry bag. That is a research cupcake. More on that in a second.
It's no secret that I do these posts ahead of time — sometimes a few days ahead of time, often a week or two. It takes time to line up chefs or test the recipes, and it takes time to sort through photos and tweak the wording.
So usually I'm not at my computer typing furiously right up until the post goes live.
Usually, but not this time.
The project was off to a good start. I went to the library and cleaned out their cupcake section. There were a lot of really great books:
- Martha Stewart's Cupcakes: 175 Inspired Ideas for Everyone's Favorite Treat
- Hello, Cupcake!: Irresistibly Playful Creations Anyone Can Make
- Little Cakes from the Whimsical Bakehouse: Cupcakes, Small Cakes, Muffins, and Other Mini Treats
The cupcakes in these cookbooks are adorable, some of them so sweet my teeth ache without even biting into anything. A lot of them are made to look like animals. Bumblebees. Kitties. Dinosaurs. Monkeys. Pigs.
Very creative stuff, but what animal looks like a waffle?
Right. I couldn't think of one either.
I convinced myself I needed to do field research. I went to a couple of bakeries here in Chicago. The margarita cupcake is from More. The raspberry-chocolate is from Sweet Mandy B's.
I'm a little skeptical of the cupcake bakery phenomenon, but those cupcakes are a strong argument in its favor.
Finally the dark day came: I ran out of stalling tactics. I had to get serious in the kitchen.
First, I worked on the cake. We already know cake will waffle. But I needed to develop a waffled strawberry cake, so I had some fiddling to do.
I tried a few different recipes. A straight-up strawberry cupcake recipe from Martha Stewart's book. Too sweet. Then my own version of strawberry-chocolate swirl. The swirl wasn't really happening.
My freezer filled with mistakes. (By the way, freezer labeling becomes critically important when you cook a lot in the waffle iron.)
Finally, I hit upon fantastic waffled strawberry cupcakes. Not intensely sweet — perfect.
Now my attention turned to assembling and decorating the waffled cupcake.
I had all sorts of ideas, some of which were frankly pretty bad. I mean, just terrible.
Like, breaking the waffle into its little cube components and then, Lego-style, assembling some sort of supercupcake from those blocks. The problem here is that waffles do not feature interlocking parts like Legos and so all those little cupcake bricks would have to be held together with something. With what? Frosting? Ick. Too sweet.
Intriguing, and maybe it could happen. But it seemed beyond my skill set. And possibly beyond the laws of physics.
I thought about doing something like these carrot cake waffles — though probably on a smaller scale. And there is definitely something to be said for that style. If I had not already seen that post floating around the Internet, that's probably what I would have done. But I had, and so I wanted to be a little more playful.
Ready for some hands-on attempts, I made cream cheese frosting.
My first attempt was decorating the waffled cupcake just as you would a normal cupcake. Consider that this was the first "cupcake" I have decorated ... ever, I think. Certainly in my adult life. And the results aren't bad. Except where I jabbed my thumb into the frosting.
I was quite happy with the way this turned out. Expecting failure means being pleased with even modest success. But it looked too much like a waffle. A waffle decorated like a cupcake, yes. But a waffle.
Flush with a heady notion of competence, I did another version with a drizzle of strawberry-raspberry preserves made with balsamic vinegar and black pepper.
It was a qualified success, but, again: too much like a waffle.
So what worked? What did all this lead up to? What did I settle on? This:
I went back to the idea of breaking down the waffled cupcake a bit.
I cut each waffled strawberry cupcake into rectangles three divots long. I piped a bit of frosting into each divot. On some, I perched a mini chocolate chip atop the frosting. On others, I lay a very thinly sliced strawberry.
They don't really look like cupcakes. And they don't really look like waffles. But they're waffled strawberry cupcakes topped with cream cheese frosting, thin slices of strawberry, and mini chocolate chips.
The recipe will be the next post.
I can't wait to see what Stef came up with.