Cookies and (Butter)cream

photo 1 (2)This week’s experiment began as a concept.  As I mentioned two weeks ago, I volunteered to bring a dessert to my in-laws’ annual July 4th festivities. Dessert is my usual contribution to this event, and over the years I’ve learned that cupcakes are by far the easiest to transport and serve to a group.

I have long been a cupcake fan and was an early supporter of the cupcake craze.  However, I am grateful the bubble has burst and we are back to appreciating cupcakes because they are delicious and fun to eat – and not because they are fashionable.

The one thing I appreciated about the cupcake spotlight was that it took us beyond the standard, vanilla and chocolate combinations.  While my favorite is still a classic vanilla-vanilla combo, I enjoy variety and try something totally new each summer for the 4th.  Lately I’ve been on an ice cream kick, which inspired me to do a cookies and cream cupcake.  Like ice cream, but in cupcake form.

This is not an original idea.  If anything, cookies and cream became a classic during the cupcake boom.  However, there is no single definition for what makes a cookies and cream cupcake.  There are an unlimited number of professional and amateur bloggers (such as myself) out there touting their own versions.

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In my searching, I didn’t feel that any single interpretation called out to me.  But my research did identify the things I had to consider in developing my own approach:

  • Did I want a vanilla or chocolate based cake?
  • Did I want pieces of Oreo mixed into the cake?
  • Did I want to put an entire Oreo in the bottom of each cupcake?
  • Did I want a vanilla or chocolate based frosting?
  • Did I want a buttercream or cream cheese based frosting?
  • Did I want to mix pieces of Oreo into the frosting or dust it with pieces on top? Or both?
  • Did I want to work with full-size Oreos or mini Oreos?  Did I want to consider Golden Oreos or some other flavor?
  • Did I want to top each cupcake with a full-size Oreo? Mini Oreo? No Oreo?

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Fortunately, I find that I am more and more opinionated regarding my “work” and was quick to form my own vision:

  • I would stay true to the original Oreo.  No minis and no other flavors would be involved.
  • I would go with a rich chocolate cake batter, without cookie pieces mixed in. And I definitely would not put a whole Oreo in the bottom – that seemed like too much of a good thing.
  • I would opt for a vanilla buttercream frosting that emulated the center of an Oreo. Cream cheese frosting is easier to work with, but I prioritize taste over appearance.
  • I would introduce the Oreo flavor by mixing crushed Oreos into the frosting.  This would also provide a speckled look to the frosting.
  • I would not garnish with a cookie on top. While an Oreo stuck in the frosting looks cute, I did not want the garnish overpowering the cupcake.

Now that I knew what I wanted, I needed to build a recipe.  Specifically, I wanted a rich chocolate cake recipe and a vanilla frosting that could withstand the addition of crushed Oreos.  For the cake, I looked at a number of sources and felt unsure about all of them. In the end I opted for the one that was literally right in front of my face – the cupcake recipe on the back of the cocoa bag I had bought that afternoon. I figured if anyone knew chocolate, it was Ghirardelli.

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As for the frosting, I went with my tried and true favorite – Magnolia Bakery’s buttercream. Magnolia is a divisive force in the baked good realm. Some people, myself included, LOVE them. Others find the frosting far too sweet. In this case, I felt that the incredibly sweet nature of Magnolia’s frosting was exactly what this recipe needed, as it would be replicate the super sweet Oreo cream.

photo 4 (2)The best part of choosing this recipe was that I knew it almost by heart – beat the butter and then add milk and powdered sugar and vanilla until the taste and consistency are ideal. As the frosting was rolling in the mixer, I crushed half a box of Oreos with a rolling pin in a large plastic bag. I then added the crushed Oreos to the frosting, adjusting the milk and sugar ratios accordingly. The taste was exactly what I was going for. Some may have thought it was too sweet, I thought it was addictively awesome. I would have eaten just frosting for dinner that night, and I kind of did with all of the “tasting” I had to do as I was mixing it.

photo 1The challenge with using the Magnolia recipe, however, is that I have always struggled with its consistency. While I have mastered the taste, I have never been able to achieve the right thickness for serious decorating. On the other hand, it’s probably good that I can’t replicate the look of a Magnolia Cake.

Frosting is my weakness. I took a cake decorating class that improved my decorating skills, but because I cannot achieve the right consistency, I rarely get to show this off. And sadly, this week’s Oreo cupcakes suffered on the presentation marks for just this reason. I was hoping for a beautifully piped topping, but knew that it could not be done with the frosting I had made. photo 4But I had known this going in – a little cream cheese to stiffen it up and I would have been in decorating heaven! – and told myself that taste is what matters.

I slathered (for lack of a better term) each cupcake with frosting. And refrigerated them overnight. At the party the next day, I received dozens of comments about the authentic Oreo taste – and not one about how messy they looked. Maybe people were being nice, but I think that the ingenuity of my cookies and cream concept, combined with solid baking, helped me excel in the July 4th dessert pageant – and there were A LOT of desserts (including my own red/white/blue pretzels) to compete against.

So proud my frumpy looking cupcakes were a flavorful hit!

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Thanks to my fellow bloggers and bakers for inspiration this week (as seen in slideshow):

Sally’s Baking Addiction

Southern Living

Crumbs

Mastercook

Recipe Girl

Bakerita

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