My grandparents built their house in 1954, and much of the original kitchen remains. I always loved the many built-ins, like the cabinet for the stand mixer. A quick pull up and out, and it’s ready to go.

Glo's 40s Mixer - Hamilton Beach Model G

During a recent trip south, I used the mixer—a Hamilton Beach Model G made in the 1940s—for the first time, to bake cupcakes for my grandmother and other lucky family members. Though we baked together often when I was a child, I was not allowed to operate the dangerous machinery. My grandmother handed it over easily this time, with only a mild warning of possible electric shock. (Wait… What?) Apparently, those pretty metal edges have been known to give a little jolt.

Mixing with 1940s Hamilton Beach Model G Mixer
Creaming butter with white and brown sugar

It was fun to use but different than using my own mixer which locks the bowl into the base and uses a single wide beater, sometimes one with a flex edge that does the scraping mostly itself. (Spoiled by modern conveniences…) This one required much more attention!

I baked chocolate cupcakes, of course. If you know her, you know my grandmother loves chocolate. I made classic vanilla frosting to balance it out.

Chocolate Cupcake By Amelie

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I wanted to make something special for a holiday party, so I decided to tackle Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Mint Cupcakes, complete with mint chocolate leaves. The recipe can be found online and in her cupcake cookbook.

mint chocolate cupcake
(Photo by Jason Yung)

I’m not ashamed to say that I am a Martha Stewart devotee. Some of her instructions in recipes and craft projects may be a little obsessive-compulsive, but she knows what she’s talking about. These cupcakes were more time intensive than others I’ve made lately, but they were worth it.

First, the leaves… It sounds a little crazy, but Martha’s recipe has you paint chocolate onto the back of mint leaves with a brush (one version says to use a paintbrush, the other indicates a pastry brush), refrigerate them, then peel off the mint leaf.

chocolate mint leaves
Mint leaves, newly painted (left) and after refrigeration (right)

What’s even crazier is that it worked! The chocolate leaves really came out looking like mint leaves. It was tedious to peel off the mint (I used sanitized tweezers), some broke, others melted with a touch of my hot fingers. However, I ended up with enough good-looking leaves to add one or two to each cupcake.

The cupcakes themselves were easy enough, though I felt the batter was especially thin. Noticing this as I mixed it, I added an extra 1/4 cup of flour. I know, going against Martha’s directions, but it felt like the right thing to do.

It was my first time doing this type of buttercream (a meringue buttercream of the French variety, involving yolks in addition to the egg whites), and I don’t think I realized what I was getting into. I was very glad to have 2 mixing bowls. I used my metal bowl for the steps requiring cooking in a double boiler (yolks/milk/mint and whites/sugar), washing it quickly in between, and the glass for the butter and final whipping.

meringue buttercream
Mixing the meringue into the minty butter-custard mixture

The frosting came out rich, but it was also light at the same time. It is very buttery, and might not be a match for all types of cake, but it works well on these particular cupcakes, in my opinion.

I iced the cupcakes a few at a time, peeling off mint from a chocolate leaf or two (fresh from the refrigerator or, after staying out a bit too long, the freezer) to add to each. I was pleased with the way they turned out.

mint chocolate cupcakes

Some who tasted them claimed they were amazing. They were on the rich side for me. I liked them, but one was plenty!

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The citrus zing of lemon and the spicy sweetness of ginger truly complement each other, and it’s a combination I love.

crystallized ginger and lemon

In the cooler months, I like to make a dark, spiced gingerbread that I serve warm with a generous dollop of lemon sauce. It’s my maternal grandmother’s recipe, one of my favorites since childhood. It is a warming, comforting dessert for fall and winter.

Warming, however, isn’t right for summer. Luckily, ginger and lemon can also be a refreshing combination! I attended a wedding reception over the weekend with miniature cupcakes and was inspired to bake some of my own featuring ginger and lemon. Tiny bursts of these flavors seems fitting as a late summer treat.

lemon ginger mini cupcakesFor the cake, I used the Ginger Cupcake recipe from Julie Hasson‘s 125 Best Cupcake Recipes (recipe reprinted online here), which uses both ground and crystallized ginger. I picked up some crystallized ginger from Malko Karkanni Brothers, a Middle Eastern grocery in my neighborhood. I chopped it to bake into my cupcakes and cut strips to use as garnish.

I whipped up some lemon frosting based on the standard cream cheese buttercream I make. It went something like this:

Lemon Frosting for Ginger Cupcakes

3 ounces cream cheese
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
l lb. powdered sugar
zest from 1 small lemon
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice

Beat cream cheese and butter until smooth. Slowly add sugar, then lemon zest. Add lemon juice a little at a time until you reach desired consistency.

ginger lemon cupcake

Interested in how these cupcakes were shot? Click here for info on the photography.

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While I won’t give away all my secrets, I thought I’d use an early post to talk about some of “my” techniques. These are mostly things every serious baker knows, I don’t lay exclusive claim to them, but they are some of the methods I use that I believe help make a cupcake the best it can be!

Baking is a science more than an art. Your ingredients need to be a certain temperature, added together at just right time, in exact quantities. Sure, you can cut some corners, but you risk ending up with hockey pucks.

I recommend setting out your refrigerated items like butter and eggs at least an hour before baking any type of cake. However, sometimes you need to speed up the process. Cutting the butter into smaller pieces and giving it a quick zap–only a few seconds at a time–in the microwave can bring your butter to the temperature you need. I got in the habit of cutting up my butter back in the days I was limited to a handheld mixer with a mind of its own. It was challenged to even properly mix my room temperature butter. And you need to mix well, introducing plenty of air to cream the butter and sugar, which is the starting point of most cake recipes. If your butter is cold, you might end up with a lumpy mess. And, worse, your science will be off.

You also don’t want cold eggs, if you want your batter to emulsify. If you are in a rush, the trick there is to put them in warm water for, say, 10 minutes.

I almost had the opposite problem when baking over the weekend. Now that the weather is warming up, I find that my AC doesn’t quite do the job when my kitchen is in full swing with a hot oven. (I’m like the majority of New Yorkers and have only a window unit.) My room temperature was higher than I’d like, almost too warm. Anyone had issues with baking in heat? I’d love feedback on how you handle it! I was a little concerned, but it turned out ok.

Though my Sicilian step-grandmother seems to be able to bake perfectly without a measuring cup in sight, I have to scoop and level with a flat edge (I use a dinner knife) to get the right measure. Maybe one day I’ll be able to eyeball it perfectly, but for now I need to measure and level precisely!

Once I have the correct amount, I sift all of my dry ingredients. I do this every time, whether the recipe calls for it or not, and even if the flour says it is presifted. Sifting leads to fluffier cupcakes. My grandmothers taught me, that’s the way it is done. I particularly remember my father’s mother using an old beat-up sifter. Even with “modern” flour, you get any lumps out and better incorporate the dry ingredients.

Above, I am sifting flour, baking soda, cocoa, and salt together for chocolate cupcakes.

I use a heaping scoop of a round soup spoon to fill my regular-sized cupcake pans and a teaspoon to fill minis. Some suggest an ice cream scoop. I’ve been using one of my great-grandmother’s silver soup spoons for years, and it does the trick.

I always try to remember to rotate my pans midway through baking. (Thank you, Martha Stewart! You drilled that into my head, whether you know it or not.) The middle of the oven is the best place for baking, but I will also switch racks to make up for this if I am baking more at once than will fit on one.

These techniques, along with lots of trial and error, are how I am perfecting my cupcake baking method.

To learn more about my photographer, visit www.jasonyung.com, or view more of Jason Yung’s photos on Flickr. (Disclaimer: We’re dating, and he’s working for a lifetime supply of cupcakes.)

More photos from this post can be found in the Photo Gallery!

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