If you follow How-to Stuff on Facebook, then you know that last week I was searching for the perfect cupcake and frosting combo to make for a birthday party. I'd already picked out a classic pairing to make for the kids (vanilla cake with chocolate buttercream), but for the parents and other adults, I wanted to prepare something a bit more exciting.
After flipping through a few cookbooks and clicking around a couple of Web sites, I finally found inspiration. But it wasn't a particular flavor of cake or a specific type of frosting. My muse was a photo of "fleur de sel praline" that I stumbled across at "Former Chef" (thanks, Kristina!). You may be asking, "Why start with a garnish?" Well, who among us hasn't built an entire outfit around a favorite pair of shoes or a funky necklace? Come on, admit it -- you know you have. So when I saw the photo of what looks like beautiful little pieces of amber glass, I had to find a cupcake worthy of wearing one of those sparkling gems as a topper.
The thing is, the kids' cupcakes (pictured below) were going to be sporting adorable little clown heads, so I couldn't possibly serve naked cakes to the adults. Anyhow, the winning flavor duo was dark chocolate espresso cupcakes topped with a salted caramel buttercream (also pictured below).
It took two attempts to make the little shards of caramel. The first batch was as dark as a pint of Guinness, but the second batch turned out perfect. I made a few alterations to the Former Chef recipe. After pouring the hot caramel mixture onto the non-stick mat, I added some grated dark chocolate for extra flavor and some sanding sugar for texture.
And, I was so inspired by the caramel toppers that my cupcake accessorizing didn't stop there. The vanilla cupcake recipe produced more batter than I needed for the standard cupcakes, so I made a few dozen minis, too. I knew I wanted something to contrast the chocolate buttercream and I wanted something tall to counter the miniature size of the cupcakes. The solution: white chocolate pretzel sticks. Here's how to make them:
1. Melt approximately six to eight ounces of white chocolate chips or chunks in the microwave. Do this in 30-second bursts and stir in between so you won't overdo the chocolate.
2. Add a healthy amount of grated orange peel (say two or three teaspoons) and cinnamon (maybe 1/2 teaspoon) to the chocolate (I just dumped some in and then sampled it until it tasted right). Stir and then microwave it for another 15 or 30 seconds.
3. Spread out a bunch of pretzels (I used super skinny, tall pretzel sticks) onto a large sheet of parchment paper.
4. Use a fork to drizzle the chocolate on the pretzels.
The chocolate will harden again in a few minutes. The pretzel sticks will be stuck together in groups of two, three, four or more. I found that groups of two and three made the perfect garnish -- so you'll want to gently separate the larger groups. Sadly, I don't have any photos at the moment. But if I find some, I'll post one here. Or I'll make some more chocolate pretzels and post the photos on our Facebook page. I love edible garnishes like these -- and, typically, so do my guests.
What are your go-to garnishes? If you have any recipes to share, we'd love to see them.