Darlings, meet Kathleen from Cupcakes for Dinner. Kathleen is a baker extraordinaire who lives in Memphis, Tenn. When she’s not working as a web developer or making masterpieces in the kitchen, Kathleen likes to binge watch entire series of TV, crochet, read and look at pictures of cute animals on the Internet.
When did you become interested in baking?
I started baking when I was struggling with my relationship with food. Somehow, me wanting to eat as little food as possible resulted in me doing a lot of reading about food. What foods are the most nutritiously dense with the least calories? What’s in this food at the cafeteria? How can I make food that tastes good but doesn’t contain X, Y, and Z? And really, how can I satisfy my ridiculous sweet tooth without disliking myself?
My love of baking really ended up starting with a banana bread recipe. It was a low-calorie, vegan banana bread recipe that I felt I could make better. I started playing with the recipe and perfecting it, and something about this process got me interested in food in another way. I started reading about baking and the science behind it, what eggs and milk and sugar etc. do to a baked good and I started baking more and more, substituting out eggs with bananas or oil with applesauce. I looked at baking as this creative science that helped me express myself in a productive way.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned about baking along the way? Any advice for us novices?
I think understanding what’s happening in a recipe is so important to being a good baker. It helps you weed out recipes that won’t work and allows you to make dietary substitutions easily. You aren’t limited to existing recipes and you can get more creative when you know what is going on behind the scenes.
Some of my favorite tips and tricks:
1. Always read the recipe carefully. Most of the time this involves preheating the oven—preheat your oven, folks! Make sure you understand the steps and have all the ingredients. This is very basic advice, but key. You know why Harry Potter was bad at potions? Because he never read the steps carefully.
2. Bring your ingredients to room temperature. There really is a difference between cold eggs and warm eggs.
3. Margarine and butter aren’t the same thing. If a recipe calls for butter, use butter.
4. “Creaming butter” is a common and misunderstood instruction. It means whip the butter, normally with sugar, until it runs a light shade and is lighter and fluffier. You can do this by hand or with a mixer.
5. Once you add flour to the wet ingredients, don’t use a mixer. Use a fork or a slotted spoon to fold the ingredients together. Over-mixing can ruin baked goods.
6. An ice cream scoop is the perfect size for scooping batter into a muffin tray.
7. Parchment paper works miracles on a cookie sheet to prevent sticking and messes
8. Remember, things continue to cook even after you pull them out of the oven. Use a toothpick to test doneness for cakes, but pull brownies and cookies out early. If brownies or cookies pass the toothpick test, they’re overdone.
9. To get flat cookies like you see in the pictures, hit the bottom of the cookie sheet on a flat surface when you take them out of the oven.
10. After taking things out of the oven, let them cool. For cupcakes or muffins, let them cool for about five minutes in the tin before moving them to a wire rack. Give cookies more time to set and finish cooking on the cookie sheet before you transfer them.
11. The secret weapon for nice frosting is the Wilton 1M Swirl Tip.
What inspires you? How do you stay creative?
I look at a lot of food and read a lot of recipes, I follow a ton of bloggers on Facebook, and frequently browse Foodgawker and Pinterest. I make sure I bake something every week. At first this was difficult, but now if I don’t bake something I get an itch and I have to. Even on days when I’m not super inspired I figure something out. I tend to go though ingredients I have in my house until something jumps out at me. If nothing does I go for a staple thing like a standard chocolate chip cookie or brownies.
I love to bake with alcohol, and that tends to give me direction and keep me going. I love finding a way to bake something like Fireball whiskey into a cookie or hard cider into a cupcake. Everyone in the world is doing this now, but when I first made my recipe a year and a half ago it was unheard of. This is what kickstarted my blog and helped me to start gaining readership. When it comes to baking with alcohol I tend to get more creative and develop my own recipe instead of simply modifying someone else’s, which I enjoy doing a lot.
Why Cupcakes for Dinner? How did your blog get started?
A coworker in college and I used to have “Vegan Bake-off Challenges” and she kept telling me to get a food blog so we could link to each other when she wrote about her recipe on her own blog. One of my finals for a class was to build a website and I thought sure, why not and built a blog that I updated once a month with bake-off recipes. It didn’t become Cupcakes for Dinner until I got more serious about it and I somehow managed to get really good at making cupcakes. There was a time where I exclusively made cupcakes. Thankfully I’ve expanded beyond that.
And now, on to the good stuff.