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The Baker's Quest-The Final Chapter!

Why, yes, Heather, I am still on my baking quest. :-) Sadly, as all quests must, this quest has come to its end. You may think, "Wow, this has been a long quest. It's been, what, four...five weeks, if not longer." Most journeys take a long time, though, which is why it's called a quest, not a jog. I'm getting ahead of myself, though. Let's look at what I did for my final challenge.

Black Forest Cupcakes
Courtesy Sunny Anderson

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup buttermilk
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
5 lg eggs, room temp
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips, 4 1/2 ounces
3/4 cup dried cherries, roughly chopped, 4 ounces

2 cup marshmallow cream
1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate shavings
12 maraschino cherries on the stem

Special Equipment: 12 capacity cupcake tin, paper liners

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line the cupcake tray with paper liners.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl. Set aside. In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, butter and vanilla, set aside.

Add the eggs and sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer with whisk attachment and beat until the mixture is thick and forms ribbons, about 5 minutes. With mixer on medium speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture, until just incorporated. Fold in the flour mixture until just combined, then fold in the chocolate chips and cherries. Fill the cupcake tins 3/4 full with the batter. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 15 to 17 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from the tin and cool for 10 minutes. Put a good-sized dollop of marshmallow cream on each cupcake, sprinkle with chocolate shavings and top with a cherry. Serve immediately.

Why did I pick this as the final chapter in my quest. It was such a pivotal decision, what led me to it? It was pretty simple really. I was watching Cooking For Real with Sunny Anderson (I DVR the crap out of Food Network) and whipped up a batch of these babies and I just knew that I had to attempt to make them as my ultimate task. Black forest cake--IMO--is the BEST! Hands down. No other confection even comes close, so I really didn't want to screw this up, especially after my Earl Grey "biscuit-cakes", as Nova called them, debacle. So here we go...

Here's my basic setup. Not everything that I used is here, but I was in kind of a rush. I didn't start these until about 9pm tonight.

Ah, one of my faithful quest companions. We've seen my little sifter all through this series. He makes sifting go so very, very fast. Love!

The wet and the dry team, as Alton Brown would say. I now know that these two must be mixed very carefully, lest my cupcakes end up tough and...biscuity.

Here's where I ran into my first challenge. The recipe says to mix for about five minutes until the egg and sugar mixture forms ribbons. Good thing I have good ol' Beatrice here to help me!

Ribbons? Ribbons? Hello? Okay, we don't have ribbons yet. Let's just try mixing some more on a higher speed...

I don't really have a good picture of ribbons because my mixture never really "ribboned-up", but I added a touch more sugar and kept on mixing and eventually made it a little more viscous. I still don't know what exactly I did wrong...

Then came the really fun part: The chocolate. I added half of the flour-cocoa mixture, beat it for a few seconds on Stir, then added the second half. Again, I didn't want to over mix, so I only went as long as it took to combine everything.

Yet another great quest companion, my nifty digital scale. Haha, I even have a measuring cup from work. Anyway, I really wanted to make sure I added the right amounts of chips and cherries, so I opted to go by weight rather than volume. Also, you may have noticed a bag of Craisins in the first picture. A little necessary cheat that was. I looked all over the grocery store (and I went to my special big store) and could not find dried cherries anywhere. I looked all over, but I just don't think they were offered, so I bought cherry juice infused Craisins instead. No one will ever know!

Seriously, this is shaping up to look like one awesome batter.

Here's another little Alton Brown trick. I used a disher to portion out my cupcake batter equally. Kind of ingenious, no?

See, look how even they all are before they go in to bake. See you guys on the other side!

Sweet! Look how gorgeous they look! Now, I did have to bake my cupcakes about seven or eight minutes longer than the recipe said, but no biggie.

Extraction is made easier with a fork. They came out really easily and looked good enough to eat right then and there, but there's still icing. Without icing, a cupcake is not a cupcake at all, but rather a muffin.

Oh my goodness, so here was the next major challenge: The marshmallow cream. BEWARE--Very, very sticky substance. As you will see, the cream got EVERYWHERE! It melted down the sides of the cupcakes and onto my island, it got stuck all over me, and it doesn't spread well, though I had better luck with a metal knife than I did with a plastic spatula. My original thought was that I would dollop it on top and it would just melt a bit into place. Marshmallow cream is like The Blob, people. It has a mind of it's own and will go whatever way it wants. So you can see that my icing skills still need quite a bit of work. Oh well, practice makes perfect...or something.

I didn't have chocolate shavings, so I used bittersweet chocolate chips instead, which did not sprinkle well. I ended up just placing the chips around the edge of the icing, some of which proceeded to slide off...

So here they are! The finished product. Did I say my icing skills could use a little help? I meant a lot of help.

Sad, isn't it? The poor little thing lost its cherry...and some of its chips.

Good thing it was delicious! I mean, it was just phenomenal! The "cherries" and chocolate reminded me so much of a real black forest cake, and the cream on top, while sticky, was the perfect little touch.

I have learned so much on my quest, but the most important thing was that, yes, I can bake if I want to. I'm not half bad either. I've already developed some basic instincts, so I can only get better from here. Who knows, maybe one day I'll be able to bake a batch of our family's coveted "Gee'-Gees bread". In closing, let me encourage you to embark upon your own quests because, if you don't try, you will have already failed. If you try, however, you have already achieved a success with that first step.

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