Cooking is a lot like art. You can experiment and substitute and adapt, and still get fantastic results. Baking, on the other hand, is a lot more like science.
Being a “scientist” myself, you’d think that this make me a pretty good baker. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case. It took me several months before I could bake an edible cupcake, and several more before they actually tasted good. I guess my creative, artistic side is more at home in the kitchen than my precise, analytic scientist side.
Photography is another art that can be boiled down to science. Our brains are wired to find certain pictures appealing, and others unattractive. This makes food photography even more difficult, because you have to find a way to tell a story and create a mood…while making the food look appetizing!
These brain cupcakes were a fun experiment (ha) in combining the art and science of both baking and photography, as part of my new desire to take better, more interesting pictures.
I remade my favorite biscoff cupcakes, but this time I added a chocolate ganache filling and a swiss meringue buttercream frosting to pipe the cute little cortex. I got the idea directly from Not So Humble Pie, a great blog that unfortunately isn’t updated much anymore, but has an awesome section dedicated to science-themed cookies and cakes.
First, bake the biscoff (or any other kind) of cupcakes as directed, then set aside and cool. While they are cooling, prepare your chocolate ganache.
You will need:
- 4 oz semi sweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 3/4 cup heavy cream (40% milk fat)
- 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
In a small sauce pan, heat the cream and the corn syrup to a simmer, stirring constantly. Place the chopped chocolate into a heat-safe bowl, and once the cream is hot, pour it over the chocolate. Let it cool for 3 minutes, then stir until mixed well.
Scoop out the centers of the cooled cupcakes, using either a paring knife or a large coned frosting tip (only go 3/4 way down the cupcakes, be careful not to puncture through to the bottom!) and fill with the ganache. Cap the hole with the top part of the little wedge you removed from the cupcake, and eat the leftover bits to give you energy while you make the frosting.
You will need:
- 5 large egg whites
- 1 pound butter (4 sticks) at room temperature divided into tablespoons
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Bring a sauce pan of water to a simmer, and combine the sugar and egg whites in a metal bowl that is slightly larger than the saucepan. Whisk the eggs and sugar in the bowl sitting over the pan of water (not in the water) for a few minutes, until the mixture is creamy and smooth.
Transfer the eggs to your stand mixer with the whisk attachment and beat them to stiff peaks. Here is a link to help you figure out what this should look like. Let this sit for 10 minutes, or until cooled completely.
Then start adding the butter a few tablespoons at a time while beating on medium speed. After all the butter is added, add the vanilla. Keep beating until it comes together in a light, fluffy mixture, then use the paddle attachment (oh, what I would give for a Kitchenaid mixer!) to mix the frosting on low for a few minutes, just to beat out any air bubbles.
Fill a piping bag with your frosting, and using a medium round tip, frost yourself some delicious brains! Since my cupcakes didn’t rise as high as I wanted them to, I first created a mound of frosting in the center, and spread it out with a little knife to create a brain shape. Then I piped a line down the middle to separate the hemispheres, and made lots of squiggles to create the texture of the cerebral cortex.
Remember, the more folds you have, the greater surface area your cerebrum has, and the smarter your cupcakes are!
These cupcakes (and my photography, I hope?) were a success! The chocolate ganache worked perfectly with the rich biscoff flavor, and the texture was spot on again.
The frosting itself looked adorable, and lent itself very well to shaping the complex folds of the brains! Except it tasted….
Frankly it was inedible.
I’m not sure where I screwed up, but I’m betting it had something to do with the egg whites. It was my first time beating egg whites into submission, and because I was uncertain of how long it would take I kept stopping and starting. Not to mention I was using a regular stand mixer with plain old beater attachments, instead of a whisk and a paddle, and it was 80 degrees outside with a high humidity. All of these contributed to the frosting tasting EXACTLY like a stick of butter.
So unfortunately we had to scrape off the frosting before we ate the cupcakes, and I refrosted them with the biscoff buttercream.
All in all, I had a great time. I learned how to fill cupcakes (way easier than I imagined!), and I really took the time with my photography. A lot of work went into these photos, and I’m very proud of myself for finally taking my camera off of the AUTO setting, and manually adjusting everything myself. I even manually focused a few shots!
I find food styling to be extremely tedious and time consuming, but I am surprised at how much I enjoy it. To me, it’s like the perfect blend of art and science to create just the right image, and though I’m a long way off from where I hope to be (rich and famous, obviously), I am thrilled with how far I’ve come!
Please let me know what you think of my photography, either here or on my photography page!