United Cakes of America – Cookbook Review and Cupcakes!

August 10, 2010

Sometimes practice makes perfect and other times practice makes presentable. The latter is how I feel about my cake baking and decorating skills.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, my mom has had a cake business for most of my life. So I was surrounded by beautifully decorated, great tasting birthday and wedding cakes for as long as I can remember.

Somehow the skill didn’t rub off on me. I’m not sure if it is lack of patience or creativity, but my cakes never turn out the way I want them to. However, it doesn’t keep me from trying, nor does it keep me from loving cakes and cake recipes.

I was excited to receive a copy of United Cakes of America by Warren Brown to review. I really enjoyed his show and story on the Food Network and the theme of this cookbook couldn’t be a better fit for me. It highlights the traditional cake, dessert or pastry from each state around the U.S. There are also a few extra recipes thrown in that utilize specific ingredients from select areas.
United Cakes of America: Recipes Celebrating Every State

It is full of recipes, some of which you may know such as Boston Cream Pie and Carrot Cake from Kansas, and some which may be new such as Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake from Michigan and the Tomato Soup Cake from New Jersey. Personally, I can’t wait to try the Kentucky Jam Cake and the Avocado Cupcakes which feature a California ingredient.

I read a less than stellar review a couple months ago which I can’t locate at the moment, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The major complaint of this post was the freedom the author took with selecting recipes and putting on his own twists.

I really had no problem with Key Lime Pie, Whoopie Pies and Pumpkin Pancakes being in a cake cookbook. I say the more recipes the better. Overall, I’m glad to have this book in my collection. I think I will be referring to every time I need to make a special dessert or get creative with a birthday cake.

A few things I enjoy about this book:

  • The author highlights muscovado sugar and raw sugar for baking in the introductory chapters, two of my favorite baking ingredients.
  • The variety of recipes means I’ll be using it for a lot more than just cakes.
  • I found the steps for each recipe straightforward and easy to follow.
  • I really like all the tips throughout the book, from frosting tips with photos to variations for buttercream.
  • The little history lessons spread throughout the text are especially interesting if you are into culinary history as I am. 

Things I’m not so crazy about:

  •  With the recipe I made below, I had some major differences in yield. The recipe states that I should have gotten 24 cupcakes, but I got 12 and they barely rose to the top of the cup. I did have to leave out one ingredient, but it doesn’t seem like that would equal 12 cupcakes!
  • The recipe text has a bit of creativity. Each ingredient listed is shaded with a different color, incorporating a red, white and blue theme. I found this a bit difficult to read when I was glancing across the counter top at the book.  

The recipe I got to try was the Connecticut Nutmeg Spice Cupcakes with Old-Fashioned Milk Buttercream. The one ingredient I had to leave out was the potato starch. The author says that it lightens the texture of cake and adds a slight flavor, but I was unable to find it at supermarkets here. I didn’t look everywhere, but I did check two with no luck.

The cake itself has a wonderful flavor. The nutmeg and rum (I used a spiced rum) blended so well together. I’ll likely make it again, maybe around the holidays.

As for the frosting, I was so excited to try a new variety. This one whipped up light and frothy and has a thin consistency. It actually reminds me of the fillings my mom used to make when recreating Hostess cakes. It doesn’t store very well, but if you are looking for a light buttercream, this may be a good choice. Next time I will likely use it for a filling rather than a frosting.

My next challenge will be substituting my favorite minimally refined sugars and whole grain flours to see how it turns out!

Connecticut Nutmeg Spice Cupcakes

Reprinted with permission
Yield: One 9-inch layer cake or 24 cupcakes (I got 12)

Dry Ingredients:

8 ounces (1 cup) superfine granulated sugar
5 ounces (1 cup) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon potato starch
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
Pinch of allspice
Pinch of salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda

Wet Ingredients:

3 ounces (6 tablespoons) butter, melted
¼ cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon rum
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and place the rack in the middle position. Lightly coat a cupcake tray with nonstick oil-and-starch spray and line 10 of the cups with paper liners.

Measure and combine all the dry ingredients in a deep bowl. Whisk lightly for about 15 seconds to blend.

Combine all the wet ingredients in a container with a tight-fitting lid and shake well for 15 seconds.

Lightly whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. This should take about 15 seconds.

Scoop or pour 2 ounces of the batter into the paper-lined cups. (Using a food scooper or ladle works best.)

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the tops of the cupcakes are golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in the center of one comes out clean or with just a few crumbs.

Cool the cupcakes for 5 minutes before removing them from the tray. When they are room temperature, frost or decorate with Old-Fashioned Milk Buttercream.

Old-Fashioned Milk Buttercream

 Reprinted with permission

Yield: Enough for one 9-inch layer cake or 24-cupcakes

1 cup milk
2 ounces (1/4 cup) all-purpose flour
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
8 ounces (1 cup) superfine granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Quickly whisk together 4 tablespoons of the milk with the flour. This slurry will be somewhat thick, so whisk thoroughly to make it smooth. Press out any lumps with a flexible spatula, if necessary.

Whisk in the rest of the milk and transfer the mixture to a 2-quart heavy-bottom saucepan. Bring to a simmer for about 30 seconds over medium heat, whisking the whole time.

Remove the pan from the stove and place plastic wrap directly against the milk’s surface. (This is the best method to prevent a skin from forming.) Cool to room temperature.

Combine the butter, sugar, salt and vanilla in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix at medium to high speed for 5 minutes.

Pour the cooled milk-and-flour mixture into the bowl and beat for another 5 minutes, or longer, as needed to achieve a spreadable consistency.

Update on the yield:  I checked out the recipe again and it looks like the yield mistake was in the press release. The press release says the recipe makes 24 cupcakes which is the recipe I followed and reprinted. However, when checking out the recipe in the book, it says it yields 10 cupcakes. That is much closer to what I got.
Disclaimer: This cookbook was sent to me free of charge. I was under no obligation to review it and received no compensation for doing so.

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  • Marisa August 11, 2010 at 7:16 am

    Great review – think I need to add this one to my (ever-growing) list of books to buy.

    The cupcakes look fabulous too, am especially awed by the super fluffy looking frosting. Lovely!

  • 5 Star Foodie August 11, 2010 at 7:27 am

    The cupcakes look lovely, I like the nutmeg and the rum in them! This sounds like a fun cookbook despite the yield difference.

  • ajcabuang04 August 11, 2010 at 9:24 am

    This cupcakes look awesome! Strange that it only created 12. Something in that book is wrong. I want to check out this cookbook soon

  • kat August 11, 2010 at 11:17 am

    They certainly sound good. Potato starch doesn’t sound like a very common ingredient to me though either. Also I went back & looked at some of my cupcake recipes & I use 1/2 c flour for 5 – 6 cupcakes so I don’t see how 1 cup would make more than 12.

  • emily (a nutritionist eats) August 11, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    That sounds like a great book! I love that the history is included, I love that sort of thing!

  • MelindaRD August 11, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    Sounds like a really interesting book. So strange that you got half less than what you should have.

    As for the bulls here, it is tough to watch, but I am glad it is not as bad as it could be. They are only in a small confined area for transport, otherwise they are more free range than some US animals, heck, they have more space than my dog. It is strange, but they have a huge love for these bulls and most of the time it is the people who get hurt. Thankfully Portugal does not allow for the killing of any bulls used in any bull fighting event, so it is very different from Spain. Although it is not entirely nice to put them out there and annoy them for entertainment. They are very proud of their tradition here.

  • Joanne August 12, 2010 at 4:52 am

    Um yeah with one cup of flour, there was no way you were going to get 24 cupcakes. Frankly I’m shocked that you even got 12!

    The 12 you did get look fantastic though! I love nutmeg. Like serious love. So I will have to make these!

  • Tonya @ What's On My Plate August 12, 2010 at 5:16 am

    The cupcakes look great!

  • Amanda August 12, 2010 at 10:40 am

    These sound perfect for fall. Love the icing, it looks so creamy and light. I’ll be adding these to my list of must try’s!

  • Anna August 12, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    Lori…that was funny, I was wondering what ingredient you left behind to loose 12 cupcakes. LOL
    I just bought the book; there are yummy cakes there. Your cupcakes look great.

  • Debinhawaii August 12, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    Your cupcakes look great–the frosting looks so fluffy and light too. So is Hawaii pineapple upside down cake? 😉

  • Reeni August 12, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    I like the concept of the book! And I love the sound of these cupcakes flavored with nutmeg and rum! And I am really loving the frosting. I think they’re pretty.

  • Amanda (Two Boos Who Eat) August 13, 2010 at 5:18 am

    Your cupcakes turned out beautifully. The frosting looks so light and airy!

    I really like the sound of the flavors too. I’ll have to check this cookbook out. Though I’ll admit, I’m a terrible cupcake/cake maker.

  • Tangled Noodle August 23, 2010 at 8:50 am

    I have no idea what you are talking about with regard to some lack of decorating skillz – these cupcakes look beautiful! Thanks for this review – the recipes you mentioned sound wonderful and the drawbacks are good to know.

    I am so going to make the Old Fashioned Milk Buttercream – I could it eat it all by itself! 😎

  • Paula September 5, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    these cupcakes must be delicious!