We started about a month ahead with a tasting to figure out what flavor combos and designs they wanted:
Their colors for the ceremony were purple and brown, so we went with chocolate-peanut butter and lemon-blackberry with ginger. They gave me a final headcount of 148, and we agreed I'd aim for 200 to allow for extras and screw-ups. I wound up making 10 batches of each cupcake (lemon and chocolate) for a total of 240 cupcakes (or their equivalents). That wasn't entirely intentional to go over by that much, but it worked out well.
The recipes I used were mostly straight out of VCTOTW:
I also made peanut brittle from this recipe, which turned out great. Two batches was more than enough for both the tasting and the final event.
And then I made up the recipe for a blackberry coulis (three batches of this were plenty; two might have done it):
10 oz. frozen blackberries
3 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
4 tsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. water
Thaw blackberries and puree just until smooth. Strain out seeds and discard. Combine puree in a small saucepan with the sugar and lemon juice. Heat gently to a simmer. Combine cornstarch and water in a separate bowl; add all at once to the sauce, stirring quickly until mixture thickens. Let cool before transferring to Ziploc bag and piping from a small hole in the corner of the bag.
I was baking the cupcakes on site, using a wonderful commercial kitchen and also had the help of two fabulous sous chefs for much of the time (without whom I would have been pretty much frantic). However, over the course of the weekend there was lots of competition for the kitchen, so I had to make the most of the pockets of time I either had allotted to me or was able to negotiate with other people using the space. This meant that I made the peanut brittle at home ahead of time, premixed dry ingredients for the cupcakes at home (in double-batch quantities), made the lemon buttercream on site on Friday, did all the baking Saturday night, and made the rest of the frostings on Sunday morning, working straight through to filling/decorating them in time for the 3:00 ceremony. I made 8 batches each of the buttercreams and the ganache. It was more than enough of all of them. Next time, for these quantities, I'd do six batches of frosting for ten dozen cupcakes and have ingredients ready for another batch or two if needed. The ganache was closer to the mark, and who has trouble using up extra ganache, anyway?
Everything went great up through the baking on Saturday night.
(I borrowed cupcake pans from coworkers, but was thrilled to find three two-dozen-size pans in the kitchen.)
The three ovens we had were huge and could hold at least 4 dozen cupcakes each, but we started by putting a single dozen in each one to check for any heating problems, even though we'd heard good reviews of the top two from friends who had used them earlier. Sure enough, the bottom oven was temperamental and wound up burning the cupcakes, so we just used the other two. Fortunately, only a dozen cupcakes got sacrificed, and we stepped up the speed on the rest of the batches.
We covered the cooled cupcakes with plastic wrap and left them at room temp overnight. In the morning, we got a nasty shock. About a third of the lovely brown-and-gold papers on the chocolate cupcakes had separated to varying degrees from the cupcakes. Sometimes all the way around, sometimes in irregular scallops. Gaaahhh! The lighter papers were a different brand and had stayed where they were supposed to. Does anyone know why this happened? I've never seen it before and I would really like to never see it again.
We tried gluing them back with piped ganache, which didn't work at all. Then we tried pulling them out of the papers and setting them into extra gold cups, which worked for maybe half an hour, when the cups absorbed enough moisture to spread open and look dumb. Finally, we just decided to put the problematic ones out "naked," with the well-behaved ones in papers filling out the outside of the tower of cupcakes, hiding the naked ones behind them.
I also discovered that the original plan of cutting "hats" out of the lemon cupcakes to pipe on two layers of buttercream and coulis would not work because the cupcakes were sticking to the spoon we used to cut out the circles of cake. That plan got scrapped, and we just piped a generous swirl on top. No complaints on those or the naked chocolate ones.
Lemon cupcakes with lemon buttercream getting drizzled with blackberry coulis. They were finished with a thin slice of candied ginger on top.
Here's a shot of a finished one of those cupcakes from the tasting, with the ginger:
You can see that the coulis bled a lot into the buttercream in that first version. We did several things to avoid that in the final version: 1) more cornstarch in the coulis 2) more powdered sugar in the buttercream 3) colder ingredients before assembly and minimized time in a warm room after assembly. There was still a small amount of bleeding, but it was really pretty subtle.
Chocolate cupcakes filled with peanut butter frosting, topped with chocolate ganache and dots of PB frosting as well as a bite of peanut brittle.
Filling up the tower.
My friend found this adorable topper, very suited to her and her partner, which she asked me to find a home for. I used two 6" cake pans and roughly a dozen cupcakes' worth of chocolate batter to make a mini layer cake filled with peanut butter buttercream and covered with ganache. Then I used pieces of peanut brittle to fill out the design.
The cake wasn't 100% level, which made us worry a lot about the topper keeling over backwards as people walked by the cupcake table, causing it to sway visibly. Fortunately, it stayed put and survived the whole event.
I figure we served about 220 cupcakes for those 148 guests, and there were two left in the morning, which vanished upon discovery. The chocolate ones (of course) disappeared fastest (there were also fewer of them, thanks to the burned dozen and the topper), but the lemon ones got very strong reviews also.
After backing out the leftover ingredients and supplies that I either returned to the stores or adopted into my own pantry, the cost was very reasonable: $207, or just over $.85/cupcake, including papers and icing bags and tips.
That's my story! Lots of work but also lots of fun.