Sunday, November 18, 2007

The scoop on scoops

One of the best tips I ever got on cupcake baking was to use an icecream scoop to measure out the mix.

Icecream scoop, I hear you say? One of those anti-freeze jobs that they use at the gelato bar? The kind they use to roll the icecream into a ball before they drop it into a cone or cup?

Absolutely not! Once was a time when the humble icecream scoop was far less technological, and might I say successful. It was a fixed metal scoop with a moveable wire that swooped across the bowl of the scoop with a spring action to eject the icecream from the crevice.

As it turns out, this is the ideal item to measure the perfect amount of cupcake batter into a standard muffin tin. When I heard this, I went out in search of a traditional icecream scoop, and found not one but two different sizes. I bought both, thinking there would indeed be a use for each; all I had to do was think one up.

I got to work with my icecream scoop and found that not only could I get the cupcake batter into the cups a whole lot faster, but they were of a much more regular size. This helped no end in making my cupcakes look significantly more professional, and of course, sellable.

Meanwhile, whilst cooking turkey balls one night, I was overcome by a stroke of brilliance - the little scoop was the perfect size for a meatball. I whipped out the little guy and began scooping the minced meat mixture up, dropping it into a hot fry pan and swirling it about. Lo and behold, I was right! A perfect turkey ball with a professional look to boot.

Suddenly I remembered back to the days when, as a kid, my mother used to make those god-awful Tuesday night horrors - rissoles. Thinking back, it dawned on me that she had been using the icecream scoop for those too. I resurrected rissoles (albeit with delicious fish sauce, shallots and garlic flavour) and put my icecream scoop to work on those too.

But one thing always bugged me about my icecream scoop. While it helped me to get a guaranteed 28 cupcakes out of each double mix, it also left my cakes a little short. I had been covering this with liberal applications of icing. But I got to thinking, if I had found two different sized icecream scoops, could there be more? And if there were more, could there be an icecream scoop that was ever so slightly bigger than mine, which might bring my cupcakes up level with the top of the Confeta paper?

Shopping in Plenty (level 5, Westfield Bondi Junction) one Saturday, I discovered there was. I examined the scoop closely and discovered it was stamped with a number: #12. I raced home to inspect my scoop, and found it had no number stamped on it, other than to say it was 18/8 stainless steel. So I went back to Plenty and measured their scoop: it was 6cm in diameter. At home I measured my scoop: it was 5.5cm across. I was convinced I had found my dream scoop. I bought the infamous #12 and this weekend I have tested it out.

And the verdict? It's too big! It brings the cake up to the top of the Confeta cup alright, but then it keeps on rising! This is absolutely no good - Jennifer Graham of the Crabapple Cupcake Bakery was right when she said domed cupcakes are not what you want. Their domes, while very attractive, leaving absolutely no room to build and shape insteresting icing designs. And the #12 scoop is a monumental dome maker!

Sigh! There are several lessons to be learned here: a scoop in the hand is not worth another one in the shop. AND sometimes the $6.00 Chinese discount scoop is actually the best.

The #12 scoop will be fine when I want to cook muffins with nice high tops that don't need to be decorated. But where delicated decorated cupcakes are concerned, it will just have to stay in the drawer.

Oh - and in case you want to know, the little scoop is a #70. Go figure!