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Food And Photography – Guest Posting


Seeing my desserts through a lens, becoming the "director of photography" of my own baking ( and I say that in the lightest way possible, wink!)…I would have never thought I would enjoy it so much, live it so much and want to learn from professional food photographers. That’s why I have always refrained from answering readers' questions about food photography, (vast and subjective topic) but when Leemei from My Cooking Hut asked if I’d be interested to write about my experiences as a food blogger-photographer, I figured it was a sign I needed to sit down and do so.

We all blog differently, we all photograph differently and we all think about it differently, but in the end we all try to do something that is enjoyable and fulfilling for where we are at that moment in our life. Since some of you asked, I hope that you will take this guest post as it is: an account of my experiences and doings in "dessert photography" and not as a "photo 101". I leave that for the books and the pros, who will always be my source of inspiration.
Click for the photography guest post. Thank you Leemei for the opportunity!

Chocolate Cupcakes - Happy Thanksgiving!

That would be rude to leave you without a dessert and a recipe wouldn’t it? My photo subjects for the guest post were chocolate buttermilk cupcakes with cream cheese buttercream. No intense bubbling sugar or multi layer dessert. I know how to kick back and relax too!! Actually I live surrounded by cupcake fiends so once in a while, it feels good to let loose whilst in the middle of baking and photographing for the book. There is something really satisfying in a simple chocolate cupcake, whether it be unwrapping that mini cake or adding sprinkles to it. Something so essential and basic when you are solitary writing and baking, that it brings you back to reality in just a few bites. Especially when your little nephew asks "Auntie Helen, can you make me chocolate cupcakes with snow frosting and plenty of sprinkles on top?"….Ah the simple things are good….

Buttermilk Chocolate Cupcakes:
Makes about 18-20 depending on the size.

4 oz fine-quality semisweet chocolate
1 cups hot brewed coffee
2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
2 tsp baking soda
¾ tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
¾ cup canola oil
1 ½ cups buttermilk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly coat the inside of your cupcake wrappers with cooking spray. In a bowl, combine the chocolate and the hot coffee and let stand, stirring occasionally until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth, about 5 minutes. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. With your electric mixer, beat together the eggs and sugar until pale and thick (about 5 minutes). Slowly add the oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and the previously melted chocolate mixture to eggs/sugar mixture. Beat until well incorporated. Add the flour mixture in 3 increments and beat until smooth. Divide the batter among your cupcake liners and bake for about 25 minutes or until a knife or toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

For the cream cheese buttercream:
1 1/2 sticks (170 gr) butter at room temperature
4 oz (120gr) cream cheese, softened
3 egg whites
1/2 cup (100gr) sugar
2 Tb water
1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla paste or 1/2 vanilla bean split open and seeded.

In the bowl of stand mixer, whip the egg whites until they have soft peaks. In the meantime, combine 2 Tb water with the sugar to a boil in a heavy saucepan and bring the syrup to 250F. Slowly add the sugar syrup to the egg whites. If you use hand beaters, this is even easier and there is less hot syrup splatter on the side of your bowl and in the whisk attachment of the stand mixer. Continue to whip until the meringue is completely cooled. Slowly add the butter, one tablespoon at a time. The mass might curdle but no panic, continue to whip until it all comes together. Add the cream cheese, the same way, a little at a time until everything is smooth. Whisk in the vanilla extract, or paste or bean. Keep it in the fridge up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to a month.


Sweet Work Part 2

The second part of my interview with Anita for the release of her book "Field Guide To Cookies" is up in the latest edition of Desserts Magazine! Watch out now….it’s a whole issue of just cookies! Perfect for this month of gift giving. No, I don’t get a cent for promoting the magazine, I just get excited when I see quality work and passion shared for food and baking in particular. Sharing….it’s all about sharing. Now…go get Anita’s book ok?!!!

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montague December 2, 2008 um 7:37 pm

going to read all about this now!

Anonymous December 2, 2008 um 7:37 pm

I am glad to have you to share your experiences in food photography! All your dessert shots are amazingly beautiful and your recipes are great! I have so many to browse through for all the delicious and eye-catching desserts ….parce qu’ils me donnent l’eau a la bouche!!!!!!

Rosa's Yummy Yums December 2, 2008 um 7:43 pm

You are a master baker and photographer! Everything you do or touch looks great! Those dainty cupcakes are fabulous!



Cindy December 2, 2008 um 8:20 pm

thank you so much for the photography tutorial, helen! it was very thorough and must have taken you a lot of time. i’ve learned quite a bit.

vibi December 2, 2008 um 8:38 pm

Congrats! If anyone deserved that opportunity, it surely was you!
It is always a treat to come and visit… as your pictures and recipes are simply out of this world! Thanks for the 101 class… I’ll look into it – I need it!

Elizabeth December 2, 2008 um 9:58 pm

I loved your post on My Cooking Hut Helen! Thank you for sharing your secrets with us! I will definitely be trying out some of your tips soon.

sefa firdaus December 2, 2008 um 10:02 pm

IMHO… you are a great food photographer Helen.

Maria December 2, 2008 um 10:25 pm

Your pictures are the best around. I just love them!! You are so creative and so talented. I am off to buy Anita’s book, better run:)

The Italian Dish December 2, 2008 um 10:45 pm

Your pictures always take my breath away. thanks for posting about your photography.

carolina @ patagonia gifts December 2, 2008 um 10:49 pm

Oh those cupcakes look so deliciously gorgeous!

I’m hosting my son’s 8 year old birthday party next Friday. Any ideas for a cake decoration?


LizNoVeggieGirl December 2, 2008 um 11:00 pm

SOOOOO fantastic!!

Fit Chick December 2, 2008 um 11:41 pm

Wonderful photography! And your recipes are always the best!

Dewi December 3, 2008 um 12:46 am

Helen dear, Thank you so much for the photography article. It really helps a lots for someone like me, who just know how to pint and shoot!

Yes, of course it would be rude not to leave us with your recipe, LOL
Anyway, that cup cakes sound so inviting. And I might be able to test them in my own kitchen too.

Bonbon Oiseau December 3, 2008 um 1:34 am

helen! i am so impressed!!!! it’s so helpful and well explained and i think it will actually help me photograph my jewelry. I see another book my dear….hmmm….

Anonymous December 3, 2008 um 1:46 am

I am going to read your tips on photography over and over again. I saw the article in Desserts magazine and it was wonderful! You are gifted in many ways, Helen and it is a pleasure to know you and to enjoy your beautiful creations in the kitchen and with the camera.

Manggy December 3, 2008 um 2:08 am

Thank you for the (very detailed and comprehensive) tips, Helen! 🙂 I wish my nephews and niece were as sweet as yours– they’re either grumpy or don’t want to eat anything but pizza and candy bars, yecch! I think I just might convert them with choco cupcakes 😉

Mallory Elise December 3, 2008 um 3:03 am

oh la la t’es une star! you are. c’est vrai. your setup tips are brilliant, hooray! i guess i’ll have to get that magazine. im a glutton for saying "see this??? i KNOW that person. oh yeah."

hey—since youre a runner, you wanna run a marathon? is there a big one in the carolinas? i bet there is. i’ll fly anywhere for a run. i’ve decided that. im an addict now. I’m starting training for the whole in two weeks–let’s do it. Someday i will create the Cupcake Marathon—where at the end everyone gets cupcakes so they don’t have to think about all of that disgusting GU gel that’s stuck in the stomachs.

Aparna Balasubramanian December 3, 2008 um 3:17 am

Just read your post and thanks for the reassurance.
I regularly read your blog (though I rarely comment:) ) and I just love your pictures. And the food, of course, but its the pictures first for me.

Jen Yu December 3, 2008 um 4:31 am

Sweetness! I am in the same issue (thanks to your recommendation). Nice pointers, and I’m glad to see that your setup is as junky as mine (reflectors, tripod, etc.) Now we just need a third hand… oh wait, do they call those "assistants"?? 🙂 I’ll get Kaweah, you can get Bail- er, I mean Tippy 🙂 xxoo

Rita December 3, 2008 um 5:13 am

I read your tips and I found them super helpful and easyto understand. I’ll be using them, thanks so much for sharing!

Anonymous December 3, 2008 um 5:13 am

Thank you! Thank you for taking the time in your emails to send me some pointers and tips and for doing this also.

Sunshinemom December 3, 2008 um 5:34 am

Oh thanks! I am just going off to read those tips, and all about the cookies too!

Helene December 3, 2008 um 6:08 am

Thank you all for your nice comments here and on Leemei’s site!

Mallory: Yes! The Bridge Run is huge here in April!! I need to get the link to the site out to you soon. I love the idea of a Cupcake Marathon!! I will make sure my knee caps hold on until then!!

Christy December 3, 2008 um 8:26 am

I agree on kicking back once in a while with a cupcake recipe…after all we deserve a break!! I’ve just read through Dessert Mag’s latest issue…and I’m so excited about those cookies!! Heading down to My Cooking Hut now…

Anonymous December 3, 2008 um 9:33 am

I whish possess just a very few talent in photography to enjoy your precious tips! 🙁
maybe one day…

ChichaJo December 3, 2008 um 11:19 am

I’ve saved the recipe for this cupcake…thank you for sharing it! It looks like just the type of cupcake I’d like 🙂 Not that I wouldn’t like the fancy things too! Although I’d much sooner eat a fancy dessert than try to make it 😉

Will head over to ready your guest post now!

Culinary Wannabe December 3, 2008 um 11:31 am

Cream cheese buttercream – yes, please!!

Cannelle Et Vanille December 3, 2008 um 12:52 pm

What a great guest article Helen! That will be so useful for so many! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us!

pastry studio December 3, 2008 um 1:22 pm

Thank you so much for writing this piece on photography. It’s the greatest challenge for me but one which I find I really love. I only wish I had the time to study it fully.

Your work is always phenomenal. Thank you for sharing your experience!

Nina Timm December 3, 2008 um 1:32 pm

I have learned a lot from your tutorial and can only aspire to be as good as you!!!
Cupcakes are always a winner around here!!

Sandra Le Petrin December 3, 2008 um 2:07 pm

Merci merci!! my printer ran out of paper with all the cookie recipes on Dessert Magazine. Thank you so much for the link!
Love your baking, love your photos, love you 😉

Anonymous December 3, 2008 um 2:26 pm

You know, most people would refrain from writing this wanting to keep some tips secret and all, but you don’t. You are a great teacher and really believe in passsing information forward. That’s why you are such an awesome friend and auntie!!

Melita December 3, 2008 um 2:26 pm

Love the article on photography! So many good tips, esp. for me living in a constantly cloudy MI.
I am definitely trying these lovely cupcakes!

Anonymous December 3, 2008 um 3:29 pm

Thank you so much for taking the time to share all the wonderful tips!

Cherie December 3, 2008 um 5:19 pm

Does the vintage camera on the first photo work still?
Please say yes! Where did you get it?

Anonymous December 3, 2008 um 6:35 pm

What your readers don’t know is that by 4pm, we are all standing under that window screaming for sweets!! So…that’s what the white drape is there for!

Parisbreakfasts December 3, 2008 um 7:09 pm

W O W !!!!!
Did you say which kind of tripod you use..?
your photos have grown…VERY BIG!
Is there a new trick from Blogger?
xoxo cg

Snooky doodle December 3, 2008 um 7:34 pm

your comments are always amazing 🙂

Snooky doodle December 3, 2008 um 7:35 pm

ups I meant your photos . 🙂 sorry

Lynne December 3, 2008 um 8:02 pm

Love your photos – they are gorgeous. SO important in a food blog, I always think.

Anonymous December 3, 2008 um 9:39 pm

Absolutely lovely!

Mike of Mike's Table December 3, 2008 um 10:14 pm

Off to read it now–I’m happy to take any tips from you as your photos are always phenomenal! And cupcakes are always a crowd pleaser

Valentina December 3, 2008 um 10:56 pm

You are one of the people who have inspired me throughout the years. Your photos -not to mention fabulous creations,are just amazing. i am not familiar with this publication. I will make myself familiar with it.

Philosophie December 4, 2008 um 2:15 am

Hey, thanks for the blog comment 😀 Your blog is one-of-a-kind & i love it!

PheMom December 4, 2008 um 2:59 am

That is my most favorite cake/frosting combo. The cupcakes are gorgeous! Your blog always inspires me to keep going, keep trying, and keep trying to be a better writer. I always love reading what you have to say – so recommendations on what/who else to read are especially duly noted. Thanks!

Anonymous December 4, 2008 um 5:39 am

I have been a long time reader and always marveled at your photography skills. It’s good to see that you make do with what you have and are so thorough in all your explanations. Thank you!

Helene December 4, 2008 um 5:42 am

Carol: I use a 30 year tripod I inherited from the husband so it’s probably not very useful info now but they sure don’t make them like they used to! This one is a beast!!
Re-pics: I upload them from Flickr in an embeded link. Sometimes photobucket but they are either too big or too small there.

Shaheen December 4, 2008 um 5:54 am

Helen, I loved your guest post. LLearned a lot there! Thank you so much 😀

MyKitchenInHalfCups December 4, 2008 um 3:12 pm

Yes, ma’m, sharing. On order.

Nic December 4, 2008 um 3:27 pm

I don’t think it’s rude at all, but I’m glad you did because the cupcakes look fabulous!
I’m going to enjoy reading your photography post, your photos are awesome,

veggie belly December 4, 2008 um 6:46 pm

Ive never used buttermilk in cupcakes before! I’d love to try this. Gorgeous picture!

Anonymous December 4, 2008 um 8:39 pm

Un petit coucou en passant pour te souhaiter un bon week-end.

limonana December 5, 2008 um 4:47 am

fantastic tips!! thanks for sharing them so generously…

Anonymous December 5, 2008 um 11:01 am

I would like to say that I want to be as good photographer as you when I grow up but I realize that maybe I will need more than one life for that…

Well, I always can enjoy your pics, it is a real pleasure.

Thank you for sharings your tips and secrets. 😉

Anonymous December 5, 2008 um 3:22 pm

You are such a pro… your photos are always so appealing! Glad you are sharing some of your tips and tricks. Off to read about it now!

Rachael Hutchings December 6, 2008 um 3:52 pm

Those cupcakes look to die for! Will you be my aunt too??? I LOVED your guest post. You are way to modest, you seriously are amazing. I think I’m SLOWLY getting better, but have been struggling with getting the foreground of my shots to focus and I think my struggle with light will be an eternal one!

insanemommy December 3, 2009 um 7:56 pm

Curious, do you refreigerate your cupcakes once you've iced them with the butter cream cheese icing?? AND, if not, how does the icing fare? I've found mine to go limp….any suggestions would be welcome.

Rony 🙂

Unknown March 26, 2010 um 11:49 am

than you for this recipe. my question is for what can i substitute the buttermilk since we do not use it.thank you.

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