As the rest of the food world in the northern hemisphere is beginning to notice the gold and amber in leaves, refreshing dampness in the air, and hope to soon realize their desires for large pots of savory delicacies or comforting treats made of apples and cinnamon, I’ve decided that a bit of lime and blackberries are in order. After all, the southern hemisphere is just now packing away flannels and sweaters, perhaps wanting bright flavors that conjure a dreamy afternoon spent in a place perfect to accomplish not much of anything. I wouldn’t mind that about now, sitting here with slippers and a sweater wrapped about myself, our windows snapped shut earlier than I can remember in years. October will be here in a couple of weeks, and still the warm fall days I expected to make up for a summer that never really was, have still not arrived. The air here is damp as well, and the salt-tinged breezes blowing in from the ocean tend to be brisk, making my evening walks a good time to breathe deeply, taking it all in. It’s good weather for taking stock, and thinking about what might be if one can put her mind to it — always a good thing.
Some would say cupcakes are always a good thing as well, but I’m not sure I agree, not completely understanding the semi-maniacal swoon inducing craze over what amounts to a bite or two of cake. A sometimes too precious thing that, if you’re not careful, will land frosting side down when you least want it to, spoiling the perfect swirl of creaminess that, when the first big bite is taken, often ends up in your nose.
Not exactly precious, but definitely hilarious. A redeeming quality.
Yesterday was my oldest son’s birthday, and although I do make him a cake from one year to the next (he’s 31), I didn’t this year. Retrospectively, I did decide that the cupcakes made as a Valentine’s Day treat for my two remaining menfolk-in-residence might be as good a reason as any to coerce me to sit and write something in celebration. My oldest loves chocolate cake, and had I asked what he might enjoy for his birthday, he’d have said chocolate. Anything with chocolate. Like his mother, he can do without the calories, so I think it’s fitting this year that a photo of a birthday cupcake take the place of the real McCoy as long as I can get him to look at my blog. I’m not holding my breath because as my grandmother would have said, the chances are “slim to none and Slim’s on a fast train out of town.”
Where was I?
Cupcakes. True to form, I haven’t tried either the cake or frosting recipe before, but have tried many others from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. This is the book I go to when I want to experiment. If you’re not familiar with it, you won’t see glossy photos of each recipe. It’s more of a work horse cookbook. What sets it apart from other cookbooks is the way the ingredients are listed. Measurements are provided by volume and weight which makes it quite easy to divide a recipe or to adjust ingredient quantities. Cakes are presented in one section and toppings in another and although Beranbaum makes suggestions about which go best together, I enjoy considering all the options. Each recipe also contains a brief section on “understanding” where the science is explained. As much as I’ve been an avid cook most of my life, I don’t always understand how or why certain ingredients interact with one another, so it’s helpful to understand what may not work when I’m experimenting.
What caught my attention with this recipe was the brown sugar — not something I’m used to seeing in a recipe for chocolate cake. Equally interesting was the recipe for the buttercream. Yes, it has an alarming amount of butter in it (hence the name “butter” cream…), but it’s made with egg whites instead of egg yolks, and they aren’t cooked as they would be in a mousseline buttercream. Both recipes work quite nicely with one another and make a very chocolatey combo that the resident menfolk finished off in a couple of bites — even if it wasn’t in celebration of either of their birthdays.
Speaking of birthdays, Sass & Veracity turns a big three years old this month and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to share with you that Saveur magazine has graciously nominated me in their 1st Annual Best Food Blog Awards in the “Best Individual Post” category. I’m very honored considering those whose work is sitting alongside mine. They understand the time and effort it takes to put a good post together — let alone two or three in a week. The post Saveur has chosen to focus on is one I wrote after returning from Puerto Vallarta last spring at about the time that H1N1 was gaining momentum. A group of friends and I met there in celebration of a 40th birthday only to find that we may have trouble getting back across the border. We didn’t, of course, and thankfully I was able to have fun with my own version of Mexican street tacos, which have absolutely nothing to do with chocolate fudge cupcakes or birthdays.
Are you with me?
When we are invited to my husband’s sister’s house, I usually offer to bring a salad and dessert. When I think of it, that pretty much sums me up, and I’m smiling because I’ve never thought about it quite like that before. I love salad and vegetables, and I enjoy making dessert. Often those are the two items people may not have time to make when they’re putting a big dinner together, so I also like to think that my contributions lighten the load a bit. If you really know me, you’re thinking she just needs guinea pigs for her experimental cooking and you’d be exactly right.
But since this past weekend we were celebrating Easter and there would be two very cute little kids there, I decided to make cupcakes. Fluffy, frilly, sprinkly cupcakes.
Pink cupcakes. Hopefully my nephew would see past the color and focus on the flavor?
Right about the time I was finished decorating and positioning the cupcakes for photos, it occurred to me that I’d have a problem getting them to our destination in pristine form. I’d blame this on bad planning, but it’s more a case of cerebral flatulence. Usually, I’m fine carrying whatever it is I’ve made while my husband drives, making sure that while we’re on our way, going down steep hills or around corners doesn’t cause everything to slide around. But my husband was at work last Saturday, and we’d agreed that I’d pick him up on our way. Just a bit of a problem.
I drove carrying a plate of these lovelies held like a waitress carries a tray just waiting for someone to see me and think oh jeez, now I’ve seen everything or ask if they might sample one as they pass by in the cross walk. I was semi-successful getting them to their destination with only a couple of mishaps barely noticeable by my darling little niece who greeted me at the door all dressed in pink.
I believe that I’m a muffin person more so than a cupcake person. Muffins seem to be less work, more humble, and are at least somewhat capable of providing flavor without a lot of sugar so I can dupe myself into thinking that the morsel I’m about to pop into my mouth is good for me. Then I can have two.
Realistically, the only other big difference between a muffin and a cupcake is frosting, isn’t it? Well, and all those cutesy decorations everyone’s putting on cupcakes these days. Both muffins and cupcakes are transportable, which makes foisting the leftover onto unsuspecting co-workers expected, but when you travel with top-heavy cupcakes, don’t they usually end up on the floor of your car when you brake to avoid the bumper of the person in front of you who didn’t see the red light because she was putting on her make up while driving? Muffins would survive that trip to the floor unfazed and looking just as comely as they did before the mishap.
But I think I’ve found a happy medium. Something with pieces of fruit, nuts, some spice…and a lovely cream cheese frosting. Humble, not cloyingly sweet, and very satisfying. And yes, sporting a bit of a decoration as well. Have you ever made your own apple chips?
You won’t have to grab a second because these are anything but bite-sized. In fact, you’ll need a friend to share one with. I’m sharing mine with Fanny of Foodbeam for SHF: Cupcakes the Final Chapter. They’re definitely…
Not. Just. Pretty.
When I was growing up, we lived next door to a family that kept a small garden just on the other side of a small picket fence behind our house. I’m sure there was a variety of things growing in that garden, but I only remember one. Strawberries. I watched them grow from tiny green berries into large, red lusciousness warmed by the afternoon sun and oh so fragrant. There was no question that I’d inevitably pick a few whether invited to or not. I couldn’t help myself. Had my mother known, it would have been a problem because she’d say it was stealing. Then she’d tell my father and that wasn’t a pleasant thought. But somehow, when I leaned over that little fence and picked the first berry of the season, brushing off the damp soil before sinking my teeth into it, nothing else mattered. I loved strawberries that much.
Fortunately, strawberries are available year round here, and although their flavor will never compare to those I enjoyed as a kid, I still love them. So it was quite the coincidence when I was asked recently about a strawberry cake. Not strawberry short cake, or cake with strawberries nestled between its layers. A strawberry flavored cake.
Hmmm…what about cupcakes instead, topped with a swirl of strawberry buttercream. Or maybe a little bit of white cake, and a little bit of strawberry cake…the possibilities are endless. Regardless, it did give me the opportunity to use a new cookbook, The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. And since I had the entire day to myself, I decided to compare two recipes for strawberry puree: one would go in a buttercream frosting, and the other would flavor one of the cakes. The other would remain white. Why the comparison? Because surprisingly, Beranbaum suggests that frozen berries are much better to use than fresh berries, even when they’re at peak season. Who knew?
In the meantime, Mike’s Table is celebrating this favorite fruit of mine with quite the seductive strawberry fest, so this qualifies as my submission.