you go on, eat your cupcake.

Have you ever noticed that people will turn down a slice of cake but seldom a cupcake? Why is that? Perhaps it’s because the cupcake is already portioned out. Perhaps it’s because you can eat it with your hands. But I’d like to think it’s because people like to lick the frosting off first – which is totally acceptable social behavior - and is what I do.

I don’t eat cupcakes very often, especially since embarking on the whole lifestyle change thing last year; but I have a theory about them which is the same theory I have about mocha lattes. They’re a treat, so treat yourself. I don’t order my mochas fat free and with no whipped cream; it seems blasphemous to even consider that. Then again, I only have a mocha about once or twice a year; I have it, I’m sated, and I’m happy. Besides, I gave up coffee a few months back. No, I’ve not gone crazy. See, my deal with coffee is that I do like it; I love the smell of it brewing, I love the taste. But I realized that I was drinking too much crappy coffee and it wasn’t making me happy. I think in general Americans drink too much crappy coffee and don’t even notice it. When I was in Houston last month, the hotel had one of those two-cuppa coffee makers in the room, but the coffee they provided was what an ex of mine used to call “sock juice”: it looked like coffee; the aroma promised you depth of flavor, but in the end tasted flat and burnt. Yet we seem to keep forking out our hard earned dough for this. So now, I only drink coffee every now and again on the weekend, and even so it’s only about a cup’s worth; but it’s enough to remind me that I’d rather have a quality cup o’ joe than a crappy one that tastes like burnt sock juice.

Anyhoo. Where was I before that rant? Oh yeah. Full fat treats.

And by treats, I mean “occasionally”, which to me doesn’t mean once a week, or even once a month for that matter. But sometimes you just want a good ol’ basic cupcake that isn’t some weird combination of flavors (wasabi and ginger, anyone?). I’m not trying to reinvent anything here. I just want a friggin treat.

So i’ve taken a hiatus of sorts from the blawg, for a couple of different reasons. Well, you all know about reason #1 (my nutty family and the aftermath). Reason #2 is that my day job has become a soul-sucking experience. The 12 to 14 hour days are killing me. Somehow, in the midst of all this, I’m still managing to take two holistic nutrition classes online and start a business with my buddy Ryan (she of the turkey chili – you can follow her on Twitter @realestryan). I’m trying to change my career because I really dislike the path I’ve gone down. There’s a scene in that movie Under the Tuscan Sun (yes, I’m about to get all girly on you), where Sandra Oh’s character is telling Diane Lane’s character about how sometimes you run into some people you haven’t seen in a while and you think, What the hell happened to them? Because they’ve become an empty shell of what they once were. That these people came to a crossroads in their lives and didn’t take the right path. I feel like at some point I may have gone down that path. This soul-sucking job I have is making me an empty shell of a person. I didn’t realize how much I absolutely despise what I do for a living until I got this job back in April, and now I’m trying to change that and I’m no longer going to be a chickenshit at the crossroads.

Ryan and I are doing some small scale catering, mostly on the weekends; and the cupcakes in the photo above were for a baby shower last weekend (we made vanilla and strawberry ones). I have a lot of catering experience, having worked most of my life previous to the corporate life in the food industry. In fact, even when we lived in Maryland where the boy cheffed at a couple of places in Annapolis, I would help him with offsite catering jobs on the weekends and when I wasn’t working the day job. I love that atmosphere, I love being around food and slightly stressed out over time constraints, and I love how I feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. The happiest I’ve been lately was last Sunday when I got home from another gig Ryan and I did and I poured myself a glass of wine and emptied the dishwasher. For the record: I LOATHE emptying the dishwasher. I don’t know why, really; it’s just one of my most detested household chores. Yet I found myself unloading it without feeling any animosity and with a big fat smile on my face.

Change is good. I think.

Vanilla cupcakes
- makes 24 cupcakes; frosting recipe to follow

The cupcakes were adapted from a cake recipe in Baking Illustrated. The good folks at Cooks Illustrated have never steered me wrong. And as to all the butter in the buttercream, well yeah. Like I said above, this is a treat. It’s not like you’re going to eat all the darned cupcakes yourself. You’ll have one and share the others, right? Right.

For the cupcakes:

. 1 ¾ cups cake flour
. 4 large eggs at room temperature
. ½ cup whole milk at room temperature
. 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
. 1 ½ cups sugar
. 2 teaspoons baking powder
. ¾ teaspoon salt
. 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into 16 pieces

1. Heat oven to 350 ° F. Put paper cupcake liners in 2 12-cup cupcake tins.

2. Put the eggs, milk, and vanilla in a small bowl and beat with a fork. Measure out 1 cup of this and set it aside.

3. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer (if you don’t have a stand mixer, handheld will do just fine). Mix the ingredients well with a fork. Turn the mixer on the lowest speed and add the butter one piece at a time; mix until it looks like pebbly sand, with pieces about the size of peas, about 30 seconds after the butter is added. Add the 1 cup of reserved egg mixture and mix on low until incorporated, about 10 seconds. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. with the mixer still running, add the remaining egg mixture in a slow stream, taking about 30 seconds. Stop mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Turn the mixer back on to medium high speed until it’s thoroughly combined (it will look slightly curdled), about 15 seconds.

4. Using an ice cream scoop (or a couple of large spoons), scoop the batter into the cupcake liners but only fill them no more than ¾ the way full. You should have enough for exactly 24 cupcakes. Put pans in the oven and bake for approximately 17 to 18 minutes (check at 15 by inserting a bamboo skewer or cake tester into the middle of one of the cupcakes to see if it comes out clean). Remove pans from oven and let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then carefully remove the cupcakes from the pans and let cool completely on wire racks before frosting.

Rich vanilla buttercream frosting
– adapted from Baking Illustrated

. 4 large eggs
. 1 cup sugar
. 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
. Pinch of salt
. 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1. Combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer; place the bowl over a pan of simmering water but do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water, should be above it by a few inches. Whisking constantly, heat the mixture until it is thin and foamy and registers 160 °F on a thermometer.

2. Take the bowl off the water and attach to the standing mixture (can be done with handheld beaters too). Beat the mixture on medium high speed until light and airy, about 5 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter one piece at a time. Once all the butter is added, increase the speed to high and beat for 1 minute until light and fluffy.

I would use the frosting the day you make it, because should you put it in the fridge, the butter will re-solidify;  it’ll take some time to get back to room temperature and it may split on you, meaning the butter solids will break up. Not good. I speak from experience.

Also, when specified to use products at room temperature, I mean it. If your butter is not at room temperature, you won’t get the best consistency and texture in your frosting.


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