Posts Tagged 'Cupcakes'

the dirt dog

I had a milestone birthday last week. It was the big 4–0. My friend Jeremy turned forty a full week before I did, so at least I had someone to walk me through it. Jeremy’s main issue with it all was that people kept asking him how he was doing, and was he okay – as if he had just been diagnosed with some strange illness. If anyone had doubts about my health and well being they kept it well hidden. For the most part, I just found that people were extra special nice on to me on this particular birthday. To be honest, I thought turning forty was really pretty fun.

I decided to take full advantage of the occasion. I even played the “I deserve a big gift” card with my husband. But I’m embarrassed to admit that my heart’s one true desire upon turning forty was . . . was, well, a vacuum cleaner. Yes, I could have probably asked for just about anything, and I go and pick a vacuum cleaner. But a nice vacuum cleaner. The truth is, I love to vacuum. I find it immensely satisfying. Therapeutic even. The fact that the house gets clean in the process almost seems like an added bonus. But I’ve always been underwhelmed with the performance of my vacuum. For years, I’ve suffered from serious vacuum cleaner lust.

Mark went above and beyond the call of duty and even agreed to go vacuum cleaner shopping with me. He patiently stood by while I test drove various models, hemming and hawing over hose lengths and onboard attachments. In the end, I settled on a Dyson. And I LOVE it. It’s purple, it’s cute, and weighing in just shy of 12 pounds, it is extremely maneuverable. It’s relatively quiet, it sucks up pet fur like nobody’s business, it’s compact and easy to store. I often worried that my old vacuum had as much dust billowing out of it as it was taking in – not with the Dyson. There isn’t a single thing I don’t love about my new vac. Mark calls it the Dirt Dog. Loyal and eager to please. It might just be my new best friend.
I even got to try out my new toy a few days prior to my actual birthday. A handful of friends were coming over to celebrate with cocktails on the deck. True, we were going to be outside, but still, shouldn’t the rest of the house be clean too? Mark conceded and let me vacuum till my heart’s content. Bookshelves, couch, ceiling fan, floor vents. Nothing was safe from the reach of my new wand. With the vacuuming out of the way, I turned to the party food. I decided to keep it simple and settled on a few of my favorite finger food type hors d’oeuvres. Drinks to combat the hot weather were easy too – refreshing minty bootlegs and icy tart cherry cosmopolitans. Leaving only the cake to figure out.
I grew up with pineapple upside down cake. I’m pretty sure as a kid it was all about the maraschino cherries. But somewhere along the line, the rest of the ensemble grew on me too. I still love the unmistakable sweet tang of pineapple mixed with plain old vanilla cake. Plus, there’s no denying how fun and silly it is. Which is why I thought this would be just the cake to ring in my fourth decade.
Even though I was throwing a little party to celebrate, I pondered over how to avoid a big fuss over an actual birthday cake. And then it hit me. Cupcakes. Just the discreetness I was looking for. So I took my grandmother’s pineapple upside down cake recipe and modified it for the cupcake tin. I also decided for a more grownup approach with the cherries. I took a handful of fresh picked tart cherries and soaked them in rum and honey for a few days. I think it’s safe to say I’ve found my maraschino cherry replacement.
The cupcakes were adorable. I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to my standard skillet version. Each cupcake was so personalized with its mini ring of pineapple and cherry. And topped with a dollop of rum spiked whipped cream, theses little handheld cakes gave the typical wedge of cake a run for the money.
Pineapple Upside Down Cupcakes
Makes 16 average size (2 1/2″)  cupcakes

For the cherries:
16 tart cherries, whole and pitted
2 tablespoons honey
4 tablespoons dark rum

Mix rum and honey well and leave cherries to soak, covered, for 3 to 4 days.

For the topping:
4 tablespoons butter
16 teaspoons dark brown or muscovado sugar
16 pineapple rings
16 rum and honey soaked cherries

For the cake:
3 eggs
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup reserved pineapple juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon slat

Preheat oven to 375º F. Grease 16 muffin wells with cooking spray or butter. Cut each tablespoon of butter into quarters to make 16 little cubes of butter. In each well, put a cube of butter and 1 teaspoon brown sugar. Pop the muffin pan(s) into the warm oven for a few seconds to melt the butter and sugar. Remove from heat. Depending on the size of the pineapple rings, slice anywhere from a  1/4″ to 1/2″ section out of the ring. Do a test ring to determine how much you need to slice out. The cut ring should lay neatly into the muffin well, sort of reforming a complete circle. Put a ring of pineapple in each well, followed by a cherry pushed into the center of each ring.

For the cake, separate the three eggs, reserving the whites into their own bowl. Beat the yolks until light and smooth. Add the sugar, pineapple juice, and vanilla. Beat until the sugar is well dissolved. Sift together the flower, baking powder, and salt. Stir into the egg mixture. Beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Fold whites gently into the batter. Pour over the fruit, filling each well 3/4 full.

Start the cupcakes baking at 375º F and trun down the heat to 350º F after about 5 minutes. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from oven. After a few minutes, run a knife around each cupcake until they seem loose. Put a large cookie sheet on top of the muffin pan and carefully flip the whole works over to release the inverted cakes. Let cool.

For the spirited whipped cream:
I cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 tablespoon dark rum
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Beat everything together in a cold mixing bowl until desired consistency is reached. But don’t do like I did on my birthday and almost make spirited butter instead.

pinch me

It’s National Vanilla Cupcake Day. I know this because not one, not two, but three different people have e-mailed to tell me so. Is this some sort of sign? I’m not sure exactly what it means, but I guess it really doesn’t matter, because I just happen to have a vanilla cupcake recipe that I am smitten with. So much so that I really don’t have eyes for any other.

A few years ago, my husband Mark and I took and impromptu trip to Savannah, Georgia to fend off the end-of-winter-blues. We spent a sun drenched week lounging in the lush public squares in the historic district – there are 21 of them, and I’m pretty sure we hit them all.

Midway through the trip we also made an excursion to the weekly farmer’s market. I believe we bought a hunk of local cheese and a baguette to round out yet another perfect afternoon spent relaxing in front of an azalea rimmed fountain. I also picked up a post card from the bread stand at the market. It was a photo of an old fashioned pink ballerina cake topper, advertising the Back in the Day Bakery – and it caught my attention. I stuffed it away in the book I was reading and didn’t think of it again until our last day in town. We were facing the standard “what to do with the last few hours before you have to catch a cab to the airport” dilemma. And then, I remembered the bakery.

There was a small map printed on the back of the post card and it showed the bakery residing just beyond Forsyth Park at the south end of the historic district. Having walked the entire week, this seemed like an easily attainable goal. Unbeknownst to us, however, the scale of the map changed somewhat upon leaving the historic district. We walked, and walked, and walked – to the point where sheer determination alone to find it set in. Plane? What plane?

But we eventually reached our destination, and the minute I crossed over the threshold, I knew I was at home. It was everything you would imagine a place called “Back in the Day…” might be. The decor, the details – it was all so entirely perfect. We ordered cupcakes and coffee and settled in at a small table to take in the atmosphere. And then – much to my delight – the bakery owner, Cheryl, came out from the back and introduced herself. I don’t know, maybe it was me going gaga over everything in the display case that clued her in. Or maybe she overheard me proclaiming to Mark that we should seriously consider relocating to Savannah so I could get a job at the bakery. Either way, here’s where the story gets especially good. As if chatting with her about baking and the bakery business wasn’t enough – she left me with her vanilla cupcake recipe. Pinch me! It was one of the most delightful cupcakes I had ever enjoyed and I was thrilled to have the recipe. Perhaps it was the marathon walk to get to them, but having made them several times since, I think they can hold their own just fine.

One of my favorite things about this recipe – besides the obvious outcome – is the unusual prep. She lets the mixer do the sifting and there is no creaming of the butter and eggs involved. It all gets added straight to the flour. I usually make my frosting a light shade of pink as a nod to my first “official” Old Fashioned, Back in the Day cupcake. This is a fairly large recipe. I typically halve it and end up with about 14 or so standard cupcakes, or 48 two-inch mini cupcakes. What follows is the full recipe – after all, it IS National Vanilla Cupcake Day. Go a little crazy.

Old Fashioned Cupcakes

1 3/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into cubes
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325º F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. Combine in a bowl both flours, sugar, baking powder and salt. Mix on low speed until combined for about 3 minutes. Add in cubed butter, mixing until just coated with flour. Add eggs 1 at a time until combined. Slowly add milk and vanilla to batter until completely mixed scraping down the bowl as you mix. Scoop batter into baking cups filling about 2/3 full. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 17 to 20 minutes (mini cupcakes – which I am especially fond of – require less time). Cool and decorate with Old Fashioned Frosting.

Old Fashioned Frosting

2 sticks butter, room temperature
8 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or other flavoring

Cream softened butter and add 4 cups sugar, milk and vanilla. Beat with paddle attachment until smooth gradually add the rest of sugar to reach your desired frosting consistency.