baking

pick me up


tiramisu cupcake

Hello, pretty little boozy tiramisu cupcake! You will not last long, sitting there adorably with your mascarpone floppy mop-top.

tiramisu cupcake

Thank goodness you were poked up by a fork straight out of the oven, now you can soak up that espresso-marsala syrup deep into the core of your cakey being. And oh, my! You may be cute and sweet, but you pack a caffeinated boozy punch.

I highly recommend anyone who wants you in their life to watch the video(s) to get a better idea of how you, little cupcake, came to be constructed.

baking

IOU RVC

She’s back, and she’s claiming her cupcakes.  So said the message I received not too long ago from Tanima, and I was excited and anxious. Excited to see her, and anxious that the cupcakes I owed her better turn out well after the wait. I met Tanima two years ago at my first Christmas on the west coast, and found out quickly that she is glamorous, funny, and a wicked good cook. She was visiting Monisha from back East, and her visit and my new arrival made it a great opportunity to have fun around the area – including a weekend ski trip to Tahoe. Now, mind you, I can not ski. So, after a day of butt-hurting falls down the bunny slope I wanted to commune with nature’s cold wet blanket no more.  So one afternoon I stayed in our cozy cabin, pumped up the jams way too loud (“Humpty Dance” NEEDS to blasted to be appreciated properly) and relaxed by baking up a batch of coconut cupcakes. These cupcakes are awesomely scrumptious, and they look like sparkling snowflakes so I always associate them with winter.  When they returned, the group nibbled on them and then some more and then we were having a full-fledged cupcake party and were littered by little paper wrappers everywhere. Before she departed, Tanima promised to return for another west coast extravaganza, and that upon her return I was to make special delicious cupcakes to mark the occasion. We decided on red velvet cupcakes, because that seems pretty special and definitely delicious.  These are those cupcakes.

baking

have your beer and eat it too

I promise this will be the last cupcake post for some time. They’re just really fun to make and then give away to all the people you know so that you don’t have any left in your house to tempt you late at night, after feeding the cat, while doing the dishes, or for breakfast as part of a not-so-healthy diet.  I like chocolate cupcakes, but sometimes that’s too easy and boring for me. (Even with the vegan ones, I really feel that adding the chocolate chips to the batter added some needed oomph, although the cupcakes are yummy on their own.) So, when I came across this Dave Lieberman recipe for Guinness stout chocolate cupcakes it was a melding of all things delicious in my life coming together in perfect harmony. Guinness already tastes like a meal – malty, bittersweet, rich, and creamy all at the same time.  It’s the perfect foil for chocolate, really. This recipe would probably be excellent substituted with Young’s Double Stout which tastes like Cadbury chocolate beer to me. But don’t be dismayed if you are not a beer-drinker: these cupcakes don’t taste like beer. They taste like a rich chocolate cake with…..something….what is that other flavor? Is it a different spice? Is something healthy like a vegetable sneaked into here? If you give these to your friends, they’d never know what that mystery ingredient was, until you point out that particular malty bite – then of course! it’s all so apparent now. The cream cheese frosting pairs perfectly with the Guinness flavor – however I added scraped vanilla bean with delicious results. You could also use the mascarpone frosting from the carrot cupcakes or a vanilla buttercream, but I’d definitely keep the topping white to mimic the head of a cold, refreshing (and filling) freshly pulled pint of Guinness.

baking

10 carrot gold

Oh, autumn. Glorious harvest time with hearty autumnal aromas – sweet chestnuts, mulled ciders, baked apples. Fall always reminds me of baking with robust flavors – sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkins.  Hmm, there’s a weirdly vegetable-y trend there.  My favorite vegetable-y baked sweetness is a nutty spiced carrot cake, but somehow I associate carrots with spring baking rather then the autumn harvest – even though they’re grown year-round. (Easter bunny, maybe?)  This great recipe from picky cook (+ bonus heartwarming love story, gratis!) makes fantastic carrot cupcakes that feel more like autumn than spring – they’re light and moist, but delicately spiced and feel hearty with an abundance of nuttiness.  B is a big fan of these, and he’s somewhat of a carrot cake connoisseur so I hold his opinion on this subject in great esteem. I substituted chopped pecans for the walnuts because I prefer their sweetness and although I don’t approve of it, I suppose you could add raisins, too. (I am anti-raisin in most things except oatmeal cookies and Raisin Bran.) I especially adore the lightness and subtle sweetness from the mascarpone frosting – it cuts the sourness from a straightlaced cream-cheese frosting without mitigating the creamy tang that offsets carrot cake so well.  I think I’d rather use this mascarpone/cream cheese mashup for all of my cream cheese frosting needs, actually. The cupcakes, grainy and wholesome, are delicious on their own as well.

baking

can’t tell that they’re vegan cupcakes

Cooking shows always disappoint me when it comes to vegan food.  Inevitably, during a vegan challenge on Top Chef the creative and experienced chefs collectively groan and panic.  This is usually followed by a presentation of salads and roasted vegetables. Really? I’m not a vegan, but I’ve had fantastic Indian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, and Southeast Asian food which happened to vegan as well. Nothing tastes like a poor substitute, because it’s all made true to the cuisine with spice, herbs, and texture.  The only time I’m wary of vegan food, to be honest, is with baked goods.  I find that it’s hard to recreate the richness of eggs, cream, and butter and the end product can at times be brittle, dry, or pasty. And it’s not just vegan baking, I’m not a huge fan of “diet” baking either. If you’re going to indulge, go for it all the way!

Recently I went to a vegan potluck birthday party and I decided to overcome this hang-up and make a vegan dessert of my own. I found this recipe for chocolate cupcakes at Chow which seemed to be a good start. I decided to add chocolate chips to the batter to add to the richness (it’s vegan, but it’s not health food, people). Happily, chocolate chips that are semisweet without milk solids or dark chocolate may be vegan, although they may not be advertised as such so just make sure to check the label. The 360 brand at Whole Foods and Trader Joes’ chocolate chips are some examples.  The cupcakes are wonderfully moist, sinfully chocolatey and its impossibly difficult to eat just one. When it came to the frosting, the accompanying recipe calls for a mixture of vegan shortening and margarine whipped to a fluffy consistency. The thought of shortening in any form kind of grosses me out, vegan or not. Instead, I made a faux buttercream using the Earth Balance vegan buttery sticks, powdered sugar, and vanilla bean – which I loved. I can not stress enough – do not skimp on the sugar! The Earth Balance bars only come salted, so the frosting can become too salty  if you hesitate on the sugar.  You can always add a bit of soy milk to make sure the consistency turns out into spreadable/pipeable creamy perfection.  At the party, amongst the fruit salads and store-bought vegan cookies, these cupcakes were a hit and no one could tell that they were vegan.  I would make these again without a doubt – a truly decadent dessert that loses no flavor or texture just by being vegan.

baking

the cupcakes that started it all

When I was young, my mom told me that a freckle on your right hand is a sign of a good cook.  As I searched my limbs for this cosmic trait, my eyes widened at the freckle above my elbow.  Does that even count?  It’s on my arm.  In Bengali, haath can mean hand or arm, so I was uncertain of my fate.  My mom deftly exercised her own freckle-power; armed with my grandmother’s million variations on curry, she came to America and added a delectable Thanksgiving turkey, a rustic spaghetti, and my favorite french toast to her repertoire.  In comparison, I’m pretty sure my freckle is too far up to have an effect.  And yet, it’s just too much fun cooking, baking, learning and trying (despite some inedible disasters along the way).

One of my husband’s great loves is the cupcake.  So naturally, I had to master that little harlot if I was going to truly keep his undivided attention.  Six years ago, my friend Julie was living in New york and she told me of this famous bakery that made the most delicious everything.  For my birthday, she sent me The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook with some fabulous raspberry crumb squares that she made.  Two weeks later, I made their vanilla cupcakes for Wes’ birthday and it was love at first bite.  Perfectly moist, crumby, buttery goodness topped with real buttercream – guaranteed to kickstart your own cupcake love story.

Traditional Vanilla Birthday Cake

The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook, Jennifer Appel and Allysa Torrey

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 and 1/2 cups self-rising flour

1 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake papers.

In a large bowl, one the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth.  Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Combine the flours and add in four parts, alternating with the milk and the vanilla extract, beating well after each addition.

Spoon the batter into the cups about three-quarters full.  Bake until tops spring back when lightly touched, about 20-22 minutes.  Remove cupcakes from pans and cool completely on a rack before icing.

Makes 24 cupcakes or 1 three-layer 9-inch cake

Traditional Vanilla Buttercream

The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook, Jennifer Appel and Allysa Torrey

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, very soft

8 cups confectioner’s sugar

1/2 cup milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Place butter in a large mixing bowl.  Add 4 cups of the sugar and then the milk and the vanilla extract.  Beat until smooth and creamy.  Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, until icing is thick enough to be of good spreading consistency (you may very well not need all of the sugar).  If desired, add a few drops of food coloring and mix thoroughly.  Use and store icing at room temperature, as icing will set if chilled.  Can store in airtight container up to three days.