Adventures of a Cupcake Fairy
In Tuesday's blog space and in this week's chat, I suggested looking to the kitchen as a place of comfort and solace as we, as a nation, mourn and try to make sense of the massacre this week at Virginia Tech.
In the chat, I mentioned my search for a cozy companion to a pot of tea, particularly with the recent wintry weather. Immediately afterwards, I pored through a bunch of trusted cookbooks, my stream of consciousness mumbling scone...biscotti...biscuit...nah...coffee cake?...cupcakes...Yes!
The recipe that stopped me in my tracks -- "Lemon Cupcakes With Milk Chocolate Frosting" - comes from "Perfect Light Desserts," a book by Nick Malgieri and David Joachim that I've come to rely on since its release last fall.
I liked the idea of yin-yang-ing a citrus flavor batter with a cloak of chocolate, particularly with the tangy additions of buttermilk and sour cream (which I replaced with an even tangier yogurt). Bittersweet is the flavor that came to mind, perhaps fitting for the mood brought on by this week's tragic events.
As I whipped up the batter, which is easy and straightforward, I wondered what in the world would I do with 18 cupcakes (well, 15, after a few for the obvious R&D, ahem). As much of a snackmeister as Mister Groom is, he certainly couldn't polish off a dozen or so cupcakes (nor did I want to give him the opportunity).
The frosting, which is simply melted chocolate whisked into sour cream (or that plain yogurt), was luscious and definitely tangy, and it looked gorgeous atop my lemony beauties.
Suddenly, I felt giddy. These cupcakes were begging to be shared; they were too pretty to stay locked indoors. I plated them on a long wooden baguette tray (shown, in the above photo), and suddenly a mission revealed itself: These were my "Deliverance From Evil" cupcakes, and I needed to personally deliver them and spread the karma of good crumb.
I lined the backseat of the car with newspaper and gingerly placed my tray on top. I removed the votives from a candelabra and inserted six or so cupcakes in their place. I started the car, drove carefully as to not upset the goods in the back, and drove to my first stop, Murky coffee shop, just a few miles down the road.
There I found my two recipients, Liz, a Virginia Tech grad, and Meredith, a cupcake enthusiast and all-around good-hearted person. I didn't stay long, just enough time to watch them take their first bite.
I jumped back into the car, and made my way into downtown D.C., making a drop for my Mister, who was having a tough day, and a few mutual colleagues always in need of cupcake sunshine. From there, I stopped by to see my friend Tai, at her home furnishings shop in Dupont Circle. Although exhausted by drawn-out root canal surgery, she daintily nibbled through the cupcake paper and hugged me in thanks. "Off you go, cupcake fairy," she said as I walked out the door.
Next stop was the FreshFarm market at Foggy Bottom, where I saw Betsy, a local farmer and a Virginia Tech grad. She was wearing an old sweat shirt from her alma mater and embraced the notion of cupcake karma.
I left her for my washingtonpost.com stomping grounds and made a drop of three, only to find out later that one of the intended recipients was celebrating her birthday, another sign that the mojo was working.
My final stop was with Karla, a dear friend and spiritual adviser of sorts, who's doing some work with a refugee assistance organization. She asked me to share the purpose of my visit with her colleague, who's Ethiopian, and I offered her a cupcake. She smiled tentatively, perhaps in disbelief at this random act of kindness.
Three hours later, I was home, the kitchen a mess of battered bowls and left-over frosting. I sat down and took in my afternoon. If only I had baked five dozen, I thought. Still, my heart was lighter, my spirit dancing.
Imagine if we all conducted a random act of kindness on a regular basis. How would the world look, smell and taste, I wonder. How indeed.
Lemon Cupcakes With Milk Chocolate Frosting
Adapted from "Perfect Light Desserts" by Nick Malgieri and David Joachim
2 1/4 cups cake flour (I used pastry flour)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (at least one lemon's worth)
1 teaspoon lemon extract (also sold as lemon oil)
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
6 ounces premium milk chocolate, cut into Â¼-inch pieces
1/2 cup sour cream (I substituted equal amounts of Fage, a strained Greek yogurt with great success)
Tools: Cupcake pan with 6 or 12 cups, paper liners
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
With an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until well mixed, about 2 minutes. Beat in lemon zest and extract.
Thoroughly whisk egg whites and buttermilk together.
Alternate flour mixture and liquid, starting with one third of the flour mixture, and incorporate into the creamed butter. Add half the liquid, followed by another third of the flour mix, and so, finishing with the flour mix. Beat batter on low-medium speed for about 3 minutes.
Grease pan with oil spray and liners. Evenly divide batter among cups.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until well-risen and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool in pans on a rack for 5 minutes, then remove and allow to cool completely.
In the meantime, prepare the frosting. Add a few inches of water in a small saucepan and cover with heatproof bowl that sits snugly on top. Allow chocolate to melt, over low heat.
Cool until chocolate is about 105 degrees.
Whisk sour cream or yogurt into the cool chocolate. With a small metal spatula or wide-bladed table knife, spread a thin layer of frosting on each cupcake.
Makes about 18 cupcakes.
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