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 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.

Cupcakes getting ready for their good karma run. (Kim O'Donnel)

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 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
Oil spray

6 ounces premium milk chocolate, cut into ¼-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.

By Kim ODonnel |  April 19, 2007; 10:40 AM ET Baking , Kitchen Musings
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What a great idea!! This, atop of all the current evil that humans seems bent on heaping onto each other, has struck me deep and I am in desperate need of something good. I am no baker, but I will try my hand at being a cupcake fairy.

Posted by: minniwanca | April 19, 2007 11:32 AM

Wow, wow, wow and wow!!

In addition to the bitter-sweet and tender-loving surprise, the Cupcake Fairy delivered me load of great leads to pursue in promoting the upcoming refugee and immigrant conference I am working on. Always one to be connecting, I watched as she rifled through her file cabinet upstairs, eyes twinkling. We also talked of her adventures round town making sure all the "Deliverance from Evil" cupcakes reached their intended recipients. I say it was an act of courage. Cupcake courage. Sure gave me hope to press forward with renewed vigor... and crumbs on my face, tehee. Bravo for you, Kim-O.

Posted by: Karla | April 19, 2007 12:46 PM

Hmmm...these sound great. But as a poor young cook with a small pantry I have to ask: Can I use AP flour in this? How about milk mixed with vinegar instead of buttermilk?

Thanks Kim and what a great thing to do!

Posted by: Becca | April 19, 2007 1:13 PM

my stomach is growling.

I think it needs a cupcake exorcism.

Posted by: Rhome | April 19, 2007 1:14 PM

I'm inspired -- thank you, Kim, for reminding us that there IS good in the world.

Posted by: Troylet | April 19, 2007 1:25 PM

Bravo for Kim! There is good in the world, after all. The cupcakes look delicious. Any chance you could detour to my office with a load of cupcakes for afternoon coffee break? I tend to get the same way at Christmas with cookies. Have been known to hand a box to the UPS guy when he comes to the door with a delivery.

Posted by: Cookie fairy | April 19, 2007 1:37 PM

Kim - I cannot tell you how much better this made me feel. I wish I could have been with you on your cupcake odyssey. This is just the kind of thing I love to do. I agree that we should all practice more of these random acts, to offset the grimness of our times.

Posted by: Susan | April 19, 2007 2:27 PM

I must have just missed you Wednesday. I stopped by your friend's stand at the Foggy Bottom market. I love her hamburger patties and ground pork. My husband tells me that tomorrow has been declared orange and maroon day. I will be wearing something to honor those lost and in celebration of the family, alumni and friends of Virginia Tech.

Posted by: LisaLuvs2Cook | April 19, 2007 2:48 PM

That put a smile on my face...if only everybody could break it down like really COULD be that simple.

ps-you made a stunning Bride!

xoxox Dawn

Posted by: D.B. | April 20, 2007 1:22 AM

You made my day with this heartwarming deed of selflessness! I truly hope people will see that just a small act of kindness can inspire others to do the same, and make themselves as well as others so very happy!
I brought bagels for my staff this morning, "just because" and their smiles were more than enough to make it worth while.

Posted by: Wendy | April 20, 2007 8:23 AM

hey, Kim,
could we get the nutritional info on these? I'd much appreciate it! thanks.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2007 11:36 AM

The nutritional info below comes straight from Malgieri's book; however, I used plain yogurt instead of sour cream. Don't know how much that would change the nutitional data, but you'd be getting some good bacteria from those live cultures in the yogurt.

Per cupcake (with frosting): 224 calories, 8 g total fat (32 percent of calories), 5 g saturated fat, 4 g protein, 34 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber, 15 mg cholesterol, 177 mg sodium

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | April 23, 2007 11:45 AM

I've done the cupcake fairy thing before (with vanilla date buttermilk cupcakes from the Sweet Kitchen cookbook, which I highly recommmend). No one can help but smile when presented with a homemade cupcake! I love the idea of using a votive candleabra to hold the cupcakes-- much smarter than buying one of those special cupcake "trees" that would take up a lot of kitchen space and probably never get used.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 25, 2007 11:17 AM

I loved this story and have decided to become a cupcake fairy. What a fun thing to do! As I was reading the article, I was thinking of all of the smiles I could bring to different people just for the fun of it. (and the LOVE). Thanks for the great idea!

Posted by: Winnie from Oregon | April 26, 2007 11:39 AM

Nice thought, but the terrible tragedy of Virginia Tech is nothing that can be fixed by cupcakes. The connection between just doesn't mix well.

Posted by: susan | April 26, 2007 2:13 PM

I love the tale of the cup cake fairy. It needs to spread across the country and I will be giving it a whirl out on our prairie. It was a beautiful response to the day. Thanks for the uplifting example.

Posted by: Teresa Medina MN | April 26, 2007 4:45 PM

For the writer who just "didn't get" the connection between cupcakes and tragedy, the correlation is love. Love and sadness at what happened and a bit of goodness from someone who cared. This was a wonderful, beautiful, caring event and one we should all consider from time to time. It doesn't have to be food; it can be a card or a note. Random acts of kindness can make the receiver and the giver feel good inside. Thanks for reminding us that we all can play a part in making someone's day be a little better.

Posted by: Maggie | April 27, 2007 10:31 AM

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