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Archive for Saturday, September 30, 2006

Grown-up cupcakes satisfy inner child

September 30, 2006

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— The cupcake is a classic. An unsung favorite for eons, in recent years it has hit the culinary pop charts, even the art scene. The sugary little darlings have become big business, but they still retain their cozy place in our hearts.

These days not only do bakeries across the country sell cupcakes, you can go out to eat at a cupcake cafe and choose a ritzy cupcake from the dessert menu of an upscale restaurant. You can order cupcakes online from cupcake boutiques, there are plenty of cookbooks focusing only on cupcakes, and you can get married with cupcakes starring at the wedding feast.

Celebrity has spotlighted cupcakes from the Magnolia Bakery in New York City, munched in endless reruns of television's "Sex and the City," and cupcakes from Sprinkles in Beverly Hills, sent by Barbra Streisand as a gift to Oprah Winfrey.

Dede Wilson's newly published "A Baker's Field Guide to Cupcakes" (Harvard Common Press, 2006, $17.95) is as smart and handy as a cupcake itself: a colorful ringbound collection of some 60 recipes for every occasion, each with photo and "field notes" besides loads of other tips.

Children have always felt a close link to these diminutive confections, Wilson pointed out recently, speaking from her home in Massachusetts. After all, each cupcake is yours alone: "All of that cake and frosting is just for you."

Also, she said, "I think for a lot of us as children cupcakes seemed to be tied in with school functions - you often didn't see them outside that mother-child home-baking connection."

That was then.

"Now we see how versatile they are, how fun. They'll go from a homey bake sale to an individual dessert for a shower, to a campy, kitschy item for adult holidays."

Above is a Lavender Pink Grapefruit Cupcake topped with Pink Grapefruit Buttercream Frosting.

Above is a Lavender Pink Grapefruit Cupcake topped with Pink Grapefruit Buttercream Frosting.

(Just now, food and women's magazines are filled with ideas for turning cupcakes into spiders, mummies, and all things Halloween.)

Indeed, cupcakes have now totally grown up. The demure white or yellow coexist with more soigne versions: Sophisticates including hazelnut praline, orange savarin, raspberry Sacher torte and tiramisu with espresso have been spotted on stylish menus.

What's the charm that wows everyone?

Chicago food stylist and recipe developer Lisa Bishop thinks people love cupcakes because they're a dessert that doesn't carry too much guilt. "Cupcakes can be rich, homemade, trendy - but they are not as overwhelming as a cake," she said.

And they don't intimidate home cooks. "I think everyone's looking for some kind of fun twist to show off their skills."

Terri Leckas, owner-operator of Queen of Cakes, Edina, Minn., sees things from the professional cake-maker's point of view, and it can be a surprisingly practical one.

"I believe one of the reasons people choose them for weddings is so they can get around the serving-fee caterers charge for cutting large wedding cakes," she said.

Her business makes wedding and other cakes to order, and also operates a small retail store with a daily selection of cupcakes.

Cupcakes are often ordered for weddings now, she said - the largest number they've made for a wedding was 300, she recalled. Cupcakes are more casual than a formal wedding cake, she said, but on a stand they can be made into quite a fancy presentation.

A cavalcade of cupcakes represents a selection of the recipes in the new cookbook "A Baker's Field Guide to Cupcakes," by Dede Wilson.

A cavalcade of cupcakes represents a selection of the recipes in the new cookbook "A Baker's Field Guide to Cupcakes," by Dede Wilson.

Special-order cupcake flavors change with the season, just as wedding cakes do. "In spring or summer they could be strawberry mousse or liqueur-based. Just now we're doing lots of apple and spice, and pumpkin with cream cheese."

For a child's birthday party, she added, "another thing we do is make a 'cupcake cake' - we group cupcakes closely together on a board and hold them together with frosting, so the children can pull them out one at a time."

Lavendar pink grapefruit cupcakes

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons lavender flowers (no stems)

1/2 cup pink grapefruit juice

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup butter, softened

3/4 cup mild honey, preferably clover

2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. With the back of a spoon, crush lavender flowers and combine with flour mixture; mix well and set aside. In a liquid measure, combine pink grapefruit juice and buttermilk; set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream butter until fluffy; scraping sides of bowl, as necessary. Add honey; mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping down sides of bowl after each addition. Add half of the reserved dry ingredients to the butter mixture; mix on low until just combined. With mixer running on low, slowly add the grapefruit mixture. Add remaining dry ingredients until just combined. Fill paper-lined muffin tins 2/3 full. Bake 18 to 22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove to wire rack; cool. Frost with Pink Grapefruit Buttercream Frosting, if desired. Makes 12 to 14 cupcakes.

Pink grapefruit buttercream frosting

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/4 cup grapefruit juice

2 tablespoons mild honey, preferably clover

4 to 5 cups powdered sugar

2 to 3 drops red food coloring (optional)

In a mixing bowl, cream butter until light and fluffy. Add grapefruit juice and honey; mix well. Add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, until desired spreading consistency. For a darker pink color, add food coloring, if desired.

- AP recipe developed by Lisa Bishop, courtesy National Honey Board

¢ These cupcakes could be a twist on a tradition dessert offering - instead of an apple pie. Because the streusel and caramel are sweet, it's best to use tart apples, such as Granny Smith, to balance out the flavors.

A Caramel Apple Cupcake.

A Caramel Apple Cupcake.

Caramel apple cupcakes

2/3 cup peeled and diced Granny Smith apples

2/3 cup walnut halves, toasted and chopped

1 batch batter and streusel from Crumb Cake Cupcakes, prepared without fruit or nuts

18 caramel candies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place paper liners in all wells of one 12-cup and one 6-cup cupcake tins. Fold the chopped apples and walnuts into the plain cupcake batter. Fill each paper liner about one-quarter of the way full with batter. Top with a bit of streusel, then fill with remaining batter. Top with remaining streusel. Bake for about 22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center shows a few moist crumbs. Cool pans on racks for 5 minutes, then remove cupcakes to cool completely. Melt caramels in top of double boiler or in microwave. Drizzle caramel over tops of cooled cupcakes using a fork or teaspoon. Cupcakes are now ready to serve.

- Recipe from "A Baker's Field Guide to Cupcakes" by Dede Wilson, Harvard Common Press

Key lime macadamia nut cupcakes

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon zest and 1/4 cup juice from Key limes (see note)

3/4 cup canned coconut milk (see note)

1/2 cup butter, softened

3/4 cup mild honey, preferably clover

2 large eggs

1/2 cup shredded coconut

1/2 cup macadamia nuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; set aside. In a liquid measure, combine Key lime zest and juice, and coconut milk; set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream butter until fluffy; scraping sides of bowl, as necessary. Add honey; mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping down sides of bowl after each addition. Add half of the reserved dry ingredients to the butter mixture; mix on low until just combined. With mixer running on low, slowly add the lime mixture. Add remaining dry ingredients until just combined. Stir in coconut and macadamia nuts. Fill paper-lined muffin tins 2/3 full. Bake 18 to 22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove to wire rack; cool. Frost with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting, if desired. Makes 12 to 16 cupcakes.

Note: Regular limes may be substituted.

Coconut cream cheese frosting

1/2 cup cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup butter, softened

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 tablespoons mild honey, preferably clover

4 to 5 cups powdered sugar

1 1/2 cups shredded coconut

In a mixing bowl, cream together cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Add lime juice and honey; mix well. Add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, until desired spreading consistency. Frost cupcakes and top with coconut.

- AP recipe developed by Lisa Bishop, courtesy National Honey Board

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