Cupcakes are endearing, cute even. One would need to have a heart of stone, nay, no heart at all, to resist their winsome twee appeal. Sure, eating them is good fun too. You have cake; you have cream, all gone in three bites or less. What’s not to like?
The notion of making them, that’s what.
Mix up batter and then pour it gently into eleventeen individual molds? Bake them for a short serene few minutes and then patiently frost each one with an icing of my making? Me? Here, hold my spatula while I go wipe away the tears caused by the hysterical laughter that image brought along. Don’t feel bad. It could be worse. Those tears could be true uncontrolled, unabashed weeping.
You see, baking is something I’ve become comfortable with only in recent years. We’d parried before, the oven and I. It was a tenuous relationship, like the one I’ve had with the mirror most of my life. Sometimes I liked what I saw, sometimes I didn’t. So I didn’t wear that dress, the one that alternately made me want to check my reflection a million times, or take a quick jump off a tall roof. I also didn’t make recipes that required me to check the oven every fifteen seconds. Life’s crazy enough without self-induced paranoia.
So, here I was, going through life, perfectly happy letting with those with more masochistic tendencies do the cupcake baking and icing for me. I didn’t foresee this changing anytime soon (read: ever).
But then, I didn’t account for Laura.
Photo courtesy A Wandering Sole
Laura came into our office as a quiet intern interior designer a few years ago. She was hardworking and was serious about learning. She was also respectful and unfailingly polite. So much in fact, that she is the only intern in my memory who wrote the team notes of thanks. Also, she baked for us. Let me tell you, nothing says thank you like sweets. It is also the ultimate tool for etching yourself in people’s memories, especially when those people are overworked architects.
That she is so young and has such old-world graciousness is not why she is remarkable. Well, it’s not the only reason. Most people reacted to a tough economy by raving about it and generally getting themselves down. Laura? She decided to go help those less fortunate than herself, while seeing a bit of the world at the same time. She ran marathons, four in one year. She truly cares about a child’s rights to education. Not just in a talk-about-it way, but put-your-money-where-your-words-are sort of way. She’s created Sole Purpose, a micro-lending project to help the kids she’s worked with. (Go read up on her fabulous adventures, take a look at her gorgeous photos, may be help her meet her goals).
She is so much younger than I am, (ok, not that much, shh Laura) but I admire her dedication and drive. She has already done what I wish so much to do; have the strength and enthusiasm to help people and make a difference in their lives in a positive life-changing way. She’s truly cool, in a way that only those who don’t care about being can be.
This is why when she tweeted from her travels that she’d like me to make cupcakes, I simply couldn’t refuse. She was washing dishes, doing laundry and dealing with snakes on another continent. This was the very least I could do. I could look at little molds and mess with delicate cake holders. I could fill a hundred molds. I could try baking cupcakes.
Try I did. Mixing the batter – that part is like any other cake, oodles of fun. Pouring into molds – what do you know, I pulled that off with nary a mess too. Then there was making icing. My patience was starting to flag. There was sugar on my face and eyelashes. Ok, so things got a bit messy. Such is the baking life, but then came the icing-the-cupcake part.
I’d much sooner wrestle crocodiles in deepest Africa than do that again.
I detest decorating with icing. For one thing, baboons can do it better than me. For another, it gets on everything! Alright, so it really does that only if you are flailing your arms about in despair and proclaiming doom and destruction on all manner of pastry goods.
Already too-long story short, my cupcakes were a disheveled lot, like little pink mounds of mashed potato. The halfway decent looking ones you see here I attribute to my saint of a patient husband, who not only stopped me from summarily chucking them all into the sink in frustration but finished icing them for me. Thank god he did, because these taste great. There is magic when fruit and cake batter comes together. I was happy I decided on berry cakes even though it was quite the end of the season. I used a mixture of strawberries and frozen blackberries for the puree. The batter went a pretty purple and the icing was just fairy pink because of the extra strawberry; like cotton candy, only much more substantial. I used sprinkles liberally, hoping they’d cover up the icing flaws. Helps a bit, I think.
So Laura. I know this is awfully late, and that you’re already back in the States, but I did make you cupcakes. I just didn’t write about them till now. These taste fantastic, fruity and sweet, reminiscent of summer and childhood. You’ll love them, and I’m sure you will be way better with the icing than I was. Also, I’m sorry for being defeated by icing and for being so darn whiny about it.
Berry mini cupcakes
Adapted slightly from Sprinkles Strawberry Cupcakes via Martha Stewart
For the cupcakes
Fresh or frozen berries, thawed – 2/3 cup (I used a mixture of strawberries and blackberries.
Orange juice – 1 tbsp
All-purpose flour – 1-1/2 cups
Baking powder – 1 tsp
Sugar – 1 cup
1 large egg + 2 large egg whites, room temperature
Coarse salt – 1/4 tsp
Whole milk – 1/4 cup, room temperature
Vanilla extract – 1 tsp
Unsalted butter – 1 stick (1/2 cup), room temperature
For the icing
Fresh or frozen strawberries – 1/2 cup, (thawed if using frozen)
Unsalted butter – 1 stick, (1/2 cup) slightly firm and cold
Icing/confectioners’ sugar – 1 1/4 cups, sifted
Vanilla extract – 1/4 tsp
Pinch of coarse salt
– Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line cupcake tin with cupcake liners or spray silicone molds with non-stick spray
– Toss the berries with the orange juice and give the mixture a whizz in a food processor to puree. You should have 1/3 to half cup of puree.
– Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In another bowl, mix together the berry puree, milk and vanilla essence.
– Cream the butter and sugar together until the sugar is completely mixed into the butter and the mixture turns a pale yellow and fluffy (high speed if using an electric mixer). Add the egg and then the white until just combined (electric mixer on low speed, if using)
– Gently fold in the flour mixture, then the puree mixture until everything is just blended.
– Portion the batter evenly in the cupcake tin/molds. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
– Cool the cupcakes completely before icing.
To make icing.
– Puree the fruit in food processor.
– Whip the butter and salt together until light and fluffy.
– Add the icing sugar slowly, creaming each added portion before adding more.
– Add the vanilla essence and 3 tbsps of puree. Mix together until dense and creamy. Do not over whip. The density should be like cream cheese.
– Start checking your cupcakes around 12-13 minutes. Baking time will depend on the size of your molds. Adjust the time to 20-25 minutes if making larger cupcakes.
– You could alternatively simply top the cupcakes with strawberry jam.