Friday, April 16, 2010

Cupcake Nation

applesauce cupcakesSqueeze a couple of hundred people into a neighborhood bar, throw in free cupcakes from dozens of professional and home bakers, and whaddya get? Cupcake Camp!

This wacky event made its Boston-area debut this week. Naturally, I baked, as did my good friend from Doves and Figs (she of the Farmer's Market Fudge Cakes mentioned in the Boston Globe article). My contribution was two dozen Mini Applesauce Cupcakes With Cinnamon Buttercream. These cupcakes had a CSA connection: They were baked with the last of my homemade applesauce from the fall. I was pleased to see that they were gone within the first hour.

As for choosing cupcakes to sample, that was hard. (Hmmmm. Root Beer Float cupcakes or Guinness and Bailey's? Or maybe the Hostess look-alikes?) I opted for an orange and vanilla "creamsicle" cupcake that was lovely and light, and an organic mocha cupcake, which, despite the whole wheat flour, still tasted like a treat.

By the time we left Cupcake Camp (around 8:30 p.m., before sugar comas set in), the line to get in the door stretched down the block, and "bouncers" were making sure no one left with cupcakes, lest the masses go unfed. Cupcakes as contraband! Who knew?

* * *
Cupcake Camp was just the culmination of a couple of cupcake-filled weeks. I was a kitchen assistant one morning for Doves and Figs' bat mitzvah dessert project. I think the total was 13 dozen cupcakes. (I'm inspired by this Cupcake Goddess, but not so inspired as to take on a similar project for Kit's bat mitzvah.) And I baked Smitten Kitchen's Chocolate Souffle Cupcakes for home toward the end of Passover. I skipped the mint cream part and just topped the dimpled cupcakes with sliced strawberries. Caboodle wants me to make a batch of these for her birthday in June. By that time, I may want to see cupcakes again.

Mini Applesauce Cupcakes With Cinnamon Buttercream
(Adapted Recipe)

The cake recipe originates with one that appeared on a can of Ideal applesauce (Acme supermarket's house brand) sometime in the 1970s. The cake is egg-free and can be made dairy-free, although it tastes better with butter. Because the cake is so moist, I recommend using foil cupcake liners over paper ones. Frosting is optional.

For the cake:
2 cups sifted flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup melted butter (or substitute non-dairy margarine or flavorless cooking oil)
1 pound applesauce (homemade or store-bought, mostly smooth and without added sugar)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set cupcake liners into mini-muffin tins. Sift together the flour, sugar, salt, spices, and baking soda. (Yes, that means you sift the flour twice: Before you measure it and again when you combine it with the other dry ingredients. But you can get by with just the first sifting.)

Stir in the melted butter and applesauce until well blended. (A wooden spoon works well. No need to pull out the mixer.) Spoon batter into cupcake liners. Bake 20 minutes or until done; a cake taster should come out dry or with only a little moist crumb. Remove cupcakes from the tin and cool on a wire rack completely before frosting. Makes 2.5 to 3 dozen mini cupcakes, depending on the size of your cupcake pans and liners.

For the frosting:
(Slight adaptation of standard Domino Sugar buttercream)

1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 pound powdered sugar (that's roughly 1 7/8 cups)
1 1/2 to 2 Tbsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon, or more to taste

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and beat until creamy. (Use a low speed to keep the sugar from flying about.) Add more milk if needed for the frosting to be right consistency for spreading. Pipe or spread frosting on completely cool cupcakes.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Spring Cleaning

I think of spring cleaning as a mental exercise as well as a physical one. So here are a couple of odds and ends as I clean out the cobwebs.
  • Leftover Chex Mix -- at least my modified take on the 1955 version of the recipe -- can be frozen and defrosted successfully. Why, you ask, would anyone bother to do this? For one thing, frozen Chex Mix slows down the children and the midnight snackers, who have limited self-control. Not that I'm referring to anyone in my household, of course.
  • Radicchio is not a great addition to a pot of vegetable soup. The taste is fine (if you keep the bitterness in balance), but it turns the soup the most unappetizing shade of reddish-blackish-purple. Must. Eat. Without. Looking.
  • Radicchio-vegetable soup is still better than parsley soup. 'Nuff said.
  • Caboodle is leery of kitchen experiments. Whenever I try out a new vegetable-based recipe -- even during the dead of winter -- she asks whether our farm share has started up again. We are about two months from CSA season, and I have recently finished up the last of our rhubarb and corn. We still have some frozen herbs and applesauce.
  • Rhubarb Chutney is excellent with sharp cheddar and crackers, but makes a surprisingly good snack with peanut butter on a rice cake. Had I thought of it, I would have made some to use as charoset on Passover. Maybe next year.
Rhubarb is coming into the markets, so this is a good time of year to try out the chutney recipe. The original version calls for nuts, but the chutney does not suffer without them.

Rhubarb Chutney
Slightly adapted from The Food Channel

1 cup packed light brown sugar
3/8 cup cider vinegar
1/8 cup water
1/2 Tbsp grated lemon zest
3 rhubarb stalks, ends trimmed and sliced crosswise
1 piece of cinnamon stick, about 2 inches long
1/2-inch knob of ginger, peeled and minced
1/2 cup golden rasins
1/8 tsp salt

Combine the sugar, vinegar, water, and lemon zest in a non-reactive saucepan. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Add in the rhubarb, cinnamon, and ginger, and cook over medium heat, stirring often, for about 15 minutes or until the rhubarb is tender. Stir in the raisins and cook 3 minutes longer. Cool completely.

Store the chutney in a covered jar or plastic container and refrigerate. It'll keep for several weeks in the refrigerator, and can be frozen for longer storage. Makes about 2 cups.