Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Where to Start?

I have several posts in mind.  When that happens, it usually means I can't choose what to write about, so I write about nothing.

I had another half-marathon last weekend in Kansas City.  Which originally was going to be my topic for tonight's post...but then I realized I'd rather talk about cupcakes.

I have a passion for cupcakes.  You would think that I run just to be able to consume the cupcakes that I bake, and you would not be completely wrong.  Luckily, my cupcakes are such an undertaking (and as it grows warmer, it has to be a Very Special Occasion for me to bake in a non-air conditioned kitchen) that I can outrun the butter and sugar.  Just barely.

I realized that I had not yet posted my last cupcake baking endeavor.  I believe they were from a weekend in April, a birthday party batch.  A very fun birthday party, in fact, thrown by AB for her husband.  Cupcakes being my thing, I offered to bake them.  (I always do love an excuse to try a new recipe).

It all started when I made cookies.  I was meeting up with some people and wanted to bring something to nibble on, so I baked Coffee and Walnut Splodge Cookies, straight from Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess to their mouths.  (CB declared, "You brought noms!" which made me unspeakably happy.)  They were so delicious: rich, nutty, not too sweet--a great cookie.  I never would have thought to blend coffee and walnuts, and they were pretty much perfect, unified by butter and love.

So, I had walnuts and coffee on my mind.  When I made the Super Special Birthday Cake, I had encountered a Walnut Layer Cake with a Coffee Buttercream in Regan Daley's incomparable In the Sweet Kitchen, which begged me to bake it.  PLEADED.  But I had been asked for a CHOCOLATE/coffee combination, not walnut/coffee, so I simply used that fabulous, beautiful Coffee Buttercream to frost the SSBC. And kept that walnut cake in my baking queue.

The cupcakes, I decided, would be that cake.  The frosting would be that Coffee Buttercream.  But what garnish?

I feel that cupcakes (and cakes, for that matter) should always have some special touch.  If you make a carrot cupcake with cream cheese frosting, how about candying some carrot pieces to top it? (For example).

I was home alone that weekend, so I made myself a special lunch (curried bok choy, asparagus, pumpkin, and tofu over soba noodles), complete with a glass of wine and dessert.

I had bought some beautiful strawberries at the farmers' market that morning, so I chopped a few up, threw some orange juice on them, then topped them with two of the leftover walnut/coffee cookies.  The tart of the strawberries meshed perfectly with the dense/dark flavor of the cookies, and I knew had my my garnish.

I proceeded with the Walnut Cupcakes with a Coffee Buttercream, Garnished with Strawberries, and this is what emerged:
They were so beautiful.  I was pleased with myself enormously.  These, these cupcakes.  They would be perfect for a birthday celebration.  I happily loaded them up and headed to the party.

And they went over very well.  In fact, L and D (who are both firmly Team Cake) had looks of pure pleasure on their faces as they bit into the cupcakes.  Later in the night, partygoers decided to make a cupcake sandwich, and were pleased with the results.

It took me long enough to post them, but don't you think they were worth the wait?

But first....
Walnut-Espresso Cookies
(from Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess

  • 1-2/3 cups flour (you might mix all-purpose with whole wheat pastry, if you like)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp instant espresso powder (Indispensable for baking! Buy it!)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • generous 3/4 cup/7 oz. walnuts, chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  In a separate mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Add the espresso powder, then the eggs.  Stir in the flour mixture and walnuts.  Don't overmix or you'll be sad.

Using a small ice cream scoop, scoop onto lined cookie sheets (or a baking stone), about 2 inches apart.  Bake for 12 minutes until they are golden and smell really, really good.  Cool.  Eat.

Now for the main feature! (Please do not be frightened by the obscene amounts of butter in the cupcakes/buttercream.  They are for SPECIAL occasions, which ALWAYS calls for obscene amounts of butter. And wine, beer, or whiskey/gin.)
Walnut Cupcakes topped with Coffee Buttercream
  • 1-1/2 cups unsalted butter (yes, that's 3 sticks of butter)
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp pure maple syrup (Grade B or C, if you're being picky)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup finely ground walnuts (this is when you really love your food processor)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare the pans with cupcake papers (or two 9-in rounds, if you're anti-cupcake.  If you are, then GET OUTTA HERE. *ahem* Carry on.).

Sift the flour (which I actually did for once), baking powder and salt together in a bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of your mixer with the paddle attachment (or a big bowl if you're a hand-mixer type), cream the butter and the sugar until pale and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping the sides of the bowl after each egg.  Beat in the maple syrup and vanilla, then mix in the walnuts.  Add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl in three additions, mixing just enough to moisten the flour between each.  Fold the last addition in by hand with a large rubber spatula.

Using a large scoop (known as my muffin scoop--1/2 cup capacity, I think), fill the cupcake papers 2/3-3/4 full.  Bake until done (I know, I know, so vague), something over 20 minutes, being careful not to overbake or they will be dry.  Let cool completely.  

Frost with coffee buttercream, garnish with strawberries, and share with lots of people because I don't want to be responsible for any heart attacks.

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