Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Great Cupcake Debacle of '07

Fall seems to be officially here, with its siren song of crunching leaves and the "Do I need a sweater or don't I?" gamble (which you invariably lose, whichever way you decide. Utah's evil). I enjoy fall. It's nicer than spring in some ways, namely since it lasts slightly longer. I wouldn't be at all surprised to overhear voiced regrets that "I missed spring this year, I was in the shower." So with the onset of fall it means Baking!

I generally avoid baking in the summer where possible, since I don't have central air and am at the mercy of my swamp cooler--no point making the poor darling work twice as hard because it's too hot to eat pastry anyway. Better to save up those Martha Stewart urges for the time of year when you aren't sitting on the sofa with a popsicle under each armpit, and steaks behind your knees, trying to claim that you're simply defrosting them for dinner. No no; baking belongs to the nip in the air, the chill on the wind, the moment when you step out to fetch the milk from the milkbox on the porch and try to curse in six languages at once because you aren't wearing slippers and your feet have let you know that sometimes cold burns, it burns, dammit, and while you're trying to dance from foot to foot and juggle milk, cream, butter, and eggs, you lose your balance and smack down on all fours, which is when your robe sash loosens and you realize that once again you are exposing enough of a boob that you ought to be appearing on a heart-shaped stage and at least then you'd maybe get a couple of bucks for the flash instead of frostbitten hands and knees and some honks from the cars driving down 9th East.*

*The above-referenced situation is entirely hypothetical, since nobody is really that dumb, right? It is in the spirit of the purely hypothetical query, then, that I ask: Why the hell are you honking? Is it a honk of acknowledgement, hey, look at that lady in the Norma Desmond bathrobe exposing herself on this frosty chilly morning? Is it a honk of puns, because your passenger has just said I can actually see the "nip" in the air this morning? Is it a honk of appreciation, Hey, thanks for the boob shot, you've made my morning, lady? Is it perhaps a honk of information, Hey, lady, your boob is hanging out? Because believe me, I KNOW THAT. STOP HONKING. It doesn't help my--er, the hypothetical situation at all, especially if I also realize that in hypothetically struggling to my feet I have also revealed my hypothetical lack of underpinnings and only my incredibly poor reflexes prevent me from hurling a pound of butter after your stupid honking honkey self. Hypothetically.**

**Also, when recounting this Mensa-level hypothetical query, no matter how hard he laughs, it is NOT funny when my brother refers to it as "Hypopathetical."

ANYWAY, in a veritable baking frenzy I have been tackling...the Mighty Cupcake. This requires a little explanation; I'm not really a cake person. I don't eat a lot of them, since they tend to be sickly-sweet, and shortening frosting kind of makes me queasy. I also don't bake cakes well. There are exactly two cakes that I consider myself to have mastered, and both of them are dense, substantial cakes. With booze. Even when you go wrong, a rum cake is still pretty damn fine, and for some reason the chocolate stout cake has never turned on me even once. They are short, stocky cakes, like their maker, and it is good. The cupcake, however, is uncharted territory.

Unfortunately, the blog sites I visit most with something akin to religious fervor are all...well, food sites. I'm a shallow person. I know that. But the magic, the mystery of is very nearly my great undoing as far as suddenly realizing that cupcakes aren't evil little sugar bombs (second only to snack cakes, which Rachel-who-rolls eats with delight and fervor. I still remember the day she convinced me to eat one. Even the mention of them reminds me of a paraffin-coated tongue). They are breathtakingly gorgeous, with flavor combinations that could make a grown man cry like a girl, if the grown man was a lot like me and probably wouldn't cry except that he skinned his knees only that morning from an unfortunate frozen porch incident.

I've been tackling the basic chocolate cupcake recipe, figuring that chocolate is the food of the gods anyway and most variations on chocolate are the ones I'd want to make and eat. It's a simple, straightforward recipe.

I can't get it to work.

I don't know what I do. I scrupulously follow the directions, I create the delectable batter, I fill the cupcake papers, I put them in the oven, and then they perform their act of betrayal. They puff and then fall, I have a dozen little mini-souffles giving me the hairy eyeball. I tried it twice, figuring maybe the first time I'd forgotten something important. No go. I Got Angry and Did Research. The Cupcake Mistress lives in San Francisco, obviously a much different altitude than Ye Aulde Zion; so it would require some adjustment. Did you know that everyone says something different about how to adjust for altitude in baking? You should add more flour. You should add less flour and increase liquid. You should add another egg, so the protein will help the delicate dainty cake withstand the lack of air pressure. You should decrease the leavening agent. You should bake it at a different temperature, and for different times. No shrinking violet I, I have decided to use the Scientific Method to figure out what will actually work.

The first step was to print out the recipe, distribute it to coworkers, and tell them if they didn't try this recipe to see if it worked for them they would be fired. Following that gross misuse of supervisor power, I retired to my house this weekend to continue the Great Experiment.

Adding more flour didn't work.

Reducing the leavening agent failed to produce results.

On the roster for today: Adding MORE flour AND less leavening agent. Then when that fails, making the recipe exactly as called for, but adding another egg.

In a fit of pique, though, I did make an apricot couronne (go here for the recipe: It was fantastic, and I may have to make another one to take in to work (ostensibly to apologize for my high-handed cupcake autocracism [is that a word?], but we all know I'm not really sorry). Also, James the Archaeologist has gotten me thinking about an apple-curry pie...initially I was toying with mixing curry in with the apples and baking, but another thought was making a sweet curry ice cream and serving the pie with that instead of vanilla. So many options, so little time.


Jacobus the Scribe said...

In response to your query about the curry caramel thing-a-muh-bob: the recipe I'm working with involved allowing apple slices to sit in the sugar, spice, lemon juice, etc. to leach the juice out. After an hour or so you get about a half cup of juice which you then cook down into a syrup. This provides for a very small amount of caramelness in the final product. I plan on my next trial however to double the sugar and add a little cream and/or wine to the sauce so as to have more carameliness. It has been recommended that I try some cardamom with the curry. So, that's what I'm going to do.

However, I really like the idea of the apple pie with curry ice cream... dangerous.

plainoldsarah said...

besides being the best cook ever i really think you're the best blogger ever - in terms of writing and word choice - i never fail to enjoy either product. thank you!