Sunday, April 11, 2010

Best Basic Cupcake Recipe

There is a gorgeous food (mostly baking) related-blog out there on the internets called Technicolor Kitchen. I think, aside from the beautiful food she makes, the most amazing part is that she posts every single thing in both English and Portuguese on two different blogs (click on the language to go to the blog in that language). Anyway. The Wednesday before Easter, she posted a recipe for some delightful-looking cupcakes that she called "Almond cakes with sugared apple icing." The recipe is apparently from Donna Hay but I can't find it anywhere on that site. Regardless, these were delicious and simple, so I'm posting the recipe for your enjoyment. (We doubled it--I'm going to post the original measurements, because you probably don't want 32 cupcakes. But if you do, double what I'm posting here.)

Ingredients (for the cakes):
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp unsalted butter (at room temperature)
3/4 cup plus 1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (note: if you want really almond-y flavor, substitute almond extract)
1 cup plus 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/3 cup ground almonds
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup whole milk

for the icing:
3/4 cup plus 1 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup clear apple juice

1. Okay, so the recipe technically calls for caster sugar (in both instances) which is really hard to find in the US (at least in my part of it) so put the sugar in a food processor and pulse for a few seconds to make it a little bit finer.
2. And I'm assuming that you didn't find ground almonds (or almond meal) at the store, so put some almonds in a food processor until they're finely ground. My advice (for both the almonds and the sugar) is to do small amounts at a time and fill measuring cups to make sure you have the right amount once it's ground.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
4. Put the butter, sugar and vanilla (or almond) extract into the bowl of an electric mixer, or into a normal bowl and use a handmixer. Beat until fluffy.
5. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well before adding the next one.
6. Add the flour, ground almonds and baking powder. Mix thoroughly, then fold in the milk.
7. Pour into cupcake pans (that are either buttered or lined with cupcake liners). Fill each about 2/3 full. I sprinkled a couple almond slivers onto the top of each of mine so they'd look prettier. I think one almond slice would work well, too, or just one almond. Or whatever you think would be appropriate.
8. Bake for 15-17 minutes. They are done when a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool.
9. Make the icing: put the sugar (that you've put through the food processor) in a bowl. Add small amounts of apple juice, stirring, until it becomes something that you can ice a cupcake with. Spoon it over the cupcakes, spreading if it's thick enough to spread.

The batter before folding the milk it. It made a heart!

In the oven. (Do I recommend opening your oven to take a picture? No, not really, but I forgot to take pictures before putting them in the oven.)

Fresh out of the oven! They look so pretty here, I almost didn't want to ice them.

This didn't come out well at all, but that's basically what happens when they're iced. Except this was a leftover cupcake and I'd forgotten to take the picture until just a little while ago and it's a week old. So really, it looked prettier than this. (Also? Still delicious.)

My thoughts on this recipe:
-It was good. Really good. But, like I mentioned in the ingredients list, you'd probably need to substitute almond extract for the vanilla if you wanted a lot of flavor. As it was, they were a pretty basic cupcake and I think I'll use them whenever I need a basic cupcake recipe for a fun frosting.
-The recipe that I got said to ice the cupcakes as close to serving time as possible. It wasn't really possible for me to ice them right before serving them as we were traveling with them. The apple juice in the icing sort of sunk into the cupcakes and they ended up with a hardened layer of sugar on them. Was it delicious? Yes. But I couldn't taste the apple at all.
-Also, I think I should have put more apple juice in the icing. Mine was at a point where I could spread it, and I think if I could have drizzled it, there would have been more apple flavor.
-I used slivered almonds and I think this was a bad idea. Almonds are one of my favorite foods, and I ate some of the slivered almonds afterwards and they didn't have nearly as much flavor as normal almonds. Perhaps using normal, whole (or at least sliced) almonds would give better flavor to the recipe. And a tiny bit of color.
-They probably would have come out fluffier if I'd remembered to take the butter out of the refrigerator and let it warm up and soften a bit. Instead Mike stuck it in the microwave and it ended up melted. I read something recently on how important it is that your butter is softened as instructed and how melted butter is useless--I disagree, but whatever you're making usually comes out much fluffier if you actually follow the instructions.
-I'm definitely using this recipe again. And I highly recommend you check out Technicolor Kitchen for more wonderful sweets.

Mike decorated one of the cupcakes. With a chocolate frosted mini wheat. A special cupcake for a special boy.

Monday, April 5, 2010


On Friday I cooked fish for the first time ever.

I guess I should explain about me and fish. I hate fish. I love sushi. I hate the types of sushi that involve cooked shrimp or anything similar. I love shrimp. Except when I say that I love shrimp, really what I mean is I rarely eat shrimp and whenever I go to a party that has shrimp as an option part of me is saying "Hey, remember last time you ate shrimp? And the time before that? And pretty much every time ever? It's delicious, huh? You should definitely get in on that shrimp cocktail before it's gone and you KNOW it will be" and another part of me is saying "Shrimp is fish. You hate fish. Why would you eat shrimp? You won't like it. Sure, you seem to remember liking it before, but your memories are wrong. It's gross. Don't touch it." I always end up eating the shrimp and being happy that I did, and I tried scallops last summer and they weren't so bad, but in general, cooked seafood disgusts me. Occasionally it's prepared well and I enjoy it while it's in my mouth but then it leaves a nasty aftertaste and I get mad at myself for being tricked into eating fish again. I'm simplifying this by making a list, because I'm aware that nothing I just wrote made any sense to anyone but me.

-Shrimp, especially in shrimp cocktail form, but part of me thinks I won't every time
-Sushi (but none of the types involving anything cooked)
-Sushi-grade tuna steaks that are cooked really rare and are basically just sushi with a little bit of sear on the edges
-My dad made this awesome poached salmon on top of a palak paneer-like spinach mixture and that was quite good
-When there is enough other flavor in the dish that I can't actually taste the fish at all (such as baked in salsa)

That's pretty much it. I do, however, have a 'try anything once' policy when it comes to food--if I didn't I never would have eaten sushi and look where THAT would have gotten me--so I'll occasionally take a bite of someone else's fish if they order it somewhere. The result of that is usually that the bite was almost tolerable but there's no way I would eat an entire piece of fish. Luckily, I think, from these tastes, I've developed an ability to know if fish is prepared well, even if I don't like it myself. (Though if the fish smells fishy, I won't touch it. Sorry. The smell makes me nauseous.)

Anyway, Mike wanted fish on Friday, because he always eats fish on Good Friday, but he didn't want to make me make or eat fish. I decided that, in honor of his tradition, I would find a way to prepare fish so I could tolerate it, because otherwise we would have had to go to the store while there was some perch in the freezer that just needed defrosting. Unfortunately, the perch was frozen and I had to run it under hot water for a long time before I could break it apart, and once I'd run it under hot water the skin was all soggy and do you know how hard it is to skin a fish when the skin is soggy? (I will say, however, that I'm pretty damn good at skinning a fish. As much as I avoid it, I once worked in a grocery store deli/fish department and had to learn how to skin the fishes. Witnessing a contest between two other members of the department to see who was the better fish-skinner taught me how to be quite good at it.)

NOT QUITE A RECIPE: Edana's Approach to Fish
-some fish
-lots of breadcrumbs
-parmesan or romano cheese
-a relatively large amount of herbs and spices that you know you like and go well together

1. Preheat your oven to whatever temperature the fish you're cooking should be baked at.
2. Mix the breadcrumbs, cheese and herbs/spices in a bowl.
3. Skin the fish if you weren't smart enough to have the people at the store do it for you. (This is a lot easier if the fish is fresh.) You can leave the skin on if you want, but I don't know why you'd want to do that. It always confuses me.
4. Melt the butter. Brush the fish with the butter. Cover the fish in the breadcrumbs mixture. Put it on a thoroughly oiled baking sheet.
5. Bake for required amount of time. (This is usually not very long. If you don't know, look it up, and check it after the smallest amount of time because overcooked, dry fish is even worse.)

I used a large amount of basil and a small amount of paprika. It came out in the "this doesn't taste so bad until after I swallow it, at which point my mouth tastes like fish" category. I was able to eat a whole (though quite small) fillet. Mike loved it and was very happy that I sacrificed myself for him like that. He seemed sort of surprised that I managed to be good at cooking fish despite my general refusal to have anything to do with it.

I realize this isn't all that spectacular of a dish to be blogging about, but since I've never made fish before, I thought it was worth mentioning that I did something new. (And I think at some point this turned into a rant. Whoops.) Maybe someday I'll make sushi, and I'll have made fish that I actually like eating.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Baking Disasters--I'm Not Alone!

Kelly of Food Goodness just posted a link to this, and I thought it was too good not to share. King Arthur Flour has a test kitchen, and apparently every April Fool's Day they post baked goods gone horribly wrong.

I must say, it makes me feel quite a bit better about my kitchen mishaps! It's always reassuring to know that trained professionals make unfortunate mistakes, too. You should check out their post for either a self-esteem boost or a laugh--or both.

They've shared theirs, and I've shared mine--how about you? What are your most horrifying tales of life in the kitchen? (Or is it just too difficult to think about?)

Credit for both photos goes to