Y’all, we’re ’bout to have a royal wedding this weekend and that warrants the best cupcakes with THE BEST icing known to man. Every celebration merits them. I made these cupcakes years ago for my son, James’, school bake sales. They were legendary and sold in a flash…for big bucks. I’ve always been a cake person, scraping off the icing and pushing it to the side of my plate or peeling off the cupcake liner, turning the cake upside down in the liner thereby avoiding the usual sickeningly sweet and way too fluffy frosting. Doesn’t matter the flavor, I don’t want it. Unless it’s this icing. Mercy! This icing is thick, with the ample and generous flavors of vanilla and butter it delivers just the perfect amount of sweetness. I couldn’t stop swiping teaspoon after teaspoon from the bowl as I crowned each cupcake. The cupcake, as well, is equally astounding. It falls somewhere between the crumb of a layer cake and a pound cake. The flavor is of unadulterated, flawless butter. It is the quintessential bake sale, afternoon snack, birthday or wedding cupcake. And when Prince Harry and Ms. Meagan Markle wed early this Saturday morning, my bff, Andrea, and I will be celebrating with hot cups of freshly brewed coffee and these little royal fairy cakes. Best of wishes to all the brides out there!
Y’all. These cupcakes have me crazy. They are PERFECTION and the best to enjoy with a Hallmark Christmas movie. I know… I know. Sappy, schmaltzy and totally predictable Hallmark movies are sweet and romantic and what most girls want during the Christmas season. Back to these cupcakes. I hadn’t made them in eons and thought I’d bake a quick batch to put up here on the blog. I had forgotten how dense and rich they are… almost like pound cake. And this icing… any thoughts of sticking to a diet are rapidly going through the window. I had to get them out of the house and my reach so I took them over to our neighbors who have twin boys in middle school. They’re all skinny… let them be tempted! Anyway, these cupcakes are wonderfully flexible in that a variety of flavorings may be added to the batter and also the icing to suit your mood and craving. If extracts are added to the icing add them sparingly as they can be awfully strong. For instance, I added 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract to the whipped cream whereas if I were making a vanilla icing I would have added 1 tablespoon. So almond, peppermint, coconut and rum extracts are capped at 1/2 teaspoon. That said, feel free to use up to 2 tablespoons of liqueur to flavor the cream. Coffee, raspberry, Irish cream and orange are, singularly, heavenly additions. And with so many vibrant and richly colored sprinkles, crystals and decorations on the market, (Home Goods is a treasure trove!), a girl can go crazy. The paper baking cups and liners are also a way to transform your goodies to a higher level. I keep my baking cups and liners in a designer bag on the top shelf of my closet and when I take it down and spread all those lovely boxes on my bed it’s like an Italian fashion show. Oh, the colors and prints! The next time you’re in a discount designer store take a leisurely stroll down the baking aisle and prepare to be enchanted. Until then enjoy these goodies with the one you love and a sweet Christmas flick.
Classic Vanilla Cupcakes with Peppermint Whipped Cream Icing
This weekend is my birthday. And it’s a big one. As my father asked, “Isn’t there a six involved?” Yes, Dad. Yes there is. We’ll be in Nola to celebrate and I’m planning on drinking gallons of champagne. At all hours. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Because on your birthday you get to do whatever you want and everyone has to be nice to you. I’ve had some truly wonderful birthdays and some that lean more towards, “Well, maybe next year will be better.” That was almost the case when I turned 14 or 15. Around then was when Mama and I started growing apart…squabbling and constantly butting heads. I woke up that morning and it was already hot out. Cranky and spoiling for an argument I came out of my room for another splendid breakfast of Cheerios and, as luck would have it, Mama was the first family member I encountered. “Good morning, Cielo, and happy birthday. Could you please make certain your bed is made before leaving the house today? Thank you.” Hackles up and muttering under my breath, they might as well have been fighting words. I don’t know why I thought she was the enemy but I did and I did everything in my power to let her know it. All through the day I huffed and puffed, I slammed doors and scowled at whoever made the mistake of trying to talk to me. Late in the afternoon I spied an enormous brown, cardboard box in the living room. We always opened our birthday presents in the living room after having had our choice of anything we want for our celebratory dinner. Oh, and the opposition, that would have been Mama, hadn’t asked me what I wanted that night for dinner so I assumed it would be the usual dried up chicken with burnt to a crisp zucchini and tomato slices. Anger gently simmered under my skin right next to indignation. I looked closely at the box but to no avail. There was nothing printed on it…anywhere. It was just a big, brown box. I snarled at Mama, “What’s that?” She stopped what she was doing and sighed. “We know you’re not going to like this but your father and I feel your schoolwork is suffering and we felt you should receive something for your birthday that you truly need so we got you A SET OF ENCYCLOPEDIAS.” Encyclopedias. Are you freaking kidding me? Talking to myself but making perfectly sure that she heard me I said, “I hate you. I truly hate you.” and with that I sang out with artificial happiness, “I’m going over to Kit’s house! Be back in time for dinner!” Kit was another bone of contention. My parents didn’t like her…at all. They said she was a “bad influence” on me. And guess what? She was! She lived only one island away, just a quick bike ride for me. I spent the afternoon complaining to Kit how horrible my life and my mother were and returned home before we sat down to eat all the while continuing the bratty act of spreading irritation and negativity. Honestly, I don’t know how my incredible mother put up with me. I would have…well, I don’t know what I would l have done but I know I was hateful and I do regret having put Mama through the wringer. At any rate we were called to the table and, lo and behold, she had prepared my favorite dinner. Rare roast beef, mashed potatoes with the pan juices of the roast, asparagus, salad and Pepperidge Farm rolls that weren’t even scorched. I don’t think I had the grace to thank her and acknowledge that she had prepared my #1, best-loved meal. Ugh, I was awful. We made it through dinner without anyone getting sent to their room, i.e. me, and moved to the living room for presents and cake. Wretch that I was, that box had me worried. It was all about me and I couldn’t be concerned with anything that didn’t directly affect me. Daddy urged me, “Go ahead! Open it!” Mama was silent. I recall thinking, “Why? It’s not like I’m going to use them or anything. You might as well just take ’em back wherever you found them.” For once I didn’t vocalize my thoughts. I slowly tore the brown packing tape and opened the cardboard flaps. Tommy and Pamela, who would have been seven and six at the time, had the good sense to keep still and not say anything. They sat on the sofa with big eyes willing to wait for a piece of cake. As I peered into the dark shadows of the box I realized there weren’t any leather spines, no golden gilt edges. No. Shame washed over me. My parents had simply teased me and I had responded in an ugly, ugly fashion. Nothing was said as I pulled out a turntable, speakers, a complete stereo system. Reeling with the enormity of how hateful I had behaved, I looked up at Mama beseechingly with eyes that begged for forgiveness letting out a sobbing, “Oh, Mama!”. And Mama, loving me and knowing me so well smiled and said, “Oh, Cielo.” Some birthdays are good, some not so good.
This is a go-to Devil’s Food Cake from The New Basics Cookbook. I use this recipe for both cakes and cupcakes. It’s dark, luscious and rich…everything you want in a chocolate cake. There’s not much more I can say except it won’t let you down and you MIGHT gain weight.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
2 1/4 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup boiling water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Pre-heat oven to 375°. Place cupcake liners in pans or grease and flour 2 9-inch cake pans. Set aside.
Place chocolate in a small, heavy saucepan and melt over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
Cream the butter and brown sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. With the mixer on low-speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, Stir in the melted chocolate.
Combine the cake flour, baking soda, and the salt. Alternating between the two, add the flour mixture and the buttermilk to the chocolate mixture in three stages ending with the flour. Then slowly stir in the boiling water and the vanilla.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans, half full for the cupcakes or divide the batter in half fi making the cakes, and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 18-20 minutes for the cupcakes, 30 minutes for the 9-inch cakes.
Remove cakes from oven and allow to cool on wire racks for 5 minutes. Then invert cakes and place the cakes back on the racks.
This past Sunday was my niece and God-girl’s twentieth birthday. It seems like just yesterday she was fiercely biting James in the bath tub eliciting heartfelt howls of pain followed by a rush of hot, fat tears. This is the niece that sometimes has, no, I’m sorry, OFTEN has a bit of an attitude problem. Even as a child her friends would understand if she was somewhat callous or brutal. They would dismiss it saying, “Oh, that’s all right. It’s just Catherine being Catherine.” She is loyal and steadfast but equally impulsive. And she will slice you to bloody ribbons with one very well-placed biting, caustic remark. MY KIND OF GIRL! Being the first-born she has paved the way socially and academically for her siblings. As a baby she quickly let her parents know they would be tested…and often. I remember Pamela calling me sobbing, “I’m so tired! Catherine was playing quietly on the floor in the kitchen, I turned around to answer the phone and when I turned around again she was on top of the dining room table pulling the flowers out of the vase and playing in the water!! She can’t even walk yet! Oh, God! What am I going to do? What am I going to DOOOOOO??” I remember thinking, “Hang on, sister, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!” And an interesting one. Entering Pre-K Cat was a four-year old sophisticate. All the other little girls had pink and purple lunch boxes, brightly painted with wide-eyed fairies, long lashed ponies and long-legged, sexy ass Barbies. Butterflies, rainbows and princesses were everywhere. Pamela eagerly asked her precious little girl, “Catherine, would you like an Ariel or My Little Pony lunch box? Jasmine’s awfully pretty.” Catherine coolly replied, “No, Mama. Black, please. Matte.” Haha!! MATTE!! She was four! A number of years past and in that time she gained a brother and two little sisters. Cat had evolved into a lovely young girl. Still with an attitude. But she never followed the crowd and was always true to herself. She lost a few friends on the way because she wouldn’t sway and she never, ever brought indignity to the family name. She tried to help her mama keep the children in line, usually by force, intimidation and coercion. Having four young ones, Pamela was always tired and frazzled. Catherine must have been about eleven or twelve when she had a bit of an accident in Publix, our local supermarket chain. She took the cart and the three other children to the bakery section for each to get their FREE cookie. Pamela was frantically grabbing things for dinner on the other side of the store. With Catherine supervising, the little ones looked in the cake order books at all the character and sports birthday cake designs each dreaming of THEIR next birthday cake and which decoration they would have while slowly chewing on their cookies. Meg was in front holding several pages between her fingers, each page showing a different Disney princess, all beautiful, sweet and kind with tiny, wasp-like waists and ample bosoms spilling out of low-cut bodices. Decisions, decisions…but which one? She wouldn’t let go of the pages. Christopher wedged his body up front wanting to get a closer look at the Florida Marlins baseball cake. And Annie. Poor Annie was jumping up and down behind her big brother and sister trying to catch a glimpse of her beloved Polly Pocket. That’s when the afternoon went to hell in a handbasket. Jostling for position turned into pushing and shoving PDQ. Catherine quickly shot from frustrated to angry…mad as a wet hen. Grabbing Meg’s arm roughly she shouted, “Meg!” Meanwhile, on the other side of the store Pamela was grateful for a quiet moment when she could concentrate on the dinner items needed. She tried to focus all the while hearing in the back of her brain, “Cleanup in the bakery! Cleanup in the bakery right away!” As it dawned on her that the children were in the bakery and the cleanup was in the bakery she looked up and there they were. Catherine in front, scowling, pushing the cart as fast as she could, Christopher and Meg trying to keep up and Annie all the way in the rear, crying because she cried about EVERYTHING. Apparently when Catherine yanked Meggie’s arm she backed up smack dab into the middle of a tall rack holding shelf after shelf of bottles of RED WINE. Bottles went flying, wine splattering everywhere! The bakery women with their matronly hair nets appeared out of nowhere, furious, all of them pointing their fingers at Catherine. Well, they picked the right girl to yell at because Cat didn’t care about their stupid red wine. She raced back to Pamela to tell on her brother and sisters boiling mad. As Pamela looked down the aisle at them she could see big, purple splotches on Cat’s feet and legs. Catherine was wearing her prized leather Rainbow brand flip-flops that she had bought with her own money. “I feel like Jesus!” were the angry words out of Catherine’s mouth. JESUS!!! Haha!! No “I’m so sorry, Mama!” or “It wasn’t my fault!” or even “She started it!” Just “I feel like Jesus.” If she had known the word “dammit!” she’d have said it! And THAT’S our beloved Cat! Happy Birthday, girlie! Yaya loves you to the moon and back!
I made these pupcakes, (that’s what Catherine used to call them as a toddler), in honor of my girl. They are positively sublime, super easy to make but they take a little time. With a regular Tres Leches cake one would pour the final milk mixture over the cake and be done with it. While with cupcakes the milk is lightly spooned on until absorbed and spooned on repeatedly until gone. It may take about 15 minutes, maybe 20. These are really sturdy cakes, will take all the milk mixture and not fall apart. They also reach their peak of rich flavor after being thoroughly chilled. Don’t be tempted to sample one right after icing! You know you tasted the batter on the sly while mixing and it was fantastic! That’s just going to have to do. I like a barely sweetened whipped cream icing which really highlights the taste of the cake but feel free to experiment with different flavors…Dulce de Leche icing on Tres Leches cupcakes can’t be ALL that bad!! I also shook a little high quality Vietnamese cinnamon over half the batch and left the other half with just the whipped cream on top. Some people don’t care for cinnamon. Go figure. But take that into consideration if you’re taking them to a party or picnic. They must be chilled so make room in your refrigerator for your tray. But anyway you make them they’re bound to please! Oh my gosh! I almost forgot! I REEEEEally love the taste of coconut but I’m not a big fan of little bits of things floating around in my mouth so instead of shredded coconut in the batter I substituted canned coconut cream in place of the evaporated milk using the same amount. Coconut cream can be found in any grocery store in the section that houses Bloody Mary mix, Tom Collins mix or Margarita mix. This recipe is a compilation of recipes from “La Comida del Barrio” by Aaron Sanchez and “Miami Spice” by Steven Raichlen to the blog “lick the bowl good”. Y’all will love it!
TRES LECHES CUPCAKES
yield: 18-20 cupcakes
Preheat oven to 325°.
. 6 large eggs, room temperature and separated
. 1/4 teaspoon salt
. 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
. 1 cup sugar
. 1 stick butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
. 1 cup all-purpose flour
. 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
. 1 12 ounce can evaporated milk or cream of coconut
. 3/4 cup heavy cream
Whipped Cream Icing:
. 2 cups heavy whipping cream, well chilled, as cold as you can get it!
. 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
. cinnamon, optional
In a clean, large bowl pour in egg whites and add the baking soda and salt. With a hand mixer beat the egg whites until you get soft peaks. If there is any grease or crumbs of old batter in the bowl or on the beaters your whites won’t whip up. To check for soft peaks lift the beaters out of the mixture. You’ll see little “mountains” or “peaks” where the beaters last were and the peaks will still look moist and shiny. The top of the peak will kind of slump over and not hold its shape. That’s what you want. You don’t want stiff, grainy looking peaks. Then you’ve gone too far.
With the mixer on low add the egg yolks one by one.
Add the sugar and mix until completely combined.
Using a hand-held spatula, gently fold into the egg whites the melted, cooled butter. Folding means to sort of make a horizontal figure eight motion with the spoon while introducing a new ingredient so you still keep your mixture light and don’t smash all the air bubbles you just whipped in.
Slowly fold in the flour and mix until just combined.
Line two muffin tins with paper cups and fill each cup about 2/3 of the way. You should fill about 18-20.
Bake for 25 minutes and immediately after taking out of the oven pierce each cupcake with a skewer all the way down maybe 10-15 times each to help the cakes absorb the milk mixture. Set aside but leave cupcakes in the tins to cool.
In a medium bowl mix the condensed milk, the evaporated milk or coconut cream and the whipped cream until well mixed. I use a whisk to make it a faster process.
Using a regular teaspoon, spoon a bit of the mixed milk over a cupcake and using the back of the spoon gently blend it into top of the cake. Repeat with all the cupcakes until all the mixture has been absorbed. Set aside.
In a medium bowl whip the cold cream until you have soft peaks. Add the powdered sugar and whip until well combined.
Pipe the cream onto the cupcakes or just make old-fashioned dollops and add cinnamon if desired.