Cupcake Season

April 19, 2010

Is upon us at last…

Here is one reason why I love NPR: they did a special on why the supermarkets have been flooded with strawberries the past couple weeks: apparently the Florida crop was late so it is overlapping with the California crop, hence strawberries literally falling over themselves to be eaten.

( http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125845773)

I have single handedly been putting away about a pint of berries a day– so easy to eat, so fresh, so affordable, so yum!

In any case, after a long winter hiatus of travel, working at my day job, freelancing, house guests, and the like, I feel as though I’m coming out of a fog and into a glorious spring, with baking and cooking  projects luring me back into the kitchen.

I made a batch of these lovely sunny cakes last weekend for my lovely neighbor E.L. who ordered them for a dinner party. The cakes are a light vanilla sourcream (ridiculously easy to make, no butter involved but you make up for that in the frosting), filled with strawberry preserves, swathed in delectable swiss meringue frosting  and topped with fresh strawberries.

Bliss.

(ps. Can’t share this recipe, its a company secret– tthpppttt– but apparently I now have a Facebook account for Brownstone Baking.  If I can just figure out how to actually use it…)

chocolate mousse cupcake

August 23, 2009

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The more I bake cupcakes, the more I discover that sour cream is the wonder ingredient that gives moistness and creaminess to these little desserts. I grew up on oil cakes—back home in Nigeria we didn’t eat much butter and certainly my mother would not have indulged us with real butter for baking. Bright yellow, slightly slimy Blue Band margarine was the standard baking fat in our household, and so the light, creaminess of butter cakes was wholly lost on me until I arrived in the States. Back home we instead made oil cakes—lovely pans of golden chiffon which we would cut into squares and serve with steaming hot yellow custard for company dinners. Does anyone remember Bird’s Custard? It came in the blue and red tin and you could whip it up in a matter of minutes on the stove.  I had a craving for custard a few months ago and bought a tin of Bird’s at the West African Grocery store near Port Authority. I made myself a bowlful of custard but I must say, it wasn’t the glorious treat I’d remembered it to be, largely because I realized the primary ingredients in it are corn starch and Sunset Yellow C1 15985. I’ll make a butter cake to go with it next time.

What I have recently discovered with all this cupcake baking is that many recipes call for sour cream in their batter and it really is a wonderful addition, producing cakes that are rich but not overly heavy, better to receive luxurious quantities of delectable frosting.

Elizabeth, Amrita and baby Lucien came over for brunch on Friday. It was a perfect opportunity for me to try out a new recipe I tore out of this month’s Gourmet magazine: fresh corn pancakes. One of the things I positively adore about summer time is the appearance of fresh, sweet corn in the markets. I’ll buy a few ears at the farmer’s market or at my local Korean grocery round the corner, but it is rare that the corn ever actually makes it into a cooking pot because I munch the kernels raw off the cob or slice them off into salads. This recipe for pancakes is quite simple, except for the extra step of blending a half cup of corn kernels with milk before adding other ingredients to make a batter. Unless I am making a soup or puree, my heart tends to sink when I see “blender” in a recipe—this means the machine will need to be hauled out of the cupboard, assembled, used, and then washed and put away.

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I might have to play with the recipe in the future and see how it turns out without the blending. As it was, it was delicious—a piping hot cake of light, doughy goodness filled with generous mouthfuls of tender, just-barely cooked corn kernels that still had a bit of crunch to them. All this slathered with sour cream and a crisp, not too spicy tomato salsa. When next I make these cakes, I think I will try adding a handful of chopped cilantro for some more colour.

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One of my other favourite summer dishes is a salad with fresh strawberries. Since I won’t buy a fresh tomato until they hit the farmers market or come up in my garden, strawberries in season are a welcome addition of colour, flavor and juiciness to a standard salad. My quickest concoction involves a mix of lettuce and whatever tasty salad greens are in the garden (arugula, baby spinach, mache), about a cup of sliced strawberries, a sliced cucumber, the raw kernels off an ear of corn, and a handful of toasted pecans. If I’m making a meal of it I’ll add some sliced roast chicken to give it some protein. Dress with a generous drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and some salt and pepper. For brunch with A, E and baby L I used toasted pinenuts instead of pecans, skipped the corn, added a bit of goat cheese, chopped in some fresh mint and made a proper vinaigrette.

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And of course I was trying out a new cupcake recipe: a luscious banana cake with a cream cheese frosting topped with walnuts. The secret to these lovely cakes is sour cream, butter and lemon peel. Am definitely offering these for order on the website.

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Fresh Corn Pancakes (adapted from Gourmet Magazine, July 2009. )

1 cup all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
3 ears of corn
3/4 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Whisk together flour, baking powder, sugar, and 1 tsp salt in a medium bowl. Cut enough kernels from cobs to measure 2 cups. Using back of a knife, scrape pulp from cobs and transfer to a blender with milk and 1/2 cup corn. Purée until smooth, then strain through a sieve into another medium bowl, pressing on and then discarding solids. Whisk in eggs, oil, and butter. Add to flour mixture with remaining 1 1/2 cups corn and whisk until just combined.

Heat a griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat until hot, then lightly brush with oil or butter. Working in batches, pour 1/3 cup batter per pancake onto griddle and cook until bubbles appear on surface and undersides are golden-brown, about 2 minutes. Flip with a spatula and cook until undersides are golden-brown, about 1 minute more
Serve warm with salsa and sour cream, or for a sweet, with warmed maple syrup.