Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Speaking of Cake

Have you seen this yet? It's pretty fantastic.



Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Scarlet Fever

What is it about red velvet cupcakes? Is it that signature deep jewel-red hue, or the steady growing trend of cupcakes and cupcakeries? Is it the many celebrity endorsements, or insertions in popular culture? No matter what the explanation might be, the world is all abuzz with red velvet cupcake fever. Ask any local cupcake bakery what their most popular current flavor is. If the answer is not red velvet, odds are it's in the top three. It's also very likely that said bakery has seen red velvet's popularity soar even higher in recent months.

Red velvet cupcakes are not only gaining popularity and growing in availability at restaurants and bakeries all over the U.S., but are also making quite a crimson splash overseas. As it soars to cupcake superstardom, red velvet quite easily maintains it's natural elegance and charm. Although it's exact origins are disputed, red velvet has long been celebrated in the southern tradition, and in my mind, is an indisputable southern belle at heart. I remember when the film Steel Magnolias was released. Set in Louisiana, there is an unforgettable scene involving a red velvet grooms cake in the shape of an armadillo. I was young and I remember being very puzzled by this, and wondering what it was exactly. I'd never seen cake that color (or shape, for that matter). It wouldn't be until years later that I would finally make the connection.

Later, when cupcakes became a pop culture phenomenon, red velvet rose in tandem. Pick up a People magazine and you're sure to read about Katie Holmes' cupcake deliveries to the set of her latest movie (red velvet, naturally). Who doesn't love a little celebrity gossip with their dessert?

The unique flavor and fine texture of red velvet is all about what goes into it. There is a distinct science to these ingredients that results in brilliant confectionery synergy. But I think the real secret to red velvet lies in its inherent charm in a way that can't fully be defined. It's beautiful. It's delicious. It's unforgettable.

Recipe for Red Velvet Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting:

Cupcakes (makes 12 regular cupcakes)

  • 2 and 1/2 cups of flour
  • 1 tsp of kosher salt
  • 2 tsp of cocoa powder
  • 1/2 oz. of red food coloring
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter (1 cup)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups of sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of buttermilk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp of squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tsp baking powder

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, sift the flour and salt together. In a separate bowl, make a paste by stirring the cocoa powder and food coloring together. It will look like blood. Seriously. Set these aside. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and the sugar until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each. Next, add the cocoa and food coloring paste, using a spatula to get all the goopy red goodness. While the mixer is on a low speed, alternately add the flour/salt mixture with the buttermilk. Finally, add the vanilla, juice from the orange, and baking powder. Beat until smooth. Spoon the batter evenly into paper or foil cupcake liners in a regular muffin/cupcake pan, making sure not to overfill since the cupcakes will rise. Bake at 350 for about 30-35 minutes. Cool completely before spreading on the frosting.

Buttercream Frosting (will cover 12 cupcakes)

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) of unsalted butter
  • 4 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer with the whip attachment, whip the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and continue to whip. Next, drizzle in the milk and vanilla. Continue to whip until the ingredients come together with frosting consistency. Frost cupcakes right away.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Good Great Stuff That Shall Remain Nameless

This is the story about the day I found I had some good stuff. Good stuff that I decided to throw all together. To make great stuff. Great stuff that I piled on my plate, and ate so voraciously that I realized I almost ate all of it before I could successfully snap a photo as evidence of its greatness.

I had some good bacon. It was thick-cut and meaty. I got it at a meat market - the kind of place that does one thing and they do it well. Meat. I also had some fresh green beans and new potatoes from the farmers market. Grown local. In season. Finally, I had some good herbs. Grown by me. Freshly cut.

Until this day that the bacon-potatoes-green beans came together as one, I had been operating under the misconception that these ingredients had conceded to side dish status. Supporting actors. Sure, bacon sounds like an amazing meal in its own right, but does it ever really take center stage without some pretty solid backup dancers?

Of course, the beauty of this combination is that it could go either way: make a big batch and devour all at once, or serve it as a clever, amped-up side at your next BBQ, picnic or potluck. It would go perfect with a burger or brat. But I really wouldn't know for sure - it didn't last very long in my presence.

Recipe for...


Ok, here's the deal. It doesn't have a name. And I didn't measure anything. Call it what you want. Eyeball the proportions of ingredients. I promise you this dish cannot be ruined by accidentally adding too much bacon. Or whatever.

Boil a whole mess of new potatoes, cut in quarters or small cubes. When they are tender, add a whole mess of green beans. Boil a few more minutes until the beans soften a little. Drain. Put the pot back on the heat and fry up some diced bacon in the bottom. As much as you want. Life is short. Go heavy on the bacon. Add the potatoes and green beans back to the pot and toss. The bacon fat should do, but you could also drizzle a little olive oil if you want. Salt and pepper to taste. A dash of lemon juice, and some fresh chopped parsely and chives for garnish. DIG IN.

The picture totally doesn't do it justice, by the way. I simply must get a better camera. It's on my wish list.