Monday, April 25, 2011

Razzle dazzle 'em.

I have a little problem.

This cupcake isn't it.

I'm referring to my oven. We are constantly at war. It teams up with my smoke detector to gangbang my culinary self-esteem on a regular basis. Up until Friday night, I'd never burnt a single thing in my kitchen...yet I had set off the fire alarm approximately 47581736 times. Roasting veggies? BEEP BEEP BEEP. Toasting coconut? WAH WAH WAH. Preheating the empty oven? YOU KNOW WHAT IT IS. I call my oven Beast #1 and my smoke alarm Beast #2. They're almost as bad as the neighborhood boys I used to babysit who tied me up, pushed me down the stairs and beat me with a rubber snake. Mary Poppins ain't got nothin' on me.

No surprise, then, that when I first tried to make these cupcakes, I ignored the protests of Beast #2 when it raised its voice (à la Hilary Duff...but really, similar pitch and quality) about six minutes into the bake time. I propped open my back door and went along my merry way, blissfully unaware of the fact that my tartly fragrant and artfully compounded cake batter was meeting a slow death at the hands of Beast #1. By the time I returned to pull my lemony babies from the oven, a fine haze had developed along the ceiling of my kitchen, and the stench of burnt cupcakes and failure was palpable. Turns out you can't impatiently cram two pans into your oven at once, doomed edges grazing the sides. I briefly mourned the loss of the expensive cake flour I had finally caved and purchased. Then I pelted rock hard would-be cupcakes at the ground from my third floor balcony in an all-consuming rage.


My baking has come a long way since September, but cupcake success had heretofore eluded me. Either the tops would dome in an utterly unfrostable manner (what do you think you are, a goddamn muffin?), or the edges would burn in cancer-y ombre, or I'd overmix and end up with something that could compete in the tuff 'n' chewy olympics (gluten bonds! Science! Baking iz edjucayshunal!). One more failure and I might have abandoned the noble cupcake forever. Resigned myself to trekking downtown to Sprinkles when a craving struck, and instead devoted myself to perfecting the art of dipping bite-size banana chunks in semisweet chocolate (best fake dessert ever).

But I'm a Taurus. And therefore resilient. And I'm thrilled to announce that there will be many more homemade cupcakes in my future, because my second stab at this recipe churned out something divine. I'm not normally one for fruity desserts, but I gobbled these up with what can only be described as relish. It's possible that it can also be described as gusto. But, I mean, English is my first language, so I don't want to make any assumptions.

These cupcakes are spring in a black and white toile cupcake liner. Thanks to cake flour and a hefty dose of citrus, they boast a light, fluffy crumb and a subtle symmetry of tart and sweet . And the frosting? Don't even get me started. Just go make some cupcakes. I'll be right here hooked up to this IV of raspberry buttercream when you get back.

Lemon-on-Lemon Cupcakes with Rustic Raspberry Buttercream

"Rustic" means I was too lazy to strain the seeds out. Ain't no thang, really. Now you can count each cupcake as one serving of fruit. I used a store-bought lemon curd to fill them, but you could make your own if you're feeling up to the task and own a candy thermometer (try Ina Garten's recipe. Let me know how it goes if you do!). Lemon cake recipe adapted from Ming Makes Cupcakes. Frosting recipe adapted from Highfalutin' concept author's own.

2 cups cake flour (just do it. Makes all the difference)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
4 eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1 jar lemon curd

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
2. In another large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Alternate between adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk to the butter mixture, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Mix in the lemon juice and zest.
3. Using a ladle or a 1/4 measuring cup, spoon your lemony fresh batter into lined cupcake pans (you did remember to line your cupcake pans, right?). Bake for 20 minutes. Let cool completely. Come. Pleat. Lee. Unless you like huge messes and things that crumble to bits in your grubby hands.
4. Cut a cone-shaped segment from the top of each cupcake. Trim off the bottom of the cone (use the extra crumbs to make a few cake balls), fill the hole with about a tablespoon of lemon curd and cover with cone remainder. Makes 18 cupcakes.

For the frosting:

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup raspberries (use fresh if you can afford them. I used frozen, thawed to room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
3-4 cups powdered sugar

1. Beat first four ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.
2. With mixer on low, add sugar about 1/2 cup at a time, blending fully after each addition, until desired consistency is reached.

Oh. Did I mention these were vanishing cupcakes?




Monday, April 4, 2011

A wristed development.

Wrists are sexy.

I've thought so since the bathroom scene in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Tell me Daniel and Rupert's exposed forearms didn't make your teenage loins quicken with delight.

If you've been lurking around this dark corner of the Interwebs for a while, you know I have a severe minor watch fetish. These past few months, I've been letting my rose gold Michael Kors clunker (seen on my Christmas list, transformed into exquisite reality by Mama Gail Bail) take center stage. It's utterly showstopping and approximately the weight of a small grapefruit (calisthenic bonus!), so there's been little need to don more than a pair of matching princess-cut CZ studs alongside. Easy? Yes. Boring? Maybe. Sometimes I like things that fall into the "classic" category. Sue me.

But even I, the staunchest watch enthusiast, will admit that the canvas of the wrist offers far more potential than even the most high-rolling Rolex can fully exploit. If executed properly, a well-accessorized wrist can be as richly composed and artfully personal as an entire ensemble. Jumbled jewels have caught my attention as of late, particularly those that add unexpected dimension to the simplest of outfits.

I'm always tempted to go full-on tribal or full-on hardcore when I layer my jewelry, but I love that this fashionista (captured by Jak & Jil's Tommy Ton) manages to hold on to the integrity of her preppy digs. A thread of red to complement the jacket. A hint of earthiness in the beaded bracelets. That ostentatious golden globe. Flawless.

Some more recent inspiwristion:

(From Style Scrapbook.)

(From Stockholm Streetstyle.)

(From The Man Repeller.)

Restraint in accessowristing can speak volumes as well. Take, for example, goddess Diane Kruger (pictured below with Jason Wu, my current design crush):

So much to love about this look (the undone hair, the flattering silhouette, the sparrow-embellished white clutch...perhaps not the dyed-to-match bridal shoes, though I am willing to overlook them), but the delicate strand bracelet is what puts it over the edge for me. It's so feminine and intentional. You know she didn't run out of time to finish accessorizing. This was a choice. A choice that has me ready to renounce the majority of my jewelry collection.

Which do you prefer? The calculated hodgepodge or the polished stand-alone piece? I go back and forth. The degree of self-editing involved in the second look definitely doesn't come as naturally to me (you can see evidence of my proclivity to pile it all on here and here), but I'm increasingly drawn to simplicity, particularly as we head into the warmer months. Something to play with in the next few weeks, as I've officially forbidden myself to buy any new clothes until my birthday (May 2). This will surely result in much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Almost as much as when I tried to give up coffee for Lent.

That lasted three days. I don't know what I was thinking.