Sunday, August 2, 2009

a week in cupcakes: july 21

carrot cupcakes on rack
my father spent the last year
in texas, and his july 17 birthday
was no exception.

so the next local celebration
was my mother's the tuesday
following blair's.

there was nothing i could do
about the fact that her birthday
fell on a tuesday
(in fact, when it comes to birthdays,
mine, my mom's and blair's always
falls on the same day of the week),
but this time i had learned from
my mistakes.

there was no way that i was
getting caught in a meeting,
coming home from work
late or tossing (delicious)
sauteed cabbage on the table
after 10 pm
and calling it
yes, i had matured,
lived to see some things that
weren't pretty about my behavior
and set out to
change them.
all in one week.

i've talked before about
our love for carrot cake and
how sadly we were never
given the recipe to our favorite
one ever. yes, we're people who
like to cook, enjoy food that
comes out of our kitchen and like
little italian bistros, japanese joints
and tiny seafood restaurants
over the chains. but years ago,
my sisters and i loved friday's.
for the most part, i have
no idea why and i won't even
bother to try to explain it.

while i'm sure that the vanilla coke
and pizzadillas and salads
and sandwiches are nowhere near
what i remember, i am positive
that their carrot cake - which we
were only allowed on birthdays (yes,
that's where we chose to go) and after
dance recitals - was
a big part of the reason i'm sure?
my mom still swears it was
amazing too,
and she is not clouded
by blurry childhood memories.
she knew what she was tasting:
a cake, ultra moist from the pineapple,
very orange from all
the carrots,
dotted with toasted nuts,
and juicy raisins,
then smeared with sweet
cream cheese frosting.
the huge piece, so loaded
with ingredients, was impossible
to trim into a perfect square,
but instead, always looked like
it had been cut by a child with
a plastic knife and, in turn,
was uneven in shape
and ragged around the edges.
it was the best carrot cake ever.

it hurt just a little when they
refused to give us the recipe,
and years later, when as i've already
told you, i tasted a cake just as good
and again, i was refused the recipe.
and we've had good carrot cakes
over the years, but never one
that has matched the quality -
or that we were made privy
to the recipe.
we try. a few years ago for my
mom's birthday, i made one
from emeril and while it
was ok and frosting, probably
the best i've ever had,
it wasn't it. but it did teach me
one thing, i like carrot cakes made
with oil, not butter.

i made these a year or two
later and they were very good,
but obviously not a cake.
and so this time, while in
cupcake mode, i knew
that it was time to give a
new recipe another try.

this one had pineapple,
coconut, nuts (and i could add raisins),
plus it received 4 forks
from a combined 129 reviewers -
who was i to argue?
i immediately decided that i would
change a few things, like swap the
macadamia nuts for pecans,
leave out the crystallized ginger,
add the aforementioned raisins
and add nutmeg.
plus, it was oil-based.
it looked pretty straightforward.
and delicious.

the monday before my mom's
birthday, i followed my rules:
i left at 5:30 on the dot,
shopped for the pineapple,
pecans and cream cheese
and was home before 6:20.

the hiccups were few -
actually just one, sad thing:
i really thought that i had
coconut leftover from a batch
of marshmallows, but after
emptying the cabinets,
i had an epiphany, one hour too late:
no coconut. i had toasted the whole
bag last time. it was a bummer,
but we were pushing on.

with larry's help,
i toasted the pecans
and ground them with the flour
he had just sifted, while he filled
the muffin pans with liners.
then, as he
whisked together the dry
ingredients (and turned me into
his sous chef, responsible
for putting the baking powder,
salt, cinnamon and baking soda
away), i was able to measure
raisins, drain the pineapple
and mix together the oil,
sugar and eggs.
it was synergy in the best way.

we were so efficient, however,
that the pictures are not
plentiful. the first time i
remembered to pull out the camera,
the batter was divied out.
carrot cupcakes batter
the frosting came together
well - a traditional cream cheese
base with a cream of coconut
swirl. i loved that the mixture
had the flavor of coconut,
without the texture
that for some, can be off-putting.
i do wish, that i had the coconut
extract that most likely, took
the whole mixture to another
level. i've just never been able to
find a natural coconut extract

they rose beautifully,
but i did notice right away
that instead of the orange color
that sings true delicious carrot cake
to me, they were a golden brown,
more of a spice cake ringer.
carrot cupcakes cooling
as they cooled and the frosting
chilled, i actually had
time to make a real
honest to goodness dinner,
which larry cleaned up as
i frosted the cake. i had intended
to use a different tip than i had
for blair's, but unfortunately,
my other piping tips seemed
to have gathered together for
a summer strike - they were
nowhere to be found.

once frosted, they were pretty,
but i felt they needed just a bit
more. a gentle sprinkle of
clear crystals from my sugar
stash made them sparkle.

for the third time in less
than 10 days,
we pulled out the cupcake
carrier and carefully loaded
the cupcakes inside.
the whole thing was tucked
into its faithful spot in
the fridge, ready and waiting
for the next day.

this time, larry and i were
able to drive down together
making me happy for me
and the cupcakes.
last minute,
we ended up at a different
restaurant and we were there
first. i handed the large
carrier to the hostess, with
a candle, asking her to fridge
them for us until they were

after a good, fun dinner that was
somewhat different than
we expected - who knew that
they only serve large pizzas
for takeout? - they carried out
the carrier (i learned my lesson
this time and just left the cake plate
in the car), holding cupcakes
that looked kind of wilted,
and one candle lit.
we sang happy birthday twice.

the cupcakes were good.
they made me remember how much i
love pineapple in carrot cake,
which was probably worth it,
just for that.
i think that if it was our first
exposure to carrot cake,
we probably would have
considered them very good.
but there was something missing.
yes, they were void of coconut,
but i think it was more than that.
for me, i could have left off the frosting
and called them a hearty muffin.
so, i'm still looking for the ultimate
carrot cake recipe.
but, for one night, it didn't really

we still were together,
celebrating another birthday
with another round of cupcakes.
and that's worth more than
all of the best recipes,
huddled together,
mocking us, in our pursuit
for carrot cake perfection.
carrot cupcake with cream cheese frosting
loaded carrot cupcakes with cream of coconut cream cheese frosting
adapated from bon appetit magazine
i did make quite a few changes to this recipe, which i suppose could have contributed to the final this-is-not-the-cake-we've-been-searching-for-cake, but i know in my heart, that this is just not the one. that being, said, i have to express that it's still a yummy cupcake or muffin - it's just in its own category. as i already said, i switched the nuts out, left out the crystallized ginger, accidentally had to leave out the coconut (which i would have loved), added raisins and sprinkled in some nutmeg.

2 1/3 sifted all-purpose flour (sift, then measure)
1 cup pecans, toasted
1 tablespoon, plus 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups finely grated peeled carrots
3/4 cup golden raisins
1 can (14 ounces) crushed pineapple, juice drained

heat oven to 350˚f. line 24 wells of muffin pan with cupcake liners. set aside.

in food processor, combine 1/3 cup flour and pecans until just chopped; you still want pieces of the pecans; set aside.

in bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, salt and baking soda; set aside.

in bowl of an electric mixer, beat sugar and oil until completely blended. add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. add vanilla extract; beat until combined. add flour mixture in two parts, stirring slightly to combine before beating the mixture. beat to completely combine. add pecan mixture; beat to combine. stir in carrots, raisins and crushed pineapple.

divide cupcake batter among muffin liners, filling 2/3-3/4 of the way full. bake 18-22 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in cakes comes out completely clean. let cool in pan on rack 10 minutes.

transfer cupcakes to rack; let cool completely.

when cool, frost cupcakes with frosting, using offset spatula or piping bag (i used a large plain tip). sprinkle with clear sugar crystals, if desired.

cream of coconut cream cheese frosting
to use the frosting for cupcakes instead of the cake, i reduced the amounts by one-third and it was the perfect amount. i didn't add the coconut extract, because i didn't have any, but i think that if you have it on hand, the 1/2 teaspoon would add a really delicious element.

2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup well stirred cream of coconut, like coco lopez
2/3 teaspoon vanilla extract

in bowl of electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter until completely combined, making sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl with a spatula. stir in confectioners' sugar; beat to completely combine. add cream of coconut and vanilla extract; beat just until combined. adjust confectioners' sugar, if necessary, for flavor and texture. chill 30 minutes, or until firm enough to spread.

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