at all in the new year.
in fact, i think we've been even
busier. but, it's all good stuff
and that makes it easier to
get up and go (and go, and go and go).
we brought in the new year
with my family, first at an italian
restaurant that was so unbelievably slow,
we thought we were going to greet midnight
with the waitresses, in spite of an 8:30 reservation.
but, we - us, my sisters and their boyfriends -
got back around 11:35 (i wasn't kidding) and
watched the ball drop together. everyone stayed
and for the first time, all bedrooms were
occupied. that was a such a nice feeling.
since then, i've made a variation of
for a party on new year's day, visited
my college roommate who had an
adorable baby girl in october,
met old friends for a meal at one
of my favorite restaurants, hosted
a college friend overnight, rang in
erin's 24th birthday at a mexican
restaurant, attended several birthday
and family parties,
enjoyed an all you can eat mussel night
next to the ocean on an absolutely
frigid work night
and made a bit of headway
with a personal project.
but, really, the biggest news
for the herman family since
i've last posted, was this:
engaged to be married.
we've already had a multi-family
brunch, an impromptu family trip to see
a potential wedding venue, pulled
pages out of magazines of
wedding and bridesmaid dresses,
discussed flowers and shoe colors
and held a mini family engagement
party the night after the proposal
we played it low-key with prosecco,
two lovely salads,
one with beets, gorgonzola and asparagus
and another with apples, feta and pine nuts,
and sandwiches. and, the one up side
of being completely snowed in and having
to miss work for two full days, was that
i had time to make cupcakes.
several days before the snow,
i searched through recipes
trying to find a cupcake that would work
for both blair (who is a fan of cream cheese
frosting, but would probably
hot artichoke dip to dessert)
and jeff (who loves apple pie and brownies,
but otherwise has little interest in sweets).
(i also toyed with the idea of crafting
engagement rings out of fondant to garnish
the top, but i quickly came to my senses.
three days of researching candy engagement
rings, chocolate molds, gum paste and edible
shimmer dust before realizing your own personal
limitations is quickly coming to your senses, right?)
and then, i searched something involving
the words festive and cupcakes, ending up
on a slide show of martha stewart's fancy cupcakes.
i thought i was out of my league and started
quickly clicking through.
but, then i saw the brownie heart cupcakes.
they're made from a ridiculously
indulgent brownie batter - some of which
is poured into muffin tins, while the rest
goes into a baking pan.
when the pan is cool,
you use a cookie cutter to shape
brownie hearts, the cutest edible
garnish for the rich cupcakes.
as for the frosting,
it was a pink-tinged buttercream,
but i already knew that i would replace it
with one made from cream cheese.
(something for blair,
something for jeff.)
i thought i would divide the baking,
frosting making, heart cutting and
decorating between the two nights
after work leading up to the surprise
dinner. (surprise, because she didn't
know she was getting engaged; surprise,
because she certainly didn't know that
we were all in on a next-night celebration.)
but, the snowstorm was way more
difficult to navigate than we could
on the first day home,
while larry shoveled and shoveled,
i baked the brownies and made the
frosting, shrieking only a little (ok,
a lot) when one little drop of pink
food coloring gel turned the entire
bowl hot pink instead of the pale
shade i was envisioning.
on the second day in,
after realizing that the roads
in monmouth county were only
barely teetering on open,
i cut out the hearts, frosted
the cupcakes, carefully garnished each
and said a quick prayer that they
wouldn't dry out overnight.
the next night at my mom's - after i made it to
work and back in spite of two slightly
scary drives on the parkway -
they were still pretty and charming.
the frosting kept its swoop
in spite of the brownie hearts doing
their best to weigh the swirls down.
the cupcakes were rich and moist,
the frosting not too sweet.
one person actually called them
the best cupcakes, ever.
(he was already there, but
i think he earned himself a
permanent spot on my favorites list.)
so yes, they were good.
maybe even great.
but, more importantly,
they were celebratory
and exactly what i was hoping for
when i set out to find a recipe
that was worthy of toasting the future.
brownie cupcakes with pink cream cheese frosting
adapted from martha stewart living
i followed the cupcake recipe exactly, but as i already mentioned, opted to use my cream cheese frosting. wanting to make sure there was enough to dress up every cake, i doubled the latter recipe. and, it's true, i am pretty anti-food coloring. but, i'm the only one who cares, i think, and i just didn't think it was worth it or necessary to roast a beet and use it's juices - so this time, i used gel food coloring. i survived, and i was right: no one else cared. the original recipe called for an 8-inch square pan and 1 1/2-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter - mine was about that, i think, cut from a 9-inch square pan, and it was fine.
and the last thing - i committed to making the recipe without truly reading the recipe. it wasn't until i was in the grocery store that i realized how indulgent these truly are. but, i was not looking for something else and rationalized: it makes 24 cupcakes, plus an additional pan of brownies and a ton of frosting - totally worth it for a once in a lifetime celebration.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
3 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 bars (4 ounces each) unsweetened chocolate, like Ghirardelli, coarsely chopped
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
heat oven to 350˚f. line standard muffin tin with paper liners.
coat 8 or 9-inch square metal pan with cooking spray; line with parchment paper and spray parchment paper.
in large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.
bring small saucepot with 1-inch water to a simmer. in heatproof electric mixer bowl, combine butter and chocolate. place bowl over simmering water; stir until chocolate and butter melt together.
transfer bowl to electric mixer; add sugar. beat on medium-high 3 minutes, or until smooth. beat in eggs, 1 at a time, beating briefly after each addition. add vanilla. turn off mixer. in 2 parts, add flour mixture, folding in with a spatula and then beating on low until just combined after each addition.
fill muffin cups 2/3 full. spread remaining batter in square pan. bake 20 minutes, or until set, but still soft. (my cupcakes took 17 minutes; the pan took 20.) cool in pans on wire racks.
fill piping bag fitted with wide plain tip with frosting. pipe frosting over cupcakes. alternatively, spread frosting over cupcakes. using 1 1/2-inch heart cookie cutter, cut hearts from brownie pan.* top each cupcake with one heart.
*(i stored the remaining brownies from the pan in the freezer for cake crumbs, brownie sundaes or a personal emergency.)
pink cream cheese frosting
2 sticks (1 cup butter), at room temperature
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, at room temperature
3 1/2 - 5 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
in bowl of electric mixer on medium speed, beat cream cheese and butter 3 minutes, or until fluffy and completely combined (make sure to scrape bottom of bowl with spatula to ensure that all the butter and cream cheese have been incorporated with each other). add confectioners' sugar, 1 cup at a time, folding to combine, then beating after each addition to make a good spreading consistency. add 1-2 drops pink gel food coloring and beat to combine. chill at least 30 minutes before frosting cupcakes.