Monday, March 26, 2012

Gobsmacked on Valentine's Day

OMG, you guys. The best thing ever happened to me on Valentine’s Day.  I know that was more than a month ago but bear with me. Ironically, this best-thing-ever had nothing to do with hearts, love, flowers, boys, diamonds, or anything like that. 


What happened was: I hacked a cupcake recipe and it WORKED.

Yeah. I’m totally, like, a rogue baker.
What. Up.

Maybe I should get a tattoo.

Ok, I’m being completely absurd but I’m not sure I can sufficiently express the feelings of accomplishment and joy that accompanied this particular endeavor. I want to put this on my resume.

I’m serious.

Here’s how it all went down.

Joy the Baker, one of my favorite cooking bloggers, posted a recipe for flourless Strawberry Cupcakes using coconut flour. Intrigued, I bought the cookbook featuring that very recipe.

I made the Strawberry Cupcakes, as directed. Only problem is the author of said cookbook is militantly anti-refined sugar and so uses agave nectar. Well, I’m not exactly pro-refined-anything but let me tell you something about agave: it is off the charts high in fructose. And guess whose belly doesn’t appreciate fructose?

That would be mine.

So first batch, I made by the book. Second batch, I subbed in granulated sugar and a little extra water.

You can see these specimens below. They were fine but a little odd-tasting and the strawberry flavor wasn't coming through as much as I'd hoped. 

Agave on the left, granulated cane sugar on the right.


I felt I could do better.

I found a recipe on (my go to for baking – her recipes always, always come out perfectly) for Strawberry Cupcakes that seemed to be popular among the commenters.

There were just a few problems:
The recipe made 34 cupcakes, which was about three times more than I needed.
The recipe used all-purpose flour and cake flour.

We’re still not totally clear on what my stomach issues are but one thing I know for sure is that common wheat is not my friend. I can’t eat it. Period. If I do, about an hour later, things get ugly. My stomach hurts something awful, my joints ache, and I become exhausted with this overwhelming feeling that I MUST go to bed IMMEDIATELY, at which point I literally cannot think of anything else.

The only thing I can liken this reaction to is:…
You know when you have a long day of day-drinking? You start at maybe 11am or so? And you’ve done a mediocre job drinking water in between? And around about 8 or 9pm, you just crash?

It’s kind of a little bit like that feeling. The feeling that you just HAVE TO go to bed. NOW. You stop talking to other people. You pass out face down with your clothes and makeup on.

Except, also, pretend someone is stabbing you in the gut. And that every movement of your limbs aches.

Those are just the immediate effects. The lingering gut effects sometimes last for a few days.  I’ll spare you the details.

Needless to say, I’m never willingly eating wheat again. The doc thinks it’s fair to say I have a wheat allergy.

Obviously, it’s been hard for me to admit to myself that I can’t eat wheat. Really hard. I’m sure this sounds petty, but I’m not lying when I say it’s been a bit of an emotional battle. I really love croissants. Always have. Always will. And there are times when all I want is a damn burrito. Just a normal, Chipotle burrito for lunch. Is that too much to ask?

Unfortunately, yes. I went through denial and I’m working on acceptance.  It’s getting better.

But it got a lot better on Valentine’s Day. February 14, 2012 will forever be the Day I Realized That All Was Not Lost in My Baking Future. That I could, and would continue to learn to, make delectable treats that even people with normal, non-angry digestive systems would enjoy.

So here’s what I did:

I took the Martha recipe, cut it in one-third, subbed weirdo flours (white spelt and coconut flour) for the normal all-purpose and cake business, tweaked the liquids and the leaveners, and guess what?

THE RESULT WAS DELICIOUS. I actually wish I had a better word than delicious because I say things are delicious all the time and even though I do eat a lot of delicious foods, these cupcakes…they were sublime.

I couldn’t believe it. I am still scarred by the time I was 12 and made a chocolate cake with olive oil because I didn’t understand the flavor the olive oil would impart vs. regular vegetable oil and my entire family refused to eat it. As much as I’d like to think I was being forward-thinking in my culinary ambitions, the truth was, I screwed up and learned that you can’t just substitute things in baking and expect it to work.

It was a good lesson.

And all the more reason why I was absolutely gobsmacked – GOBSMACKED! – by the result of these Strawberry Cupcakes.  

Let me be frank: I’m no cupcake expert. I don’t make cupcakes all the time. Cupcakes, while tasty, are not my “thing.” But I loved the idea of making cupcakes for my friends for the Valentine’s Party I was throwing, and Strawberry Cupcakes seemed just perfect.

And in the end, they were.

Kate's Perfect Strawberry Cupcakes with Strawberry "Ice Cream"  Frosting 

1.  These cupcakes are not gluten-free, just wheat-free. I seem to be able to still tolerate spelt, and by God, I’m going to eat it for as long as I can. But spelt has gluten. Not a lot of gluten, but gluten nonetheless. So be warned.

and 2. It's called Strawberry "Ice Cream" frosting because - you guessed it - it tastes just like strawberry ice cream. Killer.

Makes and frosts 36 cupcakes 
(I'm giving you the full recipe and not the fuzzy-math version as I just made full batch last night for the people at work and the quantities are much, much more normal.)


2 3/4 cups white spelt flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill & measure using dip & sweep method)
3/4 cup coconut flour (same deal: used Bob’s and dip & sweep)
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups very finely chopped strawberries
3-4 drops red food coloring, optional (you may want to add this as the fresh strawberries have the peculiar quality of turning the batter a bit blue-grayish)

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 teaspoons Grand Marnier (or you can sub vanilla extract, in a pinch)
3-4 drops red food coloring (optional)
6-8 large strawberries, stemmed, hulled, and pureed
8 ounces mascarpone


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk the flours, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. 
2. Cream butter and sugar with a mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, followed by the egg yolk, beating after each addition. You may need to scrape down the bowl in between additions.
3. Reduce speed to low. Mix wet ingredients (milk and vanilla extract) in a bowl or pyrex liquid measurer. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture in 3 additions, alternating with wet ingredients and ending with dry.
4. Add strawberries and food coloring and mix until just combined. Scrape sides of bowl to be sure. 
5. Divide batter among muffin cups, filling each 2/3 full.
6. Bake cupcakes until testers inserted into centers come out clean, about 20 minutes. Let cool in tins on wire racks.
7. Once the cupcakes are completely cooled, make the frosting.  Combine the butter, cream cheese, and confectioner's sugar with a hand mixer on high speed until fluffy. Blend in Grand Marnier. Add the strawberry puree and mascarpone and mix on low to medium speed until incorporated. Warning: if you overbeat the mascarpone, you'll cause it to curdle! If you are nervous about this, put the hand mixer down and use a wooden spoon to combine the mascarpone with the frosting mixture.
8. Frost the cupcakes using a table knife or pastry bag fitted with a wide tip. Add a strawberry bit on top of each cupcake if you want.
Frosted cupcakes will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

In Like a Lion and Out Like a Lamb (I Hope)

It's Spring. It could not have come at a better time, really.
Personally and professionally, this winter has really kind of sucked.

But that's ok, because Spring is here now.

I've been conspicuously absent from my blogging duties this year. I know. I'm sorry. I've made a bunch of new things and taken a LOT of pictures and begun writing a bunch of draft posts but haven't had the time to actually get anything out there.

I swore I'd fix that this weekend. Spring cleaning my camera and all that.

I recently picked up what I know think is my new favorite cookbook, The Pleasures of Cooking for One, by Judith Jones. Even though she has created the recipes to be the perfect size for a single person, they're all easily multiplied and she does an amazing job explaining how to best use all those leftover ingredient quantities in "second and third rounds" to make food that doesn't taste as if you've been eating the same meal repeatedly all week.

She's my hero. And no surprise that the recipes are great, and lovely to read. If I were buddies with Lidia Bastianich, Julia Child, and Madhur Jaffrey, and had spent my lifetime editing their cookbooks, I like to think I'd have picked up a few handy kitchen tips as well.

I have a feeling I'm going to end up making just about every recipe she has in here but when I read the eggs benedict recipe, I knew I had to try it. The whole concept of a single serving of hollandaise was too magical to pass up.

Unfortunately, I failed at hollandaise for one.

Attempt 1:
This is what we call "curdled egg yolk." It's actually pretty tasty...but not exactly a "sauce." More of a spread, really.

Attempt 2, using a double boiler, fared slightly better at first...

Pay no attention to all the semi-cooked yolk around the sides of the bowl.

...until the sauce broke upon the last addition of butter. 

The egg and the butter are separating. Serious frowns.

At which point, I resorted to emergency tactics by squirting in a bit of mayonnaise to re-emulsify things. Which sort of worked. I mean, it worked well enough for serving myself. Good thing no one else had to eat this!

Almost creamy...almost.

After the additions of a little meyer lemon juice and salt, the sauce at least tasted right, even if it wasn't all fluffy and creamy as it should have been.

Deep breath. To paraphrase Kelly Clarkson: what doesn't kill me makes me a better cook.

Time to assemble brunch:

Half an English muffin. (HUGE shout out to Rudi's Organic Bakery for making 100% Spelt English Muffins! Love you guys!)

A bit of ham. This is smoked ham from the Whole Foods Deli. I just asked them to give me a single thick slice. The trimmed bits are in the fridge and I'll probably dice and throw them into some kind of saute of greens later this week.

Nothing says spring like asparagus. I steamed two (fat) spears and then sliced them lengthwise, since they were so thick.

Added a poached egg using my microwave trick.

Poured the sauce over the top.

Added a little paprika for garnish, sliced a few strawberries, and voila!

To complete this semi-serene brunch, I put on Debussy's Clair de Lune, which I just can't get enough of right now, for some reason. Here's the track:

Happy Spring!