Posts tagged ‘buttercream’
When I was younger and the family went shopping, I always drifted over to the best part of the grocery store – the bakery. Nothing was more attractive than the brightly decorated sugar cookies, the two-bite little brownies, and the cupcakes topped with a swirly heap of rainbow frosting. I would slowly walk around the tables, lusting over all the baked goods set out, and then I would stand in front of the glass-shielded cake display and simply stare.
I truly thought nothing in the world was more attractive. There was a magic in the perfectly round chocolate chip cookies and trays of brownies with fudge frosting. I could almost taste the light and creamy frosting on the chocolate cake, the soft dusting of powdered sugar on the donuts, the buttery crumble of their cinnamon scones. But on the few occasions where I bought something, I was almost always disappointed.
Looking back, it’s hard to see the same appeal. I simply don’t have much interest in store bought baked treats anymore.
These days I still wander over to the bakery section – I just can’t help myself. But instead of examining the products with an appreciative eye and a rumbling stomach, I want to be inspired. As I observe the cake counter, I can’t help but visualize which piping tips the decorator used. I find that four words inevitably flicker across my mind like an unexpected gale: “I could do that.”
Since I’ve begun to bake, my tastes have really changed. I was a child who would have preferred a pristine sugar cube to a cup of coffee, and a peppermint patty over a good bagel. Today, raw sugar doesn’t conquer all (whew!) and I now hold homemade treats over store-bought desserts. I think you can taste the love in a homemade buttercream and the tradition and passion in a homemade crust.
I no longer want to spend savings on baked goods that are likely to disappoint, especially when I could make them at home for a fraction of the cost. And though I rarely find myself longing for a name brand dessert, once in a while I am swayed by the urge to make something… undeniably sugary and comforting.
Enter these Caffeine-Spiked Mini Hostess Cupcakes. Chocolate-coffee cupcakes filled with a simple espresso frosting and topped with a bittersweet ganache. Made with ground coffee and instant espresso powder, they really do contain caffeine (I learned the hard way by eating a few before bed and not sleeping for a long time.)
First, I have to make a confession. No matter how young and how sugar-craved I was, I have never tried a hostess cupcake (or had any desire to.) But I know the hostess cupcake sits on a beloved pedestal in the American palate, and I thought a homemade version would be delicious.
I am currently in a baking frenzy where I am playing catch-up. During the months when I worked on applications, I had to miss five birthdays. Now that I have free time, I’m slowly baking my way through them, and I’m also baking to thank the teachers, counselors, and adults who helped me during the college process. These cupcakes are for my physics teacher, who wrote me a letter of recommendation and likes all things coffee.
When it comes to subjects that interest me, like writing and photography, I have a strong sense of perseverance. If I’m lacking creativity, my mind like a cloudless sky, I’ll sit there until an idea forms. I’ll look around my room for inspiration for an essay, or do whatever it takes to capture a certain photo – whether that means laying in the soil and ruining my clothes, or snapping shots the whole afternoon. But when it comes to manual labor? It’s not natural for me to be motivated, and I have to concentrate hard on being dedicated.
It’s not that I can’t contribute, or don’t want to help. It’s just hard to convince myself to tough it out, especially if it’s cold or I’m feeling tired. Two years ago we decided to remodel our backyard, all on our own. We lifted up all the sod, carried in large slabs of stone, and sifted through the gravel and dirt like human colanders. I helped, but not very enthusiastically. I complained more than I should have, and my motivation wore out far before my physical strength.
Still, in spite of all that, I do like to try new things, and I am always excited for exposure to new experiences. So when I had the opportunity to visit Jubilee Farm with my classmates, I agreed, even though it would mean waking up early and completing farm chores in the morning. I left my house that day at 8 AM, wearing four layers and some rubber boots.
Frost seemed to form on my eyelashes on the drive to the farm, it was so cold. I traveled further and further from the city, and soon gray office complexes and fast food joints were replaced by stripped, leafless trees barely discernible through the fog. I passed grazing cows in icy pastures, small houses trimmed with Christmas lights, and a steely-blue river. There was a beautiful simplicity about the small town I passed through, and I drank in the country scenery as the car warmed up. When I pulled up next to a large white barn with the words “Jubilee Farm” cheerily painted in green, I felt ready to be a farmer for an afternoon.
But the moment I stepped out of the car, the blustery wind swept through my jacket and under my sweater. My nose started to run and my fingers blushed blue. As my classmates and I shivered in our boots, waiting for the tour to begin, any desire I had to do some physical labor flickered like a candle, and then blew out completely. I just wanted to be warm again.
It took an effort to walk towards the barn, and I had no idea what kind of work I’d be asked to do. I told myself, resolutely, that I would do my best to be a good-spirited and helpful guest at the farm, even though I wanted nothing more than a cup of cocoa and a blanket.
We met the man who runs Jubilee Farm, E-. He had an easy smile and a youthful attitude, and I was surprised to learn that he’d been farming for over 20 years. Jubilee Farm is organic and nearly 100% sustainable, a rarity in many places these days. E- described Jubilee Farm’s “this much, not more” policy, rather than the “more, more, more” motto of some agricultural businesses.
His voice made his love for his work tangible, and his excitement gripped me as strongly as the cold. I could see that he farms not for financial gain, but for a satisfaction that money simply cannot provide. E- was passionate and well-spoken, citing quotes from philosophers, farmers, and social activists from memory to explain his outlooks.
After a quick tour of Jubilee Farm’s cropland and cow pen, it was time for us to get to work. I joined a group that walked down to Jubilee’s vegetable patch, located right next to E’s own home and underneath a vast gray sky. We pulled on work gloves and were asked to help harvest and prepare rutabagas. The leafy green tops of the rutabagas stuck out of the ground in neat rows, and E’s wife showed us how to pull the stems up like a mandrake, revealing a round white vegetable underneath. Though I wore gloves, my hands felt numb as I reached for the first one.
The biggest rutabaga we harvested that day. Photo credit: Rosaline Zhang, my friend/classmate. (Check out her cool “go green” blog! She just published a great post about Jubilee Farm that goes more in-depth on E’s sustainable farming and the farming lifestyle we learned about.)
Rutabaga – even the word itself has a roundness to it, a heaviness. I closed my fingers around a plant, and ice seeped through my gloves. With a surprisingly strong grasp, I yanked the rutabaga up with a pop. I was filled with a curious satisfaction as I held it in my hand, knowing that I had pulled it from the earth – beautiful, delicious, organic nourishment. I set it down and returned where I left off, eager to unearth another.
Before I knew it, the hour was up. I had grown so warm that I’d shed my outermost rain coat and fleece zip-up. I uprooted the last rutabaga and breathed deeply, exhaling little warm wisps of air. The sun had finally come through, and though my cheeks were rosy and my gloves soaked through with freezing icewater, I hadn’t stopped working.
Although I think I’m ultimately a city person, there is such a charm about the country. At Jubilee Farm, I felt like I could keep going on for hours. It wasn’t just that I had warmed up and moved easily, or that my friends were there working alongside me. Instead, using my muscles and the land effectively provided a sense of contentment. For once, it felt good to use my hands. My head seemed clearer, my mood lighter. I felt like I’d accomplished something in the past hour, and with new eyes I swiveled my head to gaze at the postcard-scenery all around me.
I thought about the farm again while I pulled up photographs of these cupcakes I made for my friend T-. The swine flu is going around my school, and I made these for her when she got better. It wasn’t the swine flu that reminded me of the farm, but the pigs. Jubilee has animals in addition to rutabagas, as part of their completely sustainable vision. I piped out each pig the night before T-’s return to school. Baking, after all, is the type of “hard work” that I always have patience for. :)
Ever since I got my license in June, I’ve wanted to drive myself as much as possible. Even though I don’t have my own car, somehow it feels amazing to be able to say, “Hey – I think I’m going to drive to the library and return these books, okay? Be back in a few minutes.” For me, getting into the car, listening to music, and knowing exactly where I’m going to go gives me such a strong sense of freedom and contentment.
I don’t know if adults get this feeling since they’ve been driving for so long. But I really love driving at night, where I follow every curve in the road perfectly and feel comfortable and smooth. And it almost makes class worth it to drive to school in the morning, listening to the radio and taking the route so familiar I could do it with my eyes closed.
And I hope you all still enjoy this, but I love parking the car. It’s such a good feeling to step around the back and see that I’ve parked exactly in the center. Don’t you get happiness from walking away, locking the car with the click of a button and a satisfying beep?
I don’t have my own car, and even though I get to use mom’s whenever available, I still pine for my own. It means I could drive home instead of taking the hour-long bus ride, and it means I wouldn’t need to depend on my friends. Half the time I think I should take all the money I made over the summer and just buy one. The other half of the time I tell myself the money could be used for a vacation after senior year, like for the road trip my friends and I are planning for next summer.
But for now, I just make excuses to drive the car we have. Sure, I could walk, or maybe I could let mom drive, but I need to get practice, right? Especially after I was late to the driving scene. Most of my friends went after their licenses at 16, but I waited. So after months of guiltily asking for rides or walking to the bus stop while my friends walked to the parking lot, it’s nice to do it myself.
But sometimes, you really need to be in the passenger seat.
One of my oldest friends, C- turned 18 last weekend. He is an incredible cellist who plans to pursue music professionally. For his birthday I knew I wanted to make a cello cake. He doesn’t like chocolate, so I played with my favorite swiss buttercream to try and get it brown without cocoa powder. Peanut butter, maple syrup, coffee, nothing produced the right hue. So I put in as little cocoa powder as possible while still ending up with a woody brown frosting. I used my go-to white cake and did all the baking the morning of.
Like always when I make shaped cakes, I found a picture of a cello on the internet and cut the cakes appropriately. I baked cocoa and vanilla shortbread to make the neck and various parts of the cello. Finally, I used gel icing to pipe the f-holes and the strings. Five hours later, I was looking at one of the coolest cakes I’d ever made.
I was home alone, and the original plan was to drive with the cake in the passenger seat. Unfortunately, this unusually shaped cake didn’t fit into any of my cake carriers and I was at a bit of a loss. The cookie neck of the cello proved extremely brittle, and finally I bitterly concluded that I just could not drive there myself. I called four different friends, and only one was available to pick me up, and that was J-.
J- was one of the first to get his license and car, but despite the experience he’s a bit of a reckless driver. He isn’t dangerous, but he resents stop signs and considers speed limits more like suggestions. He has a tendency to make sharp, unexpected turns and step on the brakes without warning. I wasn’t worried about getting into an accident, but I couldn’t help but picture the cello cake splattered all over my shirt, or a thick coat of frosting on the glove compartment.
Getting the cake into a car was a hassle. He held the door open for me and I carefully got in, putting the cello on my lap. Then he handed me the scroll, which I held in my hand, palm up. As J- pulled out of the driveway he kept asking, “You got it? Should we pull over?”
J- took the speed bumps at two miles per hour. When we got to the main road, he stayed 5 miles below the speed limit and his driving was impressively smooth. Twice, other cars passed us, and I could just see the wistful expression on his face as he let them go by. When we got to C-’s neighborhood, he made all the winding curves slower than the people using the sidewalk. He parked the car, turned to me and said, “I was more nervous driving you and this cake than I was during my driver’s test. Man.”
Although I got a little frosting on my fingers, we managed to transport the cake without damage straight to the kitchen. C- and everyone else there was blown away by the cake, and laughed as they tried to picture J- practicing defensive driving. Somehow I get the feeling he won’t be driving so slowly again for a long, long time.
After an afternoon in the park and the take-out Chinese, C- cut the cello and ate the f-hole topped slice. He ended the night with a performance with his real cello, and I accepted a ride home with a smile on my face and yummy cake in my belly.