Posts tagged ‘cupcakes’
Even as a little kid, I liked flying home. Not the chaos of the security checks, the trip itself, or even the weary drive back to our house. But I love that first step outside SeaTac Airport. When I exit the airport after hours of flight and days of vacation – I breathe in the Pacific Northwest air as slowly and deliberately as I can. No matter where I’ve been or how much I enjoyed myself, that first breath always tastes like the freshest, cleanest air I’ve ever known.
My flight back from Boston was forgettable. I took a taxi from my school at 5 am, spent a two hour layover in Chicago, and finally made it to Seattle after 12 hours. As tired as I was, I anticipated the step outside. I usually get this incredible emotion, a mix of contentment and familiarity, a rush of glassy lakes and painted mountains. I dragged my suitcase outside with me, looked out at the flat grey sky, and inhaled.
Instead, there was something else – a strange feeling I couldn’t place. It sat in my chest, somewhat uncomfortably, even as the Toyota pulled up and I saw my mother for the first time since summer.
When we came home, the first thing I did was walk to the kitchen. I expected fireworks to burst in my heart, rainbows to pump through my veins and surge out my fingertips when we reunited. Nothing had changed in my absence. The walls were the same marigold yellow, the same checkerboard tile covered the floor, but somehow it wasn’t the kitchen I’d remembered and missed. It looked cramped and dim, hardly big enough for three people and two dogs.
I wheeled my bag into my old room, pulled out my Boston sweatshirt, and fell asleep without unpacking.
Over the next few days, I saw Grandma and my parents, which made me feel like daybreak inside. Almost at once I caught up with old friends, a both strange and easy experience. But during the afternoon, with no classes or job to distract me, I got bored. If I wasn’t asleep, I suffered from bad headaches all day. And that uncomfortable feeling lodged in my chest hadn’t vanished.
By now, I’ve figured out what the feeling is… homesickness. I know it’s ridiculous to feel homesick for school when I’m home. I also see how pointless it is to wallow in sadness, pining for Boston, while I have three weeks left in this beautiful place. If I don’t appreciate the rain, family, and happiness I can only find in Seattle, I’ll regret it a month later when I’m gone.
The solution for the headaches didn’t come in Tylenol. It’s a healthy combination of Mom’s noodle soup, Dad’s sweater hugs, damp dog paws all over my bed and the tug of a camera strap. It’s a sifting of flour on my apron and cinnamon dust on my palms. It’s not exactly a bitter pill to swallow.
One of the best things about being home is the food. Predictable, but it isn’t even the food as much as the ingredients. There are the luxury items I haven’t bought in college – all natural creamy peanut butter, the kind you have to stir up before spreading. Soft handmade tortillas, brown rice, even almonds! It’s a joyful thing to appreciate a quick handful of almonds before dinner. And produce! Even in winter, at home I’m eating crisp spinach and sweet Asian pears.
The school menu never changes, and most of the fruit comes out of a can, soaked in sugary syrup. At home, every flavor is amplified. The grapefruit I sliced with my first breakfast back was so clean and fresh, the sharpest thing I’d tasted in ages. After I devoured it, I thought about citrus the rest of the day. I’ve been drinking grapefruits the way parched survivors reach for water.
Reacquainting myself with our kitchen is like slipping into a familiar song. Every measuring cup is where I know it’ll be. Pans still clink and clatter in our cupboard, and that old bag of shredded coconut still has some life in it. The microplane zester, still my favorite tool in the room, is just as sharp as ever. The result? Coconut-Grapefruit Cupcakes with Matcha Frosting.
Even baked into a cupcake, the grapefruit manages to refresh. It’s light and zingy, pairing beautifully with the sweetness of coconut. And the frosting? I wanted something mellow and subtle, and the green tea powder I bought from Pike Place Market over the summer was just the right touch.
When I opened that oven door, the warm air that surged up was so fragrant and sweet. I was caught off guard by how hot it was, and how good it felt against the oven mitt. Later, in bed, I rolled over and pressed my nose into my hair – it smelled like sugar. It was one of the best smells I’d almost forgotten.
I think I’ll bake again tomorrow.
[It's good to be back. See you in 2011!]
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. :)
One of the nicest things I did this weekend (which included a two hour shop inside a great Seattle baking store, Julie & Julia, and take out hot wings) was go to a friend’s goodbye party. He’s leaving for D.C., where he’ll be going to Georgetown University in the fall. As much as I love to buy gifts, I decided to make him some Georgetown cupcakes. The letters, hearts, and “13″ (representing his new class of 2013) are made of fondant.
It was my first time working with fondant! It was easier than I expected and tasted a lot better than I thought it would. It was also a lot of fun and I’m starting to picture the infinite possibilities once I master it.
But before I get to that, I’d like to show off my new award, the Kreativ Blogger award. I actually received it from two different bloggers, Cookin’ Canuck and Rachelle of Mommy? I’m Hungry! Thanks to both of you and sorry for not getting around to it sooner.
I’m supposed to give the award to 7 other bloggers, so here we go:
I’m also supposed to tell 7 interesting things about myself.
1. I don’t subscribe to any blogs. I read about 60 different blogs, but I don’t subscribe to any feeds. I can’t quite say why. Firstly, there’s a lot of blogs and I don’t have a lot of time. But also, it would become an obligation. I like to think that I’m reading your blog because I remembered it and want to see what’s new, not because you’ve updated. So I do end up reading every post at one time or another, but this is why I might not comment right away!
2. I love to volunteer. I’ve done a lot of volunteering since I began high school, and I continue to do it because I like it, not just for the hours. I’ve volunteered long term at a therapeutic center, a children’s museum, and a cancer support organization, where I help teach a pre-teen cooking class once a month.
3. I’m half Asian. My mom is Chinese and my dad is a couple European mixes. I think I’ve gotten the best of both worlds: really good Chinese food, holidays, teachings, and at the same time, American cooking and culture.
4. I think I want to be a journalist. I’m still undecided about my future career, although it won’t be one in baking. I really love to write, photograph, and talk to different people. I also love to travel, and at least move around. I don’t think I could stand being in an office all day. Finally, I’d love to believe that whatever my career is, it’ll be something that can really make a difference for people who need help. So journalism is a career I’m considering.
5. 17 and Baking wasn’t the original name. This blog has actually gone through a ton of changes. The first name was The Rosy Chef, which I changed because it really makes no sense. I’m not a chef, I’m a baker, and I have no idea where the rosy part came from. After that, I was Floured Apron for a while until I realized another blog with that name exists. For a short while, I was All Roads Lead to Cake. But it wasn’t until I decided on 17 and Baking that I was satisfied. As far as I’m concerned it’s the perfect name for me, and I plan on keeping it even after I turn 18 and beyond.
6. I am a huge, huge fan of the TV show Lost. Everyone who knows me knows how utterly obsessed I am. Both of my parents watch it too, and we love talking about theories and mysteries. I’ve got every season on DVD and recommend the show to everyone! The coming season is the last one, which makes me feel very bittersweet. :(
7. 17 and Baking is actually a year old. Sort of. I started this blog way back in August 08, under a different name. After only a few posts, though, I figured no one would ever read me and I just stopped. I don’t know why, but for some reason in March 09 I decided to start blogging again, and I haven’t stopped since (I’m so glad I didn’t quit for good.) Since I wasn’t serious the first time, I’m going to consider March 19th to be my 1 year anniversary, not August 20th.
I have mixed feelings about fondant. On the one hand, it’s beautiful. It really makes cakes look flawless and professional, and it allows so much creativity and possibility. But on the other hand, it doesn’t taste good. And somehow that defeats the purpose for me. Isn’t the whole point of baking to make something delicious? And fondant is just there for the appearance… I don’t like the idea that it has to be admired, but then peeled off before the cake is enjoyable.
Consider the show Ace of Cakes. I respect their talent and creativity, but have you noticed none of their clients ever talk about taste? They ooh and ahh over how fantastic the cake looks, and then the show abruptly ends.
Well, despite all that, I felt fondant was a skill I should learn. Working with the fondant was a lot like working with play doh. Really sweet, soft, beautifully colored play doh. I used cookie cutters for the letters, numbers, and hearts, and the whole thing was reasonably easy. Next time I’ll probably roll the fondant out thinner. But anyway, I was left with a few small balls of fondant and I decided to play around.
Yup, I played with my food!
As for the cupcakes themselves, they were the quintessential American chocolate cake. Moist, soft, and not overwhelmingly rich. The frosting was very chocolate-y and thick, and complemented the lightness of the cake perfectly! Both were definitely keepers, and so easy they might be my new go-to chocolate cupcakes.