Saturday, February 25, 2006

My favorite cupcakes

We have a three year old in the house now and yesterday we had a plate full of these to celebrate:
One of the great things about having kids is the many opportunities for cupcakes. I hate baking traditional cakes, but love making cupcakes--there's no anxiety about whether the cake will stick to the damn pan, stacking layers, or doing an elaborate frosting job. If you asked me to make a traditional birthday cake I'd be pissy. But make a batch of cupcakes? Sure!

My enthusiasm for cupcake making is helped by the fact that I happen to have found the best chocolate cupcake recipe in the world. These cupcakes are extremely easy to do and I love the fact that the batter is made in a saucepan. They are so good that you don't need frosting. They are actually better without frosting--once I made them with a bittersweet chocolate pecan frosting and it totally overwhelmed the cake. I prefer to just dust a little powdered sugar over them and if you want to spruce them up, use a stencil. (The "3" above was printed out in a big font on the computer and then cut out with scissors.)

The recipe calls these Mexican Chocolate Cupcakes because there's a little cinnamon and quite a lot of vanilla that punch up the chocolate. These flavor enhancers are lovely, but what really makes these cupcakes great is the moistness of the cake: they aren't dry or heavy. Just terrific moist cake. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I must also state that these cupcakes go pretty well with red wine. Not that I served the small creatures any wine with there cupcakes (tempting), but there were a number of moms who looked just about as tired as I felt (Friday, 4 PM, go figure) and we all washed down our cake with Shiraz...

Mexican Chocolate Cupcakes
adapted from Rebecca Rather's recipe printed in some food magazine (I can't remember which)
makes at least 24 cupcakes--I made 24 and still had a good amount of batter to eat raw while they baked.

2 sticks (1 C) unsalted butter
1/2 C Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 C water
2 C granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 C well-shaken buttermilk
2 T vanilla
2 C all purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t salt
  1. preheat oven to 350. Put cupcake papers in your muffin tins.
  2. melt butter in a large heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, then whisk in cocoa. Add water and whisk until smooth. Remove from heat.
  3. Whisk in separately sugar, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla.
  4. Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt into a bowl. Then sift again into the cocoa mixture and whisk until just combined (it will be a little bit lumpy).
  5. Fill cupcake papers to about 2/3 full. Bake for 20 minutes until a skewer or toothpick comes out clean. It's a moist cake, so don't worry if a few crumbs stick to your tester.
  6. Allow cupcakes to cook and then dust with powdered sugar.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Adolescent Lit

I suspect that the reason I've been feeling fed up with the adult fiction I've been attempting has nothing to do with the books themselves. I think, at this point in February, I'm simply fed up with being an adult.

So as an attempted antidote, I checked this out of the library:

We'll see if this Newbery Award book has the desired effect of taking me back to the many hours I spent as a kid curled up on the couch in the wintertime reading and escaping. I don't have any memory of being bummed out by winter back then, mainly because I lived many of those dark, cold days in imaginary landscapes rather than the one outside my door.

This is the kind of book I should be reading out loud to my kids in the evening (which means the librarian didn't give me a funny look when I checked it out). I've been trying to get them into chapter books, but it is a hard sell for Ian--he'd much rather look at an anatomy textbook or read a book about electricity. The kid is into facts. I suspect Fiona will be a good candidate for this kind of book when she gets a little older since her imagination is always going full steam ahead. Most of the time I have to guess where the hell she thinks she is. Often I am reminded of Claudette, the tiny little secretary of the Department de Pays Anglophone at the University of Bordeaux. She regularly would utter the following phrase after a confusing encounter with one of the spacier of my fellow lecteurs: "Je ne sais pas quelle planete il habite, mais ce n'est pas le meme" (roughly, "I don't know what planet he's living on, but it isn't the same as mine.") That is Fiona in a nutshell.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Rippin' mood

Yesterday, I baked a batch of Fimo buttons...ripped out the failed zipper/awkward hook and eye band on this:

And reknit the band to be wider and with button holes. And I sewed on the buttons:
Hopefully this means I will actually start wearing the damn sweater. Yes, I have managed to stretch the shoulders out so I don't feel like someone is grabbing me under the armpits all day long. I don't think the button band looks quite as nice as the zipper version of the sweater but as I am completely incapable of sewing a zipper on a sweater (even after referencing numerous tutorials and on-line photo demos) it'll have to suffice.

On other knitting fronts, I have decided that I hate this sock:
so I ripped it out. Too bumpy and fussy for me. I think I'm in a rippin' mood right now so watchout rippables, here I come!

On a more positive note, I started this:
My first toe-up sock knit in the Regia yarn I brought back from Germany. If ever there was a colorway that served as an antidote to winter, this is it. The ridiculous thing is that this yarn comes from a series called "Canadian Colors" where each colorway is named after a different Canadian province. Did you know that Manitoba looks like a tropical sunset? Me neither. I also have the Toronto colorway.

And my feelings about toe-up socks? Neeeeeh. I found the increases on the toe far more awkward than the decreases one would use with top-down. I had read that people liked toe-up because you could try it on at any time and make changes, but the first time I knit this toe (yes, there were a number of attempts before getting it even halfway right) I couldn't tell that I was making a mammoth sock until I had finished all the increases. Then I realized that it might fit a bear paw and had to rip it back (luckily I'm in that rippin' mood, eh?). Unless someone can give me a better sales pitch on the benefits of toe-ups, I'll be a top-down sock maker from now on. Besides,"toe-up" doesn't have much linguistic alure and "top-down" sounds like I'm riding in a red convertible with the sun shining. That's a nice image to have when you are stuck inside because the weather is so cold that it will freeze your snot if you dare to breathe.