"You don't write anymore."
It's as much a question as an admonishment. I know. Not at all since last December. Which coincided with Hubby's deployment to Afghanistan. I'm in denial about it all. I focus on the positive things going on and avoid thinking about those out of my control. The blog lies more or less dormant because with one quarter of my little family gone, part of the purpose of cooking is gone. More than nourishment, food is love and comfort for me. It's hard to throw myself into cooking when I'm distracted; and it's hard baking when I'm not inspired. And writing sometimes feels burdensome.
But there are some things that must be celebrated; Hoss' first birthday in December, and Puggle's third birthday this past week were two such events for which manic party planning and all-morning cooking and baking were apropos and welcome. Having two boys, I'm aware that my time for over-the-top parties is finite; and I fully intend to indulge myself.
Pug's first birthday involved block cakes in the spirit of the alphabet blocks cake from my baby shower; his second birthday was all about rockets; and given his obsession with all things train related, we went the choo choo route. Hoss, who turned one in December, got a circus theme.
I'm still enamored of cupcakes despite recent sentiment that cupcakes are passé. Pug loves a moist and rich and not too sweet cupcake. (He'll hand back overly sweet desserts more often than not.) My current favorite recipe is a vanilla bean cupcake; and it was a toss up between buttercream and cream cheese frosting. Ultimately I wasn't in the mood to make a vat of Italian buttercream so the cream cheese won out. But as it happens, I had a new baking book I've been reading, The Craft of Baking by Karen DeMasco, the former pastry chef at Craft and its sister operations, which has a lovely recipe for white chocolate cream cheese frosting.
I have a great recipe for sugar cookies but tried her recipe which yielded fantastically buttery cookies that my parent and Pug devoured. Not having my icing recipe handy, I used hers - and it was a little more sugary than I would have liked; as a result, I ended up icing only the railroad crossing cookies; I outlined the train cookies but left them un-iced (I'm not keen on a too sugary sugar cookie).
Maybe I should have made the effort to properly decorate the train cookies because my sister pinged me a few days later and the following conversation ensued:
Her: "What were those cookies that you made?"
Me: "Sugar cookies."
Her: "No #$%^. I meant, what were they supposed to be?"
Her: "They look like Moab Utah Monuments."
Her: "Yeah. Those look nothing like trains. I seriously thought you were trying to make a national park landscape birthday theme party. That said, Monument Valley and Moab are my two faves."
Should I be insulted or complimented that she thought I would take on a theme like national parks for a birthday theme? I mean, I'm nuts but that's certifiable. Although the idea of a Mount Rushmore cake is interesting. Hmm....
You decide. Trains? Or Monument Valley?
Vanilla Bean Cupcakes3/4 cup (1-1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1-2/3 cups vanilla sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2-2/3 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat butter until softened. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.
2. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until well combined.
3. Measure the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl and whisk to combine.
4. Stir together the milk and vanilla extract and seeds. Save the vanilla bean for another purpose.
5. Add about a 1/4 of the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar mixture and beat to combine. Add about a 1/3 of the milk/vanilla and beat to combine. Continue adding, alternating between dry and wet and finishing with the dry.
6. Scoop batter into cupcake cups. I use an ice cream scoop and fill about two-thirds full. Turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake cupcakes for about 22-25 minutes or until a toothpick or tester comes out clean.
Yields: 24 small cupcakes, 12 large cupcakes.
If you'd like Karen's recipe for White Chocolate Cream Cheese frosting, email me at: ablithepalate (AT) gmail (DOT) com.