Monday, April 27, 2015

Would You Like that in a Teacup?


Tea ranks pretty high on my "Comforts" list - right up there with chocolate, cupcakes, books, and a good CD - so what better challenge ingredient for April's cupcakery? A few weeks ago, Lauren made some delectably unique Peach Green Tea Cupcakes (which I was able to sample and yeah. Yum.), and I decided to try my hand with one of my favorite teas: Lavender Earl Grey.


Cupcake Conversations:
This is probably a common thought, but I just realized recently that "cupcakes" probably got their name by, you know, being cakes baked in cups. And then I wondered in what kind of cups they were baked, and decided probably teacups, because I love teacups. And then I looked up the history of the cupcake, and found that it actually was thusly dubbed because all the measurements were by cups, as you can read here. Pretty sure we're still talking about teacups, though. So while cupcakes may not have originally been conveniently cup-sized when they emerged in the 1800s, there still is a very strong link to tea when baking these little beauties. 


Lavender Earl Grey Cupcakes (makes about 12)
1 c. coconut flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
5 tsp loose leaf lavender earl grey tea
8 eggs
1 c. honey
6 TBL almond milk
4 tsp vanilla

To begin, warm almond milk and 1/3 c honey until honey is liquid.
Then, add 5 tsp tea, and leave to steep.
Do you like my "1 Cup of Perfect Tea" scoop?
Meanwhile, mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl and add the eggs.
Add honey-tea mixture, the rest of the honey, and vanilla, and pour into prepared cupcake papers!
Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on cooling rack!
I found the cupcakes to be deliciously moist, and while there was a distinct tea flavor, the lavender was reduced to only a teensy-tiny hint. Had I known this ahead of time, I would have bought some lavender flavoring from a specialty store and used that in the frosting. As I had not, however, I flavored my dairy-free frosting with almond (a yums addition to lavender earl grey). No recipe for the topping, because it was rather hap-hazard. I used coconut oil, coconut cream, and powdered sugar. With a dash of lavender food coloring. ;)
Review:
These cupcakes were ab-so-lute-ly perfect in texture, so the coconut-egg combo is a keeper! My siblings all raved about them, with Zachary saying he loved them more than the chocolate ones I'd made and they were the "best cupcakes I've ever tasted!" For improvements, I would be interested to see if I could bring out the tea's flavor any stronger, in addition to, as I mentioned, flavoring the frosting with lavender. Besides that, I would just be sure to ground the tea leaves a bit more, as some of the longer leaves were annoying me in the finished product. 

Have you ever made tea-flavored cupcakes?

Previous Cupcakery:

Monday, April 13, 2015

Do You Play?

Scattered Notes
{photo credit}
A wee Aspirer, clearing the door handle by mere centimeters, marches into my music room with an Alexander-the-Great measure of self-confidence and pride. Whipping her violin from its case, she announces that she has "already learned" an entire list of songs. Which, she graciously desires to know, would I have the pleasure of hearing first? As I frantically snatch the poor instrument away from imminent destruction in her whirling hands, laughter chokes me, and I am required to inform the maestro that, having never before taken a single music lesson, she does not, in fact, know how to play the violin.

"Let's start at the beginning, ok? First you have to be introduced! Do you know what this part of your violin is called?" Thus begins the first of many lessons - sometimes months of lessons - before Aspirer will scratch out even her beginning tunes. Yet, for all there is to learn, for all the lack of music her practice holds in these opening weeks, you could bet your bottom dollar that she announces, with child-like importance, that she "plays the violin!"

You have begun, my dear, but let us work hard in the months to come. Only then will you truly play.

As Aspirer twirls out to the car, Intermediate strolls into the room. Standing an inch or two above me - he has suddenly sprouted in these last months - he arranges his books upon the piano stand and maneuvers the bench to a precise distance from the instrument with a nonchalance that bespeaks several years' habit. Settled before the piano, he plays his assignments with a familiarity that often tempts him into carelessness, resulting in the occasional discordant fumble. Half his life he's played. He knows the instrument, the notes, the techniques, the challenges - in fact, he knows pretty much all there is to know about his instrument. He's here for accountability in applying his knowledge, but mistakes are insignificant when you know how to fix them, right? "Yeah, I play the piano," he will agree when asked, with a blasé shrug of the shoulders.

Oh Intermediate, you have learned so much. Can you not decide to diligently apply all you know to your music? Then you would really know what it means to play.

Piano
{photo credit}
Finally, Advanced enters the room. With a cheerful smile and few words of greeting, she lovingly lifts her violin from its case. As she turns to face me, she looks carefully about to be sure no quick movement will knock her strings out of tune or scratch her tenderly-polished wood. Yes, she is careful now, when her instrument is as familiar to her as the back of her own well-practiced hands. Before we've even begun, she has several questions from her week of study: "What should this tempo be?" "Do I use such-and-such technique for this passage?" "Have you heard Joshua Bell's performance of this piece?"

When she plays, her music dances like sunlight through the room. Her performance is as perfect as she knows how to make it, and my role has diminished to that of merely pointing out new ideas or interpretations of the music. "Do you play?" "Well, not very well - but I do take lessons," is her reply.

And yet, my dear Advanced, you are the one who knows - 
You know what it is to make music. 

When you play, it is not with the optimistic songs of Aspirer; she does not realize all she has to learn, and her music is unrecognizable to any who hear her. When you play, it is not with the confidence of knowledge held by Intermediate; to know is his intention, and to do is inconvenient. When you play, dear Advanced, your music touches others - because you sing to your fullest capacity, always striving for excellence, always mindful of all you have yet to learn. And that is how music is made.

Do you play?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Oh My Cupcakes! (Or...Muffins!)

*ahem*

Pretend I posted this on Monday.

Which is what I meant to do.

And would mean I was still posting in March.

Which held the Cupcake Month Theme of "Savory."

Then this would have been timely.

So just pretend with me.

Are we clear on this? Grand, then let's proceed!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

March Cupcakes were to be baked on a Savory theme, and so we three turned to the wide selection of gluten-free muffin recipes available. Lauren tackled Spinach Feta Muffins, to the delight of her taste-testers, and Mikaela grew resourceful in her adventures with Kalamata Olive & Sundried Tomato Croutons. Now, while both of these flavor combinations comply with the socially-approved definition of "savory," I (in true nerd-style) went to the dictionary definition, and was informed that "savory" did not merely mean "pungently flavorful without sweetness," but also "pleasing to the sense of taste, especially by reason of effective seasoning."

My savory is a bit sweeter than not. But hey - it still has a good combination of flavors! :) So without further ado...

Carrot Ginger Coconut Muffins

2 cups blanched almond flour
½ teaspoon  celtic sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp powdered ginger
a pinch of clove
½ cup shredded coconut shreds , unsweetened
3 eggs, preferably pastured
½ cup coconut oil ,melted
½ cup maple syrup OR honey
1-2 Tbs grated fresh ginger
1 cup grated carrot

Firstly, whisk together the dry ingredients (almond flour - coconut shreds).
See how organized? Almond flour underneath, salt at the bottom of the picture, followed by the baking soda, allspice, ginger, and coconut shreds. Obviously pre-whisked.

Next, whisk the eggs, oil, and syrup/honey (I used honey).
....ta-dah.

The next order of business is to mix the fresh ginger, carrots, and some optional raisins (it's against my religion to put raisins in baked goods, so I left them out) into the egg mixture. This, of course, necessitates grating the carrot...

If anyone has any tips for grating carrots without carrot shreds spreading all across the work area, I'm all ears! Pleas share your secrets!
Tell me that doesn't look delicious. ("Ok...that doesn't look delicious.")

No surprises in the next step: combine wet & dry ingredients, and pour into paper liners or greased muffin tins!

Oven-ready!

Bake the muffins at 350 degrees for 24-26 minutes. Cool, serve, enjoy!


 
These pictures are in keeping with the delicious-eating theme Joel started here...does anyone see the similarity? :p

Review:
I thought these muffins quite delish and would hardily recommend them!! If I wanted to bend them a little more into the conventional "savory" category, I can't help but think that a cream-cheese-lemon-dill topping would just POP! with the sweeter, subtle flavor of the muffin. But I leave that experiment to other days...


Happy baking!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Cupcakes of Bakings Past

Friday, February 13, 2015

Cupcake Party: Sarah Hearts Chocolate


Who ever heard of a girl late for her own party? Yet, I just checked and double-checked the calendar, and can you believe it's Friday ya'll??

So, this week, cupcake party on Friday. My blog. Everyone here? Hooray!

In accordance with the real theme of Valentine's Day (not really -we actually just chose it because there is no better flavor for kicking off a party) February's cupcake category is CHOCOLATE! (and I hope you all were terribly refined and read that with a French accent. I know I typed it thusly)

Lauren made some almost-healthy-and-still-incredibly-delicious Double Peanut Butter Chocolate Cupcakes last week, for which I can vouch as a keeper recipe! This week, I tried DC Cupcakes' Chocolate Chip Lava Fudge Cupcakes.

Three words:

Also a keeper.

The first step in making unbeatably delicious cupcakes is to get some unbeatably cute help, which is often hard to come by. I was lucky in my interviewing process, though, and was able to hire Maddy for some cupcake-paper-placing assistance. (please notice the hearts at the bottom of the papers. we love cupcakes.)
I substituted almond milk for the whole milk. I think this made the batter a bit more runny, and in the end I added an extra cup of flour (although if I did it again I would try only half a cup) for texture.
My other "tweaking" came in the form of dark chocolate chunks instead of chocolate chips - I recommend this change!!



What can I say? It's Valentine's Day tomorrow and I love chocolate. What better shape for cupcakes??
My second cute assistant: Kate! 
Cooling 
Then the truly fun part began! Using a lemon juicer (slightly smaller than an apple corer, which is what the recipe suggested) we punched holes straight through the cupcakes, gutting out their delicious innards for a core of even more delectable-ness -
Namely, chocolate ganache! The recipe said to use a plastic squeeze bottle, which would have made this a one-handed task. However, in the lack of squeeze bottles and the surplus of hands, we made do with a paper funnel!
Yummy-Yum-Yums 
 Next came a vanilla cream cheese frosting, topped with cute little pink sugar-candy-decor-balls. I think the end effect quite charming.
Yes, they were That. Good.

And now for some recipes - just in case you care to make these mouth-watering, diet-shattering, chocolate-fixing cupcakes for yourself! 

Cupcakes
1 1/4 c. gluten-free flour {I used 2 1/4}
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
2 eggs
1 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 c. whole milk {I used almond milk}
1/2 c. cocoa powder
1/2 c. chocolate chips {I used dark chocolate chunks}

Beat butter until fluffy; stop to add the sugar; beat on medium speed until mixed. Then, add the eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl as needed. In a separate container, combine milk and vanilla. Sift flour, salt, and soda. Alternate adding flour and milk mixtures to butter-sugar combo (adding a third at a time). Mix just until combined. Then add cocoa, and fold in the chocolate chips! Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees, either in cupcake papers or greased muffin tins. The recipe said to start checking the cupcakes at 15 minutes, and mine were mostly ready to pull out then. Allow cupcakes to fully cool (on wire rack) before taking out the centers and adding the...



Chocolate Ganache
2 c. semisweet chocolate chips
1 c. heavy cream

Fill a skillet with about an inch of water, and put ingredients in a small metal bowl in the skillet - kind of like a double-boiler. Turn burner between medium-low and medium heat. {Ok, I cheated here and turned it to 'high' until the chocolate started to melt, then turned it back down. No negative effects.} Melt and mix until it is one smooth, chocolaty goop of deliciousness. It will seem very runny, but have faith! It thickens. We added it to the centers while it was still very runny, then just popped them in the fridge. After the initial hardening, the cupcakes were fine on the counter, and the ganache didn't get soupy again.

Finally, top with...

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting!
4 TBLS unsalted butter {but mine was salted, and still good}
4 c. powdered sugar {recipe asked me to sift it...but I didn't. However, if your sugar is on the clumpy side, you will want to}
1/4 t. vanilla extract
6 oz cream cheese, at room temperature.

Combine and frost!




Review:

I really loved this cupcake recipe - and so did all my taste-testers! Those not accustomed to gluten-free cooking said they were a little dry, and they were on the crumbly side. At some point, I would like to experiment with adding a little less "extra" flour, and changing my g-free flour, to see if I could make them a little more moist. With the fudgy filling and creamy frosting, however, it wasn't bad at all. Even if this is "as good as it gets" I would make them again in a heartbeat...and probably will!

Any questions? No? Well then....

Would you like a cupcake?



Thursday, February 5, 2015

Scheming Still


Once upon a time, there were three of us. Three, adorable, us's. We played violin together, explored the woods together, told each other scary raccoon stories at bedtime, and investigated the scientific and entrepreneurial potential behind turning fondue back into cheese for resale.  Because 2 or 3 days a week is clearly not enough face time, we were ever consumed with plotting intricate "schemes" to lengthen or multiply visits. Perhaps one week we would try to smuggle each other home in the back of our respective vans. Another week held "run away from home" day. We would be suddenly struck deaf to cries of "It's time to go home!" or our feet would turn to lead when it was time to "load up." Oh, how subtly we schemed. On rare days, our plans would be astounded by the simple, "Ok" our parents must have chuckled to give when approached by "Don't you think we should have a sleepover tonight?"


Then we grew up a little, and with us, our world. When I moved the eternal distance of an hour away, our "schemes" grew more intricate. We would attempt to leave necessary items at each others' houses to require an imminent second get-together. Our ears would perk up whenever there was mention of being in the same vicinity, and we would email, and send letters, and plot until we were blue in the face to make the most of every opportunity. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. But most of all, we enjoyed the thrill and adventure of discussing our "schemes."

{photo credit: Christa Taylor}
Then we grew up a little more, and the world got a little bigger. Mikaela married her bestest-estest friend and moved far enough away to put my one-hour distance to shame. And so the scheming continued, and Lauren and I (with Mama Cash!) boarded a plane and had one delightful smash of a visit last month where, true to form, the three us's hatched another scheme...


But this scheme was different. It didn't involve leaving things behind, or begging for sleepovers. It wasn't concerned with scary carnivore stories or finding a day when we could tramp through the woods to go blackberry surfing. No, no, no - this scheme was so delicious, we want you in on it!

Curious? I'll give you a hint: it's a Cupcake Party!! For details and your very-own, highly-personal invitation, read Lauren's post here, then head over to One Bright Corner's main page today for the first of many festivities. Will you join in our lovely scheme? We have years of plotting practice, and can guarantee you a wild, delectable ride!