Driving to work this morning I had the radio tuned to NPR. I was listening to Renee Montagne chat with Nigella Lawson.
Ms. Lawson loves to bake. She is a goddess in the kitchen and I admire and respect anyone who can set out with a task in mind and follow a recipe and have it turn out as it should. She loves cupcakes and embraces them wholeheartedly. Listening to her digress about the creation and decoration was like listening to a painter describe his creative process. Truly mind boggling and beautiful to hear.
But I had to chuckle- more than once. For example, Lawson refers to cupcakes for Valentine’s Day as ‘love buns.’ For Lawson, part of creating recipes is the sheer joy of being able to define and provide their nomenclature - thus – Valentine’s Day cupcakes in the generic sense become none other than: love buns.
Now listening to the lively chatter between Lawson and Renee Montaigne was well, fascinating. Take for example her description of an ‘easy whip meringue’ topping for cupcakes:
Her casual use of the word ‘easy’ is a bit daunting to the likes of someone of my culinary limitations. For me, the kitchen in any fashion does not equate with the word ‘easy.’ ‘Difficult, challenging, messy,’ these are the words more apt to describe my experience in the throes of pots and pans and any attempt at cooking never mind baking.
Lawson breezily goes on to describe in her throaty British accent how she makes the topping with a touch of this and a dab of that. It sounded more like make up application but who am I to judge.
I listened to this love bun exercise while driving on a crowded road with anxious mothers scurrying to get children to school. The surreal commentary was combined with the day being a Friday the 13th, making the topic all that more entertaining. When stuck in traffic, listening to good humor is a cure all for much.
According to Lawson’s instructions for creating the so-called easy topping included: egg whites, sugar and corn syrup, along with a touch of salt and cream of tartar to help it maintain its shape. I must digress and explain that the Lawson makes an assumption that obtaining egg whites is a given.
However, in my few experiences at attempting to obtain said egg whites- - without the yellow, mucky yellow goop – requires a serious lesson in egg white capture 101.
So as I continued listening to the lady of love buns, I realized that Lawson was addressing that domestic part of the culture that had bypassed me when the good spirits of life were handing out home economics materials. I must have been busy chatting with the sparrows or something.
One of the highlights of Lawson’s description of her love bun making came with the following as she recreates for the listener the shape and design of the cupcakes.
After the egg white foam is swirled atop the cupcakes, she adds these rather fantastic little heart-shaped sprinkles, which she lets fall flutteringly onto the cloudy peaks. According to Lawson, “they almost look like prop cakes, they're so perfect."
And that perfection doesn't have to be stressful, she reminds the listener.
Hah! She has never been in the kitchen with me. I bet she would sing a different tune.
Valentine's Day recipes “can get so fussy and fernickity," Lawson says, "that actually you do not feel loving toward your loved ones – you just feel vaguely hostile, that you've been doing something so complicated and challenging." I must agree.
Lawson goes on to share with the listener her recipe for cherry cupcakes and that the assembly is easy, as all the ingredients are stirred together in a saucepan before being poured into a cupcake tin. Again the word ‘stirred’ is one of these actions verbs that causes me pause. Somehow my ability to stir ingredients often ends up with a patchy chance of glue like materials stuck to the bottom of a pan angrily staring back at me.
"If you can get those candied cherries, that haven't been dyed rather an alarming bright red, and you can get the ones that are a natural dark red, you've got something rather sultry and enchanting, rather than cute." Cute? In my kitchen? Cute?!!! I am speechless here.
Lawson enthusiastically tells the listener that with a topping of heavy cream and bittersweet chocolate, the cupcakes can let anyone join in the recent surge in cupcakes' popularity. Anyone…uh huh…anyone…indeed she has not met the likes of me…
"I think that adults have some sort of yearning for childish things, childish foods," Lawson said. "And I don't mean that disparagingly." According to Lawson these cupcakes help satisfy that desire. The only desire I have when it comes to baking or anything in the kitchen is to win the lottery so I can have a Nanny McPhee come to my rescue and whip up miracles in no time flat sans eggshells…
Lawson sums up her light and chatty menu du jour with how little fretting there is- that eating a cupcake is so much safer than the eating entire cake. Now here use of the word fretting – this is a word with which I agree- there is much fretting on my part as I cross my fingers hoping that my intended guests don’t get the cupcake or piece of cake with the rogue eggshell who refused to leave the batter upon command.
Fretting, now this is a word I can understand.
Below for the brave of heart are the recipes shared with listeners on the NPR website.
Enjoy- and let me know how the peaks of the love buns come out….
Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes
Reprinted from How to be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking. This recipe has not been tested by NPR.
Makes 12 cupcakes
· 12-cup muffin pan and paper baking cups
· 1/2 cup soft unsalted butter
· 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces
· 1 1/3 cups morello cherry jam
· 1/2 cup sugar
· Pinch of salt
· 2 large eggs, beaten
· 1 cup self-rising cake flour
· 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
· 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
· 12 natural-colored glace cherries
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Put the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan on the heat to melt. When nearly completely melted, stir in the chocolate. Leave for a moment to begin softening, then take the pan off the heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the butter and chocolate are smooth and melted. Now add the cherry jam, sugar, salt, and eggs. Stir with a wooden spoon and when all is pretty well amalgamated, stir in the flour.
3. Scrape and pour into the muffin baking cups in their pan and bake for 25 minutes. Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes before turning out.
4. When the cupcakes are cool, break the chocolate for the icing into little pieces and add them to the cream in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and then whisk — by hand or electrically — till thick and smooth. Ice the cupcakes, smoothing the tops with the back of a spoon, and stand a cherry in the center of each.
Reprinted from Nigella Express: Good Food, Fast. This recipe has not been tested by NPR.
Makes 12 cupcakes.
· 1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 1 tablespoon soft butter
· 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
· 2 eggs
· 3/4 cup flour
· 1 teaspoon baking powder
· 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
· 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
· 1 tablespoon milk
· 1 cup heavy cream
· food coloring of your choice
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.
2. Cream the butter and sugar either in a bowl by hand or with an electric mixer.
3. Once light and fluffy, add the eggs one at a time with a little of the flour, beating as you go.
4. Fold in the rest of the flour, the baking powder and baking soda, and the vanilla, and finally the milk.
5. Spoon the batter into the paper liners, dividing equally.
6. Put in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cupcakes are cooked and golden on top. Take the cupcakes in their paper liners out of the pan and let cool on a wire rack.
7. Once they're cool, cut off the mounded peak (if your cakes have obliged), cutting it in half to make the butterfly wings. Dig down a little with your knife. This will also leave a small hole to put the cream to hold the wings. If your cakes haven't peaked much, you will just have to cut out a slightly wider circle after the top, digging in as you do so.
8. Whip the cream until thick, coloring with food coloring if you wish, and dollop about 2 teaspoonfuls of cream on top of each cake.
9. Stick on your butterfly wings, using the cream as the glue.