Cupcake Challenge and a Cookie Recipe
December 22, 2007
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Every year, when my sisters and I were kids, for our birthdays we each got a made-from-scratch, personally decorated birthday cake for our party. One year it was Little Bo Peep, another it was Barbie, still others it was a pretty array of colorful frosting flowers splashed across a chocolate rectangle. Cake, always cake; but never can I recall having cupcakes for my birthday.
Well, times have changed. In just a few years, cupcakes have become all the rage. Little cupcake-only shops have sprouted in every major city; and my friend Angie tells me that, in Dallas, they’ve reached a peak of price and exculsivity. One might even say that cupcakes are poised to take over the world!
And so, this season, though I’ve been asked to bake for several children’s parties and an at-home Christmas celebration, in every case I’ve been asked to bake up a batch of cupcakes.
As a vegan baker who uses neither refined sugar nor margarine, I can sometimes find it incredibly difficult to come up with substitutions that will approximate the same look and taste as conventional recipes (even though I own, and have carefully persued, every page of Isa and Terry’s phenomenal book, and send major kudos their way–especially for the agave-based vanilla cupcakes). I find it fairly easy to substitute organic coconut butter for margarine, but sugar really is one of a kind, especially when you’re talking buttercream.
So, while I continue to experiment with an agave-based buttercream frosting (and to post to Holidailies), I am left with my old standby, agave fudgy frosting, for cupcakes. Though delicious and thoroughly chocolatey, it’s not airy in the least, and not as easy to pipe into ruffles or scallops or drop flowers. It tends to sport a high-gloss finish, and can be a bit stiff, sometimes firming up so much that it won’t agree to be piped at all. When the vanilla version is colored for decorations, it resembles the type of gel-like icings you buy in little tubes in the grocery store–not much fine detail to work with, there.
[cupcakes with a scoop of frosting, waiting to be transformed. . . ]
So, when I received an order for some last-minute cupcakes decorated with a holiday theme, I wasn’t sure what to do. Without any formal training in cake decorating (which, I’m fairly sure, wouldn’t be much help with this type of frosting, anyway), I had to improvise. So I thought about simple line drawings of bells or bows that I could pipe onto the cupcakes, or how I might fill in an outline with colored frosting, which would then be smoothed flat, with something like a stained glass effect.
[The blank canvas waiting for inspiration]
Well, in the end, I would say the experiment was a semi-success. You can tell what I was trying to achieve, but the icing just wouldn’t smooth out, so my holly leaves have little bumpy ridges on them. Still, they tasted great (what? I couldn’t very well give them away without sampling to ensure quality, now, could I?), and I know that the kids who’ll be eating them will be thrilled.
[chocolate and agave holiday cheer]
With precious little time left before the holiday and so many people on the lookout for Christmas recipes, I’ll contribute one more festive cookie. These are a dense, chewy round that combines a peanut butter base with chocolate chips and cranberries. If you bake them the full suggested time, they’ll be crispy on the edges and soft but dry inside. Bake a little less, and they’ll cool to a moist and chewy goodness. These are actually better the second day, as the PB flavor intensifies.
Hmm. Peanut butter, chocolate and cranberries. . . I may just have to bake some of these myself. In the meantime, I’ll keep working on that sugarless vegan buttercream.
Holiday Cranberry Chippers
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