A Southern Grace: January 2012

January 25, 2012

lemon law


There's a notion known as the lemon law which has to do with the reimbursement for recently-purchased vehicles that fail to meet certain standards. A hilarious episode of the sitcom How I Met Your Mother centered on the idea of applying the law to dating--you don't like your blind date after five minutes? No problem, the date's off, your night is saved! I submit that we should also be able to apply it to an ordered meal.

Why not? If the food is gross or far from what I anticipated and I'm not able to choke it down, should I be forced to pay for it? Probably. Definitely. But that's just something to consider.

Working in a bakery means I've tried many, many types of muffins, and I'll state with confidence that these are the most cake-like I've ever had. Their texture is delicate and as fluffy as a down pillow, and each bite just dissolves in the mouth. Plus, they're adequately sweet without being a sugar-rush source. The simplest of all crumb toppings (three basic ingredients!) just contributes to the magic, adding a buttery richness and textural contrast all at once. The lemon flavor is bright and the overall effect is an enjoyable one.

Bonus: You can make the batter and topping ahead of time and keep it in the fridge for days, nay, weeks! Look somewhere else for a fiber-filled, nutritious, and minimally tasty muffin, my friends. This is dessert for breakfast, and the lemon law need not be applied.

Luxurious Lemon Muffins
(adapted from these)
(makes 24 huge muffins)

6 cups all-purpose flour
4 cups sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
8 eggs
2 cups (16 ounces) sour cream
2 cups butter, melted
3 tablespoons grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons lemon juice

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cold butter, cubed

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, combine the eggs, sour cream, butter, lemon peel and juice. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups three-fourths full.
In a small bowl, combine flour and sugar; cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over batter.
Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.

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January 18, 2012

there's a tear in my beer


My stepdad has a new hobby. (Incidentally, so does the Mamster--you won't find a softer scarf, I guarantee it.) He has taken up brewing his own beer, and as far as I can tell, he's having a blast.

Even though I have a degree in food science, I don't pretend to know the first thing about homebrewing, probably because I don't personally enjoy it as a beverage. My stepdad has caught on quickly, however, and he's learning a lot as he goes. With each new batch, I think he's more and more satisfied with the outcome.  The hardest part, I believe, is waiting for the stuff to ferment to an appropriate degree.  Ah, there's nothing like a test of patience, right?

While I don't necessarily enjoy the flavor of beer, I do like immediate gratification, and I thought that incorporating dark beer into a cupcake might be neat (and an improvement upon my opinion of the stuff, at the very least). Surprise, surprise, Martha already thought of that. I used her recipe as a guideline, though I definitely went with a lightly beer-flavored buttercream frosting rather than the glaze she suggests. What can I say, I always prefer a buttercream.

The main flavor in these is not the beer, but molasses. It's almost too much, but in the end, a nice, gingerbread-like balance is found. I would recommend these surprisingly moist and fluffy cupcakes to beer-lovers and beer-haters alike, especially if you're waiting for your home brew to be ready for proper consumption.

Stout Cupcakes (to contribute to your stoutness!)
(based on a recipe found here)
(makes 24)

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups unsulfured molasses
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk
zest from one orange
1 1/4 cups stout beer

one batch o' buttercream, with stout beer added instead of maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two muffin tins with liners.
Whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg together.
In a stand mixer, beat the oil, molasses, brown sugar, whole eggs, yolk, zest, and stout until combined. Reduce speed to low and add the flour mixture in batches, beating until just combined.
Pour batter into lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake about 20 minutes, rotating tins halfway through. Let cool completely on wire racks.
Once cupcakes are cool, frost generously and eat (dark, seedy bar optional).

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January 12, 2012

you were mint for me


One of the most prevalent flavor combinations on this blog is chocolate and mint, and there's a very specific reason for that--I love it.

The refreshing breeze from the mint seems to perfectly complement the rich depths of chocolate, regardless of the vehicle in which they're traveling.

This vehicle is particularly decadent. There's chocolate everywhere and in three different forms. The foundation is a moist and fluffy cocoa-based chocolate cake that's coated in an amazing white chocolate buttercream frosting (s. woon.) and filled with clouds of mint-flavored chocolate mousse. Each bite is an exciting and enjoyable sensation.

If you're a fan of the marriage of chocolate and mint like I am, give this cake a try. It's magnificent enough for any occasion, even if said occasion is as trivial as, say, the sprouting of a new gray hair.

Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Mint Cake
one recipe of your favorite chocolate cake

Chocolate-Mint Mousse Filling:
6 oz semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon mint extract

White Chocolate Buttercream Frosting:
1 cup butter, softened
2 1/2-3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
6 oz good quality white chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Prepare your chocolate cake and bake it in two 9-inch round pans. Once cool, cut each round in half horizontally.

To prepare the mousse, carefully melt the chocolate and set it aside. Place the heavy cream and sugar in the well-chilled bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the chilled whisk attachment. Whisk on high-speed until stiff peaks form. Remove the bowl from the mixer. By hand, whisk to combine 1/4 of the whipped cream into the melted chocolate until smooth and completely incorporated. Add the combined whipped cream and chocolate to the remaining whipped cream and use a rubber spatula to fold together. Stir in the extract.

To prepare the frosting, put the chopped white chocolate into a small bowl and heat it in 30 second increments in the microwave. Stir after each increment, and continue to heat 30 seconds at a time until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Set aside and allow to completely cool. Cream the butter and add the sifted powdered sugar, beating until light and fluffy and scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. With the mixer running on low speed, gradually pour the cream and vanilla into the bowl. Once the cream mixture has been incorporated into the frosting, fold in the melted and cooled white chocolate until incorporated. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high, and beat the frosting for an additional 3 minutes.

To assemble the masterpiece, slather the mousse between the halved layers (stacking as you go), then frost the sides and top in a decorative fashion. Chill for a bit to let things mingle, then slice and serve!

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January 5, 2012

she's my cherry pie


Boy, when I get on a kick, I really get on a kick [see my search for the best possible Middle Eastern wrap (spoiler alert: I found it) or my infatuation with apple cake].

Obviously, the latest craze in Graceland is filled cupcakes.

Because pie filling is so easy to make and use and because of the nearly-unparalleled success of my apple pie, strawberry pie, and blueberry pie versions, I felt the need to include cherry pie too. After all, we don't want to discriminate against any of the pie-appropriate fruits, now do we?!

The cupcake recipe here is one that Martha and her crew created using rhubarb. Clearly, rhubarb is way out of season now, and I prefer cherries anyway. The innards consist of homemade pie filling, which I spruced up with a little orange juice and zest. To match that citrus zing, I tossed a little orange zest into the buttercream frosting as well.

All modesty aside (whether legitimate or feigned), this is another slam dunk. The cupcakes are light yet sturdy enough to support the cherries and the filling, and the frosting is smooth and vibrant, thanks to the added zest.

For a similar but much more healthful use of cherries, check out my post on the Key Ingredient blog!

Cheery Cherry Pie Cupcakes
(based on a batch from Martha)
(makes about 16)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup sour cream, room temperature
2 cups cherries, pitted (frozen is fine)
cherry pie filling, homemade or store-bought

Orange buttercream:
2 cups (16 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
6 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
orange zest from one orange

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla extract. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the sour cream, and beating until combined after each. Stir in cherries. Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three- quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes.
To make the frosting, with an electric mixer, beat butter on medium-high speed until pale and creamy, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to medium. Add the powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as needed; after every two additions, raise speed to high and beat 10 seconds to aerate frosting, then return to medium-high. This process should take about 5 minutes. Frosting will be very pale and fluffy. Add vanilla and zest, and beat until frosting is smooth.
To fill the cupcakes, carve out a cone-shaped hole (and immediately eat the cone)(after adding frosting to it, of course) and carefully spoon the pie filling inside. Apply frosting generously to cupcakes and devour.

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