Saturday, March 04, 2006

parallel giant baking


40 mph winds and temperatures with a high of 20 transformed an exciting Saturday of beginner snowboarding lessons into an intense and gnarly day of baking.

Amanda, Cafa, and I first consoled ourselves with breakfast at Sound Bites, a somewhat overrated but still highly satisfying neighborhood joint in Somerville. (I've been spoiled by San Francisco, where places like Chloe's Cafe have made whole wheat walnut toast and farm-fresh berries a standard part of the hangover brunch...)

We then moseyed our way into the Saturday scene at Market Basket, which is completely different from what you might find at the local Whole Foods (Cantabrigians sampling cheeses after yoga) or Shaw's (MIT grad students towing personal shopping baskets on wheels). Market Basket is frenzied. Market Basket is disorienting. Market Basket is wholly human and astoundingly cheap.

I could have spent hours wandering the aisles, but my companions kept us focused on our mission. We gathered the necessary ingredients and headed home, and for the next couple hours dedicated our full attention to our chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting and chocolate hazelnut bars.

Since my visit to Magnolia Bakery in the West Village last month, I have been thinking about the meaning of the quintessential cupcake. Ostensibly, Magnolia's does make the quintessential cupcake - simple flavors, deftly frosted with a thick, sugary smear. But they also make a big to-do of your entire experience in their store, which, unfortunately, takes away from the cupcake's innocent charm (note the bouncer at the door). The price of fame, I suppose.

Our chocolate cupcake recipe came from Martha Stewart, and our peanut butter frosting was the classic healthful mixture consisting primarily of peanut butter, butter, and confectioners' sugar.

Martha Stewart's Chocolate Cupcakes
(makes 12)

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk or soy milk, room temperature
1 large egg, lightly beaten, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup boiling water

1. Place rack in center of oven and heat to 350°. Line cupcake tins (regular size) with 12 paper liners; set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine cocoa, sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add butter, milk, egg, and vanilla. Using a hand-held electric mixer on medium speed, beat for two minutes. (I did this by hand.) Add boiling water and beat to combine (batter will be thin). Divide batter evenly between cupcake liners.

3. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Peanut Butter Frosting

3 tbsp butter, softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2/3 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-3 tbsp milk or soy milk

Combine butter and peanut butter in a medium bowl, and beat until smooth (an electric mixer helps, but we did it by hand). Gradually mix in the sugar and vanilla. Add milk one tablespoon at a time until all of the sugar is mixed in and the frosting is smooth. Beat for a few minutes for it to get fluffy.

Don't frost the cupcakes until they are cool! We topped our finished cakes with chocolate nibs made from crushed chocolate chips. (We had trouble getting them to stay on the frosting, so we sprayed each cupcake lightly with vegetable oil first.) The end product was delightful and a joy to eat. As Amanda described, it was just moist enough to be good, but not so dishonestly moist as a cupcake from Duncan Hines. (Better than a mix - it's a low bar, but the unspoken goal of anyone who takes the time to make brownies or chocolate cake from scratch.)

Meanwhile, we also took on the challenge of developing our own chocolate hazelnut bar recipe, which I will not share with you just yet, as it is still somewhat a work in progress. I will say, however, that should you be without a food processor, Cafa has found it useful to keep the household tool chest handy by the kitchen.

(a work in progress)

For a savory complement to our nutritious lunch, we added freshly popped popcorn, which our very resourceful Amanda made in a brown paper bag, and I buttered and seasoned with garlic, chili pepper, and salt.

Overall, the day was schwank, and I am beginning to wonder why Parallel Giant Baking has yet to be included as an event in the Winter Olympics. Would it be against the rules to seek sponsorship from KitchenAid?


Law Student # 96981349825 said...

update on my food magazine search: after spending what seemed like hours hovering by the supermarket check-out line, i finally settled for cook's illustrated, ironically, the magazine you gave the fewest stars in your recommendation. so funny how people with purportedly similar food tastes can be so divergent when it comes to food magazines? anyway, i think cook's illustrated appealed to me because it seems like a paper version of alton brown's good eats, which is the kind of way i like to approach my food, or anything i'm doing, for that matter. i'm giving cook's illustrated a test run. fyi, saveur came in a close second!!

Godknows said...

wow, it look yummy, Wish i could do like that. Thansk for sharing.

BionicBuddha said...

Great Blog...the quest for the ultimate muffin should not end in Boston!! The pictures look delicious ;)

Julie said...

Your writing is charming and effervescent.

I'm looking forward to trying some of your recipes.

Anonymous said...
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Pamela said...

I adore all combinations of peanut butter and chocolate, your muffins sound utterly heavenly!