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Apple Cider-Pumpkin Cupcakes & JUMP Dinner Give-Away 2

Posted on November 01, 2010 by crankycheryl

Two things I might consider before my next batch of cupcakes:

  • Perhaps starting at a reasonable time, and not waiting until after Zumba, after dinner at 8:00, after the 2nd glass of wine had begun (Lincoln Peak Marquette: delightful), to make 4 1/2 dozen cupcakes.
  • Reading both the entire recipe AND the comments before picking a new online recipe in order to evaluate likelihood of success.  A very bad word came out of my mouth when I got to the dry ingredients part and knew that the amount of leavening was implausible, the ph level would be off, and failure was nearly guaranteed.

Alas, when it comes to my poor kitchen I do sometimes begin a new project with more enthusiasm than good sense.  That’s what I get with my multi-tasking, mommified, projects-up-to-here life in the CrankyHouse.

The cupcakes turned out to be incredibly delicious, thanks to a combination of more reliable recipes.

And in spite of all the crazy around here, we know how lucky we are.    And we know that too many families are challenged by the approaching winter and holidays.  One organization helping folks in need by providing emergency services and supplies is the Joint Urban Ministry Project, who’s having its Best Church Supper Ever event in Burlington on Saturday, November 6.  Leave a comment here about how you and your family are gearing up help out neighbors near or far this holiday season and I’ll do a drawing for two adult tickets on Friday 11/5.

Cider-Pumpkin Cupcakes
24 cupcakes

1.  Preheat oven to 350.  Prepare muffin tins with liners (you know you can get non-bleached, non-dyed ones now?).

2.  In a saucepan on the stove, boil until reduced to one cup:

  • 2 cups apple cider

Cool to room temperature.

3.  While the cider is boiling and cooling, beat together in a large bowl:

  • 3/4 c. room temperature unsalted butter or non-hydrogenated organic shortening
  • 1 cup sugar

When fluffy and thoroughly combined, beat in:

  • 2 eggs, one at a time
  • 1/2 cup pureed pumpkin or squash (canned is fine if that’s what you have)

4.  Place a sifter over a bowl and measure into it:

  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt

Sift half of flour mix into butter and sugar mixture and combine with a few firm strokes with a wooden spoon.  Add the reduced cider and combine, then sift in the rest of the flour, and stir just until thoroughly combined.

5.  Fill prepared muffin cups about 2/3 full and bake for 25 – 30 minutes.  Let cool on a rack and serve as-is, or with frosting.

Brown Sugar Marshmallow Frosting
about 2 cups

Whip together until thoroughly combined:

  • 1 1/2 c. Fluff (you could try the rice-marshmallow stuff if you – reasonably – shrink in horror from Fluff)
  • 1/4 c. unsalted butter
  • 1/4 c. non-hydrogenated, organic shortening
  • 3 T. molasses

Spread on cupcakes once they’re completely cool.

Halloween-y Witch Broom Decorations

  • 4 slices unsulfured, unsugared, organic mango (yes, in spite of telling you to eat Fluff, I now say you must buy the organic and wholesome dried variety of this), cut with kitchen scissors into wide triangles, then the flat wide edge snipped into “straws.”
  • about 12 thin pretzels, broken in half

Place a piece of pretzel and one piece of mango on each.  Many children will eat them.

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S’more Cupcakes 2

Posted on October 16, 2010 by crankycheryl

I’m never sure what’s going to happen when I offer to donate goodies for charity auctions.  Sometimes they end up uncollected, and sometimes they end up being great big jobs that take days to prepare.  Still, we’ve got so many good causes around here, and it’s fun to be creative in unexpected ways.

I was happy to donate a couple dozen custom cupcakes for our beloved Intervale Center’s recent auction.  The order turned out to be a rush job for an 8-year old’s birthday.  Lucky for me, she knew exactly what she wanted: s’more cupcakes – vanilla cupcake, marshmallow frosting, chocolate, and topped with graham cracker crumbs.  Super easy, and it gave me a chance to work with Fluff, which is very likely my favorite guilty pleasures.

S’more Cupcakes
1 dozen

For cupcakes, follow this recipe, which is as easy and yummy a regulation vanilla cupcake I’ve ever found.

Marshmallow Frosting
Whip together on high speed until fluffy (-er) and well combined:

  • 2 cups Fluff (our health food store also carries a vegan rice fluff-ish thing)
  • 1 cup organic non-hydrogenated type frosting (you can substitute unsalted butter if you prefer, but shortening will give you a firmer set and will hold better if you want to make this a day ahead
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar

To decorate:

Frost the cooled cupcakes.  Roll them on a diagonal in finely crushed crumbs from about:

  • 8 graham crackers

Then top with:

  • 1 small piece of chocolate (for my own family I would have used some Lake Champlain Chocolate squares, but I didn’t know if the birthday girl would tolerate deviation from regulation s’more ingredients)

Make ahead note:

  • You can make everything up to a day ahead, but don’t construct more than a few hours before you plan to serve.  Otherwise your crumbs will lose their crisp.
  • The cupcakes can be baked and cooled farther ahead and frozen.
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Birthdays & Cupcakes In Spite of It All 1

Posted on July 06, 2010 by crankycheryl

This video this is supposed to be funny, like stupid ha-ha.

But maybe because it’s late, or maybe because a birthday makes a mom notice how fast time passes, I think it’s right on.

Friends, readers, loved ones, thank you for being here – whether it’s your birthday or not.  And it’s cool if you didn’t get a promotion or a new degree or cure anything or finally make a perfect meringue.

I’m just glad you didn’t die this year. Really: nice job with that.

Thanks for not jumping off a bridge in spite of these crazy oil-spill, immigrant-hating, war-mongering, Fox-news-yelling, unemployment-up-the-wazoo days.  In spite of all that’s going on in your own life that might have made it tempting.

And Z., my baby, my brilliant bubbly little shining birthday star. Thank you for coming into this world and being here with me.  Happy birthday.

Let’s have some silly cupcakes and give the whole thing another whirl.

(The fabulous Abby Dodge’s Emergency Blender Cupcakes, with Italian Buttercream Frosting, with candy-coated sunflower seeds and snipped licorice, peach gummy rings, and fruit leather.)

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Chinese New Year’s Valentine’s Day 0

Posted on February 15, 2010 by crankycheryl

My delightful and amazing friend showed up a few weeks ago with a duck and a goose for our freezer.  I had last met the birds as cute little fuzzywumps who were making a temporary stop in her condo on their way to the farm where they were to be raised.

Better, more interesting, and more thoughtful writers have written about the contradiction of loving specific animals and eating them.  But not all of them have a 7- and 4- year old to stage impassioned debates on the issue.

The boys asked what I was bringing down to the basement freezer and I told them.  Z. blanched and said, “But that’s TERRIBLE!”  And he started crying and telling me he wouldn’t eat them.   E. said, “Oh, I want to eat them, Mommy.  I’ll eat their … HEADS!”  So while his brother sobbed, I explained that birds usually don’t have heads by the time they get to someone’s freezer, and we trooped downstairs to peer inside the plastic bag at the birds.  E. nodded.   Z. announced that he was going to be vegetarian.

As the boys continued to loudly process their quest for ethical eating, I wanted to plan a meal around the birds.  Then, before I knew it, Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year’s were about to coincide and we turned it into a little party.  I started thinking about traditional good luck New Year dishes and Valentine’s fun.

I planned on a sort of mock Peking duck, with the overnight approach of steaming the bird and then roasting it with a glaze on the skin.  But when I went to start them: NO SKIN!  I gasped and started scratching my head, saying something that rhymed with, “duck,” over and over.  What was I going to do?  What possible substitute for skin could there be?   Duck, duck, duck, f …

Then there it was: bacon.

So it was on to plan B.  and making a sort of frosting with palm (unhydrogenated, organic, non-saturated) shortening, molasses and sambal oelek, and rubbing it all over the birds before draping them with lots of thick-cut bacon.  Then I roasted them in a clay-pot cooker to keep as much moisture in as possible.

I cooked them for about 1 3/4 hours at 475, which was when faces began to appear from all directions, asking to snitch a piece or two of bacon.  We then carved the meat and served it with:

  • Bacon, since there was no crispy skin
  • Wheat tortillas brushed with sesame oil and warmed
  • Hoi sin sauce
  • Julienned scallion greens
  • Scallion brushes (If you make this, don’t skip these!  They look great and will make your guests giggly-happy.)

There were tea eggs.  Here are Sara and her lovely daughter peeling them (and Kim laughing at my silly picture-taking ways):

And General Tso’s Seitan with broccoli, with homemade seitan made with Post Punk Kitchen’s excellent and reliable recipe.

My mom brought the unpictured but delicious Beets with Star Anise from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, and made sauce for Sesame-Peanut Noodles (long noodles are a traditional celebration food because they’re associated with long life).

Dessert was truffles, plus Sweet Rice Cake. I love this dish, but I adore sticky gooey things made with glutinous rice.   Besides being a really endearing texture, it’s auspicious for New Year’s because it’s round, signifying family union, and sweet for a sweet new year, and its name in Chinese is a sound-alike for a sort of good wishes expression.


But there were children to consider, so a Western-style dessert was in order.  In the morning, I had thrown together a vegan orange batter for cupcakes, then realized I had left out the baking soda, which I hurried in right before baking.   That was when I had a first-hand experience with what happens when you over-activate your leavening agent.

So I baked the rest as a cake, which worked better for some reason.  Then after dinner, while the children were acting completely insane and were all past their bedtime, a 10-year old guest and I made our silly piece de resistance, which involved the cake, neon-colored 7-minute frosting, black icing gel, and heart sprinkles.  It was a Tiger’s Valentine’s Cake (about which my assistant made sure to remind guests, “No actual tigers were harmed in the making of this dessert”).

And then we sent guests home with cupcakes and collapsed in a fit of sugar and food and good conversation.

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Here Come the Hearts and Chocolate and Maybe Some Tigers 0

Posted on February 10, 2010 by crankycheryl

Why is it that I seem to have more Valentine’s related crafty stuff than for any other time of year?  Seriously!  Heart glitter glue, a heart  punch-out thing, red felt for cutting hearts out of,  heart stamps & their various stamp pads, heart sequins.  What’s the deal?  I don’t even really like this holiday.

But love is indeed a good thing, and so is good food, and what could possibly be wrong with eating and some gratuitous celebration?  So in that spirit, we’re in heavy Valentine’s prep around here.

Today we made 30 of these, with actual participation from the boys.

Planning 24 cupcakes for Z.’s preschool, though he hasn’t told me what flavor they’ll be yet.  They won’t be these, since they have to be certifiably free of the one thing, the other thing, plus something else.

And I’m off to buy some out-of-season but non-allergenic strawberries for E.’s highly-allergic-to-everything first grade class.

But the big event will be Sunday and its beguiling intersection of Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year beginning the Year of the Tiger, for which we’re having over family friends and I’m planning to make:

  • Roast Goose with Peking Pancakes, Scallions, and Hoisin Sauce (whole roasts are traditional)
  • Sesame Noodles (long noodles represent longevity)
  • General Tso’s Seitan with Broccoli (the orange is a new year food)
  • Cupcakes (sure!) decorated with tigers and Chinese characters.  I have a LOT of fondant left from the penguin escapades.

Pictures to come.

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Blessed Silence Sunday: Breakfast Cupcakes 0

Posted on February 07, 2010 by crankycheryl

Banana-squash muffin with cream cheese frosting.

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Penguin Cupcakes & Math Cupcakes: A First Adventure with Fondant 6

Posted on February 05, 2010 by crankycheryl

Inspired by this year’s Penguin Plunge and by this,  I’ve been back at that drawing board working on making some rockin’ penguin cupcakes.  I tried one batch, but wasn’t wowed by my results.  I revisited my original inspiration, and decided to try my hand with fondant-as-playdough for two reasons:

  • It can be sculpted into nearly any shape as easily as any clay
  • Not allergenic like marzipan (a.k.a. “the other edible clay”).

So I called up Mirabelle’s, and they kindly agreed to sell me a three cups of fondant.  It’s available at evil chain stores, but I assumed it would be better from Burlington’s pre-eminent patisserie.  Along with the fondant, I gathered:

  • Icing gel (it’s thick and doesn’t change the texture of the icing/fondant too much) in black plus primary colors.
  • White edible sprinkles (snow for the penguins to lounge and frolic on).
  • Double batch of cupcakes so I could make the penguins, and also a dozen for Math Night at school (there’s a link to a great Abby Dodge recipe below).
  • One half-batch of Swiss Meringue Buttercream.
  • Cupcake liners in primary colors.
  • Didn’t have but should have: thin exam-type gloves to use while dealing with the food color.

After dividing the fondant into several parts, I got out the gel icing coloring and started kneading in the color.  Don’t do this without gloves.

The black was very strange, as the red-purple part of the pigment seemed to head right into my skin, leaving the fondant itself distinctly green.  So, with CrankyGreg’s advice, I kneaded in more red, and some blue, and it finally turned a nice bright black.  It also made it goopier and harder to work with, but kneading in a little bit of confectioner’s sugar mostly took care of that.

For penguin purposes, I wanted black, red, yellow and blue, and left quite a bit white.  Then amidst several rounds of muttering and scrubbing,  the colored fondant went in the refrigerator so it could chill down (separated, so the colors wouldn’t bleed together) while I made a batch of Abby Dodge’s Emergency Blender Cupcakes.

Then it was time to take out the black and white sections and start making penguin parts.

Eyes.  These are much smaller than they look in the picture.

Heads and bodies.

And then put the parts together to make the penguins into themselves:

  • A black ball (head) onto a white oval (body), and then rolling and smushing black dough into a sort of winged cape.
  • Tiny white balls with tinier black balls for the eyes.  These were the hardest part, though would have been easier if I had had the sense to keep returning the dough to the refrigerator.  The black pupils were made by rolling an extremely thin sausage and then slicing off the smallest bit with a sharp paring knife.  Much grumbling took place.
  • Orange triangle for beak.
  • A nice fat orange “v” for feet.
  • Various shapes for penguin accessories, which I did as I went along.  Towels, fish, swimsuits, beach balls, maybe a soda with a straw, whatever you like.
  • They can be posed on their stomachs, backs, sitting, standing, doing the backstroke, diving.  Penguins deserve to have fun and variety too.

Then I frosted the cupcakes, dusted them with the edible glitter, and put a little pal on top.

The flock has been delivered to Special Olympics for their event on Saturday.  I don’t know how they’re going to use them, but I hope they find their way into some happy bellies.

And then it was a separate batch for Math Night at E.’s school by rolling out colored and black fondant into thin sausages and shaping it into numbers and mathematical symbols.

And now it’s on to planning some kooky something for the co-occurring Valentine’s Day & Chinese New Year to celebrate Year of the Tiger.  Something with hearts, maybe stripes that’s fun for the kids, plus something traditional, Chinese and delicious for the grown-ups.  Stay tuned.

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Chai Cupcakes with Orange-Honey Frosting 2

Posted on January 26, 2010 by crankycheryl

I made these cupcakes because I had volunteered to help out with a Nepali fund raising dinner here in our cohousing community.  They were delicious, yes, if I say so myself, but hardly up to the meal they followed.  My neighbor Ming made an amazing feast of red lentil daal, and stewed chicken, and fresh vegetables, rice, daikon pickle, raisin-sesame pickle.  Amazing, beautiful food that I forgot to take pictures of.  (Hey – the buffet gets pretty competitive around here.  I have priorities.)

But before I made a glutton of myself, I had offered to make dessert, and chai leaped to mind and here these came.

Chai Cupckaes with Orange Honey Frosting
Makes 12
Based on the 1997 Joy of Cooking’s 1-2-3-4 Yellow Cake & Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

Make the cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350.  Line 12 cupcake cups with parchment or foil liners.
  2. Sift together:
  • 2 1/2 c. cake flour (substitute part whole wheat pastry flour if you like)
  • 2 1/4 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. cardamom

3.  Combine in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer and then let sit for 3 or 4 minutes:

  • 1 c. milk
  • 2 crushed cardamom pods
  • 1 t. black tea

But don’t take a picture, or else it might look like this.  Really now, I couldn’t have wiped down the sides of the pan before I snapped this?  Jeez Louise.

4.  In a large bowl, beat until creamy:

  • 2 sticks (1/2 lb.) butter

Gradually add and beat on high speed until light in both texture and color:

  • 1 1/2 c. sugar, then
  • 4 egg yolks, one at a time

5.  Add the flour mixture, 1/3 at a time, alternating with the milk, and adding the last third of flour last, using a wooden spoon or an electric mixture set on low speed until nice and smooth.

6.  In another large bowl, beat until soft peaks form:

  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 pinch cream of tartar

Then gradually add while beating still:

  • 1/4 c. sugar

Continue beating until the peaks are firm but not dry.  (I have no idea what this really means, but the recipes always say it and so I am too.  I stop beating when the peaks hold themselves up without immediately flopping over.)

Fold the meringue  into the batter, first adding one cup, and gently folding in until well-combined, then folding in the rest.

7.  Ladle batter into prepared pans and bake until golden brown and done, 20-25 minutes, then remove to a rack and cool.

While the cupcakes are cooling prepare the frosting:

Swiss Meringue Buttercream
This makes about 3 cups, which is probably more than you’ll need unless you want to get wacky with it.  What I love about this frosting is how it’s both rich in flavor and light in texture; it’s no healthier than traditional buttercream, but it seems like maybe it ought to be.

1.  Whisk together in a stainless steel bowl:

  • 4 large egg whites (this is a super use for the powdered egg whites you can buy in the baking aisle)
  • 3/4 c. water
  • 2 T. water
  • 1/4 t. cream of tartar

Set the bowl in a large skillet filled with water so that the depth of the water is at least equal to where the ingredients inside the bowl reach.  Clip on a candy thermometer, and beat with an electric mixture on low speed until the temperature reaches 140.  Don’t stop beating while the eggs are in the pan, or else they’ll overcook.

Turn up the speed to high and continue beating until the temperature reaches 160, 3 or 4 minutes.  Remove from the heat and beat in:

  • 1/2 t. vanilla
  • 1 t. orange blossom water
  • 1 T. honey

2.  In a separate large bowl, beat until light and fluffy:

  • 3 sticks of butter

Fold in 1/4 of the meringue of the meringue mixture, then slowly and gently fold in the rest.  Keep at room temperature for frosting once the cupcakes have cooled, and whatever’s left is between you, your conscience and any kitchen helpers you may have around.  (Should you choose to do so, the frosting will keep for about a week in the fridge, or 6 months in the freezer.)

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Practice Penguin Cupcakes 2

Posted on January 18, 2010 by crankycheryl

With Special Olympics VT’s Penguin Plunge on the way, I was thinking penguin thoughts. Well, I was thinking something like, “What a great event. I should just take that February plunge into Lake Champlain! I just turned 40! What a great opportunity to do something bold! Hmm. I wonder if they’d like a batch of cupcakes instead. That would probably be even more helpful.”

So I did some research to see what penguin cupcakes folks have made, like this and this.  I didn’t want to just mold penguins out of marzipan or fondant or whatever, and I didn’t want to buy mini donuts and donut holes, so I thought I’d try something else.  And then my friend announced a bake sale to raise money for the Humane Society at our church, so I had a reason to rehearse.

Using the always-reliable Abby Dodge’s Emergency Blender Cupcakes, I made a double batch, baking half in mini tins, and half in regular sized cups lined with foil  (don’t line the minis).

This is how we patiently waited for them to bake.

While they cooked and cooled, I prepared some penguin-decorating candy, starting with eyes made from little white ones with dots of black icing.  I had pulled out some yellow ones too, prompting CrankyGreg to say, “Excellent.  Penguins with jaundice.”

I got some chocolate-covered mint cookies for wings.  These were trickier to cut without crushing than I would have thought, but the scraper ended up doing the job right.

Not pictured here:

  • Batch of chocolate icing for dipping.
  • Orange-colored fruit leather cut into triangles.
  • The marshmallows I should have gotten to slice for penguin tummies.

Once the cupcakes were cool, I used a little bit of frosting to stick a mini cupcake on top of a larger one.  Then I used a spoon to cover them with icing.  We attached eyes, wings, beak and feet.  And then I realized I had forgotten something white (like those marshmallow slices) for the bellies, so I clumsily spooned some confectioner’s sugar on.  Then we stood back to gaze upon the results, which were decidedly ducklike.

The rest of the batch were improved by making a double stack of the minis on top so that our penguins had necks.

Though there was a lot of self-mockery going on around here, E. & Z. loved them.  And when they proudly delivered the remaining ones to the bake sale table Sunday morning, we were swarmed and gasped at and feeling pretty good for the few minutes that they lasted.    Plus I think we know enough now to make a truly beautiful batch for the February 6 event.  Maybe we’ll see you there.

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Turning 40 1

Posted on October 12, 2009 by crankycheryl

birthday weekend 007I know these milestones are somewhat arbitrary, but 40 still seems worth special attention.  Thanks to all you friends and family and well-wishers who celebrated a little early with me at our dim sum-cupcake extravaganza.  I ought to have pictures of the beautiful hand-made red bean paste steamed buns and dumplings that Nina made, or of the mountains of dishes and steamers Meredith attacked, or poems written in honor of Robin’s delicious cupcakes.

Somehow, though, CrankyGreg did have the presence of mind to get a picture of the buffet’s aftermath.

birthday weekend 028

Thanks to everyone for being part of my circle of love & food.  40 looks like it’s going to be pretty great.

birthday weekend 041

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    Cheryl Herrick's brave Vermont quest to bring together food-love and mom-life. All original content (written, graphical, recipes or other), unless otherwise noted, is © and/or TM Cheryl Herrick. All rights reserved by the author. Want to reprint a recipe? Just get in touch and ask.

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