Sunday, August 30, 2009

Case Study 29: "The Wondercake"

College was a veritable mess of post teen wonder, and the start of another life journey - the kind where you don't even have to try to lose yourself in exchange for finding something. Six Augusts ago, I left my suburban Connecticut youth behind (already more mature than most, I was convinced), and was ready to attack the urban Ivy League life. But of course, this type of trip never runs as smoothly as anticipated. "The Wondercake" is a nutella-filled chocolate cupcake with vanilla bean buttercream encrusted in M&Ms and sprinkles. It's reminiscent of the long days in the libraries followed by late night dance parties and cookie pizzas. It's leaving the scheduled carpools behind for what we thought was independence and free thinking, but was really still coloring within the lines. It's sweet and colorful and a bit messy all at once, but isn't that life?

College was a whirlwind, and was it over too soon? I think 4 years of reckless wandering and hopeful deliberate soul-searching was just enough. They always said we'd come out on a path when we graduated, with heads straighter on our shoulders and a clear distinction of what and who we wanted to be as adults. But I think most of my peers and I came out a little more lost than when we started, and the real life journey started when we got our diplomas.

But it was there that we learned how to let go of our parents' hands and jump, to take steps and make choices more on our own. And we carry on, filled with memories, awe, and doubt in a world that seems even bigger and more gloriously unconquerable than before.

Recipe: "The Wondercake"

Chocolate Cupcake (Adapted from Dave Leibowitz's German Chocolate Cake)

Makes Approximately 2 dozen cupcakes:
3 ounces bittersweet and milk chocolate chopped and melted

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 ¼ cup + ¼ cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup dutch processed cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt 1 cup milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1 cup Nutella

1. Preheat the oven to 350°, fill 2- 1 dozen cupcake pans with liners.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, or by hand, beat the butter and 1 ¼ cup of the sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate, then the egg yolks, one at a time.

3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.

4. Mix in half of the dry ingredients into the creamed butter mixture, then the milk and the vanilla extract, then the rest of the dry ingredients.

5. In a separate metal or glass bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold soft, droopy peaks. Beat in the ¼ cup of sugar until stiff. Fold about one-third of the egg whites into the cake batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites just until there's no trace of egg white visible.

7. Divide the batter into the prepared cupcake pans and bake for about 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool cupcakes completely before filling and frosting.

9. Using the “cone method”, fill each cupcake with 1 teaspoon Nutella, and replace top.

Vanilla Bean Buttercream

2 sticks butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ vanilla bean, seeds scraped
¼ cup milk
4-6 cups confectioner's sugar
3 cups M&Ms, smashed

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, or by hand, beat the butter until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and vanilla bean.

2. Add 1 cup confectioner’s sugar and mix until combined. Mix in ¼ cup milk.

4. Mix in remaining cups of confectioner’s sugar, and additional milk depending on consistency and preference.

5. Frost cupcakes as desired, and roll in M&M bits. Serve at room temperature, preferably with friends, and drinks.

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