Friday, December 17, 2010

Notes from the Field: Busy Elves

This holiday season has been BUSY.  And while I can't claim to have done a great job at reporting it, I've seen numerous orders go out in the past weeks.  Some of the delightful confections that hit the doorsteps of New Yorkers this December include:

Chocolate cupcakes with a whipped peanut butter buttercream, hidden banana slice and milk chocolate dip...

Burnt sugar cake with salted caramel buttercream...

New York Cheesecake cupcakes with a vanilla cake nestled in a graham cracker crust, cream cheese buttercream and homemade cherry topping...


Lemon poppyseed cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and homemade sesame cookies on top...

And good ole' double vanilla cupcakes.

Needless to say, the elves have been busy. 
What have you been baking up in the past few weeks?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Case Study 77: "The Salty Fig"

I'm sorry, I'm sorry and I'm sorry.
I just couldn't help myself.

Two things:

A) If you invite me to a party, a lunch, a dinner, or a brunch, I will bring cupcakes.  Whether it be an appetizer or a side, regardless of what you ask me to bring (I'll likely bring that too), that dish, but in cupcake form, is what you will get. 

B) These cupcakes are dirty. Naughty even. Shield your eyes.  Close your mouth.  No wait, maybe open it.  I took my favorite cupcake recipe and changed one thing: I candied an Italian meat.  And not just any meat.   
That meat.  

Fluffy honey cupcakes topped with a creamy goat cheese buttercream, a fresh California fig and a slice of candied prosciutto.

So now that we've got that out there....forgive me?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Notes from the Field: "How To Deal with a Picky Eater" or "Payback's a Bitch..."

Never did I ever think that at this point in my life I'd be writing about how to feed a child.  But last week my mother came to me with a dilemma.  As he nears two years old, my nephew, love of my life, has decided that he's just not that into food.   What kid doesn't love to eat?  I thought.  I mean, I had to be denied food as a kid.  Hell, I requested baccalà at a big family party at 15 months because I thought it looked good.    

And that's when I remembered that when you're little, and you upset your parents, they use that line: "Just wait to you have one of your own." My nephew, like his parents, is brilliant.  He is compassionate and loving, with the curiosity of a little engineer and the timing of a comedic actor.  But for him, being a fusspot does run in the family.  Legend has it that at the turn of the 80s, my big brother so abhorred food that the only way they could get him to eat it was to make French toast, cut it up in shapes, rearrange it differently and call it "English toast."  And he still had one over on them. 

Baby can not live on O's alone.  He needs greens, fiber, protein and more, conveniently hidden in something fit for his little wandering hands. Sounds like a perfect recipe for a muffin.  Carrots, apples, zucchini, bran, yogurt, agave, eggs and flax are just some of the healthy goodies inside these little "cakes." They're just sweet enough for little tastebuds, and pack the punch of all the food groups.  

George Bernard Shaw said "There is no love sincerer than the love of food."   I look forward to the day when baby, like his father, finally decides he likes food.  We'll teach him about the finer delicacies, the worldly fares and everything in between.  But for now, let's just get him to eat his veggies.   

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Cupcaketologist Bloggoversary!

I somehow got too caught up in the mix to remember that mid-October marked this blog's two-year anniversary!  It's amazing to look back and see the start of this journey, the turning points and where we are today.

Thanks for reading, and here's to many more adventures in cupcaketology ahead!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Case Study 76: "The Pumpkin Seed"

Lately, I have been on the move.  I head uptown on foot, I hop over to Brooklyn on the subway, and I drive through Spanish Harlem to leave the city. I see a man in a suit closing his iron gate under an overflowing window box on 82nd Street.  There are children playing in the sidewalk beside mothers on stoops on 126th.  There's an overcurated flea market on Lafayette with lobster rolls, asian hot dogs, and street style gamines searching for a ready camera. I keep my eyes open and I don't want to miss a thing.  And yet, no matter what I see in the diverse neighborhoods I pass through, I keep thinking about one thing: the luxury of time.

When it comes to time itself, I've been a rich woman this past month.  After passing through years like wildfire, I've been given the chance to slow down, re-evaluate, and breathe.  Museums, parks, historic sites - these are the fruits of my labor these days.  I walk away from the computer and I pick up the phone, I spend time with family and friends, and I reconnect with the physical world - the one that we never thought was a luxury until we started spending eight to twelve of our waking hours behind a screen, locked away in our corporate castles running circles against a clock. 

"The Pumpkin Seed" is a pumpkin cupcake with a molasses maple cream cheese buttercream that is topped with a homemade pumpkin seed brittle. I've always thought that what pumpkin evokes in autumn was the essence of time.  As a child I watched them grow all summer long over the stone wall of a farmhouse streetcorner in Connecticut.  I'd pass on an August day to find them sitting on chairs like little round old men, too heavy for their vines against the rock. And when the cold set in, one by one they would disappear, some breaking free and rolling down the street, and others finding their way to plates and porches across the town.

I always loved that quote that reminds us that one twenty-four hour period of childhood equals twenty of our adult days.  We lose a little bit of the ability to live deliberately and with intention when we grow up because there's always somewhere else to go.  I've gotten lost these past weeks, and I'm so thankful that I've had to time to do so.  Everybody has something to say about being early or being late.  But nobody can argue that when you're on time for doing absolutely nothing at all, you are exactly where you're supposed to be, and that is a gift.

Notes from the Field: Cupcake Americana

What makes a cupcake American?  Recently, my dear friend Cary Randolph Fuller and myself joined forces to answer this question and bring New York readers the chance to win a taste of what we like to think of as "The Great American Cupcake." 

The winner, Mariel of Preppy with Twist, received a dozen of these mini vanilla layercakes with raspberry filling and ruffled vanilla buttercream topped with handcut red and blue star sugar cookies. These little confections were designed with our nation's history in mind and the themes of individuality, diversity and freedom that comes from living in this great country. 

Talk about red, white and blue. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Notes from the Field: Been up to my elbows...

I have been nonstop busy the past few days....

Giving friends a hand here and there...

And finding out that what they said was true...

New York City is QUITE the meat market.

Baby red velvet layer cakes drizzled with chocolate and topped with cream cheese buttercream and freshly sliced fingers.  


Monday, October 25, 2010

Case Study 75: "The Salted Caramel"

 "Imperfection is beauty, 
madness is genius
and it's better to be absolutely ridiculous
than absolutely boring." 
-Marilyn Monroe

"The Salted Caramel" is a double vanilla cupcake topped with a salted caramel frosting and a sweet chocolate caramel crunchie disk on top.


In Italy, they have a saying "brutti ma buoni."  Ugly but good.  Sometimes the best things in life aren't the most obvious, the prettiest or the most perfect. Like these cupcakes, they might just be a gooey, sticky, sugary mess.  

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Case Study 74: "The Lady Cake"

Last Friday, after a spin through the Guggenheim and the Upper East Side, I ducked into Bemelman's Bar for a quick cocktail.  As usual, it was dark and quiet, save for the Mia and Woody on the other side of the leather banquette, sharing the most Midsummer's Night Sex Comedy exchange about philosophies, dancers and how great the other person was.  I ordered a Sidecar, and Tommy, who's tended bar there for the past fifty-two years, whipped it right up, but not without a conversation first. 

"You are some lady, you are, ordering that drink," he said, and proceeded to tell me all about the Sidecar itself.  Cognac, Cointreau, Lemon.  It was a popular cocktail in the 50s and 60s, after the war, but the libation eventually went into hiding in lieu of more complicated mixologies.  I smiled, explaining how I've always been a fan of the classics, and after assuring him that his version was excellent, I got to thinking: about history, about class, and about being a lady.  

"The Lady Cake" is a miniature lemon chiffon layer cake, topped with a fluffy lemon buttercream.  From the outside it's light, fancy and whimsical, something truly dreamy and sweet.  But underneath it is sturdy and full of dimension, layer upon layer, building up to be one strong piece of cake. 

When I think about the women I admire most, relatives, icons, friends and my mother, what I find in common is a rare mixture of both dignity and courage. She is the one who balances the line of grace and attitude.  She is naturally private, always a step ahead, yet completely unafraid to elbow her way through to where she wants to go.  She is a gentlewoman among men.  She defies time and place.  But most of all, she has gumption.  

I walked out of The Carlyle that afternoon, back into the gray Manhattan light, and strolled through Central Park back downtown.  Across the terrace, along The Mall, and I smiled as I thought about one of my favorite quotes by Katherine Hepburn.  She said, "I have not lived as a woman. I have lived as a man. I've just done what I've damn well wanted to and I've made enough money to support myself and I ain't afraid of being alone."  That, my friends, is what it means to be a lady.  

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Case Study 73: "The Spiced Pear "

In Greek mythology, the pear was seen as sacred to three goddesses: Hera, Aphrodite and Pomona.  In China it symbolizes longevity and immortality.  But in the culinary world, no fruit symbolizes the mid-October harvest like this sweet succulent pomaceous delight. 

In the summer we savor the offerings of the vine.  Mother Earth's truest candy is a fresh July tomato or ripe summer berry.  But in the fall we pick from the earth. We find abundance in what is rooted to bring warmth and nourishment to our table and we keep this sacred for this season alone. 

"The Spiced Pear" is a gingerbread cupcake under a light vanilla buttercream, crowned with a savory poire épicée.  It is full of flavor and oozing with fruit's own syrupy goodness, spiked with the unmistakable notes of ginger, star anise, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg wrapping up one warm aromatic bite. 

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately - in this month that's ruled by Venus and the symbol of balance - about life, about worth, and about how to measure it all. We spend our days working hard and our nights wondering what weight it all really has in the grand scheme of things.  We wonder if what we expect of ourselves determines the value of our capacity, and we try to tell ourselves that experience that is bad can be experience well learned.  But sometimes we just realize that life is too damn short to not just live it well.  In the season, in the moment, and in the end, we have to live it well.   

On Cupcakes in New York

Since I’ve moved to New York, I’ve received quite a lot of inquiries on private cupcake orders for parties, baby and bridal showers, work events and just plain old personal enjoyment. I have been creating bespoke cupcakes for events for the past year and a half in the Philadelphia and NYC Metro region!

If you are in the New York City area and have an inquiry, please email or message me directly for pricing and delivery(included!).

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Case Study 72: "The Artful Pecan"

Three days after I moved in, I finally decided to christen my new Manhattan kitchen with the only thing that seemed fit: pie.  Well, not really pie, per se. But when I think of moving, think of housewarming, and think of welcomes, I think of pie.  And when I think of pie, I think of my mother's famous pecan pie.  

"The Artful Pecan" is a bourbon pecan cupcake with a burnt brown sugar buttercream and a caramel pecan on top. It is haute design meets homecooked goodness.  It is elegance inspired by recent tours of the landmark and art deco buildings that ground this city and one whirlwind dive into the crazy kitchen that is the New York restaurant business. 

I once read that, according to the "science of happiness," location can as much impede our growth as it can serve to inspire us, help us grow and bring us joy.  What we take in and what we perceive affect what we feel and what we create.  New York City is a boundless pot of opportunity, with art lurking in every corner, waiting to be eaten up.  I'd like to think that with this move, a new era of Cupcaketology has begun. 

Thursday, September 30, 2010

This little cupcake got all dressed up in candied pumpkin, glacéed orange and an autumn leaf tuile for a glamour shot.

(Photo by Deb Wild)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Case Study 71: "The Harvest Moon"

"Come a little bit closer
Hear what I have to say
Just like children sleepin'
We could dream this night away.

But there's a full moon risin'
Let's go dancin' in the light
We know where the music's playin'
Let's go out and feel the night."
- Neil Young

When autumn rolls in this Tuesday, I know just what I'm going to do.  I will fold the top down on our little BMW, pop in that old particular tape, and head out on a drive through the windy Connecticut backroads.  The air will be a little cooler and the trees will begin to sway more freely, like withering half-dressed skeletons against the night. 

I'll press play, and be greeted by the repeat of ten strumming chords, the same ones that will play the melody of a him and myself, dancing- in the kitchen, on the porch, in the lawn under the great tree with the dripping iron candelabra.  Turning and turning in the golden light knees knocking calves, elbows across shoulders, until the song breaks into those four deliciously picked notes. The same picked notes that I savored years earlier, lying on my back on the rug under the stereo, an eight-year old romantic with toes that swayed in the hazy waltz of the living room light.

Neil Young, "Harvest Moon."  The album with the haunting cover of a dark silhouette and fringe across the water's edge.  The song that made me yearn for the crackling fire, the hush of the woods, and the smell of burning gourds. The images that reminded me that, for all I ever believed myself to be a child of the summer, I was born under the stars of that flipped autumn sky. 
"The Harvest Moon" is a pumpkin and spice cupcake crowned with a cream cheese buttercream.  It is the most simple taste of autumn - in the flesh of the fruit, the cinnamon, the ginger, the nutmeg, all topped in a sweet cream - that evokes the unmistakable yearning for no other season but this.  Leaves sauntering through the sky.  The heavy crooked arms of apple trees bending to the ground in an abundant plie.  The shifting patterns of birds as they take flight to their winter homes.  The autumn dance.

It's not the fairest of the seasons, but it's the one that makes us remember what it means to be alive.  It reminds us that seasons come and seasons go, and it's the going that makes the coming all worthwhile in the end.  The sun rises and the sun sets.  Flowers bloom and leaves fall.  We run free in the summer and we hold each other tighter all winter long.  Life is both up and down, and as we see the turning of the days, the moon fades from white to orange and hangs lower in the sky.  We are never really ready for the fall, but when it arrives, like Neil says, we remember the dance. 

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Case Study 70: "The Cliffwalk"

It was a blustery January day when I first walked around the perimeter of the Cliffwalk.  Three and a half miles of stone path against the bluffs of a New England shore. It was wild, gray and cold, but somehow I felt warm, a feeling I attributed to either being in love, or an inevitable human reaction to standing where the icy path meets the trembling ocean surf.

Growing up, we're always told that life isn't about the desination, it's about the journey along the way. But as I get older, I keep thinking about the chapters in my life as little paths of their own. Occasionally, a path is unclear. At times it's even a dead end. But sometimes, if I'm lucky, when I stand at each destination, which might not come until days, months, or even years later, I see the path clearly.

"The Cliffwalk" is a rocky road cupcake, chocolate and with bits of marshmallow and chopped walnuts, topped with a vanilla buttercream and chocolate chunk.  Chocked full, messy, a bit precarious, it's an undoubtedly decadent disaster. 

A year and a half later, I stood alone at the start of that same shoreline path on a sun-soaked July day. It was near evening, and the sea breeze was surprisingly cool, so I sat behind a shield of cerulean hydrangeas, dripping from a run while the others had fallen into an afternoon slumber back home.  They were friends, acquaintances, and one veritable soul sister, brought together by as much a constellation's turn as the decision to just not give a shit about making sense of it all.  Though I had been there before, I felt no déjà vu.

You see, people and places come into our lives for a reason, and they leave our lives for a reason as well.  These parts of the journey, the entries and the exits, aren't always smooth.  And so we fixate - on the various paths, on the potholes, and on the crumbling spackle we've used to cover the cracks as we go.   We forget that we control the direction of our feet and the strength to regain balance when we trip.  We close our eyes and get the hell out of there, without realizing that there might be some really great things left to see.

The truth is, life is one rocky road. As I stood there that summer day at the start of the Cliffwalk, by choice and by fate, I took my first steps on a new path on Aquidneck Island.  And I remembered that whatever beauty I might find at the end of the road was rolling against the horizon to my left all along. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

Case Study 69: "The August Peach"

When summer gathers up her robes of glory,
And, like a dream, glides away.
- Sarah Helen Whitman

I notoriously clutch to every summer's end as it seeps through my fingers like the weakening light at dusk.  Of course, it's inevitable that September will always roll around. But we're summer people, after all.  And so year after year we stand, sweaters half-covering our swimsuits and bare shoulders, denying that we might be cold as the slight chill in the air at our door.  And it knocks earlier and earlier each day. 

I'll be right there!  We shout. But we secretly hide in the backyard, standing below the naked parts of the trees above, where the sun is still hot, and we swear it's still summer where everything gold can stay.  So we reason. The peaches are in season.  The fawns are out alone. And the children next door just learned to ride bikes, which certainly means it can be nothing but summer.

"The August Peach" is a sweet summer peach cupcake topped with a vanilla-bourbon buttercream.  It's ripe, boozy and filled with fruits of the season at their best.

We hunger, we desire, and we want to still lick the juices of the season off our sticky hands.  So we grill up burgers and dogs and summer fruits, making a mess everywhere and hoping nobody sees that all the while, everywhere we go, we are leaving traces of our summer hands and feet.  Hoping to keep the sadness of the colder months at bay.  Hoping to forget that we're ending another third of our trip around the sun. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Case Study 68: "The Farfalle"

They say the butterfly is a symbol for many things: conscious evolution, transformation, and the personification of the human soul.  But whatever it evokes for the individual, when it comes to the family, it means a bit more. 

I spent a day this weekend at a reunion with dozens of my closest relatives on my maternal grandmother's side.  La familia.  An enormous and forever growing chain of life that itself has seen many metamorphoses as it's evolved over the years. We are a family that celebrates.  We are a family ruled by women.  We are a family all about life.  Lives themselves, and the act of livin' it.

"The Farfalle" is a vanilla cupcake with a vanilla bean buttercream and butterfly sitting on top.  My mother told me that when she thinks about the family, she sees us all dancing, and we look like a big bunch of butterflies.  And you know what?  I can kind of see it.  Young and old, wings spread, fluttering around the room. We all become the same thing when we hit the dancefloor.

We find pictures of great aunts and see ourselves in their eyes.  We hear stories about the old country, about the new country, and about how we passed between the two. Years pass, and we learn that just as we die, we are reborn.  Every single person, living or dead, is locked in time as an essential link that holds the whole chain together.  And that somehow helps us makes sense of everything: who we were, who we are, and who we might become. 

Resurrection, rebirth, re-life.  Like a butterfly, old life begets new life, and that is what family is about.