Part XIX: A Pale Blueberry Dot
Few people realize just how perfect the cupcake is. Of course, there’s a lot of people who appreciate it, who trudge their way down to the local cupcakery and get all excited that they made some other dessert into a smaller, cupcakey version of it (“key lime pie, but now it’s not a pie and it’s a cupcake?! GIVE ME 5 DOZEN”). But it gets more metaphysical than that. See, the whole POINT of a cupcake is that kind of dessert within a dessert angle. After all, even the humble vanilla cupcake’s a microcosm of the consummate and iconic dessert: the cake. Go deeper down the rabbit hole, and you start seeing cannoli cupcakes, carrot cake cupcakes, peaches and cream, strawberry lemonade…you start seeing that the cupcake isn’t just a dessert in and of itself. It’s a smooth, desserty plane of existence.
Take a few deep breaths, I know things are getting heavy. But as always, I’m about to blow your mind with flavor. So be patient. There’s a Highlights for Kids over there in the corner if the reading’s getting too stressful for you.
Put anything in the cupcake universe, and it comes out as a perfect, handheld confection. I’m not talking about the way chips do it either, ’cause I don’t believe for a second that a 5-line deep list of chemicals and numbered powders equals “sweet BBQ ranch Super Bowl pizza”. I’m talking about real ingredients, real recipes. Just smaller. Condensed only in size, not in imagination. You can take almost anything, and (provided you don’t screw it up) come up with something…pretty damned good. And something that comes in dozens: even more important.
That’s why this week I decided to throw a childhood classic into the cupcake-universe (cupcake sphere? web of cupcakery? Get back at me, internet Heideggers). I’m making Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes, and unlike the original, you won’t have to cut off the crusts.
Here’s what you need:
-2 cups AP flour
-½ teaspoon baking soda
-½ teaspoon salt
-1 cup vegetable oil
-1 cup sugar
-1 package strawberry gelatin
-90 ml greek yogurt
-30 ml milk
-1 10-ounce package frozen strawberries, thawed (or microwaved, for the lazy)
-1 small jar strawberry jelly (make sure it’s not preserves, get the least natural kind possible)
– 12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
– 2/3 cup confectioners sugar
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1 cup creamy peanut butter (get the fake-ass stuff, something that’s been on a commercial)
– 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
– 1 cup heavy cream
Here’s how to do it:
First, preheat your oven to 350.
Put your flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl, stir it up, and put it somewhere. I don’t care where, as long as you don’t knock the damn thing over. Don’t be an idiot and put it on the floor or something.
Next, throw the eggs into your big ol’ stand mixer and…mix them. That’s what it’s for, after all.
Then mix your milk and yogurt (hey kids, this is what you do if you’re too lazy to go out and get buttermilk. Seriously, it works exactly the same way) in a small bowl.
Mix this in along with the oil, sugar, and gelatin, until it’s all smooth and blended together and looks like an extra prop from the Sci-Fi movie of the week. After that, add the floury stuff in and mix that too.
Open your bag of berries, then throw them in the microwave for 2 minutes (or thaw them whatever way you want, it won’t make a difference). Pour the berries into a bowl, and mash them up with a spatula. The amount of juice that you get out of the berries isn’t super important, but make sure it’s at least a couple tablespoons.
Once you’ve done that, fold the berries into your batter, put some of those little crinkly cupcake paper things into a couple cupcake pans, and follow those up with the batter.
Bake the cupcakes for 23 minutes (yes, I’m aware that’s a ridiculously precise number, and I got there through poking the cupcakes every three minutes like a weird, hunchy cupcake dentist. Just trust me). You want them to barely turn brown, just barely.
After they’re done, do what you do with every other cupcake ever: let them cool for 5, then let them cool some more on a cooling rack (again, that’s what it’s for, people naming things are usually pretty good at what they do. Although I’m still patiently waiting for my Defenestrator to exist).
Now, the frosting. The original recipe produced the amount you see in the pictures: a…decent amount, but let’s be honest fatties, not enough. If you want a nice, artery-slashing mound of frosting, go with my amounts. If you have a modicum of self-control that you’ve hid in the back of the cupboard behind the cinnamon and mustard seed, cut the amounts in half. Otherwise, you’ll probably have leftover frosting. Which, last I checked, wasn’t a bad thing by any stretch of any imagination.
Pour the cream into your stand mixer, turn it to medium, and whisk until you get soft peaks (Jesus I hate that phrase. Describes it perfectly but…god, we need something better). Put the whipped cream into another bowl and move it out of the way.
Next, put the cream cheese and sugar into your stand mixer and mix SLOWLY. If you don’t do it slowly at first, you’re gonna have a face/kitchen floor full of powdered sugar. Then you’ll make a Scarface “gag”, realize you’re still in an empty one-bedroom loft, and softly weep yourself to sleep. So make sure you start slow, then jack up the speed to medium-high once your sugar’s incorporated a bit.
When your cream cheese is nice and fluffy, add the salt and peanut butter, and mix it in. Then do the same for the vanilla.
After that, just fold the whipped cream into the frosting.
By now the cupcakes should be cool. Scratch that: they are cool. There’s no way you geniuses made the frosting fast enough for them not to be cool.
Scoop out a teaspoon from the top of each cupcake, then replace it with a teaspoon of jelly.
Frost the tops, put them on a nice cupcake tree (or, y’kno…a boring-ass plate), and serve.
Make sure you serve a side-dish to go with those tasty cupcakes. This week it’s Lee Morgan with The Sidewinder:
To recap. Cupcakes are tiny-little flavor universes, and they swallow up and produce other desserts to make unique, handheld creations of genius. Got all that? Good. Next week on Fresh Beats, Fresh Eats, I’ll go back to fart jokes and those “slipping on the banana peel” scenes the kids like so much. God forbid you people should have to think. See you next time.