Part XXXV: Eidolon
You know what makes 99% of the really tasty stuff you eat on a daily basis tasty? Contrast.
I could wax all philosophical and emotional and all that garbage like I tend to do sometimes, but I won’t. I’ll make it easy, because I know you saw that picture of a delicious cupcake at the top of the post and you’d rather spend your hard-earned minutes figuring out the quickest way to have a plateful of them. I get it.
Contrast matters because it makes you pay attention to both of the things in the mix. Take, say, a Reese’s peanut butter cup (but not mine. It’s mine, damnit. Keep your grubby hands to yourself.) Delicious, right? You got chocolate, you got peanut butter, there’s not a whole lot to complain about. But there’s nothing that really stands out, either. It’s basically a big glob of flavor that you put in your mouth, swallow, probably repeat 5 or 6 times (because we’re America and you can get that amount in one package and act like you’re a normal person now), and move on with your life. It’s a really good glob of flavor, but there’s no passage through the bite. There’s no start, and no finish, no “oh wow, peanut butter! and hey, there’s some chocolate too!”. It’s just a big “yum” and then you’re done.
Now, make some chocolate chip cookies and sprinkle a little sea salt on top before you bake ’em. The coarse kind, not table salt. Take a bite. See what I mean? There’s depth to the flavor. You taste a little, little bit of the salt, then the chocolate and the cookie parts. You notice the salt because it’s not anything like the chocolate, and vice versa, and guess what? They make each other better.
Of course, it doesn’t work with everything, don’t be stupid. A dill pickle is way different from vanilla ice cream, but that doesn’t mean you can just throw them together in a bowl and expect anything more than vomit. It’s gotta be something that’s a true opposite, something that’s the other’s equal and unequal in the perfect way. Like these Cinnamon Cupcakes with Peppermint Buttercream Frosting. Might not be perfect, but…it’s definitely far from vomit territory.
Here’s what you need:
– 2 AP flour
– 1/2 cup cake flour
– 2 teaspoons baking soda
– 2 teaspoons cinnamon
– 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
– 1 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
– 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
– 3 eggs
– 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon buttermilk
– 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
– 1 stick (8 tablespoons) of butter, softened
– 4 cups powdered sugar
– 6 tablespoons half and half
– some regular-ass sugar (for decoration)
These came out a bit dry. Probably because I repurposed a muffin recipe for this, or just because I’m a crappy cook. Who knows. But if I was gonna do it again, I’d bring that buttermilk up to a full 2 cups, so if they come out dry for you, give that a try.
Here’s how you do it:
Preheat that oven of yours to 375.
Get a medium bowl and whisk together all the dry cupcake stuff: both flours, baking soda, nutmeg, and cinnamon.
Cream together the butter and sugar with a mixer, then add the eggs, one at a time. And beat them in, obviously. Don’t just throw them in there and hope they’ll become batter through the power of osmosis or love or some such nonsense.
Take your dry stuff and mix a bit of it into the butter/sugar/eggs, then a bit of the buttermilk, and keep going back and forth until they’re both all mixed in. To be honest, I have no goddamned clue why you have to alternate instead of just dumping the whole mess in there and giving it a stir. Probably something to do with the economy. Or “tweeting”.
Once that’s done, put the batter in some muffin tins and bake for about 20 minutes. You know the drill here: check it with a toothpick, take it out if it’s nice and golden brown on top.
After they’re out of the oven, let them cool for 5 minutes, then take the cupcakes out of their tins and let them cool to room temperature on a cooling rack. That’s what they’re for, after all.
While those are cooling, it’s frosting time.
First, put the stick of butter in your mixer and cream it. Or just mix it around a bit until it’s not solid anymore. Which is the same thing.
Alternate between adding the sugar and cream until they’re both all mixed in, then mix in the peppermint extract. You can add more cream if the frosting isn’t behaving, but you shouldn’t have to.
All that’s left is to frost the damn things. I used some fancy vanilla-peppermint sugar I had lying around to sprinkle on top, but you can just use regular sugar. The point is to make it look all snowy and sparkly. And to add more sugar.
What you shouldn’t do is put a candy cane in the top like I tried before those pictures at the top were taken. Because it turns out those actually melt, for some ungodly reason, if you put them in frosting. Completely bizarre, but it happened. I watched it happen. Don’t do it.
But do put this tasty track on while you enjoy those cupcakes. This week it’s someone I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned here yet: Frank Ocean, with Sweet Life:
I’ve said it before: I’m not one of these feel-good, life coach, “try something new every day” people. But you do gotta experiment once in a while, otherwise your taste buds are gonna think you’re stupid and boring. And you’re not; otherwise you wouldn’t be here. You’d be over at TMZ shotgunning a Miller Lite for every time Amanda Bynes hits her head on the side of a cop car (hint: it’s 7). So pair some weird stuff up, stick it in an oven, and see where it takes you. That’s my advice. See you lovely people next time.