Saturday, February 25, 2012

I Loved "Dominican" Cupcakes

When Tito Loved Clara was my book club’s selection for January. The book takes place in a small New York community made up of Dominican immigrants and first generation Dominican Americans. Throughout the book the author mentions the aromas of Dominican food culture, which honestly went right over my head; so you can imagine I was little stumped deciding what dessert to make for our meeting.
While researching I learned the Dominican Republic’s number one food export is sugar, so you can imagine the array of sweet things I was able to find. One traditional cake, simply named Dominican Cake, caught my attention. The strange thing about looking up Dominican Cake recipes is that while every description was exactly the same, a vanilla sponge-like cake sweetened with orange juice, decorated with shiny meringue icing, the techniques, ingredients and amount of ingredients was all over the place.
So my version of the cake became a median of everything I read with an added ripe banana. I used an avocado buttercream in place of the meringue icing, because I’m not a huge of fan of raw eggs in frosting. I also filled the cupcakes with my homemade pineapple jam (which will have to be a future post), but you could fill these with any jam, jelly, or preserve you prefer. I know the combination of flavors sounds a little weird, but trust me, they’re oddly delicious!

1 ½ cups (3 sticks) softened, unsalted butter
1 cup orange juice (you can also sub with any orange blend, I used orange peach mango juice)
Zest of one lemon
1 ripe banana
1 tsp vanilla
1 ½ cup sugar
5 eggs
3 egg whites
2 tsp baking powder
4 cups all purpose flour

1.     Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy.
2.     Add vanilla and lemon zest.
3.     Next add the eggs and whites one at a time, combine thoroughly after each addition.
4.     In a separate bowl mix together the baking powder and flour.
5.     Add ¼ of your baking powder/flour mix to the wet ingredients.
6.     Mash the banana in a separate bowl with a fork; add to your wet ingredients.
7.     Alternate adding the rest of the baking powder/flour mixture and the orange juice to the wet ingredients, starting and ending with flour.
8.     Preheat oven to the universal baking temperature 350°. Fill cupcake liners ¾ of the way full. Bake for 14-16 minutes.
9.     When Cupcakes have completely cooled, use a melon baller (metal works best) or even an apple corer to remove a small portion from the center of the cupcake.
10.  Fill the newly made hole with your jam/filling of choice. I prefer using the melon baller because you can now scoop the perfect amount of filling, no extra mess or guessing- the baller is the same size as the hole!


2 small VERY ripe avocados
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 tsp lemon juice
Lime zest
Pinch of salt
5 cups powdered sugar

1.     Cube the avocado meat.
2.     Cube the butter.
3.     Combine butter, avocado, lemon juice, lime zest, and salt. Mix with your electric mixer until smooth.
4.     Add sugar to the buttery mixture one cup at a time. Mix until smooth.
5.     Pipe onto your cupcake and garnish with a plantain chip.

When Tito Loved Clara

            Tito and Clara were teenaged lovers. The secret romantic relationship ended abruptly, and in such a way as to end without a sense of emotional closure (especially for Tito). After 15 years apart Tito and Clara’s paths cross again. Playing “catch up” and moving forward with the relationship as if they’d never parted is something Tito’s been daydreaming about his entire life. Clara had almost forgotten Tito completely and would do so all but too willingly when they meet again.
 This is a novel about living stereotypes. The story is about love lost. It’s survival of the fittest: “Who will grow up? Who will act like an adult?”. The novel is constructed by alternating the perspective from character to character, which allows the reader a sense of wholeness. We, as readers, have the privilege to see the entire picture with more clarity than the subjects within the disappointing image.
I found the character’s familiar, but foreign just the same. I tried to like them, but learned to hate all but one; Guillermo (Clara’s five-year-old son) is the only exception. I’m not the most sympathetic person- but if you’re stuck in the (now imaginary) seemingly perfect relationship you had in high school with a woman you haven’t seen in 15 years, you are not living, you are emotionally stunted. You become the shell of the person you used to be; you become nothing but an object to pity.
The reason Tito and Clara find one another again was not the least bit entertaining. The present tense events of the narrative are strung together almost entirely by the repugnant crimes of one man, a Latin-American thug recently released from jail. Everyone’s (not just Tito and Clara’s) lives unravel as secrets are revealed. Contemptible secrets pour from even the two most seemingly clean-cut and innocent mouths.
            I have to congratulate Michaud on creating a work so undeniably real. People like this do exist- have existed, and will continue to hurt and love, and be pitiful. It’s difficult to hold a mirror up to ourselves, especially when what we discover is unbearably ugly. Although I laughed out loud at one line humorously integrating deep space and vaginas, I had a hard time taking in Michaud’s ultimate slice of life. When Tito Loved Clara filled me up with bitterness, and left no room for my favorite dessert- optimism.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Not So Sweethearts

            Valentine’s Day isn't really at the top of my list of favorite holidays. I’ve always felt the real holiday of love is February 15th; the day chocolate goes on sale. For me Valentine’s Day is simply another perfect excuse to bake something delicious.
            I think this year’s Valentine’s treats are pretty self-explanatory! I call them “Not-So-Sweethearts”. They are simple buttery sugar cookies, each iced with the original flavors of the Sweethearts candies. White icing is peppermint. Yellow icing is lemon. Green icing is lime. Purple icing is grape. Pink icing is cherry. Orange icing is of course orange. The biggest differences between these and the candy is that the cookies do not have any flavor notes similar to chalk and what is written on them is quite the update from phrases like “Fax me”.

            I made a replica box in which to deliver these sassy morsels from a standard pastry box. The drawing is just various pink sharpies and I cut the window out with an X-acto knife, then, lined the window with saran wrap.


5 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

These are so easy it’s dumb.

1.     Sift together baking powder, salt, and flour. Set aside.
2.     Leave butter out on the counter for one hour before beginning. Cube butter and put in your mixing bowl. Add sugar and mix until just combined.
3.     Adds eggs one at a time to butter and sugar.
4.     Add vanilla to the butter/sugar/egg combo.
5.     Add flour mixture to wet ingredients about a cup at a time.
6.     You want dough that looks kind of crumby and lumpy, but if you pick up a small chunk and roll it in your hand the dough holds together and makes a smooth ball.
7.     Divide the dough in thirds.
8.     Take one third of the dough and roll it between two sheets of wax paper to ¼” to ½” thickness.
9.     Repeat with the other two thirds.
10. Chill the three sheets of dough (still inside the wax paper) overnight or at least a couple hours.
11.  Next day: remove the sheets and cut out your desired shapes with cookie cutters. I made 24, 3” heart shapes from one batch.
12. Bake at 350° on a cool cookie sheet lined with parchment paper for 12-15 minutes.

Notes on temperature:
It’s important that if you are doing multiple rounds in the oven that the cookie sheets used are cooled before putting dough on them each time. It’s equally important to chill unused dough while waiting for its turn in the oven. All this chilling insures the cookies retain their shape in the finished product (no misshaped, or unevenly cooked edges).

The icing I used is a standard royal icing, adapted to quantity.

4 cups powdered sugar
3 Tbsp meringue powder
1 tsp vanilla
About ½ cup (room-temp) milk or water
1.     Mix powdered sugar and meringue powder.
2.     Add vanilla and food coloring if you desire
3.     Stir constantly (or mix with an electric mixer) adding milk or water one Tbsp at a time until you reach your desired consistency.

PEPPERMINT: for icing 8, 3” diameter cookies:
1 cup powdered sugar
¾ Tbsp meringue powder
1 tsp peppermint extract
About 6 Tbsp milk

GRAPE: for icing 8, 3” diameter cookies
1 cup powdered sugar
¾ Tbsp meringue powder
¼ tsp grape Kool-Aid powder, dissolved in
¼ cup room-temperature water

CHERRY: for icing 8, 3” diameter cookies:
1 cup powdered sugar
¾ Tbsp meringue powder
¼ tsp cherry-flavored Kool-Aid powdered drink mix, dissolved in
¼ cup room-temperature water

ORANGE: for icing 8, 3” diameter cookies:
1 cup powdered sugar
¾ Tbsp meringue powder
¼ cup of fresh squeezed orange juice (half Valencia orange)

LEMON: for icing 8, 3” diameter cookies:
1 cup powdered sugar
¾ Tbsp meringue powder
¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (one lemon)

LIME: for icing 8, 3” diameter cookies:
1 cup powdered sugar
¾ Tbsp meringue powder
¼ cup fresh squeezed lime juice (one lime)

*For the piping the letters I made a half batch of the standard royal icing and added red food coloring. I used a #3 round tip.


I must also add that all the yellow cookies in the pictures are actually GLUTEN-FREE butter cookies. The recipe is from Gluten-Free Baking Classics by Annalise G. Roberts. I received this book as a gift last Christmas. I hope to try out all recipes in her book before providing a full review. But, I must say the butter cookies rocked! Simple to make (although they must be made in extremely small batches), and the finished texture was superb, soft and buttery. If you didn’t know they were gluten-free it would be hard to pick them out of the pack. I obviously cannot post the recipe here for copyright infringement, but I would recommend checking the book out at the library. Whether or not to buy the book… we’ll see in future posts if the rest of the recipes are just as outstanding.

I hope you ENJOY UR VD!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Meat-sterpiece

           Please excuse my hiatus. I’ve been recovering from a work-related back injury for the past few weeks. Some of that time I was so doped up on painkillers and muscle relaxers I couldn’t even read due to dizziness- let alone bake or write. As of today I finally feel like my life is starting to get back to my version of normal. After three weeks of sitting on the couch watching enough awful daytime TV to last a lifetime, I’ve never been so excited to get back to working retail!
            As excited as I might be, my return to work has been bittersweet. As I came back in, a co-worker of mine was on his way out. For the last 17 years, since the inception of the Beaverton store, Eric has been a vital and cherished part of our little Trader Joe’s community. I’ve had the pleasure of working at this location, with Eric and the rest our awesome crew, for the past two years. I write the deli order. Eric wrote the meat order. That means I was incredibly lucky to have worked within 8ft of Eric every morning, for the first four hours of our shifts, for last year.
            To say Eric’s a hard-worker is an understatement. He always has everyone’s back and best interests at heart. He’s helped me out on a daily basis, whether it was helping to stock the overabundance of dips I ordered (even though that was his least favorite task) or answering one of my questions about a re-merchandising project we planned together. And it wasn’t just me; he would do whatever needed doing for anyone if only you’d ask. And he did everything with a positive attitude (even when cleaning up spilled chicken juices or fish funk) and made everyone laugh with his off-the-wall puns.
            We (as in the entire crew, minus Eric) planned to send him off in a big way. We decided we needed to celebrate all his contributions with not one going away cake, but four DAYS of cake.  We had 5 cakes, fresh focaccia, cheesecake pie, and a whole bunch of doughnuts.  I think that’s one sweet kudos.
            When my turn came to make a cake I decided meaty was the way to go. I made a red velvet cake to resemble our 90/10 grass-fed ground beef. It’s four layers (two-batches of the recipe below) baked in a 12”x17”x1” sheet pan and cut to the size of the container I found at the dollar store.
The cake.
The inspiration.

It’s topped with traditional and super simple cream cheese frosting. I made the labels with my trusty colored pencils: instead of watching the Super Bowl this year I was writing meat puns Eric would be proud of. I used everyday saran wrap to cover the container and taped the corners with packing tape to give the illusion of a vacuum seal.

I think this gives a whole new meaning to the term beefcake!
Red Velvet Cake:

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 ½ Tbsp Dutch processed cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup reduced-fat buttermilk (remove from fridge 20 min before beginning)
1 ½ cups sugar
1 stick unsalted butter (melted)
1 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs (room temperature)
1 Tbsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
Red food coloring

1.     Preheat your oven to 350°.
2.     Sift together the flour, baking soda, cocoa powder, and salt. Set aside.
3.     Mix together melted butter, vegetable oil, and sugar for about four minutes. If you have a standing mixer leave the mixer on at level 4 or 5 through the next two steps.
4.     With the mixer on add the eggs one at a time until thoroughly combined, only turn the mixer off and scrape down the sides as necessary.
5.     With the mixer still on add the vinegar, the vanilla and the food coloring. You can add as much or as little food coloring as you like- I used a quarter-teaspoon of the concentrated gel coloring in Christmas red, to give it a nice raw-beefy look.
6.     Turn the mixer off and scrape down the sides.
7.     Turn the mixer on and add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk, starting with the flour and ending with the flour.
8.     You can bake this recipe in two, pre-greased, 9” round or square cake pans for 28-30 minutes. For this particular cake I doubled the recipe, and I baked it in two 12”x17”x1” sheet pans (aka jelly roll pans). If using a sheet pan(s) line the bottom with parchment paper, then grease the pan. The parchment paper comes in handy with the thinner more delicate layers because, once you cut the cake to size (I cut mine in half width wise to make two layers from each pan) you can cut the paper down the middle and lift the layers out of the pan on the paper, helping to prevent breaking. I baked each sheet pan of cake for 23 minutes, but check for doneness between 18-24 minutes as ovens vary. In either circumstance the cake is done when you can insert a toothpick into the middle of the cake and it comes out clean.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

1 8oz package of cream cheese (softened)
1 stick unsalted butter (softened)
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
Red and brown food coloring

1.     Mix together the cream cheese and butter until soft and fluffy.
2.     Add vanilla.
3.     With the mixer on add powdered sugar a cup at a time.
4.     With this cake I doubled the frosting recipe as well, and to get that rich red color I used a half-teaspoon of the concentrated gel food coloring in Christmas red as well as an 1/8 tsp of brown concentrated gel to darken the overall hue.

Frosting and Piping:
1.     Frost between layers of the cake as you assemble.
2.     Do a thick crumb coat of frosting on the top and sides of the layered cake. Reserve enough frosting to fill at least two piping bags in order to make the stringy-beefy-topping. Place the cake in the fridge for at least 20 minutes before piping.
3.     You can use any size simple round-opening piping tip you feel appropriate. You simply make a mostly straight line from one end to the other and repeat, several times until the entire top of the cake is covered. By placing the cake in a tub-like container, as I did, you don’t have to worry about piping the sides, you really can’t see them in the finished product.
4.     You can vary the definition of the lines by the temperature of the frosting. If you want a thick, less defined, wavy quality to the visual texture of the lines do not refrigerate the reserve frosting. For a thinner, super defined texture refrigerate the reserve frosting with the cake before piping.

Two tips:
1.     Place a dollop of frosting on the bottom of the tub, then, place the first layer of cake inside. This prevents the cake from shifting.
2.     To keep the edges of the tub clean while frosting the crumb layer, line the sides of the tub with four separate pieces of wax paper before putting the first layer of cake on the bottom. Simply pull the wax paper away when you’re done frosting. Sorry I didn’t take a picture of this extra step; next time.