Tuesday, December 30, 2008

CONTEST: 1 year Blogoversary for The Cupcakery & Gift from the Riyadh Spice Souq

*UPDATE: Due to lost luggage on my return trip; new spices are coming from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia!

Hi friends! Thank you for your loyal support over the past year. I have really enjoyed coming up with new flavor combinations and trying out different recipes. Most especially I look forward to hearing from you and now I get to give you something back!

(Fresh spices in the Spice Souq, Aswan, Egypt)
I am enjoying my trip immensely and I would like to share my Middle Eastern travels with you. I will be headed to the Spice Souq where cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, saffron and a myriad of fresh spices are plentiful. I am going to send 3 lucky readers who leave me a comment in my comments section. The winner will be chosen randomly through Random.org and will win a goody box of spices selected from the Riaydh Spice Souq. This special prize is something I hope you will enjoy, so enter my Blogoversary Contest!
Leave me a comment or send me an email to:
the[dot]cupcakery[at]yahoo[dot]com

1) Tell me your favorite flavor cupcake and frosting combination.

2) Tell me what your favorite spice is.

3) Tell me where you dream of traveling.

The deadline is midnight on Friday, January 2, 2009. Make sure I have an email address to contact you. Good luck and Happy New Year!

Best!

Season's Greetings from the Middle East

(Wendy and my little guy at the Spice Souq in Aswan, Egypt)
Hi friends! As 2008 is coming to a rapid close, I must first wish you Season's Greetings. These wishes from my little guy and I come from where we have spent the past few weeks in Egypt and are currently in Saudi Arabia.

We have had a fantastic time and our eyes have seen such wonders; in the city of Cairo down to Luxor following the Nile River to the city of Aswan! Cupcakes are extremely difficult to find! I went through many back alleys to find small bekeries to the main streets into large Patisseries. No luck! I did, however, find lovely treats and delicious desserts which are famous in this region. Alas, the elusive cupcake was nowhere to be found.

I happened upon El Falero Patisserie, a lovely bakery in the heart of Cairo where I found this wonderful cake. Not quite a cupcake but close enough to eat with a cappucino. The cake was small and round. It was described to me to be the size of a cup - does this count? The "cup sized cake" was coated in a delicious melt in your mouth chocolate, crunchy hazelnuts and drizzled with dark chocolate. Inside it had a thin crispy cookie layer over the cake so there was a slight crunch. It really was tasty.

("Cup of Cake" and cappuccino, El Falero Patisserie in Cairo, Egypt)

We have travelled on to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. This city, inspite of what you might have heard or think you know, is very progressive. Riyadh has an area which I have dubbed "The Sweet Spot" because of the tenants in this location. It is an amazing and impressive section of the city where the bakeries, patisseries, chocolatiers and specialty baked goods are located. With all of the different varieties of shops, there are still many "Coming Soon!" or "Opening Soon!" papers covering the windows. Although I am not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, I find I get a much better perspective being driven around. I am able to see the gorgeous window displays of chocolate or desserts and YES I am talking about sweets! There is a distinctive French and Italian influence, but I am just as taken by the Middle Eastern confections which are available as well. These windows are dressed as well as any Parisian or Milanese boutique and with as much attention to detail given to the displays.

Yesterday, I was at the Four Seasons Hotel at the Kingdom Tower in the Tea Lounge with a very dear friend of mine. The lounge is a small but extremely luxurious area with plush couches adorned with leather pillows, glass tables with the loveliest yellow roses which are also found in the hotel lobby. There is a quiet comfort which makes you want to spend the afternoon sipping turkish coffee, reading the newspaper. My friend and I ate fantastically prepared Arabic food and visited for several hours; we drank raspberry lemonade and organic verbena mint tea, feasted on delicately prepared Greek salad and Shawarma folds, crunchy ginger cookies and date cake which would send you into a spin because of the sweet and spicy combination. I spied the dessert buffet which was lit up with green spotlights and layered with elegant chocolate cakes, French inspired eclairs and fruit tarts with brightly colored combinations, mini layered tiramisu cups, creme brulee and as I perused the dessert behind the roasted figs and almonds, what did my marveled eyes behold, tucked behind the elegantly curved chocolate straws - cupcakes! Yes, yes, yes! Lovely medium sized banana cupcakes stuffed with chocolate cream and a healthy slice of fresh banana with a drizzle of chocolate on top. I have finally arrived at my destination!

As I ponder my delectable travels, I realize my 1 year blogoversary is in a few days. Keep reading as I will be hosting a contest to celebrate! I am most grateful to you, my dear and loyal readers who have continued to give me inspiration and creativity throught out many, many challenges I have faced this year. As we move towards a new year, thank you for coming back to The Cupcakery, I welcome my new readers and look forward to sharing more tasty treats, recipes, cookbooks and travels with you. It is with great anticipation I look ahead to 2009. My wish for you; May every sweet confection you imagine eventually wind up in the palm of your hand!

Wishing you the very best!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Go Army! Beat Navy! 109th Army Navy Game

(109th Army Navy Game logo)
Hi friends! Let's hope 2008 is the year Army has it's comeback! If you do not know about the rivalry, check this out!

Regardless, of who wins today (Army!) you know what a soft spot I have for all of our service members! I read about yet another great way to give back this holiday season through Operation Gratitude. OPERATION GRATITUDE seeks to lift troops' morale, and bring a smile to their faces by sending care packages addressed to individual service members deployed overseas. OPERATION GRATITUDE care packages contain food, toiletries, entertainment items and personal letters of appreciation, all wrapped with good wishes of love and support.

Afterall, isn't that what the holidays are all about? Giving back, appreciating, all wrapped up with good wishes and love?

Enjoy your day and remember Army fans - BEAT NAVY! I think cupcakes are missing from this party ~ which is why I am baking as I post this. Pictures will follow!

Best!

(Rock the Black/Gold! Chocolate cupcakes and vanilla butter cream frosting sprinkled with chocolate jimmies and gold sugar crystals)

(Don't just catch the Army spirit... you can eat it too!)

Martha Stewart's One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes
Makes 2 dozen

1 3/4 cups unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 3/4 teaspoons table salt
2 large whole eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups warm water
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Line cupcake pans with liners; set aside.

3. In a large mixing bowl, sift together cocoa, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

4. Add the eggs, warm water, buttermilk, butter, and vanilla; mix batter until mixture is smooth and combined, for about 3 minutes.

5. Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl to assure batter is well mixed.

6. Divide batter evenly among liners, filling each about halfway.

7. Bake until tops spring back when touched, about 18-20 minutes. Rotate the pan once if needed. Transfer to a wire rack.

8. VERY IMPORTANT to let the cupcakes cool completely before frosting!

Vanilla Butter Cream Frosting

8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
5 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. whole milk
3 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. plus plus 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1. With an electric mixer, cream the butter and salt for about 30 seconds.

2. Add half of the powdered sugar and the milk to the butter and beat again until combined. Scrape down the bowl.

3. Add the remainder of the powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and lemon juice. Beat until combined. Scrape down the bowl again.

4. Beat on high speed for 2 minutes or until the frosting is fluffy.

5. Continue beating on high speed for 3 minutes.

6. It is preferable to use the frosting on the same day you make it, but it can keep in the refrigerator for 3 days if tightly wrapped. Make sure and stir the buttercream well before using to get the air bubbles out of the frosting and then pipe onto completely cooled cupcakes.

7. Top with chocolate jimmies and gold sugar crystals.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Martha Stewart's Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook by, Martha Stewart

(Take a look at Martha Stewart's new cookbook here.)

Hi friends! I told you I was behind on postings and lucky you gets to read about another fantastic cookbook which I think should be on your wish list this holiday season! My little guy and I went to a very special book signing at Williams-Sonoma in the Westchester Mall in White Plains. The queen of domesticity was signing copies of her latest book Martha Stewart's Cooking School. I really admire Martha Stewart's talent. The way cooking, gardening, homemaking, entertaining and decorating come so easily to her. Her books, radio shows, television shows and the entire Martha Stewart Crafts section at Michael's can make everyone feel as though "we can do it too!" And why should we not feel that way ~ everyone of you is filled with so much creative potential! (I just hope if you are creating these wonderful crafts - I at least get to see pictures of what you have made or I am around to taste what you have created!)

(William-Sonoma; a welcoming entrance!)

We, okay, (it was mostly me) I, was very excited to meet Martha Stewart. My little guy gently reminded me, along with a new friend I made in line, Ms. Gail, that the book signing is all I talked about during the week! We arrived somewhat early so the queue was not terribly long. The Williams-Sonoma staff made sure everyone was taken care of by coming around with trays of creamy tomato soup (a recipe in Cooking School). After my little guy and I made it through the receiving line, we met and were greeted by Martha Stewart, there was a delicious tray of sugar cookies (also a recipe in the book!)

Here is Martha laughing with her guests...

...and signing.


Martha looked so trendy and at ease; she was so lovely and graceful. There was an electric buzz in the air. Everyone was so excited! Ms. Gail had an armful of books and I admit, this blogger was tickled to talk with Martha, if only for a few moments. Even my little guy said "Hi Ms. Martha, my mom really loves you!" She smiled at him and told him how happy she was that he came. [I love how this sounds:] We talked about blogs and cupcakes, and how several of my favorite recipes come from her Baking Handbook. Then Martha did tell me (and here's a scoop) a complete Martha Stewart Cupcake Book is in the works! Fabulous! You know I will be looking forward to that one when it arrives.

And finally, after those few moments spent with Martha, I very cheerily walked away with my new cookbook. And of course Martha has wonderful penmanship. (I just knew she would have!)

As a caveat, as we were walking past the sugar cookies and taking a glimpse at the crowd, the local NBC camera crew covering the event stopped me and asked me how Martha knew about my blog, what did Martha have to say about a new cupcakes cookbook, why did I like her so much, what did I think of her? It was a short interview which aired locally. Unfortunately I never did see it, but most of my co-workers did. My little guy thought it was pretty cool ~ and do you know how hard it is to impress an 8 year old, at a cooking event? Yes! I rock!

Quickly, let me tell you why I really like this cookbook; several reasons. The book is broken down into different techniques from very basic things like what spices look like and how to use them, to how to make perfect pie crusts and on to more complex cooking techniques. The book is filled with sharp, clear photographs, checklists and tips which will help you follow the techniques flawlessly. This cookbook book is great for beginners and a wonderful refresher for anyone who knows their way around the kitchen. Think of it as having Martha or an "assistant" in your kitchen!

These is my favorite volume which I regularly use:
Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook
Now I have another favorite:
Martha Stewart's Cooking School

The holidays are upon us and I don't know about you, but I can use all the help I can get; this is a nice thick volume to add to your shelves! Thank you Martha! Happy baking friends!

Best!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Tate's Bake Shop: Cookbook by, Kathleen King

Hi friends! Happy Holidays to everyone ~ whatever you are celebrating I just know something sweet to eat is on the menu! I am somewhat behind on posting, not only cupcake recipes and photos but a few updates for you. Why? You know I have a perfectly darned good reason!

I bought a new cookbook.

Yep. That's my reason. My hairdersser, Dawn, told me about Tate's about a year ago when she was trying to make the coconut birthday cake for her beau. How could I not be curious about such a spectacular little Bake Shop hidden in the Hamptons. Tate's is a darling bake shop in Southampton (New York). If you have never been there before... get there! If you can't get there, visit the website and buy this book! You know I like to share yummy goodies with my readers, and this is definitely one of them! (Kathleen King, owner. Photo courtesy of Tate's Bake Shop.)
I have made several of Kathleen King's recipes in the past year and they are scrumptious. Easy to make, yummy to eat and even better when you share them with a friend! I signed up on the website for The Recipe of the Month. I finally broke down and bought the cookbook since I have enjoyed each months recipes so much.

If you are curious about what is inside, let me tempt you: Muffins and Scones (orange poppy seed muffins, rhubarb crumb muffins and apricot ginger scones); Pound Cakes and Breads (lemon pound cake, date nut bread and squash rolls); Cookies and Bars that will leave you clamoring for another batch (cappuccino shortbread, white chocolate brownies, and peanut butter squares); Pies, Crisps and Cobblers (apricot cherry pie, key lime pie, and apple cranberry crisp); Cakes (coconut birthday cake [FABULOUS!], chocolate mousse cake, hummingbird cake, chocolate hazelnut fudge cake, and sticky toffee date pudding) Healthy Alternatives (energy bars, healthy pumpkin bread and oatmeal tahini cookies). Just so you know, this is only a teensy-weensy sample of the index. This cookbook is over a hundred pages of really simple to follow recipes, with a foreword by none other than Ina Garten.

I really needed another cookbook. What can I say? I love good cookbooks and this is one of them. Another thing I like about the cookbook, besides the luscious list I wrote for you already, is the way the colors on the cover match the Tate's Bake Shop building, perfectly! What a way to accessorize!(Tate's Bake Shop - Photo Courtesy of ForbesTraveler.com)

Let me know if you get this delicious book ~ I would like to know what you make and what your favorites are. Happy baking!

Best!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Cupcakes

(Ever hear of the Thanksgiving "Chicken" ? My cat, Scoots!)

Hi friends! I trust you had a very happy, healthy and filling Thanksgiving Day! My little guy and I feasted on a wonderful dinner at my Aunt and Uncle's home. I am always amazed at how long planning for the perfect menu from the beverages and appetizers, to the entree, side dishes, and desserts can take; and then how quickly all of that planning can be consumed! Overall, dinner was an enormous success and the time flew by so quickly! There was so much wonderful food, laughter, good conversation and most of all being together with people I love. It was a good day and for that, I am grateful. I never get to have nearly enough time at my Aunt and Uncle's house. I have told them for years they need a plaque which reads "You are entering the house of warmth and love!" When I count my blessings, I count them twice.

I know my Aunt is going to kill me for posting this picture (which is exactly why I did not tell her I was going to put it on the blog, mea culpa, mea culpa!) I am bringing cupcakes over! :-) I think it is very important to recognize the hostess who puts in all the hard work of organizing, shopping, cooking, serving, cleaning up and putting their heart into serving up a memorable meal on a special day so we can all have a place to gather! So kudos to you Linda! You know I love you! (Kiss the cook!)

As promised, pictures from the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS) Thanksgiving Supper at the Buffalo Soldier Pavillion here at West Point, below. I was very happy to have been able to provide a small piece of deliciousness to our soldiers who are stationed at the United States Military Academy at West Point. (Here I am pictured with several dozen cupcakes I dropped off during "set up")
(Just look at these gorgeous smiles and delicious cupcakes!)
(Life is sweet! My little guy with a pumpkin spice cupcake with cream cheese frosting dusted with cinnamon sugar.)

The different cupcake flavors were:

1) Vanilla cupcake with cream cheese frosting, triple berry puree and a strawberry.
2) Pumpkin spice cupcake with cream cheese frosting dusted with cinnamon sugar.
3) Vanilla cupcake with Godiva mocha whipped cream sprinkled with cocoa powder, topped with a Dunkin Donut coffee bean.

I will post the recipes, but for now I wanted to share these pictures with you! Did you have any amazing desserts for Thanksgiving? Discuss.

Best!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers - Thanksgiving Cupcake Project


Hi friends! Thanksgiving is just a few days away and I seem to be touched with a bit of nostalgia. The cold, November winds have begun to blow. The rain that's falling is threatening to turn to snow. The last of the autumn leaves have turned colors and fallen into crunchy piles on the ground; another year is about to come to a close. As I think about Thanksgiving, I am reminded there are some years when I am "the cook" and there are other years I am "the guest." Either way, it is nice to know I have a place to welcome friends and family or to go and share happiness during the holiday season.

During most of my adult life I have, in one way or another, spent the holidays serving meals at a shelter, to soldiers in a mess hall, hosting family and friends and many soldiers in my home, inviting friends of friends to come and eat, spending time at the VA hospitals, or nursing home with my grandmother. I have an incredibly deep and affectionate spot for the elderly and I do admit to doting on anyone who does not have a place to go during the holidays. There is "always room for one more" at my table.

It is precisely this train of thought which prompted my little guy to completely empty out our pantry this past weekend, "for the good of the community" he told me when the Boy Scouts did their annual food drive. I noted he was more than happy to donate the artichoke hearts, peas, carrots and string beans. When I asked him what we should do about the Fruit Roll-Ups, Animal Crackers and Slim Jims, he quickly responded that was not a canned item and therefore not an adequate donation. I fear he might be right on that one!

What can I say, I was born in September and therefore my Libran personality requires me to thrive on balance and harmony. I need to know everyone is happy and most of all well fed! I do not do it out of a sense of obligation; I do it because it is the right thing to do. There have been many holidays I spent alone, in foreign countries. What I would not have given for a friendly face or familiar food. Not to be overly dramatic, but I told myself I would not go through those lonely days again. Familiarity is what brings us together. I try to do my part, no matter how small.

Which brings me to my latest project. There is an Army program called BOSS - Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers. It is a program which supports the overall quality of single soldier’s lives. BOSS identifies well being issues and concerns by recommending improvements through the chain of command. BOSS encourages and assists single soldiers in identifying and planning for recreational and leisure activities. Additionally, it gives single soldiers the opportunity to participate in and contribute to their respective communities.The BOSS program originated in 1989 to respond to the recreational needs of single soldiers from ages 18 to 25 who make up 35% of the Army. As the program was implemented throughout the Army, it became evident quality of life was the primary concern to single soldiers. In 1991, the Chief of Staff of the Army officially expanded BOSS to include all aspects of soldiers’ lives. Some BOSS members then began to express an interest in participating in community service project, which was added as a component of the program. These components, recreation and leisure, well-being and community service are the core components of the BOSS program.

With that as a preface, there are approximately 50 soldiers this Thanksgiving to whom the BOSS program will be providing dinner for at the United States Military Academy. Now you and I both know, no Thanksgiving dinner would be complete without cupcakes! I am certain the Mayflower would never have made the treacherous journey across the Atlantic Ocean without several dozen cupcakes to share at the feast... oops, I might have just reinvented history!

My little guy and I are donating 6-dozen cupcakes for their dinner tomorrow. I am so pleased to be able to support our soldiers in a small way. Please do not forget our single soldiers, or anyone else who would otherwise have nowhere to go this holiday season. No matter what you do, or who its for, no matter how small your gesture; someone, somewhere will appreciate what you do when you do it from your heart! Cupcakes always make life a little bit sweeter!

Best!
Happy Thanksgiving!

P.S. I will post pictures and recipes for all the cupcakes donated!

Monday, November 24, 2008

On a personal note... Skin Cancer Part III

Hi friends! I have been a bit under the weather, but wanted to share a few updates with you. First and foremost, thank you so much for your continued emails, comments and support during this "trial" I am going through. It means so much to me to hear from you. Thanks for checking in and sharing your thoughts with me. I am an optimist by nature and I believe I will ultimately overcome this battle.

I grossly underestimated how difficult my recovery time would be. It took me several weeks to be able to turn my head from side to side. Simple, every day things became a challenge. I had so many meals brought to my home in the days after surgery, which I truly appreciated and was so thankful for. A funny story; my neighbor brought me the most delicious turkey chili one night in her lovely all-clad pot (literally). The unfortunate part was that I could hardly hold on to the pot, due to lack of strength. She was so cute the way she had organized the condiments in Tupperware containers and Ziploc bags. All I kept thinking was "Oh please don't let me drop this pot! Please don't let me drop this pot!"

I no longer take for granted reaching up to my adjustable showerhead and ensuring it is secure, prior to taking it off the arm. I nearly knocked myself out a few times in the shower; which was cute! I never realized exactly how animated my facial expressions were; I am sure I have felt every single muscle from every, single expression I have made since October 2nd. Trust me, I make a lot of faces! I had no idea! Even swallowing became a chore. I find I am still having some trouble looking all the way up and down, but I can report it is getting better! Slowly, it is getting better; and that's a good thing.

My little guy can tell you I was relying on him quite a bit. He was an enormous help to me; especially while driving. Yes, I know what you are thinking! I quickly learned to differentiate my instructions when I asked, "Are there any cars coming sweetheart?" The "differentiation" of "cars" came to include bicycles, motorcycles, RV's, campers and anything with wheels! I would like to apologize to anyone who might have been cut off in the past few weeks by woman who looked "like Sponge Bob doing the Robot" and her darling 8-year-old co-pilot son in the Hudson Valley... I am terribly sorry!

The adorable "Sponge Bob" description comes from none other than my little guy when he very amusedly watched me switching the laundry one night with a very stiff neck and said "Hey Mommy, do you know who you remind me of?" Hmmm... this could be dangerous territory. "I have no idea sweetheart, whom would that be?" and he quipped "Sponge Bob doing 'The Robot' - you know old school, 80's stuff." I am sure I have no idea what he is talking about!

On a little more serious note, I had another section of skin cancer removed from my back last week. Pain, makes me a little bit cranky and I admit this has been quite an ordeal as of late. The best way to stay on top of skin cancer, is to be vigilant; to ask questions. Most of all, to believe it will get better. Again, I am encouraging you to seek answers to your concerns; no matter how small you think they might be! ASK! Were it not for my "cheering section" I would not be able to get through this. I laugh at myself because while my little guy might think I look like Sponge Bob, at least he didn't say I remind him of Patrick!

Best!

Friday, October 3, 2008

On a personal note... Skin Cancer Part II

(A beautiful Hudson Valley sunrise from my kitchen window)
Hi friends! I wanted to give you an update on the status of my skin cancer. Yesterday morning was the surgery to have the tumor in my neck removed. It was not a pleasant procedure, but I can now report the tumor is gone.

The doctor made a 4 1/2" incision just about on the center of my neck. The tumor was much larger than anticipated and it took over 75 stitches to close the area. I am very sore and the area is definitely tender. I am having some trouble raising and lowering my head, also moving my head from side to side. I think it will just take some time for the healing process to take place.

I need to tell you how grateful I am for the expertise of the doctors and staff at the surgery center. My aunt who was with me the whole time, was a real trooper! She cried for me and I have a feeling I will be creating some yummy "thank you" cupcakes when I am feeling better.

I am, again, encouraging you to check your body frequently for anything unusual and use the Body Mole Map and track any suspicious marks you find and have questions on. Do not be afraid to ask your doctor about your concerns; you will be so happy you did.

Find FREE SKIN CANCER SCREENINGS here through the American Academy of Dermatology. Additionally, check out the Skin Cancer Foundation Road to Healthy Skin Tour here.

Oil of Olay has a fabulous Skin Cancer Awareness Video here should you need more motivation to get checked out. I want to share my story with you so we can all have more days together to eat and share cupcakes! Please be healthy, stay happy and know I will continue to fight until I am cancer free!

Best!
(Wendy, tumor free!)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Week 22: A little Sassafras and a lot of Fizz; Rootbeer Float Cupcakes


Hi friends! I am happy to share this cupcake with you for several reasons. As you know, I am never at a loss for words! In High School Sister Mary Christopher used to say to me "Dear child, you have to be the best extemporaneous speaker in your class." Little did I realize at the time she was mocking me a bit. I suppose our youth has a way of masking those moments from us. Or not... Sister Mary Christopher was not wrong, I have gone on to be able to hold my own ground in extemporaneous speaking, or being persuasive on short notice.

The reason I love this cupcake so much is because I love, love, love root beer floats. Oh my goodness what a treat. When I was a little girl I can remember my father making decked out root beer floats. My brother and I would sit on our back patio near the swimming pool under the large branches of a mango trees watching my father scoop enormous mounds of vanilla ice cream into frosty mugs. "You can't do this too quickly kids!" he would say to us. "Do you see how I slowly I am doing this?" Then he would begin to pour A&W Root Beer over the ice cream creating a frothy, bubbly eruption to appear! It seemed an eternity waiting for him to finish! I can remember squealing with glee as I finally got an icy mug with a foamy top spilling slightly over the edge. What I remember most about those days near the pool, was the anticipation and then the sharp bite of creamy root beer on my tongue. All that sassafras and fizz, creates a wonderful drink!

Now that I am older, I have to admit I love to create the same feeling of anticipation for my little guy with a root beer float. Yeah, I am cheesy like that! I suppose since I am "more modern gal" I like to buy IBC Root Beer in the dark amber bottles. I secretly have to laugh when he says "Hey Mom, can I have a beer?" I know I shouldn't encourage the idea of an 8 year old drinking an alcoholic beverage, but he thinks it is so bold for him to ask that question when I know he is talking about root beer! I do notice I seem to take painstakingly long to make a root beer float, but he is so excited while the ice cream is scooped, the foam is rising, the fizz is fizzing. It's all about anticipation.

Without further delay, I introduce The Cupcakery version of a root beer float in a cupcake! I was aiming for a moist cupcake with a not so subtle rootbeer flavor. I did not want it to be overwhelming either, so this was the challenge! I began looking around in cyberspace at root beer websites. They are about as varied as the cupcake world! I found a great site called The Rootbeer Brothers who had an absolutely delicious cupcake who they found from BitterSweet. After viewing many fantastic recipes, I decided to tweak this one. I was intrigued by the rootbeer soda, apple cider vinegar and extract combination. I have used canola oil in the past and for some reason I find this adds to making cupcakes exceedingly moist (plus it is heart healthy!) and I care about that!

I used a different frosting recipe, but feel free to use the ganache. I was looking for a light and airy frosting. The one I used, does not disappoint. I also think another tasty option would be Rootbeer Flavored Whipped Cream with a sprinkle of Nutmeg! Let me know if you try something different.

This cupcake was an enormous hit when I brought it into work. I heard a lot of reminiscing. My favorite was from a co-worker who said it reminded her of when her father would bring home root beer jelly beans at Easter from the Candy Barrel candy store. I guess I am not the only one hit with nostalgia!

Enjoy this tasty, creamy confection.
Best!


Rootbeer Float Cupcakes

1 Cup Root Beer Soda
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
3/4 Cup Sugar
1/3 Cup Canola Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 Teaspoons Rootbeer Extract
1 1/3 Cups Flour
3/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
Pinch of Salt


1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and cupcake tins with papers.

2. Combine the soda and vinegar and let stand for a few minutes.

3. Add in the sugar and oil, whisking vigorously until slightly frothy.

4. Integrate your extracts, and gently introduce the flour, along with the baking powder/soda, and salt. Be careful not to over mix.

5. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared tins. Fill liners approximately 3/4 of the way to the top. Bake for about 18 - 22 minutes.

6. VERY IMPORTANT to let the cupcakes cool completely before frosting.



Root Beer Buttercream Frosting

1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
3 tsp. McCormick® Root Beer Concentrate
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 cup milk

1. Beat butter in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy.

2. Add Root Beer Concentrate; mix well. Mixture will turn a light amber color.

2. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until well blended after each addition and frequently scraping sides and bottom of bowl.

3. Add milk; beat until light and fluffy.

4. If frosting is too thick to pipe, add milk a splash at a time until you achieve the desired consistency. Rewhip before using.



* Should you not have root beer; make your own! It is so easy! Here is how:
Easy Homemade Root Beer

1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons McCormick® Root Beer Concentrate
1 bottle (1 liter) cold soda water, seltzer or club soda

1. Bring water to boil in medium saucepan. Add sugar; stir until dissolved. Add Root Beer Concentrate; stir until well mixed.
2. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Slowly pour soda into root beer mixture until well blended and serve.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Week 21: Ultra Decadent Diva Divine Chocolate Cupcake Topped with Mascarpone Buttercream Frosting and Balsamic Syrup with Fresh Strawberries


Hi friends! I know, I know! It has been way too long since I posted a cupcake recipe. I have heard your requests and I am posting this absolutely decadent little bite of hedonism and asking mea culpa (forgiveness) for taking so long! I made several batches of these throughout the summer when the strawberries were full, ripe, luscious and sweet. Fortunately, you can get the burst of flavors any day of the week, using frozen strawberries works well. As most Cupcakery recipes, this one is so EASY! There are many aspects of this diva you will love and soon find yourself making several batches as I have!

The cupcake is so very moist and light, dare I say nearly spongy? The Godiva liqueur adds a nice rich flavor and the buttermilk really does add to the crescendo of flavors. I think the best part of this small confection is the mascarpone cheese-buttercream frosting and balsamic syrup tiara which sits on top!

A friend asked me this summer to make some of these for her tennis group who were going out to cruise the Hudson River one balmy afternoon in July. The bite of balsamic vinegar, juicy strawberries, chocolate cupcakes and mascarpone cheese-buttercream frosting was delicious and very welcome at the marina.

I am very fortunate to live along the Shawangunk Wine Trail in the Hudson Valley. There is a fabulous little secret nestled in the little village of Warwick called Demarest Hill Winery. Aside from the gorgeous view of the area, they make THE BEST balsamic vinegar. It is so sweet you can drink it. I have often used it pouring it over whipped cream and brownies, just about any kind of fruit. I used it in this recipe because it really is my favorite, but just about any balsamic vinegar will work. I find the balsamic vinegar from Modena is great.
(Balsamic vinegar from Demarest Hill Winery, Warwick, NY)

I hope you enjoy my ultra decadent diva divine chocolate cupcake! Only the best for my loyal readers! I promise more to follow.

Best!


Ultra Decadent Diva Divine Chocolate Cupcake
Makes 2 dozen

3 oz. Askinose Ecudorian Dark Chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/3 cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup Godiva Liqueur, divided

1. Preheat your oven to 375° degrees. Then line baking pans with paper liners.

2. Place chocolate in small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium (50% power) for 1 minute. Stir. Microwave 30 seconds more or until chocolate is softened. Stir until smooth and let cool.

3. Sift flour, baking soda and salt together.

4. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter in mixing bowl until creamy.

5. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy.

6. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

7. Beat in melted chocolate.

8. Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk and 1/2 cup Godiva Liqueur, beating until smooth at low speed. Divide batter among baking cups.

9. Bake for 17-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center of the cupcakes comes out clean.

10. VERY IMPORTANT to let the cupcakes cool completely before frosting!
(Diva Delicious Chocolate Cupcakes with Mascarpone-Buttercream Frosting, Balsamic Syrup and Strawberries: Topped with Milk Chocolate Tennis Racquets!)

*NOTE: I made the milk chocolate tennis raquets when it was over 100° outside, so unfortunately they melted very quickly. Milk chocolate is very soft so I would not recommend this for extreme heat!

Mascarpone Buttercream Frosting
Makes 2 1/2 cups

1 container of fresh Mascarpone Cheese
1 stick salted butter
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp lemon juice
1 1/4 cup powdered sugar

1. Combine Mascarpone Cheese and butter in a mixing bowl.

2. Beat cheese and butter until light and creamy.

3. Add vanilla and then lemon juice.

4. Add powdered sugar and continue beating until smooth.

5. Once frosting is prepared, pipe onto completely cooled cupcakes.

6. Top with Balsamic Syrup and fresh, ripe strawberries.

Balsamic Vinegar Syrup
(Balsamic vinegar on the stovetop)

1 cup Balsamic Vinegar
2 Tbsp. sugar

1. Combine ingredient in a heavy small saucepan.

2. Bring to a boil slowly until liquid is reduced to 1/2 cup, about 10 minutes.

3. Once the syrup has reduced remove from heat and cool.

4. Pour small amount over frosted cupcake and top with half strawberry, or hulled strawberries.

Friday, September 5, 2008

A word from Sudi Pigott

Hi friends! I was delighted to receive an email from Sudi Pigott regarding my recent post with a review of her book. "How to be a Better Foodie; A Bulging Little Book for the Truly Epicurious" is a delight, so take a look at my review! Below is Sudi's email to me and a wonderful opportunity for those of you in London. It sounds great!!

Best!

* * * *

Hi Wendy,

What a fantastic review - thank you. It sounds like you've enjoyed the book exactly the way I hoped people would. Only problem is I included so much in it, it is almost impossible to think of a sequel. I'm intrigued to know what kind of foods you weren't familiar with? I thought you might also enjoy doing this foodie quiz I did recently for the Guardian newspaper in the UK though I realise a few of ingredients may not be found in US - I also run foodie quizzes now for restaurants and companies.

Also, I am going to be doing some foodie tours of Borough Market with Intercontinental Hotel Mayfair - I think they are offering special packages whereby I will take guests around and introduce them to producers, organise some tastings and generally offer advice on what to eat, food trends and my favourite places to dine out in London. I may also do something similar for Chelsea area with The Capital Hotel.

Best Wishes
Sudi

www.sudi-better-foodie.com

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

How to be a Better Foodie; A Bulging Little Book for the Truly Epicurious by Sudi Pigott


Hi friends! If you have not seen this latest "foodie book" to grace bookstore shelves from the US to the UK, you just might be looking for it after I share this latest review with you. Jessica at Penguin Books sent this remarkable little book to me. When I first saw it was over 300 pages, I could not imagine how much I did not know! But alas, Sudi Pigott got her title absolutely right, "How To Be a Better Foodie; A Bulging Little Book for the Truly Epicurious" is filled to the brim with facts and foodie-essentials which make anyone who is interested in culinary particulars marvel at the amount of text in this book!

I consider myself to be an amateur foodie. Meaning, I know I like "good food" and perhaps my tastes have become slightly more upscale over the years from my magazine subscriptions to Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Chocolatier and my endless accrual of cookbooks which have required additional purchases of furniture (covered on page 73). According to the "What Kind of Foodie Are You?" quiz at the beginning of this delightful book, I seem to have a fastidious dedication to culinary nirvana... or at least I must try to keep a sense of humor about that! I really do enjoy "good food" and by good food I mean satisfying, comforting food, which reminds me of happy times spent with those dearest to me. There is nothing quite as pleasurable for me than making a cocktail, an appetizer, a meal, a dessert, or something another person will consume when they come to my home; then seeing true enjoyment come from that event. Cooking has always been a way in which I express myself and to know it is well received and appreciated makes it so much more fun for me to continue doing.

When I opened the parcel from Jessica, my initial reaction was "What a darling book!" The size and shape reminded me of a little diary which might hold some super "foodie-top-secrets" I did not yet know but which Sudi was waiting to share with only me. The pages are thick chocolate brown and bubble gum pink with absolutely precious graphics in a buttercream white which reminded me of children's storybooks from the 1950's. The color combination of the pages are one of my favorites, so aesthetically it was a joy to behold. I could not wait to dive in and find out "How To Be a Better Foodie"

When I read a book, one of my favorite parts is the introduction from the author. You get a few pages of insight into why they have chosen to write on this particular subject. I have no doubt Sudi Pigott loves what she does! I could actually relate to her initial "foodietude" she developed in her childhood from licking a spoon from a maple walnut sponge cake bowl. Her enthusiastic interest in food leaps off the pages in this "Bulging Little Book for the Truly Epicurious" - there is a bit of self deprecating humor slipped in between her knowledge but she shares her joy of food with the pleasure you would have in finding your favorite childhood dish at an upscale East side restaurant.

I must warn you, as you flip through the pages, you might be tempted to tab them up with Post-it notes since there are many point of interest and so many new ways to declare yourself a better foodie! I had no idea I was so gauche! I did, however, enjoy seeing the list of condiments, oils and vinegars and proud as even an amateur foodie, my pantry contained quite a few from the list!

The book contains quirky foodie habits which hard-core foodies can relate to and amateur foodies can esteem to. There were some areas of which I could not understand, simply because I am not accustomed to some of the foods Ms. Pigott clearly has passion and expertise in. I have no doubt food is something she dives into with hedonistic abandon and if you are looking for ways to expand your palette, get this book!

I enjoyed tremendously the way Sudi took every day aspects such as pets, fashion, shopping, movies, and dining to name a few and expressed how "foodietude" encompasses and relates to each. As someone who has a cupcake website and love for all things cupcake, I am distracted by anything cake related in small proportions! I did learn what a langoustine is (a marine crustacean which looks a little like a miniature lobster and a lot like the river dwelling crayfish. It can grow up to a foot in length and is prized for its delicious tail meat. Smaller langoustines have their upper parts discarded and their tails used for scampi. Larger langoustines are sold to be cooked whole. They are a common feature in the traditional French bistro seafood platter and a very important element in Spanish cuisine.)

I said earlier I felt like I was given a diary filled with lots of secrets and a wealth of gastronomic knowledge. This book, to me, reflects many years of Ms. Pigott's culinary travels and epicurian delights. It is full of thoughtful observations, experiences and a truly epicurious point of view. At times it made me scratch my head and crinkle my nose, but trust me when I tell you, it holds up to its title. This book is bulging with information about EVERYTHING foodie related. I feel smarter and more educated because I know about La Gran Festa De La Calcotada in Catalonia (Spain) is a festival held on the last Sunday in January for a variety of exceptionally long scallions; which can be found in the Foodie Almanac. Not to be a spoiler, but there are fantastic Foodie Pilgrimages to plan on around the world and even Foodie Stocking Stuffers!

With all this foodie "stuff" I have listed, I hope you will check out this little book. It is a fun read, you can open it at any point and find something different. If you get anything out of it... just think how sharp your gastro-credentials will be and all of the Trivial Pursuit questions you will get right!

Best!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Tag - 6 Random Things About Me

Hello my dear and loyal readers! I cannot tell you how I have missed baking, reading your comments and sharing new creations with you! I would love to say I am completely moved in to my new house, but that is not yet the case. I guess life happens!

I have, however, cleared enough space to be able to bake and give myself some elbow room so I will share some of my latest yummy creations with you! But first, I am overdue on answering this tag! Mara from Lick the Spatula has "tagged me" to tell you 6 random things about myself. I think this is her ploy to bring me out of hiding! Good job Mara! Peer pressure works like a charm. Haha!
(See what I grew!)

So the tag rules are:
1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on the blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post.
5. Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

1. I love chocolate! I have been known to go to great lengths to seek out great chocolates! When I say seek... I mean going to the Godiva factory in Brussels, the Lindt Factory in Switzerland, Ghirardelli (owned by Lindt) has Soda Fountains and the most wonderful chocolate shops! Now after Cupcake Hero, Askinosie is a new favorite! This Ecuadorian chocolate nibble bar from Askinosie is my latest craving!

2. When I see hand lettered farmers market signs, I have to stop, no matter what. I enjoy the quaintness of small stands to the larger more organized markets, but the best part is all the fresh fruits, vegetables, breads, cheeses, butters and jams! There is just something about hand lettered signs that pulls at my heart strings (the same is true for kids selling lemonade!)

3. There is an apple orchard not too far from where I live. My little guy and I can be found there quite a bit once apple season starts. I have a secret obsession with their apple cider donuts! From the minute I see the racks and racks of fresh donuts, no bigger than the palm of your hand, all warm and slightly crunchy, tangy and spicy at the same time. I could eat 6 and not blink! The orchard also has a winery, with samples! My favorite last season was the Apple Blossom Blush. It tasted like apple juice with a kick!

4. When I was 9 years old, my lemon meringue pie won 22nd place in the county bake-off out of 75 entries. My prize was a wooden spoon with a blue and white checked grosgrain ribbon. I think by that age the baking bug had already bitten me!

5. The only "video game" I can win at is Pac-Man, but I can also play a good game of air hockey!

6. I have entirely too many cookbooks... but every foodie does!

These are a few of my favorite blogs, so "tag" you are it!
Bakerella
Couture Cupcakes
Cupcake Project
My Sweet & Saucy
Sugar Plum
Tempered Woman

Friday, August 15, 2008

On a personal note... Skin Cancer Part I

(This is me, Wendy, and my little guy!)
Hi friends! I wanted to write a quick note and share something personal with you, I ordinarily would keep this to myself. I know this is a cupcake website and you come here to see lovely cupcakes and happy themes; I have so much to catch you up on, but in order for me to do that, I would like you to understand what I have been doing (besides moving) in the past few weeks. Please bear with me; I will try to keep it short and to the point. If this helps one person to not get blistering sunburns, then I did not share my story for naught.

I noticed a mark on my neck about a year ago, but in my haste to get my son to soccer practice, skiing lessons, PTA meetings, working on homework with him, being classroom mom, working 35 hours at my job and being an overall over-achiever, I did not go to the doctor and have the "freckle" checked out. I did "check it out" myself each morning in the mirror and gave it a "Pfft!" I was simply too busy to bother to go in. The mark changed shape and color, it hurt and I stopped wearing necklaces. Justifying to myself, I was over accessorizing with necklaces.

The truth is... freckles do not hurt; my "freckle" was killing me. I finally made an appointment to see the Dermatologist who took one look at me and in the most gentle way, told me he would immediately do a biopsy so we could take care of this growing problem. I am certain he was trying not to alarm me, but I cannot tell you the feeling of my heart sinking in my chest.

I am a Certified Health Education Specialist, but yet I did not take the time to follow through on what I knew I was seeing but was not fully aware of what was happening to me. I am really good about applying sunscreen (SPF 70) before my make-up. I apply it especially on my face, neck and chest and my arms. My make-up has an SPF 30 protection. I do not lie out in the sun. I am a Scottish girl with red hair and green eyes. I put on sunscreen several times a day and am obsessive about sunglasses and covering up. Yet, I have been diagnosed with skin cancer.

In this day when we have any color ribbon or rubber bracelet to wear for a cause, skin cancer is somewhat over looked. In my quest to spread the word about skin cancer prevention; I am listing a few of my favorite items I use and endorse this extremely worthy cause. Please, take care of your skin! Use sunscreen, whatever brand you like, just apply it often and liberally! Go to the doctor about ANY concerns you have! We only get one life. I have learned we only regret the things we didn't do; not the things we do! I will be making cupcakes with this in mind. Anyone who has an idea to share, you can email me at the.cupcakery at yahoo dot com.

The Skin Cancer Foundation has a wonderful website with a traveling road tour! The American Cancer Society list skin cancer facts and what to look for.
The American Cancer Society rule of thumb is the ABCDE Rule:

A for asymmetry: A mole that, when divided in half, doesn't look the same on both sides

B for border: A mole with edges that are blurry or jagged

C for color: Changes in the color of a mole, including darkening, spread of color, loss of color, or the appearance of multiple colors such as blue, red, white, pink, purple or gray

D for diameter: A mole larger than 1/4 inch in diameter

E for elevation: A mole that is raised above the skin and has an uneven surface

Click here to print your Body Mole Map. If you find anything suspicious or of concern you can take it with you to your doctor. I would also encourage you to take a look at the American Cancer Society Facts and Figures for 2008. Remember early detection is the key! Please be well, wear sunscreen and above all else, smile! Thank you for your support. I will keep you posted on my progress and I do promise more cupcakes!

Best!


Sephora Brand Sun Safety Kit. It's packed with a travel-size sunscreen and skincare for the face and body. 100 percent of the net profits (that's $21.55 from every kit sold!) will benefit The Skin Cancer Foundation. Sephora will make a total donation of up to $430,000.00 before 12/31/08. Supplies of the kit are limited and will be available while supplies last.


UV Skinz UV Skinz sun protective swimshirts are stylish and carry a UPF rating of 50+, which blocks out over 98% of the sun’s harmful rays, protecting delicate skin from damaging sunburns. Marcia Cross is on the website and endorses this product for her babies. Products range in sizes from children to adults.


Speaking of Marcia, she has the most beautiful creamy, fair skin, which needs serious sunblock! Oil of Olay, the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) and Marcia Cross have joined together to invite you and your girlfriends (or any friend! Skin cancer can strike ANYONE) to get a free skin cancer screening. This particular link touched me very deeply -- click here to see videos which will absolutely motivate you to get a screening. Please, please take this seriously.


What probably has to be my favorite sport, baseball, MLB endorses skin cancer safety! Click here to watch the Play Sun Safe video. What is really great about this organization, Play Sun Smart, and the American Academy of Dermatology is they help you find a free screening location in your area, as well as offering resources and informing you of local events.


Finally, because I believe every penny spent on research will eventually lead to a cure, there is a bracelet for Melanoma Awareness. Join SpaFinder to raise awareness about early melanoma detection & prevention by buying an "I Will Reflect" bracelet. It changes color when exposed to harmful UV rays. SpaFinder is a proud sponsor of the Skin Cancer Foundation. It is available through Spa Finder for $4.94 (does not include shipping).