31 January 2009

She's My Cherry Pie Brownie Cupcakes

Baking for me is usually a solitary activity (unless my son is around -- he likes to measure out the ingredients and of course, lick the bowl) and a fairly relaxing one. I usually don't have my computer too far away and I randomly select songs to listen to from my music downloads or youtube when baking. Oftentimes, I'll get a song stuck in my head that either has to do with one of the ingredients I'm using or the theme of the cupcakes I'm making. The Valentine's Day orders have already started coming in and 2 of the songs that have not escaped me are "Poison Arrow" by ABC (really not a great idea to be thinking about poison while baking for other people, methinks!) and "Boum" by Charles Trenet.

If you read my blog often, you know I make lots of references to late'80's/early '90's music (I know, I know, a really bad transitional time for music -- post disco/pre-grunge) but those were my teen years and so what are you gonna do? Lately, I have been catching up with old classmates, friends, barmates and even exes on facebook, and have been reminiscing about all the old days -- big shoulder pads, big hair, lots of black eyeliner, etc. Lots of the music from those days has been in heavy rotation in my kitchen as I think about these wild and crazy times. So where am I going with all this? Well, I recently came across a blog called elly says opa! and their "Eat to the Beat" installment where bakers blog about food that has been inspired by a particular song or artist. Whoa Nelly (yes, I also listen to Nelly Furtado) was this an event for me!

And here is where this all comes together...I've seen cherries springing up in all the markets lately and they happen to be one of my favorite fruits! I can't help but think of that genius of a song, Cherry Pie by Warrant, when I see them. I mean how is this for lyrics?:

Swingin in the living room
Swingin' in the kitchen
Most folks don't
Cause they're too busy bitchin'
Swingin' in there
Cause she wanted me to feed her
So I mixed up the batter
And she licked the beater

I scream, you scream,
We all scream for her
Don't even try
Cause you can't ignore her

She's my cherry pie
Cool drink of water
Such a sweet surprise
Tastes so good make a grown man cry
Sweet cherry pie
Oh yeah

As I said, G-E-N-I-U-S!

Anyway, that's the story of the inspiration behind these cupcakes -- a chocolate brownie cupcake filled with cherry jam and topped with whipped cream. They "taste so good (they'll) make a grown man cry"! Pls. feel free to leave me a comment telling me who you like to cook to and if an artist or song has ever inspired you to create a new dish. Enjoy!

She’s My Cherry Pie Brownie Cupcakes
(adapted from a recipe by Coco&Me/Chocolate and Zucchini Luxury Brownies, and inspired by Jani Lane and the big-haired boys from Warrant)

- 4 ozs. unsalted butter, diced
- 2 bars good bittersweet chocolate, chopped finely
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
- 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- A good pinch of salt
- 1 1/4 cups unrefined cane sugar
- 3 eggs

Yields about 18 cupcakes
Preheat the oven to 180° C (350° F) and place cupcake liners in two muffin tins.
Melt the butter and chocolate together in a double boiler (or just a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water; make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water), stirring regularly to ensure even melting. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.

In the meantime, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt.
Whisk the sugar into the chocolate mixture. Add the eggs in one by one, whisking well after each addition. Incorporate the flour mixture, working gently with a spatula, until very little visible trace of flour remains; do not overwork the dough as you don't want it too cakey.

Fill cupcake molds 2/3rds full and level the surfaces if needed. Fill any empty cupcake molds halfway with water.

Bake for about 18 minutes, checking regularly for doneness. The top of cupcakes should crack a bit and the top should feel springy to the touch. You want to cook them until a toothpick inserted in center comes out just a little liquidy and crumby (if the batter is very thick on the toothpick and the entire cupcake pulls up as you remove it, it still needs additional cooking). Do not over-bake. Let cool on a wire rack.

For filling:
I used Bonne Maman Cerise Griottes jam. You can use any cherry jam, jelly or even pie filling that you like. Once cupcakes have completely cooled, carefully cut a cone shape out of the top and set to the side. Fill each cupcake with 1-2 tablespoons cherry filling and replace tops.

For whipped cream:
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar, or to taste
1 tablespoon clear vanilla extract

Place cream in a large bowl, whip until cream is slightly thickened. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to whip until cream forms soft peaks. Don't whip beyond the soft-peak stage, because the cream will get stiff and curdle.

Unfrosted cupcakes can be stored up to 3 days in an airtight container. Top with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry just before serving.

** UPDATE ** See all the mouth-watering, creative entries the chefs came up with at this 4th and sadly, final installment of Eat to the Beat on elly says opa!

Note: CHERRY PIE LYRICS are the property of the respective authors, artists and labels and Little Miss Cupcake in no way takes copyright, or claims the lyrics belong to her.

29 January 2009

Iron Cupcake : Wine Now Open for Voting

If you follow my blog, you know the drill for Iron Cupcake where bakers come up with something original using the specified ingredient....I have made two fabulous creations for the January IC:E challenge: Wine.

The first is the UltraViolette Kir Royale Cupcake

A pink champagne cupcake infused with violet, topped with a kir royale buttercream, fresh raspberries and served in a white chocolate cup. This is more than decadent...it's a champagne lovers' sweet dream!

The second is my Drunken Pear Cupcake

A golden Port Cupcake topped with a Caramel Buttercream and Pears Poached in Port infused with cinnamon, orange rind and clove, and then caramelized. Inside is a rich ooey, gooey dark chocolate ganache. Delicious & divine.

Voting is open til 4 February, 12 noon US central time. To vote, you need to visit No One Puts Cupcake in a Corner. Select your top three cupcake choices (Little Miss Cupcake, Little Miss Cupcake!) and then check the corresponding boxes in the column on the right. Thanks to everyone for voting!

27 January 2009

Truly, Madly, Deeply

How do I love thee, sweet cupcake? Let me count the ways.....From 1 - 16 February, Little Miss Cupcake will be serving up some enchanting new flavor combinations to treat your sweet (tooth or heart) for Valentine's Day.

Looking to put some sizzle back in your true love's step? Try our Kiss Kiss Bang Bang cupcake: a red velvet cupcake topped with a luscious cream cheese frosting and a red white chocolate heart. For extra bang, ask for your icing "red hot" -- kicked up a notch with cinnamon.

When you are in love, you see life through rose-colored lenses. Make your St. Valentine's more rosy with our La Vie en Rose cupcake: a pink champagne cupcake topped with swirled white chocolate and raspberry buttercream. A sweet red strawberry is baked in at its center.

Heart racing? Butterflies in your tummy? No worries, sounds like you just got a taste of our Cupid's Arrow: A chocolate-swirled vanilla cupcake topped with a layer of chocolate glaze and cherry buttercream. Chocolate candy hearts on top add some sweetness to Cupid's sting.

For sale in boxes of 12 (4 of each flavor), available on a first call, first serve basis for 30,00 euro. Limited delivery available in Western Paris. All others, pick-up only.

For Every Occasion, A Cupcake. This one tagged a romantic night for sweet lovers on St. Valentine's Day!

Yours Truly,
Little Miss Cupcake

Related Post: Cupcakes Take the Cake Valentine's Day Round-Up

23 January 2009

It's All Good Inside

My husband celebrated a birthday about a month after we met in New York. At that time, I was working in advertising, had crazy hours, traveled A LOT and barely kept any "real food" in my cupboards. But I decided I wanted to impress him by making a cake. I had eaten boxed cakes in college and for some reason was compelled to turn to Ms. Betty Crocker to make this one. I probably figured it would save me a lot of time and effort. Did I mention my husband is French? And one of the biggest food snobs I have ever met? Suffice it to say, I did impress him and his friend visiting from Paris with my cake....in the worst possible way! While my husband was tactful enough to push the cake around his plate to make it look like he had eaten it (while saying nothing), his friend, Nico, was much more vocal in his opinion, which is translated loosely to something like "But what eez zees 'm*rde'? Cherie, it eez so easy to make a quatre quart or a tarte tatin for ze birthday. I have my wife call you with zee recipes."

Suffice it to say, I hung my head in shame and swore off cake mixes for the rest of my life. Though I know there are lots of folks who swear by them and can cook up some pretty tasty concoctions using them. It was actually thanks to this experience that I ventured over to Peter Kump's and signed up for pastry classes. To this day, whenever I think of taking shortcuts, I think of Nico and his famous pearls of wisdom!

It is on very rare occasions that I actually am present when a customer eats one of my cupcakes (and I do very much enjoy the first-hand reactions. If I can't be with you, please do send me feedback -- good or bad -- when you have it; I'm always looking to make a better cupcake). Recently, an American gal tasting one of my cupcakes said, "This is delicious. You really made this all by yourself? You didn't use a mix?" Which in this context, I took as a compliment. But I did want to take this opportunity to mention that here in Little Miss Cupcake's kitchen, I strive to use only the best ingredients I can find. This means, real vanilla from Madagascar beans, real butter, bio flour, eggs from free-range chickens, whole milk, Valrhona chocolate, fresh fruits and herbs -- yes, that is real lemon and orange zest in my Lemon Tart and Orange Mignon cupcakes, etc., etc.

All my cupcakes are baked fresh within 24 hours of delivery (normally same day unless you have requested an early morning pick-up) and I make everything from scratch so you are guaranteed the freshest, most delicious cupcake when you eat it.

Now IMHO, part of the wonder that is a cupcake is eating something that takes you back to childhood and I love dressing up cupcakes with whimsical colors and assorted pearls, sprinkles and the like. True this stuff has artificial colors and I try to be mindful of that since lots of my cupcakes are in fact consumed by kids. I am always happy to decorate without and spare you those artificial additives so if you don't want them, no problem. No worries...it's all good inside!

For Every Occasion, A Cupcake. And these featured today are for Matilda's 2nd Birthday! Happy Birthday, Little One! I've been singing Waltzing Matilda all morning as I prepare these (the Dan Zanes version, of course!). BTW Matilda's mom said never mind about that artificial stuff and dress 'em up!

22 January 2009

Drunken Pear Cupcakes

(This is my second entry in the Iron Cupcake:Earth challenge for January in which the Ingredient is Wine. Please see my UltraViolette Kir Royale posting for more info on IC:E).

In Paris, most buildings are maintained by a live-in employee better known as a gardien or a concierge. The gardien is kind of like a jack-of-all-trades fulfilling a hodge podge of duties such as those normally done by a superintendent, doorman, porter, handyman, building manager, janitor, etc. It varies from building-to-building and person-to-person. We've learned the hard way that being on good relations with your gardien should be one of your highest priorities when it comes to Parisian apartment living. Thankfully, we have a charming couple from Portugal who fill the role of gardiens in our building, so it would be very difficult not to like them.

As is their tradition every Christmas, they offer us a bottle of porto from Portugal. And believe me, they know their porto as witnessed by their jovial manner and usually red faces anytime we knock on their door after-hours. They usually offer us something a little off-beat that you won't find in the corner liquor store. This year, it was a sweet, dry white porto called Ramos Pinto Lagrima. (I just love their mascot who looks a little "spiritual" if you know what I mean).

I noticed a lot of bakers in this month's competition making cupcakes with champagne (which had been my first inclination too) and red wines, so I wanted to try something a little different. Since we had the port opened and on-hand.....I had several ideas going on at once for this cupcake...poached pear, chocolate, caramel. It is a rather lengthy recipe if you are going to try it at home so I would recommend making it in steps. But the final results are so worth it! I am not usually a big pear fan but this was one of the dreamiest combinations I have ever whipped up.

I offered some to my gardiens as well and though I am pretty sure they have never seen a cupcake before, when I explained what was in them, well I got a smile and after the first bite, a big thumbs up! So here is my recipe for Portugese-approved Drunken Pear cupcakes:

Drunken Pear Cupcakes
(makes 16)

For Poached, Caramelized Pears:
3 cups Port (I used Ramos Pinto Lagrima which is a dry, white port)
½ cup sugar
Rind of 2 oranges
4 cinnamon sticks
10 whole cloves
6 firm pears peeled and sliced about an 1/8“ thick
3 ozs. unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

- In a medium saucepan, combine the Port, the cinnamon sticks, the cloves, and the rind, bring the liquid to a boil, and boil the mixture for 5 minutes. Add the sugar and simmer the syrup, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved.

- Add the pear slices and simmer them for 5 to 7 minutes, or until they are tender. Remove pears and let the infused port syrup simmer down til there is approximately one cup. Sieve port reduction and set aside for cupcakes, discard cloves, cinnamon and rinds.
- Melt butter in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Once butter foams, add sugar and cook until bubbling and dissolved, about 3 minutes. Add pears and cook, stirring rarely, until mixture is caramelized and pears are well coated. Remove from heat and let pears cool.

For 16 cupcakes:
4 ozs. unsalted butter, softened
½ cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. baking soda
½ vanilla bean
½ tsp. salt
1 ½ cups flour
½ cup buttermilk
1 cup infused port reduction (left-over from poached pears)

- Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C. Grease or place cupcake liners into cupcake tins.
- To make cupcakes, cream together sugar and butter until smooth. Add egg, seeds scraped from vanilla bean, baking soda, salt and mix until well-combined. Alternate adding flour and buttermilk in 3 batches, mix well until smooth. Add port reduction last and mix to combine
- Bake for 17-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from tin and let cool on wire rack.

For Chocolate Ganache Filling :
2 bars dark chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
1 oz. unsalted butter

- For chocolate ganache filling, heat butter and cream in a small saucepan over low heat until butter is dissolved. Stir often and do not let boil! Add in chocolate and remove from heat. Stir until smooth. Let cool several minutes.
- Using a small sharp knife, cut a small cone shape out of the top of each cooled cupcake and set aside. Spoon 1-2 teaspoons of ganache into each cupcake and replace top (you may need to cut away part of the cone to get a good fit). The cupcakes are now ready to be frosted.

For Caramel Buttercream (from Martha Stewart. Note I halved the recipe that follows and had more than enough to frost 16 cupcakes):
2 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 pounds (6 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
9 large egg whites
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- Make caramel for buttercream (can be done several days ahead): combine granulated sugar and 1/2 cup water in medium saucepan; bring to boil over medium-high heat. Brush down sides with damp pastry brush to prevent crystallization. Continue cooking, without stirring, until dark amber color. Remove from heat; slowly stir in cream with wooden spoon until completely smooth; set aside until cool to touch.
- In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter until fluffy and pale. Transfer to a medium bowl.
- Whisk together remaining 1 cup sugar and egg whites in clean bowl of mixer. Set over pot of simmering water; whisk gently until completely dissolved, about 3 minutes.
- Transfer bowl to mixer stand. Using whisk attachment, beat on medium speed until fluffy and cooled, about 10 minutes. Increase speed to high; whisk until stiff peaks form. Reduce speed to medium-low; add butter 1/4 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Whisk in vanilla.
- Switch to paddle. Add caramel; beat on lowest speed 3 to 5 minutes. Leave at room temperature if using same day. Refrigerate in airtight container up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature; beat until smooth.

To assemble cupcake, scoop about 1 tablespoon caramel buttercream on to each cupcake and spread to cover. Assemble pear slices in fan shape on top of cupcakes. Drizzle with caramel sauce. Enjoy!

19 January 2009

Change is Coming!

It's official. W's last day in Office is about to commence. Here in Paris, the skies are clearing and the sun is struggling to come out. Can you feel the change in the air?

12 January 2009

Happy Birthday Rubber Ducky!

When you've got two young kids in the house like I do, you end up on the mailing list of every party supply, costume, clothing, toy, bedroom decor, etc. site on the planet! I usually delete most of this stuff without giving it a second thought but with my son's birthday just last week, my eyes strayed upon a blurb the other day in a newsletter from Birthday Express announcing that January 13 is Rubber Ducky's birthday!

I'm a child of the '70's and so grew up with Sesame Street and the Gang and have always had a soft spot in my heart for Rubber Ducky (in fact I have a mini goth rubber ducky replete with skulls and crossbones on my phone) though Cookie Monster is my all-time favorite.

I am sure you all know the song. Sing along, everybody:

Rubber Ducky, you're the one.
You make bath time lots of fun
Rubber Ducky, I'm awfully fond of you.
Rubber Ducky, joys of joys
When I squeak you, you make noise
Rubber Ducky, you're my very best friend, it's true!

Everyday when I make my way to the tubby
I find a little fella who' cute, yellow, and chubby.

Rubber Ducky you're so fine
And I'm lucky that you're mine
Rubber Ducky, I'm awfully fond of you.

Everyday when I make my way to the tubby
I find a little fella who's cute, yellow, and chubby.

Rubber Ducky, you're so fine
And I'm glad that you're mine
Rubber Ducky I'm awfully fond of...
Rubber Ducky I'd like a whole pond of . . .
Rubber Ducky I'm awfully fond of you.

Happy Birthday, Rubber Ducky!

08 January 2009

Magmion vs. Tasarau : Gormiti Birthday Cupcakes

My oldest turns 6 today; he eats, breathes and sleeps these beasties called Gormiti (okay Ben 10 gets about 40% of his attention). There are good Gormiti and bad Gormiti (the red ones) and they battle it out on the Ile of Gorm. (For more Gormiti, you gotta watch this YouTube video which always cracks me up. I don't speak Italian so apologies if there are any obscenities. I just can't imagine that some grown-up men spent their weekend coming up with this short "oeuvre"!).

My favorites are the People of the Forest who have branches, flowers and tree barks where their faces should be. My son is preferential to the People of the Air who come in all sorts of winged varieties. Gormiti were introduced to us via an Italian boy in his class. They are all the rage now in their homeroom and of course, for his birthday, my son wanted to take Gormiti cupcakes to school. I took the easy way out and made some simple toppers which I post here cause I often have customers ask me what to do for a kids' birthday party and these are one of the simplest, fun ways to dress up a cupcake.

I had a second order of birthday cupcakes today which are a little more classic in their design as they were made for a friend's mom who is visiting from the US.

I'm not sure if she would have fully appreciated the Gormiti cupcakes. Anyway, Happy Birthday all you Capricorns!

And I have to give a shout-out to the King who would have celebrated his 74th birthday today! Whether a Gormiti fan or a lover of a more sedate design, judging by his girth in the latter years, I think he probably would have liked (and eaten) all of them!

07 January 2009

IC:E Wine: UltraViolette Kir Royale Cupcakes

When I heard the challenge this month was "wine," I figured it was a happy coincidence as I happen to live in the wine capital of the world! My immediate thoughts turned to champagne as we have several bottles on-hand leftover from New Year's. A classic champagne cocktail, the Kir Royale, mixes champagne and Creme de Cassis. Fairly straight-forward, though I know flavor-pairings are key in this contest. So, to make it a little more exotic, I added the secret ingredient of confit de violette to the cupcakes, and I gotta tell you these are out of this world delicious!

I've recently been seeing and smelling a lot of violet; our latest discovery is Hediard's Raspberry Jelly with Violet, and last week Sephora on the Champs Elysees gave me samples of Van Cleef & Arpel's Féerie perfume which they say is a "bright, woody-floral fragrance sparkling with violet, iris and rose accents." Perhaps it's this season's new black! :)

Here are my UltraViolette Kir Royale Cupcakes: a pink champagne cupcake infused with violet, topped with a kir royale buttercream, fresh raspberries and served in a white chocolate cup. This is more than decadent...it's a champagne lovers' sweet dream! (BTW, I love this ad for Piper Heidsick's Rosé Sauvage that I snapped at my local Monoprix. It says "I am pink and I sparkle").

Makes about 16 cupcakes
For white chocolate cups:
4 bars white chocolate
2 tbsp. shortening
16 cupcake liners

For pink champagne cupcakes:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsps. baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 ozs. unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups sugar
¾ cup pink champagne
6 egg whites
2 tbsps. Confit de Violette (or you could use a syrup like Monin), optional
Pinch salt

Kir Royale Frosting:
4 ozs. unsalted butter, softened
4-6 cups powdered sugar
2 tsps. Sirop de Grenadine (or for extra punch, you could use Crème de Cassis or Chambord)
2 tsps. champagne

Raspberries sprinkled with powdered sugar

To make chocolate cups: Melt chocolate and shortening in a double boiler. Stir until smooth. Slowly pour about 1 tbsp. chocolate into cupcake liners and swirl around so that chocolate coats bottom and 2/3 sides of the liner. Place on flat surface and allow to cool. To speed the cooling process, place in fridge. Once cups have hardened, repeat process to coat with a second layer of chocolate. Once the chocolate has hardened, peel off paper wrapper. Keep cool until you are ready to assemble cupcakes.

1) Pre-heat oven to 350/180 degrees. Grease 1 12-cup cupcake tin and 4 cups of second tin.

2) Sift baking powder, salt and flour in medium-sized bowl and set aside

3) Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Alternately beat in flour mixture and champagne, blending well after each addition. Briefly warm confit de violette in microwave to get it to a thick liquid consistency and stir in to combine.

4) Beat egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff and fold into batter, mixing just to combine.

5) Fill cupcake tins 2/3 full. Do not overfill as the batter really rises - must be the champagne! Fill unused cup molds halfway full with water. Bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Once cool, remove cupcakes from tin and continue to cool on a wire rack.

6) For the frosting, beat 4 cups butter and sugar until creamy and soft. Slowly add champagne and sirop de grenadine and continue beating until frosting is of good spreading consistency. If too thin, progressively add more sugar. If too thick, add more champagne.

7) Frost cooled cupcakes and place in individual chocolate cups. Top with raspberries.

Tchin tchin, mes amis, a votre santé!

Here's more about this month's challenge:
The IronCupcake:Earth challenge for January is Wine! Red or White, Sweet or Dry, Bubbly or Still. What can you do with a bottle of wine and a sweet little cupcake?

I am competing to win the January ETSY PRIZE-PACK from artists:

* DOGBONE ART - http://www.etsy.com/shop.php?user_id=22042
* as well as a pair of cupcake earrings from LOTS OF SPRINKLES at http://www.etsy.com/shop.php?user_id=6057281.
* PLUS, IronCupcake:Earth can not forget our good friend, CAKESPY, http://www.etsy.com/shop.php?user_id=5243382, who is now going to be doing a piece for our winner each month until further notice - sweet!

As an added bonus for January, our friend at SWEET CUPPIN CAKES BAKERY AND CUPCAKERY SUPPLY will be tossing in another treat as well, http://www.acupcakery.com/index.html.

Last and certainly not least, don’t forget our corporate prize providers: HEAD CHEFS by FIESTA PRODUCTS, http://www.fiestaproducts.com, HELLO CUPCAKE by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson, http://blog.hellocupcakebook.com, JESSIE STEELE APRONS http://www.jessiesteele.com; the CUPCAKE COURIER http://www.cupcakecourier.com; TASTE OF HOME books, http://www.tasteofhome.com. NEW, BEGINNING IN JANUARY; our new friends at UPWITHCUPCAKES.COM http://www.upwithcupcakes.com/ will be providing our winner with one of their cute cupcake attitue t's! Iron Cupcake:Earth is sponsored in part by 1-800-Flowers, http://www.1800flowers.com.

Voting will begin no later than Thursday, January 29 at 8 p.m. at NO ONE PUTS CUPCAKE IN A CORNER and will be open through Wednesday, February 4 at 12 noon.

06 January 2009

Having an Epiphany

Since the Middle Ages, the epiphany (January 6th -- also known as le jour des Rois) has been celebrated in France with the eating of the Twelth Night cake or Galette des Rois. (It is called as such in honor of the 3 Wisemen or Kings who came to witness the birth of Christ.) The Galette des Rois is made from puff pastry which is usually served plain or filled with frangipane - an almond-flavored paste.

The tradition has long been to bake a lucky charm (une fève) into the Galette. Originally it was a bean: a symbol of fertility. These days you can buy individual-sized galettes but they are most commonly sold as a larger cake meant to be eaten by a group of friends or family members. When the galette is served, usually the youngest guest (most often a child) crawls under the table so he or she can't see the cut pieces of cake and calls out to the server to whom each slice of cake should be given. In this way, the slice with the fève in it is given randomly to one of the guests. Whoever finds the charm in their slice of cake becomes "King" or "Queen" and back in the day, this person had to buy a round of drinks for all his or her companions. Those too stingy to buy a round of drinks very often swallowed the bean!

Towards the beginning of the 20th century, bakers started inserting lucky charms made of china so that they could no longer be easily swallowed! The charm can take any shape or form and these days, the designs have become very sophisticated. As with the Buche de Noel, many bakeries create their own signature piece fèves meant to be collector's items for the fèvophiles. I passed by La Maison de Chocolat this morning where they had adorable fèves shaped as mini eclairs, macarons and other pastries; Lenotre has partnered with Swarovski and the jeweler, Fred to offer crystal studded baubles in years past, and Pierre Hermé is doing a series of porcelain hearts this year that fit together to form a lucky four-leaf clover.

The first year we were here and I took part in a galette eating celebration, I thought the French must be out of their minds. I mean could you imagine a baker in the US knowingly hide a mini porcelain sculpture into a cake, baking it up and then selling it to the general public??? Talk about a potential choking hazard! Or an unfortunate way to shatter your new veneers. I can only imagine the litigations! Here is a photo of the fève that I have hidden away in one of my Galette de Rois cupcakes and you can see how very small it is in comparison to the spice bottle next to it. My advice to you if you eat a traditional Galette des Rois is to chew slowly and lightly! ;)

I've got a number of different cupcake projects going on this week (more about that later) and so since I was baking up a batch, I figured why not see if I could transform the Galette into a cupcake. They turned out pretty well and here's a recipe I picked up at Peter Kump's cooking school in NYC to make frangipane yourself.

4 ozs. almond paste
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 yolk
2 ozs. softened butter
3 tbsps. flour

1) Combine almond paste, sugar, egg and yolk in mixing bowl. Beat with paddle on medium speed until smooth.

2) Add butter in 3 additions; beat until light.

3) Lower mixer speed to low; beat in flour until absorbed.

Copyright (c) Nick Malgierie 1996, All Rights Reserved.

Use your favorite vanilla cupcake recipe as the batter (you could substitute almond extract for vanilla extract for those of you who are almond fans) and when you fill the cupcake tins, fill 1/3 batter, 1/3 frangipane and finish with 1/3 batter. You may need to cook them about 5 minutes longer than usual.

These bake up pretty dense and sweet so you may opt to leave them unfrosted. Or try just a plain buttercream with almonds sprinkled on top. Enjoy!

03 January 2009

You Say It's Your Birthday!

One of my oldest and dearest friends is a fiery redhead named Jen. We met over 20 years ago at summer camp in Maine and while we didn't hit it off immediately, we were brought together on an outing to Sugarloaf Mountain and have been like sisters ever since. Like an old married couple, we have been together through the good and bad, in sickness and in health, through thick (or should I say fat?) and thin. We've lived through braces and bad hair-dos, first dates and summer crushes, job searches, apartment searches, dysfunctional families, heartbreak, the struggle to shed "those few pesky pounds," more family drama, bad fashion of the '80's and '90's and more recently, finding the "one." Jen has always had my back, and I've had hers.

Since I grew up in the City, and Jen on Long Island, much of our teenage years' time together was limited to weekends and summers. During our college years, Jen headed out West to Boulder where I spent an unforgettable Halloween with her and her friends. In our senior year, Jen attended the Junior Year Abroad Program run through my college so we were able to get into all sorts of trouble here in France...including several hilarious trips to neighboring Spain and Amsterdam (where Jaywalking Jen was almost cut down by a speeding bicyclist), as well as starring in a short film, Sans Rire, as two lost American tourists written and directed by then still undiscovered French talent Mathieu Amalric (who you all probably know better as the latest Bond villain, Dominic Greene, in Quantum of Solace).

Since I moved to Paris 5 years ago, our time together has been brief. While distance may be hard on some relationships, I find we can pick up where we left off and it's as if we had just seen each other the day before. We last got together about two years ago when I was pregnant with my second. Since then, I've given birth (and my how that little munchkin has grown) and Jen's gotten engaged. I still find it hard to believe she has yet to meet my daughter, and I haven't had the chance to congratulate her in-person, or lay my eyes on her rock which I hear is absolutely breath-taking! But Jen and her true love are getting married in 2009 and so I know we'll all hook up then.

Today is Jen's birthday and here are some special cupcakes baked just for her. I'm calling them "French Kiss" cause it was baked with love here in Paris. And because, a French Kiss was our cocktail of choice one hot summer in Manhattan. It was introduced to us by our favorite bartender, Kathy, at the now defunct Mugamba Bay on the Upper West Side. A French Kiss is a cocktail made from a mixture of vodka, chambord, creme de cacao and half and half (or cream). This is a chocolate cupcake, stuffed with a creme de cacao ganache and topped with raspberry Chambord buttercream and a hand-made marzipan rose. To finish it off, I sprinkled some Wilton's edible silver glitter which I found from a seller on ebay.co.uk who (lucky for me!) carries lots of the those hard to find cupcake decorations I have been ogling on US sites.

Happy Birthday, Jen! Wish there was some way to bridge the distance so we could be together on your special day (and you could try one of these babies for yourself!). Have no fear though; in the time it has taken me to type up this post, my dear husband has already finished three of these off and is starting to look for more....

Here's how to make a French Kiss at home (ganache and buttercream will be enough for 12-14 cupcakes):

1 batch chocolate cupcakes (I posted a very simple one-bowl recipe from Martha Stewart here. It's a great recipe if you are a novice cupcake baker.).

Creme de Cacao Ganache:
1 lb. white chocolate, chopped and melted
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tsps. white creme de cacao

Chambord Buttercream
4 ozs. softened unsalted butter
4-6 cups powdered sugar
2 tbsps. milk
2 tbsps. raspberry liquor such as Chambord

1) Prepare chocolate cupcakes and allow to cool on a wire rack.

2) Prepare ganache. Make ganache by combining all ganache ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Stir until well mixed. Ganache will be about as thick as frosting. If it is too thick, thin with a little cream or milk.

3) Once cupcakes have cooled, cut a small cone from the top of each cupcake and set aside. I usually place the top next to its respective cupcake on a baking sheet so I can get an exact fit when rebuilding them. Place about a teaspoon of the creme de cacao ganache in each and replace top. You may need to cut a little bit off the bottom of the cone portion if you have really stuffed the cucpcakes with ganache.

4) Meanwhile, to make frosting, sift 4 cups sugar into a large bowl. Add butter and beat until light and fluffy. Add milk and Chambord and continue beating until frosting is of good spreading consistency. If too runny, add more sugar in half-cup increments. Frost cooled cupcakes.