28 February 2010

Mamma Mia! - A Daring Bakers' Challenge

Once upon a time, there was a restaurateur, "Tony," who dreamed of making it big in Manhattan. He worked hard and was able to make a name for himself -- soon he was operating one of the hottest, trendiest Italian ristorantes in the city. Although Tony told acquaintances and customers he had been living in the US for over two decades, his accent was so heavy, you'd think he had just stepped off the boat from Napoli yesterday. He prided himself on rustic, home-style cooking and claimed that many of his dishes were made with loving care from recipes handed to down to him from his great, great grandmother or "Nona Lucia" as he called her. One of these was a tiramisu that was billed as the house specialty on the menu.

He was a kind man and did well by his employees. But if you happened upon him in the kitchen after-hours as clean-up continued well into the night, you'd notice his accent start to waver and gone were the slick Italian custom-made suits in favor of a cotton polo and ripped jeans. For Tony had been born the child of Jewish emigrants from Eastern Europe. There was no family estate in Napoli, or a kind, loving grandmother named Lucia who loved to cook. No, just Ed...from Brooklyn....a regular schmo who had a good business sense. He had found a niche in the market and then created the perfect fairy-tale to go along with it. And, his customers couldn't help but eat it up (pun intended). His secret: he had perfected his act to the point where he actually started to believe it himself.

I worked for "Tony" one summer, first as a hostess in the front room and later on as an assistant in the kitchen. Thanks to a real live Italian behind the stove, the food frankly wasn't all that bad. There was nothing authentic about the tiramisu though, which came pre-packaged in huge vats from a food service company in Jersey. I never once had seen one made from scratch in-person. Which is one of the reasons why I was so excited about this month's Daring Bakers. The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

This is a fantastic recipe; it yielded one of the best tiramisus I have ever eaten. I literally could not believe I (with no Italian heritage either) made it myself. Of course, we had to make our own ladyfingers and mascarpone from scratch which was a challenge in itself. But the instructions were easy to follow, and the whole thing came together with patience and time. If you want to make it at home, you'll find the recipe here. Thanks to Deeba and Aparna for a really challenging dessert but one worth its weight in gold! I made mine almost identical to their recipe with lots of grated chocolate in-between the layers in Margarita glasses (sorry for the poor quality of photos here; I made mine the day after the challenge reveal and didn't have enough time to set up a nice photo shoot!). But the possibilities are endless; see some of the other Daring Bakers' take on this recipe by visiting the blogroll.

27 February 2010

The One About Poo(h)

At almost 2 1/2, my daughter is showing her first signs of interest in the potty. I think this has mostly something to do with her new-found joy in emulating me -- evidenced by her insistence that I paint her toenails crimson red "just like maman," and her persistence in following me everywhere, copying my every action. Recently she has taken to accompanying me into the bathroom and settling herself on her own potty anytime I do. She has yet to understand the concept of pulling down her pants and pull-ups first, but I imagine this will come in time. As soon as she sees me finishing up, she asks for "two-water paper." To my amusement, when I hand it to her, she balls it up and shoves it down the back of her diaper, refusing to give it up once she has finished "wiping" her bottom.

Because we live in Paris, where dogs are left to do their thing on the sidewalks and their owners nonchalantly walk away afterwards without removing the offending "package," I often hear myself warning my kids to side-step the poo as we walk down the street. My daughter now loves to point out every mound we pass: "Is poo!" she says pointing at it and pausing to take a closer look. To my dismay she has even once or twice, crouched down next to one and come dangerously close to landing in it while pointing it out. I warned, "Yuck, it's poo! Don't touch!" And thinking of several friends who have recounted stories of their own kids actually picking up some poo out of curiosity and putting it in their mouths (sorry if this is to graphic for you all!), I know I have even warned on occasion, "It's poo. Don't touch it and we never, ever eat it."

Becuase poo has become such a hot topic in our house as of late, when I brought this Pooh cake and cupcakes out to box them, I showed them to my daughter and said, "Look, it's Pooh!" She has never seen Winnie the Pooh and so didn't have a clue as to what I was talking about. "Is poo?" she asked me quizzically. "Yes, Pooh. And look there is even an extra one for you," I said as I handed her a cupcake. "Go on, it's for you. You can eat the Pooh." "Eat poo?" she said again with the scrunched up look she gets on her face whenever she hears something she doesn't quite understand. "Yes Sweetpea," I said, "you can eat Pooh....but just this one time!"

22 February 2010

And I-I-I Will Always Love You-oooo

We recently rewatched Moulin Rouge and I must admit, it ranks right up there in my top 50 movies ever made. Not because I'm a big Nicole or Baz fan. No, no. It's the costumes and the sets, the dance numbers, the colors, the songs and of course, Ewan McGregor, with his sparkling baby blues. One of the best scenes is atop the Moulin Rouge in the Elephant Room when Satine and Christian sing a medley of love songs. It reminds me of a game we used to play at camp on rainy days when we were confined to the dining hall and the counselors had to find new and creative ways to entertain us. My husband and I sometimes play it on long car trips. It essentially consists of breaking off into teams, or one person playing against another. One person picks a word as the theme like "love" and you have to then sing snippets of songs that contain that word. As in the movie:

Love is a many splendored thing,

Love lifts us up where we belong,

All you need is love!

I was made for loving you baby,
You were made for loving me....

In the name of love!
One night in the name of love!

And so on and so forth until you run out of songs. The last person who can come up with a song including the agreed-upon word wins.

I thought the movie and the game were relevant to bring up here given the theme of this month's Iron Cupcake: Earth challenge Passion where bakers were asked create a cupcake based on or inspired by ANYTHING related to love and passion. The cupcake I am entering, La Vie en Rose, was created for the most passionate of holidays: Valentine's Day. But I thought it would work equally well as a contender and so here you have it.

My original La Vie en Rose cupcake is a pistachio studded, rose-flavored cupcake with rose buttercream and crystallized rose petals on top. Though I have since tried several variations and I can tell you that each one is as good as the next. I've done it with a vanilla cupccake, rose buttercream and crushed pistachios on top. As a rose cupcake with a strawberry-rose buttercream, and more recently a pistachio cake with a raspberry-rose buttercream. Yum, yum and yum.

This is a fairly easy recipe. To make your own, whip up a batch of your favorite vanilla cupcake recipe (here's a link to a recipe for Billy's Bakery's famous ones) and substitute a high quality rosewater for the amount of vanilla that is called for. (You really want to buy the best quality rosewater you can afford cause this stuff is strong and will dominate the flavors; I buy mine at a specialty middle eastern store in the 2nd). Just before you divide the batter into the cupcake tins, throw in a cup of shelled, roughly chopped unsalted pistachios and mix to incorporate.

For the buttercream, mix 110 grams unsalted butter that you've brought to room temperature with 1 teaspoon rosewater, 50 cl mix of heavy whipping cream and milk, and about 300 grams of confectioner's sugar using an electric hand beater. Gradually add in another 200 grams of confectioner's sugar until you have reached good spreading consistency. If you so desire, mix in a few teaspoons of raspberry or strawberry jam and voila! Enjoy!

As a reminder I am competing for a prize pack comprised of items from these generous Iron Cupcake : Earth sponsors:
The Demy™ by Key Ingredient
Hello, Cupcake by Karen Tack & Alan Richardson
Bella Cupcake Couture
Cupcake Stackers by Gourmac
The Cake Mix Doctor Returns! by Anne Byrne
Beautiful Baking Liners by Vestli House
Sweet Cuppin' Cakes Bakery & Cupcakey Supply

Voting will begin no later than Sunday, February 28th at 8 p.m. at NO ONE PUTS CUPCAKE IN A CORNER and will be open through Thursday, March 4th at 12 noon. Until then, you can content yourself with the other love and passion entries on offer at the Iron Cupcake : Earth flickr pool.

19 February 2010

I Want to Get Away, I Want to Fly Away

I cannot believe it's that time already. Another school holiday starts today and with all the cupcake madness that has been going on here recently, I find myself very ill-prepared for the looong two-week stretch ahead of us. Now, I'm not really complaining because this is one of the beauties of France -- our kiddies get a two-week break just about every 6 weeks, and working adults get on average 6 weeks of holiday a year. Not to mention all the bank holidays and the fact that most of the country shuts down for the entire month of August. If you don't believe it, take a look at this Wikipedia chart that shows France having one of the lowest work hours annually in the world!

As I have mentioned, my son attends a pretty posh private school in the 8th. And chatting up some of his classmates' parents has definitely given me envie to head out of town and plant myself on a loungechair in some 5-star resort in the Tropics. Oh waiter, pina colada please! I recently asked one of the moms what she and her family would be doing over the break and her response was "Well, we usually go to our house in Nevis at this time of year. But it's such a long trip with the kids so we decided to go someplace a little more local. We'll be vacationing in Mauritius for the next two weeks." Tough life, hunh? But seriously, this isn't an uncommon type of answer. What I wouldn't do for those type of vacation dilemmas! :)

We'll be here enjoying all that is on offer in Paris, and schlepping out to the local suburbs for my son to take some swimming lessons. I also plan to try a new cupcakery in the hood to see if it lives up to all the hubbub. As well as baking cupcakes. So unfortunately no real flying away...for this vacation at least.

Lord knows I could use a break - it has been insanely busy since the start of the New Year. And I thank you all for your support! I have barely had time to take pictures of even half the cupcakes that have gone out. Here is an assortment though of a few of my recent jobs. Some birthday, some going away, some thank you cupcakes (which have had me singing "Hot for Teacher" all week and reminiscing about the night a girlfriend and I hung out with Diamond Dave but I'll leave that story for another time....) and a dozen for a TV pilot that is being shot this weekend for French TV.

Happy Weekend, and to those of you here in Paris with kids, enjoy the school break!

13 February 2010


So tired of broken hearts and losing at this game
Before I start this dance
I take a chance in telling you
I want more than just romance
You are my destiny, I can't let go baby can't you see
Cupid please take your aim at me

Cherish the thought
Of always having you here by my side (oh baby I)
Cherish the joy
You keep bringing it into my life (I'm always singing it)
Cherish your strength
You got the power to make me feel good (and baby I)
Perish the thought
Of ever leaving, I never would

I was never satisfied with casual encounters
I can't hide my need for two hearts that bleed with burning love
That's the way it's got to be
Romeo and Juliet, they never felt this way I bet
So don't underestimate my point of view

Who? You! Can't get away I won't let you
Who? You! I could never forget to
Cherish is the word I use to remind me of your love

Romeo and Juliet, they never felt this way I bet
So don't underestimate my point of view

Who? You! Can't get away I won't let you
Who? You! I could never forget to
Cherish is the word I use to remind me of your love
Give me faith give me joy, my boy
I will always cherish you

Long live romance, passion and love! Happy Valentine's Day all!

xxx Little Miss Cupcake

Cherish lyrics by Madonna are copyright by their rightful owner(s) and Little Miss Cupcake in no way takes copyright or claims the lyrics or Madonna Song belong to me.

09 February 2010

New Flava Flav: Rolo Over Beethoven

One of the best things about being a cupcake baker? Taste testing! There's nothing I like better than trying out new flavor combos, especially on the cold winter days when it's a great excuse to have the oven on and the smell of deliciously sweet goodies wafting through the air.

I was invited to a private sale last week and wanted to bring something new for everyone to try out. I think they must have liked this cupcake cause I didn't have even a single one left to take home for a snack at the end of two hours!

Rolo Over Beethoven is a rich chocolate cupcake with a salted caramel center, milk chocolate buttercream and chocolate chips. Perfect with a cup of strong coffee as you watch the snowflakes gather outside! :) Find it on the Little Miss Cupcake menu with all of our other sinfully good cuppies.

02 February 2010

I'm Still Standing Yeah Yeah Yeah!

Just finished watching my segment on France 2's Comment Ca Va Bien and am feeling a bit disappointed. Oh, they edited the film together to make me sound somewhat intelligent in French. And I think the camera only adds about 7 pounds, not 10. At the very end, they made the perfect "oohs" and "ahhs" over the cupcakes I had prepared for the panel and studio audience (some of which are pictured here). I was feeling pretty good about it all and then they took a rather large knife and bore it deep in my back.

Let the cupcake bashing begin! The presenter of the show asked the panel if they thought cupcakes could really make inroads into the French culture and the unanimous opinion was that while they were cute, fun and good for kids' parties, cupcakes are too sweet and "pas bons." What? Excuse me while I pick my jaw off the floor. Is this coming from the people who brought us the Millefeuille, The Mont Blanc, The Crepe au Nutella et Chantilly? C'mon, people! As the panel members chanted "Vive les Patisseries Francais!," I could practically see them grabbing up their whisks and rolling pins and storming the Bastille, burning a humble cupcake in effigy once they got there.

Now I am a little disenchanted, especially considering that even the gal who came to film the segment with us didn't stand up for the cupcake. She seemed to have a great time with us and ate her fair share while she was there. Oh, but I understand peer pressure and so will forgive her...this one time.

I still had a blast doing the show -- I'm glad to have participated and it was cool to phone around to my friends and tell them to watch me on TV! And regardless of what they have to say, this Paris cupcaker ain't packing up anytime soon. I will hold my head up high and say to the naysayers: Vive les Patisseries Americains! And VIVE LE CUPCAKE!

PS *UPDATE*: The video is up on France 2's site. You need to advance to 35 minutes 45 seconds for the cupcake segment.

PPS For all of you who have been calling and emailing to commiserate, I am so NOT bitter or upset about this. It was a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience and if I could go back and do it all again, I wouldn't change a thing. Okay, maybe I wouldn't have given the presenter my favorite cupcake necklace as a gift when she asked to borrow it but besides that....honestly, thanks all for your support. I thought my cupcakes looked fabulous on camera, I loved having the opportunity to share my passion with the French audience, and I've had a slew of inquiries since the show aired! ;)