Saturday, May 21, 2011

Red Velvet Cupcakes and Creative Writing for Mike's Pastry

Part of an application I filled out yesterday asked me to describe my favorite Boston restaurant in 600 words or less. I had a lot of fun writing it, so you get to read it, and then about a fantastic red velvet recipe from Warren Brown's United Cakes of America. 
I kind of felt like I was being herded like cattle. Except there was no burly cowboy riding bareback in the distance. Instead, a woman who I had pinned for a saintly grandmotherly type was elbowing her way through the crowd shouting almost-profanities. A baby was crying. A husband was barking orders from his wife on his cell phone. It was complete chaos. And no, I wasn’t at a crime scene, an Eagles game or a riot. I was fighting my way to the countertops of Mike’s Pastry in Boston’s North End, in hopes of a famous pastry taunting me from inside the glass. 

As a native Virginian, I guess one might call me a Southern Belle, but I was biting and scratching like the rest of the crowd. Before my first Mike’s experience, I wondered if it was worth it to brave the crowd. A cookie is a cookie right? But let me tell you what is in the little white boxes that makes people go bananas. Pride. Pride and pastry.

One foot in the door and I was sucked in by the undertow of the crowd. Fighting my way to the surface I bumped into many a stranger, none thrilled by my incoordination. After weaving in and out of the people, I managed to finally see my destination. I was at a counter! Success!

“What would you like?” she asked, chewing lime green gum on the side of her mouth. I stared blankly.

Nothing came to my mind. Wait, no. Everything came to my mind. I wanted a cupcake, a cookie, a piece of pie. My mouth gaped open and I could feel the eyes of other customers burning holes through my head. Make a decision I thought to myself. Anything.

After what felt like an eternity I managed to squeak out an answer. Oreo cheesecake was the verdict. But why order just one thing? I quickly added a peanut butter cookie and a red velvet cupcake. After all, when in Boston…

As if she knew what I was ordering beforehand, she wrapped all three desserts into one of those symbolic Mike’s boxes. The thread she tied it with literally draped from the sky. In under a minute, I was shuffled out the door and back on to the busy streets of the North End.

Though there were a few tables inside, they were eyeballed by the nearby hawk-like Bostonians looking to take out the legs of some poor tourist to get a seat. Not exactly where I wanted to indulge.

I walked all the way to the Boston Harbor to get a seat away from the crowd and noise. Overlooking the water, I unwrapped my little white box and realized for the first time that I definitely did not need all three desserts. Peer pressure will always get you.

With the sun setting, I removed each from the box and laid them on the table. Desserts had never been so desired. I never fought for a pastry, but that night was a night that would go down in history. Nearby teens gossiped about summer plans but quickly their voices were drowned out by my sighs of relief. I had survived my first Mike’s experience. Alone, but feeling accomplished, I overlooked the Boston Harbor, and gave in to the best desserts on this side of the Mississippi. Mike’s Pastry is where it’s at, so next time you are wandering Hanover Street, check it out. It will be the one that looks like a mob scene, but believe me, it is worth your time.

That red velvet cupcake was divine, but I think I've one upped it. You can find my (new favorite) recipe below. It is perfect for a casual fete, but can be fancied up as red velvet often is. I really like the frosting recipe I used, and it isn't a traditional one. Definitely try this one out! Well, I'm off to my graduation... ta ta!

Red Velvet Cupcakes
Sweet Milk Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)
10 oz Cake Flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
8 oz unsalted butter (room temperature)
12 oz superfine granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 oz red food coloring (or try food gel, much less used)
Canned Milk Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)

1. Preheat oven to 335 and place the rack in the middle position. Spray a cupcake pan with non-stick oil and line with paper liners.
2. Measure dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, salt, baking soda) and wet ingredients (buttermilk, vanilla, vinegar) into two separate bowls and whisk each to combine.
3. Measure butter and sugar into the bowl of a standing mixture and cream together for about 5 minutes (don't rush this process).
4. Add eggs one at a time until combined. Alternately add the dry and wet ingredients about a quarter at a time. Beat in the dye.
5. Pour batter into cupcake tins and bake for 20-24 minutes or until a wooden skewer comes out clean. Cool for about 5 minutes and allow them to cool to room temperature before frosting them.

Sweet Milk Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz cream cheese (room temperature)
3 oz unsalted butter (room temperature)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
12 oz powedered sugar, sifted
1/4 cup evaporated milk
Pinch of Salt
1 tbsp orange juice

1. Whip cream cheese until fluffy. Add butter and brown sugar and mix until smooth. Add powdered sugar and beat at high speed for three minutes.
2. Add milk, salt and orange juice. Beat thoroughly for 2-3 minutes. Frost or pipe onto cupcakes.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Lemon Cream Pie

My parents, apparantly, used to be cool. They were hip thirty-somethings running the streets in semi-smalltown Racine, Wisconsin. Living the dream, I believe.
Somewhere in there, perhaps after children or steady careers or moving into suburbia, my parents lost all semblence of a social life.
I'm sure you could blame it on the fact that they are amazing parents. They've missed less soccer games than I can count on one hand, and I'm pretty sure my dad saw enough of my sister's equestrian to tide him over for a lifetime.
I believe over the years, they've become comfortable being comfortable. But though they say that group socializing isn't really their thing anymore, both tend to love the excitement of a big city and manage to go out to an Irish pub almost every weekend. This suggests, to me at least, that perhaps with a little reconditioning, they could get their groove back.
So after many years, we entertained for dinner last weekend. It was by no means a big crowd, only my friend and her mother, but what was one small step for mankind, was huge progression for the Davis family. If you're having guests for a springtime fĂȘte, try this Lemon Cream Pie, even for finecky dessert eaters. The tart of the lemon with the subtle sweet of the whipped cream and crunch of the graham cracker crust is delightful, and I can assure you, you won't be disappointed!

Lemon Cream Pie
Graham Cracker Crust, Prepared
3/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 whole eggs
2 whole lemons, juiced (1/2 cup lemon juice)
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 tbsp confectioners sugar

1. Crack eggs into a bowl and whisk together to combine. Meanshile, in a heavy saucepan, combine the cornstarch, salt and sugar. Gradually stir in water and buttermilk until smooth. Bring to a boil; cook for 2 minutes or until thickened, stirring constantly.
2. Remove from the heat. Stir a spoonful of hot filling into eggs to temper. Return all to pan, stirring constantly. Bring to a gentle boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes longer. Remove from the heat. Stir in lemon juice and peel. Pour into crust. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
3. In a large bowl, whip heavy whippung cream until stiff peaks are just about to form. Beat in vanilla and sugar until peaks form. Make sure not to over-beat, cream will then become lumpy and butter-like. Just before serving, spread whipped topping over filling. Yield: 8 servings.

**You can alter this recipe by using store bought whipped topping (such as Cool-Whip), using 1/2 cup of egg substitute instead of eggs or using bottled lemon juice instead of fresh squeezed. I tried to keep it as homemade as I could, but the above alterations may be a time saver.