Photo of the Day: Dolce e Frutta

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Sweet Cuppin’ Cakes

Every time I make cupcakes I think of Sweet Cuppin’ Cakes from Homestar Runner. I used to watch those StrongBad emails ALL. THE. TIME. They were so stupidly funny. Kids’ Book will always be my most favorite of favorites. Anyway, semi-completely-unrelated to this I made cupcakes yesterday. For reasons I have yet to figure out US boxed cake mixes are not sold in Italy. Personally I think this is a huge mistake as the Italians go nuts for the box mixes at the US commissary. The only box mixes you can find over here create dense, dry cakes that are not unlike the cakes you would find in a pastry shop or at a restaurant. I personally am not a fan of dense cakes unless it is a lemon poppyseed pound cake and in that case I will eat the whole thing myself. Many of the recipes you find online end up producing denser cakes that either end up dry or have a ton of ingredients all in an attempt to keep the cake moist. A year or so ago I decided to try the chocolate cake recipe on the back of the Hershey’s Cocoa container and have never looked back. It is so light and fluffy and not at all dry. It has a nice chocolate taste but doesn’t feel like you’re eating something so rich that you couldn’t have two or three of them.

Traditionally, as in all four times I’ve made these cupcakes, I’ve made a buttercream frosting that is either vanilla flavor or the vastly more popular and delicious Bailey’s Irish Cream flavor. Not having a hand mixer here and making the hard but necessary decision to leave our fancy new stand mixer back in Maryland meant I was not able to make the buttercream for these cupcakes. I just don’t have the arm strength. It was a disappointment since my only other choice was to go with store bought frosting. Let me just tell you up front that aside from the Bailey’s frosting, which is way too easy to eat in large quantities, I am not a fan of frosting. I’ll take a glaze or a light coating of icing but those cakes with gobs of flowers and 2″ of frosting as well as a thick layer inside make me want to barf. The smooshy texture and super sweetness just make me sick so I’m very particular about the sugary coating of my desserts. I went with a vanilla Duncan Hines creamy something-or-other frosting knowing that I could just add some real vanilla extract to it to make it taste less, um, crappy. (My apologies to those who like store bought frosting. May I suggest making your own some time so you realize how horribly wrong you are to like it? Have you looked at the ingredients? You should.) I also bought some little sprinkles because I like cute things. What? You eat with your eyes first so why shouldn’t my food be cute?

Anyway, I made the cupcakes per the recipe and mixed up the frosting. The vanilla extract made the frosting a lot more liquid-y than it would normally be but it tasted infinitely better, the only real problem being the grainy texture inherent to things that are mostly artificial. Buttercream frosting has an amazing way of melting in your mouth simply because it is literally four ingredients – butter, confectioners sugar, milk, and vanilla. I don’t even want to think about what could be causing the grainy mouthfeel of the store bought stuff. Ugh. That being said I put the frosting in a ziplock bag, snipped the corner, and piped out a thin swirly cap of frosting onto each cupcake. With the finishing touch of the sprinkles the cupcakes were done. Twelve of them were sent to work with Greg because we are NOT going to eat two dozen cupcakes by ourselves. Just, no. We had a couple last night and they really weren’t that bad. Below is the recipe for my more traditional version of these cupcakes (it’s the same as on the container but I’ll post it anyway):

Cupcake Ingredients:

2 cups sugar

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup Hershey’s Cocoa

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 cup milk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line muffin pan with bake cups. Mix the dry ingredients together and then add the liquids making sure to add the boiling water last. The batter will be quite runny. Depending on how big you want your cupcakes to be fill the cups 1/2 – 2/3 full. Bake for 22 – 25 minutes depending on your oven. (I checked after 20 because our oven runs hot.) Allow to cool slightly in the pan before removing to a cooling rack. Makes 24 – 30 cupcakes. Frost.

Bailey’s Buttercream Frosting ingredients:

1 stick of room temperature butter

3 – 4 cups of confectioners (powdered) sugar

3 – 4 tbs of Bailey’s Irish Cream

1 tbs milk

Place the butter in a large bowl and mix until creamy. Slowly add the confectioners sugar 1/2 cup at a time (it will fly out of the bowl so prepare to get covered) until you get the desired consistency. Once the sugar has been incorporated add the Bailey’s and the milk. Now here’s where taste comes into play – if you like a strong taste of Bailey’s you may need to add more than the 3 – 4 tablespoons. I’ve been known to add 6 – 7 because I want it to be obvious. This is totally up to you. In the event the frosting ends up softer than you’d like just add a little more sugar to stiffen it up.

To frost the cupcakes you can either just use a pastry knife and slather it on or use a ziplock bag that has the corner snipped off. The larger the hole the wider the strip of frosting will be so keep that in mind.

I’m always on the look out for other cupcake recipes so if you have any good ones that you’ve tried be sure to pass them on!

Fantasia Gelati

On my way home this afternoon I stopped at Fantasia Gelati for a little dolce indulgence. One summer when I was here they had an amazing peach gelato that tasted as if I was eating a fresh from the tree peach, it was incredible. Since then I’ve kept my eyes peeled for the reappearance of this tasty treat but I have yet to see it. The beauty of the summertime is, as with the produce markets, that there are gelato flavors that don’t show up any other time of year. While looking for the peach my eyes rested on a container with a bright pink gelato inside it. The great thing about the gelateria is that they put the actual flavor on top of the gelato meaning that if you’re going to pick a lemon flavor you’ll see an actual lemon sitting on top indicating that that flavor is, in fact, lemon. Get it? No? Too bad, I’m moving on anyway.

Sitting on top of this neon pink gelato was a slice of watermelon. Immediately my excitement rose because, as my mom can tell you, I love anything watermelon flavored. If it’s an option I will take it. Given how the minds behind Fantasia Gelati are always coming up with new and interesting flavor combinations I wasn’t at all surprised that they would create a watermelon gelato. I also had no doubt that it would be delicious as I have yet to try one of their gelati that was not amazing. Considering my last battle with a gelato cone didn’t go so well (it melted faster than I could eat it) I decided a cup would be a much safer option. And not wanting to go crazy I ordered a small. In Italy, most gelateria will allow you to choose pretty much as many flavors as you want (within reason) and cram them all into the cone or cup. While this sounds like an excellent way to try a bunch of different flavors at once I can only imagine the gag inducing combinations one could come up with. I like to keep it simple so I asked for just the watermelon; why cover up the flavor with something else? (Aside: When you get a gelato, whether in a cone or a cup, they like to give you this extra mini cone with it. I have yet to figure out exactly why. It’s not like you can create a second cone with it, I mean, you’re not going to walk around double-fisting gelato or anything. You can certainly scoop some up with it but it’s a three bite cone at most, I just don’t see why they include it. There must be something I’m missing. If you know the answer please let me know in the comments.) So! The point! I’m getting there, keep your pants on! Anyway, the guy scooped my gelato, put in on the counter, and after battling my way through the crowd it was in my hand. I walked outside, sat on a bench, and took a picture. What? Did you think I would taste it first? You don’t know me at all. Right after I took the picture I tasted it and I couldn’t get over the flavor, it was the most delicious gelato I had ever tasted. It pretty much blew the peach gelato out of the water. My immediate reaction was a mixture of bliss and regret. The flavor was so fresh and authentic, my brain almost couldn’t process it, I wanted to eat it all right then which is what led to the regret – I should have gotten a bigger cup.

I have no idea how long the flavor will be available but I do plan on trying to get more before it’s gone. I wish you could capture taste in a photograph because then you all could enjoy it with me.