JK, February has got to be the worst month. However, I was intrigued/delighted/intimidated by the February 2009 issue of living — the one with all the cupcakes in that sweet as hell ombre heart shape. My favorite cake flavor, strawberry, also happens to be the favorite cake flavor of a friend of mine, who seems to keep cropping up on this blog, and it’s one of the bazillion cupcakes featured in that issue. So I decided to try, months later, Strawberry Cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream to bring to his birthday party.
Strawberries are delicious right now, much more so than the anemic rocks we’d get in February, and the strong flavor of them hopefully made up for the fact that I lost my measuring cups when we moved and had to use decorative Nigella Lawson teacups that are probably far from accurate. The cake was no problem, whisk some dry ingredients, cream the butter and sugar, that kind of thing, you just add “finely chopped” strawberries (I pulsed them in my food processor for a few minutes), stir, and you’re ready to go. Pinkish batter with some appetizing red clumps!
The more interesting component is the buttercream. Like, real buttercream here. None of your confectioner’s sugar whipped with butter. None of it! First you whisk some egg whites in a mixer bowl over bowling water, until a candy thermometer reads some such temperature.
Wait, while we’re on the subject, a word about candy thermometers and recipes. I’ve got one, and I don’t think it has EVER been useful, seeing as how the little mercury sensor is too big to submerge under the liquid, which I can never get as high as I want. So I tilt and I guess and I shout “THERE MUST BE A BETTER WAY,” but then I forget about it immediately, so if anyone else knows a better solution, I’m all ears.
OK, so you’ve got your hot egg whites filled with dissolved sugar. Stick it under the mixer and whisk to cool it down, then speed it up until stiff peaks form. The recipe said this would take a few minutes. It took forever, and I recommend whisking at your highest speed. Then, you switch to the paddle, beat, and throw in some butter pieces as you watch everything get creamier. After the butter is incorporated, pour in strawberry puree (which you made with remaining strawberries in your food processor after you chopped up the other ones for the cake, because you are brilliant), and the whole thing looks like soup. You will say, as I did, “I screwed something up. This is liquid. This is not icing.”
Then, friends, magic happens! As the paddle beats the mess slowly, clean up your kitchen. Pet your cats! Eat a nectarine! Watch Mad Men! Check back every so often, and you will notice the following stages:
1. Red soup
2. Grainy mistake
5. Strawberry buttercream icing
It’s amazing. I’m no food scientist, but soup became icing I guess by forcing liquid strawberries into the fat. A vivid, rough, pink substance, the icing looked like cream cheese and tasted like summer butter heaven.
Which, subsequently, is where I’m headed when I die.
Postscript – I was cruelly denied a taste of Lesley’s tomato handpies until the tomato handpie redux this weekend. And then I tasted them, whoa Nelly did I. Flaky crust, tart filling…I had like ten. Does the deliciousness come across in this picture?