Monday, March 7, 2011

Over the Hill Cupcakes

It was my last trip out of Boston before my transfer to New York, along with 3 other of my colleagues. It was also the birthday of one of us. A Big One! Propitious and momentous at the same time, so we had to celebrate on our London layover. Throughout the years, we felt that London has been our home away from home and have many favorite places to go. One of those is Da Mario's Italian Restaurant. Mario often sat at a nearby table and greeted airline crews with a smile and sometimes sent over a little something extra. Princess Diana and her children used to stop in here from their nearby home of Kensington Palace. That seems so long ago now, with her handsome son getting married next month. There is a large painting on the wall of Mario with the princess. Sadly, they are both gone now.

Since it was my friend, Debbie's birthday, we had to have cupcakes. I brought the crew Whoopie Pies for our Valentine's Day trip last month and everyone loved the combination of chocolate cake and Italian Meringue icing.
It is my all time basic combination, as you know if you visit here often. Sometimes I dress it up and sometimes not. The Whoopie Pie cake is a different recipe, but still chocolate. I was telling a friend about bringing cupcakes to London as a surprise for Debbie and she asked how could I transport them without them getting smashed. Ah, I said, I made a special box with circular cutouts for them to rest in. Brilliant, she replied. I baked them in animal print cupcake liners and added toasted coconut to the top, since Debbie loves coconut. They were beautiful with their swirling updo of icing and animal print bottoms. Packed in their special box, they were loaded into my car for our last trip based out of Boston. They carefully went through airport security, onto the plane, to the hotel and then to the restaurant. I wanted to surprise Debbie, even though she astutely noticed I was always carrying around that bag with a box in it. I guess she's not quite over the hill yet. After we finished our pizza and paid our bill, we were brought a complimentary toast of Limoncello. Mario's tradition was being carried on. We decided to have our cupcake dessert at the hotel since the restaurant was emptying for the night. Soooo, I carried the cupcakes back to my room where we gathered for a birthday surprise. Everyone stood around while Debbie and I carefully pulled back the tape and opened the box. The others said they thought the box was full of snakes by the look on our faces! I think we laughed for 5 minutes before taking our first bite. I suppose I don't have to worry about getting a patent for that box! They still tasted as good as they used to look. And fortunately for youthful looking Debbie, the only things that looked like they'd gone over the hill were her cupcakes!

Chocolate Cake
(Adapted from Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cake)

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup unsweetened 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. Grease, flour and line with parchment 2 9-inch cake pan or line a muffin tin with cupcake baking cups.

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla; beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour into lined muffin tin or 2 9-inch cake pans. Bake 30-35 minutes for cake and 20-25 minutes for cupcakes or until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 30 cupcakes or 2-9 inch layer cakes.

Meringue Frosting

1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
3 egg whites
pinch of salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the sugar and water in a heavy medium saucepan and bring to a boil without stirring. Boil until it reaches the soft ball stage, 240 degrees on a candy thermometer.

While the syrup is cooking, beat the egg whites with the salt and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. When the syrup reaches 240 degrees, pour 1/4 cup of the syrup into the stiffly beaten egg whites, drop by drop, beating at high speed. Gradually add the rest of the syrup in a fine stream and beat for 8 to 12 minutes, or until the mixture is cool. It should be glossy and thick, but not dry.

Makes about 3 cups.

Toasted Coconut

Evenly spread desired amount of shredded, sweetened coconut on a baking sheet and bake at 350℉ a few minutes until just golden. Keep an eye on it since it only takes a few minutes, and stir to make sure it browns evenly. It should be light with a crunch and not at all chewy.

To top marshmallows with toasted coconut, moisten the marshmallow with water where the coconut will be put and lightly press on the coconut. Let dry.

Animal cupcake liners from Kitchen Krafts are found here.

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