When we were invited to a pumpkin-carving party in anticipation of Halloween, I knew three things– 1) I was going to carve a fabulous pumpkin; 2) I was going to bring desserts; and 3) that dessert would also have to include pumpkin.
Last year for this event I made cupcakes– these cupcakes, to be exact— but while they were delicious and well-received, they were kind of a pain to transport in my two-tier cupcake carrier, while carrying a pumpkin. Also, cupcakes aren’t the ideal serving size for parties where there’s a buffet’s worth of food options– too big for people who want to sample multiple desserts. So this year I decided to solve both problems and make pumpkin bars.
There are almost always bananas in my house– if not for eating out of hand (I like them best when there’s still a touch of green at the tips), then at least in the freezer, where I stash them when they get too brown for snacking on. There they sit until it’s time to make banana muffins for my daughter’s school snacks… unless, as happened this time, the freezer is full and there’s already a bag of blueberry muffins for her to eat, leaving no room for more!
What to do? What I always do, of course– make dessert.
This past Easter I was pondering what to bake– trying to decide between hot cross buns and cream-filled chocolate eggs– when I realized that I had a big bag of carrots languishing in the crisper drawer, leftovers from a delicious batch of bolognese sauce. I immediately discarded all other options in favor of carrot cake– a cake that I love, but rarely make for some reason. And I knew just the recipe– another Smitten Kitchen post that I’d bookmarked a while ago but never gotten around to trying, carrot cake with graham crackers.
That’s right, there are pulverized graham crackers in the batter, taking the place of some of the flour. Honestly, though, with all of the spices in the mix I couldn’t really taste the graham flavor, so I’m not sure how successful that element was in this case. But the rest of it was a very nice cake (a little heavy on the frosting, but some people like it that way), and since the top was looking a little plain once I assembled it, I made a batch of candied carrot curls to decorate!
Okay, so first things first– I’ve got to admit that these are a shameless cheat. They’re technically my Pumpkin Pecan Chip muffins with frosting, not cupcakes. But really, once you’ve added white chocolate chips to muffins, they basically become cupcakes by another name anyway, right? And the topping makes all the difference, I promise you!
To take these muffins over the top into cupcake territory, slather them with a brown sugar/cream cheese frosting, then top them with candied ginger and toasted pecans. The combination is amazing– creamy, crunchy, spicy, and everything you’d want in an autumn dessert!
When I was a little girl I greatly enjoyed reading the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books, which featured chapter after chapter of misbehaving children and their hapless mothers who turned to good old Mrs. Piggle Wiggle for help. The cures ranged from “let the kids stay up late as long as they want until they’re too tired to do anything fun, so they’ll stop complaining about bedtime,” to “I’ll let you borrow my pig with lovely table manners to act as a model/shame your child into eating politely,” to “here are some magic pills that will turn your child invisible whenever he’s showing off.” The books were hopelessly dated even back when I read them– they all involved happy housewives and mostly absent husbands, and everyone wore gloves and attended luncheons and ate ridiculous 1950’s food. Which is what brings me to this, um… masterpiece.
Because really, the 1950’s produced some seriously awful stuff, and while I think that the foods mentioned in the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books were deliberately exaggerated (prune, noodle, and sardine surprise, anyone?), this one was just too bizarre-yet-plausible to pass up.
The table was decorated with pink tulips, a pink tablecloth, pink candles, pink napkins, and pink nut dishes. The main course was a maraschino cherry, walnut, marshmallow, pineapple, strawberry, cream cheese and cabbage molded salad, accompanied by pink biscuits. There were also pink mints and pink gumdrops. And luckiest of all, Mrs. Harroway just happened to be dressed entirely in pink with even pink gloves and pink roses on her hat. All through lunch she was so happy and gay everybody said, “You look adorable, Helen dear, I wish I’d worn pink.”
When I was young I read several books featuring Pippi Longstocking, a redheaded Swedish girl who lived by herself (well, with a horse and a monkey) and had amazing adventures with her neighbors, Tommy and Annika. The series was lighthearted, more than a little silly, and featured several descriptions of tasty-sounding Swedish food. Case in point:
“Now shut your eyes while I set the table,” said Pippi. Tommy and Annika squeezed their eyes as tightly shut as possible. They heard Pippi opening the basket and rattling paper.
“One, two, nineteen, now you may look,” said Pippi at last. They looked, and they squealed with delight when they saw all the good things Pippi had spread on the bare rock. There were good sandwiches with meatballs and ham, a whole pile of sugared pancakes, several little brown sausages, and three pineapple puddings. For, you see, Pippi had learned cooking from the cook on her father’s ship.
When I was trying to come up with ideas for a new fictional dish to try out, pineapple puddings came to mind. It took some thinking to figure out how I wanted to approach the dish– clearly these were individual puddings, rather than one big bowl of pudding, and the fact that they were served as picnic food (and in Sweden, where “pudding” doesn’t necessarily mean a thickened dairy dessert) made me think that they weren’t the standard pudding you get in the U.S. When I’d thought about it at all, I’d pictured the puddings as baked in individual ramekins and being somewhat firm, kind of like a particularly dense flan. Since they were transportable, though, they probably didn’t need refrigeration, or at least weren’t served chilled.
For Her Highness’s princess birthday party I wanted to carry the theme through in more than just the castle, so I decided to decorate some cookies to match. I thought about doing elaborate royal icing decorations like last year’s mermaid cookies, but eventually came to my senses and realized that with the extra-complicated cake I just wasn’t going to have the time. Instead, I decided to cover the cookies in fondant (like my Victorian cameo cookies) and try a new technique for decorating– the stencil.
Cookie stencils are very popular these days among decorators as a way to get an elegant, easily-reproducible design. I picked up a stencil set on Etsy that included a crown and a fleur de lis, figuring I could use both and still stay in theme.