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.
I was melting some chocolate chips in the microwave the other day for a glaze, and I threw in the 2 tablespoons of butter called for in the recipe, figuring they’d just melt together as they usually do. I’ve never had problems with melting chocolate and butter together before, but on this occasion I guess the combination of having only a small amount of butter, and having it melt slowly along with the chocolate, resulted in just enough water being released from the butter to make the chocolate seize.
Uh-oh. Seized chocolate. I hate it when this happens. Usually it’s the result of water getting into the chocolate, either from a bain-marie or from stray water droplets on a spoon or something, and I avoid it by going the microwave route. But I was well and truly stuck this time– the chocolate was the consistency of rapidly-drying mortar, and despite my melting some extra butter into it, hoping the fat would bring it back, there was nothing to be done. So I stuck it in the fridge and figured I’d make something with it later.
A week later the chocolate was still staring at me from the fridge and my husband and I were doing a fridge clean-out, so it was use it or lose it. I pulled it out, along with a partially-used block of cream cheese that was at least a month old and a jar of leftover praline paste from my Gateau St. Honoré, and tried to figure out something to do with them.
With all the plump, juicy berries available in all the grocery stores lately, I’ve been eating them out of hand on a daily basis. I hate to cook them– it seems like such a waste of fresh produce– but I knew I wanted to do something special to really showcase the berries. Enter the fruit tart.
This tart is easy to make, but will make you look like a superstar. The graham crust (not crackers, but it’s got the same flavor profile) is a step above the usual pate sucree, and the flavors of brown sugar and honey really complement the other components of the tart. It also requires no rolling, bakes up nice and crisp without shrinking, and looks great. The filling tastes complex but couldn’t be simpler, and the trick of glazing the berries makes the dessert look professional. You’ll have people wondering if you actually made it yourself!