Hoo-ee, folks. I've had a rough couple of days. The mean reds or the deep blues, or whatever you want to call them, got me in their bony little claws and shook me around for a few days, making me feel useless and despairing and generally not fit to get up out of bed. (I did get out of bed, though. I even managed to get dressed, a minor success.)
I hate it when that happens.
I had a girlfriend in town from New York this weekend and when I saw her walk out of the gate at the airport, I swear she had New York City pixie dust floating around her, glittering in the early morning Berlin light. That pixie dust reached my nostrils and suddenly my weird mood was a full-fledged case of heartaching homesickness.
Story of my life. Literally.
When that happens, I try to keep putting one foot in front of the other, reminding myself that this too shall pass, that it'll just be a few days before the fog dissipates and I can see my life again, this one that I chose, and everything will make sense again. But it's always easier said than done. Maybe you know what that's like? When you try to talk some sense into your self and your self just buries her head into her arms and sobs?
Let's talk about cupcakes. Cupcakes always make people smile. Babies always make people smile, too, or at least this person. So I went to a co-ed baby shower a few weeks ago and brought a whole army of cupcakes along, chocolate, cream-filled ones and these spicy, carrot-flecked ones. A lot of Germans don't really know how to deal with cupcakes, so my little guys just stood rather forlornly (beautiful! but forlorn) in the corner of the table for a while, while the guests dug into their slices of homey, familiar, German apple cake instead. I felt sort of sad for my little cupcakes, so misunderstood, so alone. Then Max decided to break the ice.
"These are really good", he said, or that's what I think he said, in any case. There might have been some mascarpone cream frosting obstructing the way. Yeah, yeah, I thought. You're just trying to make my ignored cakelets feel a little better about themselves. Sweet, but I see right through you. Then someone else came up to me, the grandmother-to-be, actually, with half a cream-filled cupcake in her hand and a wild look in her eyes. She seemed to agree with Max, but her mouth was full, too. After that, the cupcakes got a lot more popular.
The recipe comes from Karen DeMasco's The Craft of Baking, which is also the home of my favorite cashew brittle of all time and other wonderful little things, like apple cider jellies, for example, or bittersweet chocolate meringues. The batter is easy thing to whip up, since it's oil-based with a touch of sour cream, no butter to cream in sight. Grating the carrots is a little bit harder. The batter, all folded together, looks almost pink in the right light. It's pretty.
The cupcakes bake up into light little things with a gorgeous texture and a nice balance of spices. But what makes these really special is the frosting. Eschewing a more classic cream cheese frosting, Karen has you whip together mascarpone and heavy cream and crème fraîche, flavoring this loose, floppy mixture with vanilla and fresh lemon peel. It's sort of like a lemon fool, but instead of eating it out of a bowl like a louche 17th century English countess, you pile the cream on top of the cupcakes, the higher the better.
Oh, who am I kidding, you will end up eating it out of the bowl like that countess. (Because no matter how high you pile, there will be leftovers, don't worry.)
Mascarpone and whipped cream are a lot subtler than cream cheese and I wondered, as I licked the bowl, if the frosting would work with the cupcakes. But later on at the party, when I finally tried a cupcake myself, I realized how perfect the combination was. The lemon peel coaxes out the spices and the cloud of cool, slighly sour, sweet cream is the perfect foil to the tender little cakelet.
Happy Monday, everyone. One foot in front of the other, nice and easy. Here's to a good week.
Carrot Cupcakes with Mascarpone Frosting
Makes 14 cupcakes
1 pound carrots (about 5), peeled
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup Demerara sugar
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 cup mascarpone
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners, and line 2 more cups in a second muffin tin.
2. Grate the carrots using a food processor fitted with the shredding blade, or the medium holes of a box grater. You will need a total of 2 1/2 cups.
3. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
4. In a large bowl, whisk together the Demerara sugar, oil, sour cream, and vanilla. Add the egg and egg yolk and whisk to combine. Add the flour mixture and whisk until just combined. Using a spatula, fold the carrots into the batter. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling them about three-quarters full.
5. Bake, rotating the tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Invert the cupcakes onto a wire rack, turn them top side up and let them cool completely.
6. To make the frosting, combine the mascarpone, cream, crème fraîche, sugar, salt, vanilla and lemon zest and beat on medium speed with an electric whisk or mixer until the mixture becomes thick, about 5 minutes. (The frosting can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a day. Let it come to room temperature and whisk together if necessary before using.) Using a metal spatula or a butter knife, spread 2 to 3 tablespoons of the frosting over the top of each cupcake.
7. The cupcakes can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.