Playfully Sweet

Cookies & Cream Cupcakes 1I’ve gained somewhat of a reputation for my cupcakes, with weddings, recitals, parties, and more all part of my catering repertoire. Friends and colleagues will almost always request cupcakes when it comes to my making a contribution, with the expectation for something sweet and delicious. This past week was my friend Elise Krob’s birthday party, and she asked me to bring dessert (preferably in the form of cupcakes). I could have easily gone with straight-up chocolate or vanilla, but am admittedly insane when it comes to baking. So I decided to vet some new recipes, and sent my ideas to Elise. We both agreed that these Cookies & Cream Cupcakes would be perfect for the occasion.
Cookies & Cream Cupcakes 4For the OREO® fanatics out there, this is absolutely the cupcake for you! That being said…I used the 365 Everyday Value® chocolate sandwich cookies (there’s a Whole Foods right across the street from my office, what’s a girl to do?!) It doesn’t really matter what brand you choose so long as it has the same loving components of the original. What’s truly excellent about these cupcakes is the surprise on the bottom: a whole half of a cookie! Don’t expect to have any sandwich cookies leftover because you will be using an ENTIRE package for this recipe…
Cookies & Cream Cupcakes 3Chunks of cookie are folded into the actual batter, giving these cupcakes a texture unlike any I’ve ever experienced. On the one hand you have a vanilla cake that’s moist and flavorful, and on the other you have chocolatey chunks that add a toothsome crunch to every bite. The cream cheese frosting pairs perfectly with these cookie-dense cakes. Cream cheese is the easiest frosting type to work with since it won’t melt or deflate (case in point: the adorable dollops pictured below). It’s also the yummiest, but that is clearly a subjective opinion. These cupcakes can be frosted and decorated a full day in advance, just be sure to refrigerate them (covered) if you do so. They were an absolute hit at the party, and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate my friend Elise – click HERE to see the recipe for these lovable treats! 
Cookies & Cream Cupcakes 2For many of us, OREO® cookies are strongly reminiscent of childhood. They’re a dessert that nearly anyone can enjoy considering they are incredibly fun to eat: swirled into milkshakes, crumbled atop ice cream, paired with a tall glass of milk, and more. The playful nature of these cookies (and cupcakes, for that matter) has made them one of America’s most beloved treats. When it comes to classical music, one might draw a parallel to the polka: a genre that’s difficult to listen to without a smile. It is a Central European dance form that is both lively and fast-paced (and is often written in 2/4 meter). For this pairing, I decided to go with Johann Strauss, considering he wrote over 40 polkas in his lifetime!! Perhaps the most famous is his Pizzicata Polka – written with his brother Josef Strauss, the strings play only pizzicato (plucking versus bowing the strings). The result is a playfully sweet piece that runs just over 2 minutes in length. At its Russian premiere in 1869, the piece was so well-received that it was performed a total of 9 times for the enthusiastic crowd. Cupcakes and polkas are a surefire way to liven up any day – enjoy!

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Autumnal Panache

Recital CupcakesI am often asked if cooking is what I do for a living – there have certainly been times that the thought has crossed my mind, from throwing a pitch to FoodNetwork on behalf of Classical Kitchen (I would be an awful TV chef, in all honesty) to opening a small hole-in-the-wall bakery with organic everything. But the reminders as to why I do this simply for the love of cooking are endless – my dear friend Kate Lemmon’s flute recital was one of those reminders. Kate had asked me to bake “Fall-themed” cupcakes for the event – I spent the entire day prepping, baking and decorating. By the time I arrived at the concert hall, I was exhausted and covered in powdered sugar…but then Kate performed one of THE best recitals I’ve heard and was practically glowing by the end. Moments like these are why I could never do this for anything but my friends. So for Kate, I ended up making Carrot Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting & Walnut Praline and Apple Spice Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Frosting.
CarrotsKate had originally asked me to bake pumpkin cupcakes…yet as proven by this post, I’d already had my fill of pumpkin. I was wavering between several recipes when I remembered carrot cake: that one dessert that people rarely see in cupcake form, and yet it is perfect in this context! I purchased carrots that were pre-shredded, and further diced them in a food processor…you are welcome to do this by hand if you so wish (and have the time). My only recommendation is to make the pieces as small as possible, as this is what makes or breaks the texture.
Carrot Cupcakes 1For this recipe, I’d have to say the walnut praline was the most difficult step…I burned myself more than once, which was my own fault on all counts (patience is a virtue, especially when dealing with boiling sugar). I actually double-candied the walnuts to give them an extra oomph of sweetness. And that frosting…good lord was it amazing! All together, the resulting cupcakes were adorable, and they were devoured by a crowd of hungry hippos (aka musicians, and we LOVE food) – click HERE to see the recipe for this gorgeous cupcake!
Apple SlicesCinnamon and apples are the epitome of fall-like flavors in New England – orchards are EVERYWHERE, and they all offer some type of delicious baked good doused in cinnamon. So for me, it was a no-brainer to go with an apple spice cupcake. The garnish was a last-minute touch – I didn’t have time to make caramel for a drizzled effect, and needed something to top the frosting. I remembered the success of this cupcake, and thought an apple garnish would be equally as loved. These apple chips took almost 3 hours to make, so I would suggest starting with the garnish and then baking the cupcakes…so you don’t pull an Anne and just barely finish these decorations in time!
Apple Spice Cupcakes 1What I like most about these cupcakes was the visual aesthetic – they were both cute and rustic, which may seem antithetical, but the two work quite well in tandem. The batter had noticeable apple pieces, which gave the texture a moist crumb. The winner was the salted caramel frosting, which proves that there is nothing wrong with adding a little salt to your sweet. Click HERE to see the recipe! The best part of the night was handing Kate a plate full of both cupcakes after her recital – she was ecstatic, which made all of that hard work completely worthwhile.
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Kate’s recital program featured a variety of great rep, but one piece with which she showed a special affinity was Fauré’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in A Major (transcribed for flute). Just before performing, Kate shared the following memory with the audience:

“I heard the Fauré [Violin Sonata] for the first time last year when my colleague Alicia Mielke played flutist Paula Robison’s recording for us in studio class. I always know whether a recording is great based on whether or not it makes me cry, and I was in tears within seconds. The sheer power and beauty of her performance had me hooked, and I knew that I had to program it on my master’s recital.”

The work itself is quite remarkable. It is the first of Fauré’s chamber works, and can be seen as a milestone piece for the genre at-large. The opening phrase blossoms from the piano, immersing listeners into a world of color to which the violin gently joins. The two voices become an intricate coalescence of ideas and gesture, alternating between tranquility and ardent fervency. The second movement takes a step backs from the sweeping passion of the first, though remnants of this spirit can still be felt. Witty humor and crisp expression constitute the third movement, and is charged with a sparkling vitality. The fourth movement is an almost happier echo of the first, and weaves through unexpected turns of key and melody.

Aside from the dynamic elements of the piece, one could say that Fauré and Kate share a similar ethos concerning the purpose of art. As a flutist, photographer, and designer, Kate is someone who sees beyond the face value of art – this ideas translates into everything from her music to her photography even to her recital invitations. As for Fauré, he famously once stated:

“For me, art, and especially music, exist to elevate us as far as possible above everyday existence.” – Gabriel Fauré

For the sake of sharing both the original and the transcription described above, I have included two recordings. The first is with Joshua Bell (violin) and Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano) performing the first movement:

And the second is by a wonderful colleague and friend, flutist Benjamin Smolen, also performing the opening movement with pianist Jennifer Hsiao:

Sources Cited:
“Gabriel FAURÉ,” 52Composers.com
“Program Notes: Scorpion Tales by Duo Scorpio” MusiMelange.com
Kate’s Recital Photos courtesy Caroline Sonett and Kate L Photography

Cheers to Independence

July 4th 1 Independence Day – a holiday that, for many Americans, is primarily associated with fireworks, cookouts, and beer. While it may seem blasphemous to commemorate such a day with revelry, it was one of our country’s most celebrated victories – making it an excellent reason to throw a party! This date marks the official adoption of our country’s Declaration of Independence, portending the end of a struggle between our foundling nation and England’s imperial stronghold. For those of you who know me, any excuse to host is a good one – this one just happens to be renowned for food, meaning it’s just my kind of party 🙂
Spicy Bourbon Chicken 1Grilling is THE method of choice for any respectable Independence Day cookout. While we certainly had our share of standards – burgers and hotdogs – I always try to include a recipe that stands apart from the crowd; these Spicy Bourbon Chicken Thighs were just that. The original recipe calls for tequila…but in an effort to save money and time, I used a liquor I had on hand: Bourbon. Though let’s be honest – Bourbon is almost always a better choice (especially over Tequila…)
Spicy Bourbon Chicken 2Another notable difference was to use the sauce as a marinade, rather than an ending glaze. The only setback to this is the potential for more flare-ups (since the sugary sauce will be on the direct heat earlier on), but the flavor payoff is worth it. I made this sauce one day in advance, and then set the chicken thighs into the marinade the morning-of the cookout. The end result was flavorful, juicy, with a bit of a kick. I can guarantee you’ll knock your guests socks off with this one – click HERE to see this unique recipe!
Mixed Berry Tart 1The national ostentation of all things red, white, and blue helps to inspire the rhetoric of Independence Day. While I refuse to stick little American flags into every burger that comes off the grill, I do give in to subtle patriotic presentations – this year it was the desserts: Mini Cheesecakes with Summer Berries and a Mixed Berry Tart with Mascarpone-Ginger Cream. Not terribly imaginative on my part, but thankfully red and blue do a fantastic job of delineating any patriotic intent. They were both quite delicious which (in my experience) is what really counts.
Mixed Berry Tart 2The tart’s original recipe was a little too involved, and seemed to be more work than it was worth. So rather than take on an ambitious project, I made a single tart that could fit entirely within a 9×13 baking sheet. The pastry is the most complicated element – a paring knife and the freezer will be your best friend here. Just stick to basic dough knowledge – keep it cold, but not beyond a workable chill (because you won’t have any use for a frozen brick). Mascarpone in lieu of cream cheese was my idea, and seals the deal on this winning dessert – click HERE to see the recipe for this mouthwatering dessert!
Mini CheesecakesThese cheesecakes were adorable, and made for a great end-of-party indulgence. They can be topped with pretty much anything – berries, chocolate, jam, etc. They are far simpler than your standard cheesecake (no need for a water bath, for starters) and much easier to serve to a large crowd. I made my own mini crusts for these, but you can use a vanilla wafer or oreo cookies for a quick fix. I decided to go fancy and use a real vanilla bean as well, but extract will do in a pinch. The best part about these bite-sized treats? You won’t feel quite as guilty when you reach for a second…or fourth: click HERE to see the recipe for these adorable cheesecakes!
July 4th 2Aside from the food, fireworks, and friends, July 4th is also known for its parades. Whether it’s in the middle of small-town Iowa or the National Independence Day Parade in D.C., our country loves its parades. A notable part of any good parade is the brass band, which leads to my discussion on Charles Ives and this blog’s musical pairing. Ives was a different breed of composer – an innovator, artist, and businessman all packed into one; some go so far as to say that he was the prototypical American. It is believed that one of his strongest influences was his father, who had been a U.S. Army bandleader during the Civil War. The day-to-day band rehearsals left an impression on the young Ives, and his father’s encouragement on musical studies helped foster the composer’s vivid imagination:

“In ‘thinking up’ music I usually have some kind of a brass band with wings on it in back of my mind.” – Charles Ives.

One thing that Ives is known for is the incorporation of musical “quotes” – more often than not, they are allusions to popular American folk songs and hymns. These quotations are both intentional and witty, giving insight to Ives’ thought process as a composer. It’s worth noting that Ives was also a very talented organist, and was composing hymns from a very young age. With an upbringing immersed in folk songs, hymns, and marching music, Ives is perfect for this patriotic blog, and his Variations on ‘America’ for Organ Solo showcases all of these elements quite beautifully. Less than 8-minutes in length, it’s a brilliant little work – he wrote it when he was just 17 years-old, and his prodigious organ talent is apparent in the work’s complexity. In fact, it is one of the earliest surviving examples of contextual polytonality – a well-known feature of Ives’ style. The work is both humorous and edgy, with moments where the theme is fighting to be heard followed by moments where it is exulted – nonetheless, “America” rings true throughout. Enjoy!

Sources Cited
“Charles Ives,” Wikipedia.com

Victory Never Tasted So Sweet

Superbowl Cupcakes 1Superbowl – a word that, for sports fans, is synonymous with “event of the year”. It’s the one time that you can actually get away with having nothing more than nachos and beer for dinner…with a side of buffalo wings and mozzarella sticks and guacamole and…well, you get the picture. I always take advantage of these occasions to make something fun and delicious – so for Super Bowl, I made adorable Touchdown Cupcakes!
SuperbowlCupcakes4I have always wondered what the “grass” piping tip would produce – I personally am reminded of silly string…but maybe that’s just me. It’s actual “spout” resembles a shower head. I would recommend using a standard buttercream recipe, but you might be able to try it with cream cheese. The piping tip has very small holes, so a stiffer frosting will be difficult – adding some milk or cream can help loosen the consistency. You start to get the hang of the piping pattern after a while, though it is time-consuming.
SuperbowlCupcakes3At first I thought the piped frosting would look silly, but it actually made a very convincing “grass.” As for the cupcakes, I used my go-to chocolate cake recipe – it’s a quick recipe, and makes a cake that is all things you love about chocolate 🙂 What’s even better about these cupcakes is that they freeze beautifully – I always have a few in my freezer for unexpected guests (or chocolate cravings…). You can easily sub out the buttermilk for plain milk, and use plain boiled water if you prefer to not have coffee (my good friend Tim, for example, is allergic – I use this alternative whenever making this cake for him!)
SuperbowlCupcakes5For the footballs, I had some leftover dough in my freezer for rollout chocolate cookies (remember these beauties!?) These were arguably the most difficult part – I don’t have a football-shaped cutter…so I buckled down and used a paring knife to carefully carve out 2 dozen small football shapes. They baked in less than 8 minutes, and made perfect little toppers! Overall, these cupcakes are quite simple – the assembly and decorating are (obviously) the best part 🙂 Here are the basic components you will need:
Chocolate Cupcakes
Basic Buttercream Frosting (like this one) + green dye (enough to get your preferred hue) and a touch of lemon (to help cloak the dye’s flavor)
Cookie Toppers (omit the peppermint filling)
Frosting Tools: Grass piping tip, Round piping tip, disposable pastry bags OR ziploc bags (with corner snipped), paring knife
SuperbowlCupcakes2The promise of victory and ecstatic crowds are cogent factors to what defines the Superbowl. Thousands upon thousands cram into a stadium in hopes of experiencing the ultimate sport fan’s dream, and each and every player on that field is dedicated to triumph. The energy is both electric (no pun intended…considering the power went out at this year’s Superbowl!) and contagious. This helped lead to my musical pairing : Bizet’s “Toreador Song,” from the opera Carmen. Much as this event is the highlight of the football season, this aria is perhaps one of the most famous in all of the opera repertoire. It describes the “gory glory” of the bullfight, citing the rush of excitement and ultimate triumph. To give you an idea, here is a translated excerpt from the aria:

The crowd goes mad, edgy from waiting,
Breaking into noisy arguments all around!
People shout, people yell and holler
With a din that tears the place apart!
They’re celebrating men of valor!
Celebrating the brave of heart!
Let’s go! On guard! Let’s go! Ah!

Why this aria for cupcakes? A toreador (also known as a “torero” or “matador”) is a theatrical profession, and the act of bullfighting is considered to be more of a performance art than a sport. The fighter wears elaborate garb decorated with gold or silver embellishments, and enters the bullring in hopes of achieving a higher status in society; much as I hoped these cupcakes (a mixture of recipes that are essentially “back-of-the-box” basics) could be more appreciated once decorated. I should probably add that I arrived (late) at a Superbowl party, just following the power outage – I was surrounded by Ravens fans (with one die-hard 49ers fan), and we were all on the edge of our seats up to the final minute. As the Ravens’ win became imminent, we all felt that “victory had never tasted so sweet.”

My roommate Synthia Pullum (a ridiculously talented soprano…and Anime enthusiast!) recommended the following recording with baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Toreador Song,”Wikipedia.com
“Torero,” Wikipedia.com

The Sweetness of True Love

So folks, I did it again – word got out that I know how to bake, and I’ve become the “cupcake guru” with friends and loved ones. To be perfectly honest, I really enjoy it – there’s something almost therapeutic (for me) in baking, decorating, and delivering a batch of treats…in fact, it has few parallels. It’s a finished product, and one that you can receive direct feedback on. So in this instance, two very close friends of mine recently said “I do” – Robert Myers and Brandon Martinez. It was perhaps one of the most beautiful services I’ve ever seen (I cry in the movie Bambi, so of course I was a basket case). Like the last wedding I baked for, I had three varieties of cupcakes – the comedy and stress of making 150 cupcakes and getting them to the wedding (pictured above), once again, totally worth it.
This first variety was perhaps the most difficult. Robert and Brandon had a Fall-themed Wedding – hues of orange and cocoa created a warm, hunting lodge-esque ambiance (and the outfits of the bridal party and happy couple were stunning). So this first cupcake was a complement to that Autumnal feel: Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Caramel and Cream Cheese Frosting. It’s important to note that Brandon also requested caramel, and this was the perfect fix 😉
The hardest part of these cupcakes was the garnish : candied orange peel. I got a serious burn from these puppies (but that’s what I get for attempting an “Iron Chef” adroitness with boiled sugar…never again). They are a beautiful topping, but be warned – boiled sugar is a dangerous ingredient. Caramels, nut brittles – the secret lies in the risk. What’s funny about the caramel for these cupcakes is that it never reached the thickness I had planned for…and the result was a thin sauce that soaked into the cakes. While that may sound odd, trust me when I say that there were no complaints. Click HERE to see the recipe for these elegant cupcakes! 
The second cupcake was a Robert request – he is huge fan of all things tiramisu and chocolate, so I immediately came up with the idea to create Chocolate Cupcakes with Kahlua Ganache and Mascarpone Frosting. They were just as delicious as they sound. I used my go-to chocolate cake recipe, which always promises an extremely tender cake with a deep flavor. The best part about this recipe? It can all be made in one bowl, saving time and energy (a big plus when you have to make 50…)
Kahlua + chocolate = gold medal. The edge of espresso really deepens the “chocolatey” nature of the ganache, and kahlua is sort of awesome all on it’s own; a win-win situation. And for those of you who are curious, the alcohol is NOT cooked out of the ganache (though a single tablespoon will have little if any effect, I can guarantee it). Topped with a mascarpone frosting, these were absolutely decadent. I topped each one with a chocolate music note, to honor the happy couple’s musical lifestyles 🙂 Click HERE to see the secret to making these indulgent cupcakes! 
The third cupcake was the most playful of the three: Snickerdoodle Cupcakes with Fluff Frosting. I loved making these, mostly because I love saying “Snickerdoodle” (you can’t help but smile every time you hear it). These were surprisingly reminiscent of the beloved cookie. They had just the right amount of spice, were beautifully sweet and yet perfectly light. You’ll find yourself looking back on those childhood days, sitting close the oven while awaiting these sugary sweets…
When thinking about what to frost these with, I looked to a baker’s best friend: Marshmallow Fluff. I know what you’re thinking, but when it comes to cupcakes it is truly a godsend – it’s fun, sweet, and will make a frosting with the ideal piping consistency. Of course, topping these with an actual Snickerdoodle cookie was just too good to resist. Click HERE to see the recipe for these fun little cakes! 
For the wedding procession, Robert and Brandon chose one of my favorite opera excerpts: the “Final Trio” of Der Rosenkavelier (Knight of the Rose). To say this is a beautiful moment hardly does it justice – it’s breathtaking and a real tear-jerker (you guessed it, this was another “Bambi” moment for me). Given it’s a trio, I started to look at how the characters of this scene could relate to the three cupcake varieties. The trio has the following three characters:

Princess Marie Therese von Werdenberg (The Marschallin) – an older woman who laments her early marriage to a Field Marshal.
Octavian – the Maschallin’s young lover, who she elects to be the Knight of the Rose for her cousin Baron Ochs’ marriage announcement.
Sophie – Sophie von Faninal, the fiancée of Baron Ochs who falls in love with Octavian.

The trio is the moment where the three come together, knowing that Octavian must choose whether he continues to be The Marschallin’s lover or leaves to be with Sophie. It’s a beautiful scene that speaks to the undeniable power of love, and was the perfect start to a gorgeous ceremony. In terms of these cupcakes, each one can be paired to this trio of dynamic characters. The Pumpkin Cupcakes suit The Marschallin quite beautifully – not only are they elegant, but they are far more complex than meets the eye. Octavian has to be the Chocolate Cupcakes with Kahlua Ganache – he is “filled” with an irresistible passion for life, and a capacity for love that is unstoppable. That leaves the Snickerdoodle Cupcakes for Sophie – a young woman whose heart and character are the definition of youth. The clip below is my personal favorite, with Anne Sophie von Otter (Octavian), Barbara Bonney (Sophie), and Felicity Lott (the Marschallin).

(credit Adam Workman)

To Robert and Brandon –  I wish you all the happiness in the world, for I don’t know a couple who deserves it more than you. There is no doubt that the two of you are meant to be together, and I feel truly blessed for having had the opportunity to experience such a beautiful union – all my best.

Sources Cited:
“Der Rosenkavalier,” Wikipedia.com

True Love Waits

We all grew up with the notion that our lives will lead to the iconic “happily ever after” – Disney can take ALL of the credit when it comes to my own history. Yet having seen that life doesn’t always brings you castles in the sky or a plethora of critters willing to  clean your apartment, reality eventually kicks in and brings us to what our childhood equivalents had deemed the “real world”. Yet watching Elizabeth DeVore’s and Christopher Patrick Maguire’s wedding was about the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a fairtytale. They just married this past August in Promise City, Iowa (a fitting name) after two wonderful years together. For their Boston celebration, they asked if I could cater the dessert course with cupcakes. While I still can’t believe that I actually baked that many cupcakes, I was even more surprised at how well they went over – yet for Elizabeth and Chris, it was totally worth it.
So there were two factors that had me somewhat anxious about this task : a) I had never baked more than 40 cupcakes at once and b) where in the world was I going to find space for 120 cupcakes?! I quickly established a game plan: bake 40 cupcakes a night, make creative use of freezer space for the multitude of containers filled with the cakes, prepare garnishes whenever possible, cream the frostings the night before, decorate the morning-of…I don’t know how much sleep I actually got that week, but it all turned out beautifully (and thankfully there is no evidence of the frosting process…I was all but covered in butter and sugar by the end of it!)
Let’s start on the Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Guinness Buttercream: Elizabeth and I have been friends for nearly two years now, and I’ve come to learn that she’s always down for a good beer. This was actually the first cupcake I thought of when she had asked me to bake. The original makes a ridiculous amount of batter: I managed to get 40 cupcakes PLUS one 9-inch cake out of the batch…so for the sake and sanity of my readers, I’ve halved the recipe (but feel free to go for the full batch if you’re willing!)
You don’t have to worry about taking a bite and instantly think “college frat party” – these aren’t like that at all. The chocolate’s flavor is beautifully enhanced by the stout, while the carbonation adds an effervescent quality to the batter. Yet don’t be fooled: like Guinness, these are hearty cupcakes, rich and dense – sure to satisfy anyone who loves chocolate. If you prefer to cloak the taste of stout, omit the Guinness from the frosting and replace it with milk or cream: click HERE to see the recipe for these rich, dark treats!
Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting are a classic at any wedding – the scarlet cakes are dessert’s most popular exemplification of “true love.” What’s tricky about red velvet batter, though, is achieving that dark hue…you would be surprised at the amount of red food coloring it takes. I kept adding more thinking, ‘this just can’t be right…I must be going overboard!’ Yet the result was exactly what I had hoped for.
Funny story about these: I made chocolate hearts for garnish by melting chocolate and piping it onto parchment sheets. When transporting them to the actual event, silly me forgot to put them into a refrigerator upon arrival…so I suddenly had a mangled mess of what used to look like perfect little hearts. Though I managed to salvage most, I was at least 10 garnishes short. I ran (in heels, of course) to the nearby corner store, bought 4 bars of Hershey’s special dark, ran back and quickly made additional garnishes. How this worked I will never know, but the fact that the bride didn’t find out until later that evening proves it was a complete success 🙂 Click HERE to see the recipe for these loving sweets!
So I saved the best for last, and I say “best” because of the number of recipe requests and compliments for these Lemon Buttermilk Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting. I actually thought these would be the “leftover” flavor, but there were hardly any to be seen by the end of the reception. The cake is perfect – just the right amount of lemon with a beautifully tender crumb, with a cream cheese frosting to round it all out.
Their true beauty was thanks to the garnish: a pineapple flower. When I saw this adorable idea (a Martha Stewart creation, no less), I knew it would be perfect for the occasion. I didn’t realize that it would also be quite messy and time-consuming (though not as much as the frosting undertaking, ahem)…but the result was absolutely perfect! Aside from their visual appeal, they were also quite delicious (I’ve always against non-edible garnishes…) So all-in-all, these took the trophy for “best cupcake of the day” – click HERE to see how to make these show-stopping beauties!
The musical pairing for this was a no-brainer – as you read from the beginning of this post, Elizabeth and Chris have a love that is truly remarkable. They have both been through some really tough times, and yet their devotion has never waned. The wedding was, in a word, “magical” – both the bride and the groom were glowing, from the start of the ceremony to the end of the party. I don’t think I saw a single moment where they weren’t simply beaming. For the service itself, they asked Christopher O’Riley (host of From the Top, and a close friend) to perform. During the Sand Ceremony, he played his arrangement of Radiohead’s True Love Waits…this song is too perfect, and I couldn’t think of anything that would be better suited for this post. While I still can’t say that I believe in fairytales, Elizabeth and Chris have certainly proved that dreams can come true – enjoy!

An Inspired Trend

What makes the perfect cupcake? A creation that is both adorable and irresistibly delicious. Cupcakes have become the food industry’s new craze, taking the nation by storm with their portion-sized perfection. Countless bakeries have opened dedicated solely to creating these little cakes, taking their flavor and decorative potential to new heights. When I have to bake for a sizable crowd, I vie for cupcakes; a decision my coworkers wholly support. So when baking for the office’s monthly birthday party, I made a batch that I knew no one would resist: Churro Cupcakes with Dulce de Leche and Cinnamon Whipped Cream.
The term “cupcake” began to appear in publications during the early 19th century, referring to cakes baked in pottery cups and ceramic molds (muffin tins were not widely available). They were often treats enjoyed during tea parties and informal gatherings, with lavish decorations as more of an afterthought of luxury. Today, they have reached a celebrity status in the food world that is impossible to ignore. Sweet, savory, baked, fried – there is no limit to what these little cakes can achieve.
These cupcakes mimic the taste and character of churros – cinnamon fried-dough pastries popular in Spain and Latin America. Churros are often enjoyed with hot chocolate or café con leche, so I decided to fill these cakes with dulce de leche (a personal favorite). Since it was practically 70 degrees outside, I avoided a heavy frosting by topping each with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream. The result was  an extremely delicious, utterly adorable cupcake – click HERE to see my recipe for these perfect little treats.
I sought out a fellow musician’s advice for the pairing, and asked my colleague Tom Vignieri – his immediate response: “Well, they weren’t heavy and romantic, but also not too light – I’d say they remind me of Schubert.” I couldn’t have agreed more. Ernst Krenek, a twentieth-century composer, gives the perfect description on Schubert: “a thinking artist with a keen appetite for experimentation.” To say Schubert was a prolific composer is almost an understatement: he composed over 600 songs, 9 symphonies (one unfinished), and  a number of operas, sacred works, chamber music, and solo piano works. Such an outpour of music for a man who died at the young age of 31 truly speaks to his remarkable artistry. What better pairing for a dessert that embraces truly inspired styles! I chose the song “Heidenroslein,” or “Rose on the Heath.” The lyrics are from Goethe’s poem of the same name, which tells the tale of a young man whose love has been rejected. Its light character and technical finesse perfectly complement these cupcakes – the recording below is with lyric soprana Barbara Bonney. Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFPpoU9ecZo

Sources Cited:
“Cupcake,” Wikipedia.com
“Franz Schubert,” Wikipedia.com

A Delicious Parting Gift

As young adults, it’s inevitable that our friends have yet to find that one permanent place to settle down. It’s never easy to say goodbye when a friend decides to move on; such is the case with my very dear friend Brian McCarthy – he’ll be leaving Boston soon to join the army band, a position he will no doubt excel with. I’ve been through a lot with Brian, and he is someone I will miss a lot. I hosted a small going-away party for him earlier this week, inviting a handful of close friends to wish him luck. Knowing my Brian, I made sure there was a wealth of cheeses, a sizable line-up of party games, and a worthy drink for an Irishman: Jameson. This latter spirit also inspired the dessert for the evening, which undoubtedly takes the “cake” in my dessert repertoire: Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with a Whiskey Ganache and Bailey’s Buttercream Frosting.
Brian stands by his Irish heritage, which compelled me to avoid the original title for these cupcakes: Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes. I have nothing against bakers who do label these cupcakes as such, it’s more the dark history behind the name itself. A drink consisting of Guinness, Irish whiskey and Bailey’s, this infamous shot garners mixed reactions, from total indifference to unmitigated outrage. The name is an allusion to the violent exploits used by the IRA against Northern Ireland during The Troubles. In other words, this shot is far from serving as a tribute to the Irish.
Name aside, these cupcakes are simply amazing! Stout and chocolate are a match made in heaven – the dark, rich brew complements the silky batter perfectly. As you saw above, I went with a Harpoon Chocolate Stout (what I had) rather than the Guinness called for – it was an unintentional stroke of genius! Filled with a spicy ganache (Jameson, no less) and topped with a buttery Bailey’s frosting, these cupcakes can’t go wrong. To push the cuteness factor up a notch (a must with cupcakes), I topped each with a chocolate-covered espresso bean – click HERE to see how to make these deliciously rich cupcakes!
If there is one thing I know about Brian, he plays an amazing Liszt – with that in mind, I chose a work I have heard Brian perform on multiple occasions (yet never grow weary of) – Liszt’s transcription of Wagner’s “Liebestod” from Tristan und Isolde. Liszt was both a benefactor to and supporter of Wagner’s music. The opera Tristan und Isolde is based on the medieval legend of two star-crossed lovers, and has become on of the more prominent works in orchestral repertoire. The “Liebestod” concludes the third and final act of the opera – it is sung by Isolde as she mourns we lover’s death, shortly before her own tragic end. Known for his virtuosic genius on the piano, Liszt had a gift for adapting the music of large scale works to the keyboard. He stays true to the voice of Wagner, effectively adapting the extensive orchestration to the piano while maintaining the rich, emotive qualities of the overall work. Similarly, each bite of these cupcakes is extremely rich and decadent. I want to dedicate this post to Brian – you will be missed dearly by all of us here in Boston, and we hope you know that you always have a home with us whenever you need it 🙂 Wishing you all the best!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UQrOIa7coc

Sources Cited:
“Franz Liszt,” Wikipedia.com
“Tristan und Isolde,” Wikipedia.com

A Delectable Surprise

There’s nothing like a surprise party to make a rainy Friday night come to life. We decided to throw one for my close friend Erika Boysen, and it was a huge success! Somehow we managed to keep it under wraps, and she showed up totally unaware. Lots of great people were there, and there was (of course) tons of food. Earlier that week I managed to glean from Erika her love for tiramisu. Since this was going to be a party with lots of people, authentic tiramisu would quickly become a mess so I decided to make Kahlúa Tiramisu Cupcakes.
For those of you familiar with making tiramisu, you may be wondering why use Kahlúa instead of Marsala. While it’s not the most traditional substitute, Kahlúa gives an extra kick of coffee flavor to these. Plus I also have a giant bottle leftover from brownies I had made a while back…expect more Kahlúa recipes, in other words. These actual cakes are just like ladyfingers – they are perfect little “sponges” for the coffee-kahlúa syrup. They have a light crumb and bake to a beautiful golden brown. Topped with an airy mascarpone frosting, these cupcakes are just like the real deal. Click HERE to learn how to make these marvelous treats!
For pairing this piece, I wanted to honor the birthday girl and feature a work that genuine standard in the flute repertoire: Francis Poulenc’s Flute Sonata. Poulenc composed the work for flutist extraordinaire Jean-Pierre Rampal (whose was often cited as being the authority on stylistic choices by a previous flute teacher that Erika and I shared). As a member of the French group of composers “Les Six,” Poulenc’s music was known for being light and simplistic. The “light” relation to these cupcakes goes without saying. These cakes may have not been simple to make, but they are certainly easy to eat! I’ve included a recording of the first movement performed by Emmanuel Pahud, as well as a fabulous photo of the birthday girl and my friend TJ (thanks Philip!) – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0Q-0ztr-Xw

Photo courtesy of Philip Varricchio