It’s Wedding Week!

No recipe today (again, I’m sorry, and none next week either), but I did want to write a little – it doesn’t do to fall out of the habit for too many weeks in a row.

july%2520and%2520august%25202015-1222It has been a busy few weeks, getting ready for this coming Saturday: at long last, it’s Wedding Week! My little sister, as I noted on my last post, is getting married, and tomorrow morning I fly out to Virginia to help with final prep and – mostly – to spend time with family right before the big day. This has meant, for me, working long days to get all of my work responsibilities – both teaching and departmental – set up and ready, clockwork-God style, for a week without me. Feverish grading, lesson planning, coordinating substitutes, ordering copies of handouts, all has led to a week of less-than-inspiring meals.

image85But now, with wheels and cogs and dog-sitters in motion, I can sit down for a few minutes, and let myself digest the importance of the week to come. Since about Thursday afternoon, I’ve been wildly excited (I mean, I’ve been excited since the engagement was announced, but it has ramped up in the last week). N. has said once or twice that I’m almost at Christmas-levels of elation. I’ve thought about that, and it makes sense. See, anymore, with geography and academic schedules paining wide swaths between us all, I now visit with my family only once or twice a year, usually at Christmas, and in the summer. This summer was taken up with teaching and with our annual pilgrimage to Oregon, which means aside from a week with my mother in the spring, I haven’t seen my family since Christmas. Here it is October, a few months early, but I’m about to see them again, and for a celebration. No wonder I feel like decking the halls.

image132As a result of all this, I’m ready to go. It’s time for sister time! I’ve been 80% packed since Saturday. I finished my toast last weekend. My meetings are over. The Welcome Dinner shopping list is almost complete – waiting on only a few RSVPs to confirm quantities. My mom made the trip to Virginia on Saturday, and is now happily ensconced with her younger daughter and her son-in-law-to-be, embroiled in planning, and I have to wait until tomorrow morning.

img_4218So now what?

img_3419This hubbub followed by silence, coupled with the turmoil of what’s happening out there in the world, has made for an odd weekend. I’m not cooking a big, blog-worthy dinner, because another trio of overly warm days has waved its way through, and because I don’t want a fridge full of leftovers, left behind. I’m not grading, because I want that stack of papers to wing across the country with me so I have “company” on the plane. I’m not lesson-planning, because everything is prepped.

c%252525252520and%252525252520n%252525252520graduation-3389I’m someone who likes to be ready to go ten minutes early, to arrive five minutes early, so you’d think I’d be feeling relaxed and on top of it, needing only to take that last walk before packing my sneakers, and that last morning tooth brushing before stowing my toiletries away. Everything, I told my sister on Friday evening, feels like a countdown. I have lists and folders and announcements in place. I’m crossing off the days in my mind the way one of my colleagues is crossing off the days till her retirement at the end of the year. But I also like to have a puppeteer’s control over the timeline, and now I have to sit and wait, with my stomach jumping like I have a job interview in an hour, and let taxi drivers and pilots and flight plans be in charge.

All this, these roller-coaster-ing paragraphs, as a way of saying, R., I CAN’T WAIT! I’m so excited to see you, and to see Ch., and to see our family, and to watch you enact those beautiful and weighty promises that make your life exactly the same and also so different at the same time, and to laugh and to cry and to carve those wrinkles at the corners of my eyes even deeper, because those are the physical proof of my moments of joy. And to cook with you, and to giggle over the games we’re going to play, and to do your make-up on the day of your wedding, and to stand beside you. And to dance. And to raise my glass. And to hold an umbrella over your head while I juggle both our bouquets just in case it rains. And to wish you, my sister, the happiest of marriages, as happy as mine has been and more, and welcome you into this new stage of partnership.

Hurry up, Tuesday. I’m ready to see my family; I’m ready to see my Rachel.

Carrot and Sweet Potato Salad with Lime Vinaigrette

2016-food-blog-september-0821I mention my sister pretty frequently in this little space. Although she lives across the country from me, across disciplines, across life experiences, across personalities, she is my kitchen sounding board. When I think of a recipe concept and I can’t decide whether it sounds amazing or insane, I text R. When I have a triumph or a disaster, I text R. When I find a recipe online that I know MUST be tried… you get the idea.

2016-food-blog-september-0798In three little weeks, R. is getting married. I feel incredibly privileged that she has asked me to stand beside her in her wedding party as the woman of honor. We’ve spent the past year or so discussing little details and working through planning frustrations and pinning, pinning, pinning to her wedding pinterest board. And yet, because so many miles separate us geographically, I can’t do the things that my role in the wedding party traditionally requires of me. I can’t plan a bridal shower or a bachelorette party, because I’m only hopping on a plane to get to the wedding a few days before it happens. I can’t coordinate all the bridesmaids, because, well, because R. is such a good planner that I haven’t had a chance. Sure, I can do her makeup and hold her bouquet and give a toast on the big day, but it doesn’t feel like enough for my own sister.

2016-food-blog-september-0808Since so much of my love is filtered through food, it was, of course, a menu that finally made me feel like I was contributing sufficiently. R. and her fiancé aren’t having a rehearsal dinner, mostly because they aren’t having a rehearsal – their venue is an hour away from their home, and it seemed like a lot of trouble to truck out there the morning before just to spent twenty minutes deciding who will stand where and in what order when we could just get there a little early the day of and do the same thing. But we will have a lot of family arriving to town the day before the wedding, so having a casual little dinner the night before did seem like a nice thing to do, and this “welcome dinner,” as we’re calling it, became my responsibility. I’ve plotted out a menu, created and sent invitations, and this weekend, did a run-through of one of the new dishes we’ll be making for the occasion.

2016-food-blog-september-0809The dinner is in a park at a picnic shelter, so we are leaning largely on casual fare, but because it’s such a special occasion, we wanted a cut above your standard hamburger patties and potato salad. Since it will be mid-October, and it has been R’s dream to have a fall wedding for a very long time, we are working with an autumnal theme – there will be spiked and non-spiked apple cider, a slaw of brussels sprouts with toasted walnuts and dried cranberries, a substantial pasta salad with robust dressing and bitter radicchio threaded through, and this: a salad as good warm as it is cold or room temperature, of tender carrot and sweet potato chunks wrapped in a lime vinaigrette busy with herbs. To keep it light as well as autumnal, at the last minute the vegetable chunks get tossed with a scattering of well-toasted pumpkin seeds and a few big handfuls of delicate baby arugula.

2016-food-blog-september-0815The seed for this salad idea came from a Bittman project recipe, and I’ve tweaked and fiddled with it a few times now, until this iteration seemed exactly right. Virginia in October, which is where and when we’re headed, is a funny transitional point on the space/time continuum. It can be downright chilly, but it can also spike back up into summer temperatures, or it can gift you with a sudden downpour. It’s hard to know which you’re going to get, and sometimes it might offer up some of each in the same day! This salad dances well with them all. The orange root vegetable base and the pumpkin seeds point straight at Halloween and Thanksgiving, but juxtaposing them with a bright lime vinaigrette and soft, summery herbs makes the finished dish feel light. I ended up adding a spoonful of whole grain mustard for another kind of tartness, and this along with the peppery arugula prevents the starchy vegetables from reading too sweet.

2016-food-blog-september-0818Though I like the salad just how it is here, it is admittedly ripe for adjustments of all kinds. Replacing the pumpkin seeds with roasted pistachios might take things in a springy direction, and you could certainly bulk it up a bit with crumbled feta or goat cheese or even golden raisins, though these might tip the sweetness scales a bit overly much. You could use orange or lemon juice instead of lime in the vinaigrette, you could replace the arugula with baby spinach or kale and serve it warm; you could of course change out the herb combination to your preference. Add some nicely grilled bratwurst, or stir in a few ladles of buttery couscous or farro or quinoa, and you have a complete meal.

2016-food-blog-september-0824As I kept thinking about this salad, I realized it was ideal in so many ways. Since it can be served warm or cold, it works with whatever version of fall your home might be throwing at you – whether it’s the decidedly fall evenings in the northeast, or the Santa Ana wind-riddled mid-90s madness in Southern California. This is a transitional salad for a transitional season. And forgive me as I wax poetic on you, but it is also a nice metaphor for the occasion: a salad that moves easily between meteorological seasons seems perfect for a couple about to transition between seasons of life.


Carrot and Sweet Potato Salad with Lime Vinaigrette
Serves 6 as a side
45-60 minutes including cooling time
1 pound carrots (about 4 large)
2 pounds orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (about 4 medium)
2 tablespoons salt
¼ cup pumpkin seeds (2 ounces)
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
1 tablespoon honey
6 tablespoons lime juice (2-3 limes)
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped chives
2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
¼ teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
1-2 cups baby arugula


  • Fill a large pot about ¾ of the way full of water, add the 2 tablespoons salt, and bring to a boil.
  • While you wait for the water to heat, peel the carrots and sweet potatoes and cut them into 1-2 inch chunks, a bit bigger than bite-sized.
  • When the water reaches a rolling boil, add the carrot chunks and cook for 5 minutes with the lid off – the carrots will take a bit longer than the sweet potatoes.
  • After the first five minutes of cooking, add he sweet potato chunks and continue to cook until the vegetables are tender but not mushy or falling apart – about 8-10 minutes depending on the size of your chunks. Immediately drain and set aside to cool for 10-15 minutes, then transfer to a large bowl.
  • While the vegetables are cooking, toast the pumpkin seeds in a 350F oven until they are browned and popping – about 5-10 minutes. A toaster oven works really well for this if you don’t want to heat up your house too much. When they are ready, set them aside to cool.
  • In a 2-cup glass measuring cup, whisk together the honey, the mustard, and the lime juice. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly, to form a nicely emulsified dressing. Stir in the herbs and add black pepper to taste.
  • After the cooked vegetable chunks have cooled for 10-15 minutes and been relocated to a large bowl, pour the dressing over them and toss gently to coat everything evenly.
  • If you want the dish to be warm, add the arugula and pumpkin seeds, toss gently to combine, and serve immediately. The greens will wilt considerably as they hit the warm vegetables.
  • If you prefer the dish at cold or at room temperature, wait to add the arugula and pumpkin seeds until just before serving.
  • This will keep in the refrigerator for a day or two, though any greens you’ve incorporated will look considerably less sprightly after the first day.


The Buttercream Project: Wedding day, part two

Saturday morning – Wedding day! – was beautiful and bright and promising.  Our now-from-Seattle friends had arrived the night before, we’d all slept, the cakes had chilled, and now after a brief wedding day breakfast with the bride and groom’s families and out of town guests, I’d be on to decorating.  When I settled in to the buttercream production this time, I had an epiphany.  At Mom’s house, I had used an electric hand mixer instead of a stand mixer, and the buttercream had been fluffy and smooth and glorious.  What if, instead of using the paddle attachment on my stand mixer, I used the whisk?

This was, finally, the right thing to do.  I wish fervently I had thought of it the first day.  The frosting came together faster, and whipped up a bit smoother.  It was, I perhaps imagined, brighter ivory than the previous batches, and there were no chunks of butter to cause me piping distress.  If only, if only, the day before… but that is immaterial (and perhaps inaccurate too, since there were other factors, other differences, like the temperature of the butter, the temperature of the cheese, the amount of time spent whipping, the quantity of lime juice, etc) .

I piped.  I piped and I piped.  And things started to look better.  A lot better.  Most of the worst imperfections were hidden under the ivory and then delicate blue swirls and scrolls I snaked onto the cakes.  They actually started to look nice.  This might not be a disaster after all.  When I added a ring of round, pearl-like blobs to the bottom border of each, I started to feel happy with my project.

With the cakes done, all that remained were 92 miniature cupcakes.  All.  Right.  I had half a bowl of perfectly blue frosting.  Against my own better judgment (hey, it had worked out okay the day before with the gelatin in the filling), instead of starting over with a brand new batch, I decided to add more butter and more powdered sugar to the bowl, and try to tint it to match what I had already done as I went.  It worked.  I wanted a slightly thicker consistency of frosting for the flowers I planned to pipe so this mixture had to be more butter than mascarpone.  That worked out well, really, because I was out of mascarpone again anyway.

With time ticking, I filled up another piping bag with one of the new rose petal tips H. had bought me and went to work, remembering what I’d learned months ago about which way to swivel the cupcake as I frosted.  It took me a handful to get into a groove, remembering when to apply pressure and when to release, but once I got going I was making beautiful little horseshoe movements that resulted in sugary flower petals!  To perfect the color (not baby blue, but not dark blue either), I’d mixed a tiny bit of black gel dye in with the blue.  This resulted in a lovely periwinkle with just a hint of gray, matching almost exactly the blue on the couple’s save-the-date cards.  The exact blue of the wedding.  Boom.

N. would probably like me to add here that as I finished each handful of minis, he deliberately drizzled on a small quantity of silver-gray sprinkles.  My dear friend M., who arrived in mid-afternoon to coo over the product and do my hair for the event, would probably also like me to add that she took over sprinkling duties for the last dozen or so.  In fact, it was M. and S. who saw me through the last sheet tray of minis as, hand aching from the constant pressure and odd angle, I suddenly realized I was going to finish.

The winery where the wedding took place was a half hour drive from town on winding and sometimes roughly surfaced roads.  Though we positioned the cakes and cupcakes carefully in the back of our Subaru, I still got a little white-knuckled every time N. drove around the bend.  What if, after all that work, we got going a little too fast and one of the cakes slid into the side of the car?  What if, despite the air conditioning running at full blast, it was too hot in the car and the frosting started to slump off?  What if we did get there safely, but I dropped a cake on the way from the parking lot into the building?  I had packed flats as well as a bag of white frosting and a bag of blue in case of an emergency, but I’m not sure I was emotionally prepared to fix any problems that might happen on the way.  Not in a busy winery with the bride and groom’s families darting around setting things up.

Fortunately I didn’t have to.  Three or four of the minis fell over during our ride, but because I’d stuck them in the freezer for a few minutes while I got dressed, their frosting remained hard enough that it didn’t crumple much.

Setup was easy and disaster free.  Some of the wedding party helped carry the precious cargo in from the car, and when every last cupcake was situated on the table, I have to say it looked pretty fantastic.  I made a wedding cake.  And people liked it.

Final thoughts on this massive saga: I will not be going into the wedding cake business.  I would happily make another cake or three for friends who requested it, but I think I’d want to go to at least one cake decorating class first.  I will also not use American buttercream again, except for petal work like I did on the minis.  It’s just too sweet.  I loved the taste of the cakes I made, and the filling was a wonderful, bright tartness (the color contrast was great too), but the buttercream was just achingly sweet, even with the addition of lime juice to the mix.  For my sophomore performance, if I ever have such an opportunity, I would try an Italian or Swiss buttercream instead, relying on cooked egg whites for structure rather than powdered sugar.  As a thank you, J. and H. let me keep all the baking and decorating equipment they bought for the project (thanks again, you two!), so I’m set for all kinds of future practice.

I have to say, though, despite all my moaning and complaining and anxiety, I was really happy with how the cakes looked, and delighted with the reactions I received.  The bride and groom took home the leftovers and ate them the next day, and the one after that.  They were still good.  N. and I ate the trimmings and cupcake guts smothered in leftover filling, and they were delicious.  It was, regardless of the exhaustion and concern during the journey, a monumental success.  I can only thank J. and H. for letting me be such a big part of their day, and wish them all the joy in the world – joy like clouds of powdered sugar, perhaps – for the rest of their lives together.  N. and I love you both.

The Buttercream Project: Wedding Day, part one!


I made a wedding cake.  For a wedding.  And it was served.  At a wedding.  And no one threw anything at me, or snickered behind my back, or insinuated the bride and groom would have made a better choice by hiring a professional baker.

In fact, several guests, and a few of the employees at the winery where the event was held asked me where I worked, or whether I had a business, or how many wedding cakes I had made before.  I was forced to respond to these questions thusly: my kitchen, no, none.  And they were surprised!  And I, still struggling with the sickeningly sweet baggage of failed buttercreams weighing down my memory, was surprised they were surprised.

But there we were!

Deep breath; here’s how we got there, in two parts:

The wedding took place on a Saturday.  After consulting a professional baker through a friend who is also her sister, I decided to do all the baking on Thursday, the majority of the frosting on Friday, and the detailed decorations and mini cupcake flowers on Saturday morning.  The cakes would still taste fine, she said, and the rewards of working with day-old rather than freshly baked cake are staggering.

My biggest comment about the whole process is that everything takes longer than you expect it to.  And it “takes a village,” as they say.  I knew approximately how much cake I was going to make, but I didn’t really stop and think about how much time it would take to bake, or how much space it would require, or what 36 egg yolks looks like (6 egg whites in each batch of batter = 36 unused yolks).

Anyway, I baked on Thursday, and despite my naïve assumption that I would bake in the morning, tidy up the kitchen and rest in the afternoon, I baked almost all day.  See, butter takes time to come to room temperature, and egg whites take a while to whip to soft peaks, and when you only have one muffin tin you can only make 12 full size cupcakes at a time!  My friend J. joined me for lunch, which was a welcome break (relatedly, crisp, juice-laden pink spears of watermelon are incredible when you don’t have to slice them up yourself, and Stash’s pomegranate raspberry green tea makes a wonderful iced tea that requires zero sweetener), and a bit later M. came by to keep me company while I scooped and poured and measured and mixed and sweated and burned myself only twice!  The entire day!

Completion of the day’s project took some finagling, because as much as we tried to use up perishables to create fridge space, it hadn’t occurred to me how much room it would take to fit one 9”, one 8”, and one 6” cake in there along with 52 cupcakes and 90-something mini cupcakes.  There weren’t enough shelves!  We improvised by double stacking the cupcakes and minis on sheet trays, separating each with upside down drinking glasses to keep them from squashing each other.

Thursday night, I was exhausted.

But that was nothing.

Friday, I got up with excited anticipation and set a pot of water to boil so I could peel the apricots for the filling.  Once the raspberry apricot compote was cooked down to a thick, sticky jam and nearly ready to chill, I would set out the butter.  I knew now it didn’t take an eternity to soften.  This was going to be a breeze.  It would be my best buttercream ever.  Well, as these things often go, it wasn’t, and it wasn’t.  

Apricots don’t like losing their skins.  They hang onto them like some living thing.  By scoring an x in the bottom of each and plunging them into a boiling bath for a minute or so, I thought I would be able to slip them free and naked, like peaches.  Instead, the skin came off in little peels as though they’d been sunburned, and sometimes it wouldn’t come off at all, unless attached to chunks of flesh.  This, then, took longer than I’d anticipated.

When the apricots were finally mostly nude, slippery chunks of ruddy gold, I flopped them into a big stock pot with 3 pints of dewy, just-rinsed raspberries, a light sprinkling of sugar (maybe ½ cup?), and the leftover champagne from the previous day’s baking.  There was maybe a cup of liquid when I began, and I worried this would not be enough.  Half an hour later, as the raspberries broke into fragrant, molten juice, I worried there was too much liquid.

I’ve never made jam, so I don’t know how long it really takes for fruit to boil off its liquid, but at an hour into the process, when I still wasn’t mixing up a batch of buttercream, I panicked and poured off about half the compote into a colander, making the sink look like a murder had been committed.  Too afraid to pour off any more lest I lose the flavor, I plopped the sodden fruit bits back into the pot and boiled a bit longer.  Then, when things still weren’t thickening and I was despairing for time (morning was already almost gone), I made a daring, despairing, hand-wringing choice of desperation and poured two packets of gelatin powder into some water, sloshed it about to combine, and tipped it into my steaming, bubbling, red gold concoction.  Alchemy, do your magic!  I bubbled the whole thing on the stove for a minute or two longer, then turned off the heat, held my breath, squeezed my eyes almost shut, and poured the whole thing into a glass bowl which I topped with plastic wrap and shoved into the freezer.  Now it just needed to chill, and we’d be back in business.  I’d be done by mid-afternoon with plenty of time to tidy up before the rehearsal dinner (I should add that during all the hand-wringing and the despair and the certainty that accepting J&H’s desire to have me bake for their wedding was a mistake, N. was very supportive.  He helped me monitor the pot while I showered and cleaned the bathroom in preparation for out of town guests staying with us while they attended the wedding.  He’s a dream).

My sense of timing, ever prescient, was of course wrong again.

It was 6-8 cups of boiling hot near-liquid.  Cooling takes time!  Cooling takes, as it turns out, a lot of time.

No matter.  In the meantime, I hollowed out the cupcakes to receive the (hopefully eventually) cool filling, and trimmed and halved each pale gold circle of cake so there would be four approximately even layers to each one.  Unable to stand it any longer, I took the butter and mascarpone cheese out of the refrigerator to soften.

What I made, when I made it, was not my best batch of buttercream.  Remember the one from June that I made at my mom’s house?  Remember the sharp edges and beautiful, smooth consistency?  This one was a step backward.  It was clumpy.  It was grainy.  It was so, so sweet.  If I were a professional baker, I would have thrown out the whole thing and started again.  But I’m not.  I’m a home-trained amateur, and though I took into account everything I’d taught myself over the past six months and continued to beat and beat and add more lime juice and beat, at a certain point I had to frost something.  No worries, I thought, it’s just the crumb coat.  Just do the crumb coat, and it’ll be fine.  It was.  It worked exactly like a crumb coat should.  After piping a generous circle of frosting around the top edge of each layer and spooning in a nice puddle of filling, I stacked the cakes as evenly as I could.  I scraped on the crumb coat, catching moist, delicate, champagne-flavored bits, and as I finished each cake I returned them carefully to the fridge so this first all-important layer of icing could harden. 

In the meantime, I filled and frosted the cupcakes with careful swirls.  Contrary to my most recent performance, these did not come out in sharp rosettes.  In fact, a few of them threatened to plump into blobs.  But I administered a careful sprinkling of blue sugar anyway, and shoved them, too, into the fridge to think about what they’d done.

A new batch of buttercream was now required.  And I was out of mascarpone cheese.  As always, this was more of a challenge than I’d anticipated.  It was nearing 4pm, the rehearsal dinner was in less than 3 hours, and I wasn’t done yet.  Okay, just go and buy some more mascarpone.  The grocery store two blocks from us didn’t have any.  The grocery store on the south side of town did, but it was a different brand, a higher price, and a looser consistency.  And cold.  Deep breath.  Beat its brains out.  This batch was, admittedly, a bit better than the first, but still not the smooth creamy perfection I’d achieved in June.  But it was what I had.  I would deal.  It was just frosting.  I could conquer it.

When I finished the first cake – the 8” one, I think – I called N. in to have a look.  “Be honest,” I said to him, “does this look decent?”  We agreed that while it wasn’t great, it was probably passable.  I pressed on to the 9”.  When this one was done, I felt my stomach sinking.  Yes, I had carefully covered the crumb coat, and yes, I had dipped my spatula in hot water and let it glide carefully and quickly over the surface when I was finished to smooth things out, but I could see tiny chunks of butter in the mixture.  I could see where the icing wasn’t absolutely smooth.  There were dents and cracks and, inevitably, the indentation of my knuckle from a moment of carelessness.  I filled that one in.  By the time the 6” cake was done, I was almost ready to cry.  It looked the best of the three (practice is important, people), but I was tired and disappointed with myself and worried that the bride and groom would second-guess their choice.  Still, all that could be done was to carefully deposit them back into the fridge, try in vain to scrub the blue dye from the blue sprinkles off my hands, and go to the rehearsal dinner.  The detail work, which I’d never had time to practice, would have to wait until morning…

Just peeking in…

Hello friends.  Is the world still the same place?  I’ve been offline for a full week now, as part of my move from Oregon to California.  I’m now settled somewhere in Los Angeles, my eyes startled by constant sun, my ears tender against the sounds of traffic, my taste buds clamoring to explore.  I am working on a post – I’m tremendously behind, I know – and  I have things to share with you like cobb salad with glazed bacon, and homemade crackers, and a recipe for rosemary and orange zested white bean dip I can’t stop thinking about.  Oh, and the little wedding cake thing I made a few weekends ago…

But all that takes time.  And there are still boxes everywhere I look.  So just as a taster, to keep your appetites primed, here’s a glimpse or two of how my big project turned out:


Back with more soon…

The Buttercream Project, part 6

Buttercream and I are getting more comfortable with each other (and we’d better be, since the wedding is in one week.  One week!).  To prove this to myself, and because my family was clamoring for a taste of the cake I’ve been practicing for so long, I made a batch of wedding cupcakes while visiting my parents a few weeks ago.  My mom acted as sous chef, and we produced a batch together that will, thanks to time slipping away from me, serve as my final practice before I execute the real thing at the end of this coming week.

This practice run was an exercise in slight changes.  Not only did I not have cake flour to work with, or as many raspberries as I wanted for the filling, or enough champagne to add to the fruit compote, I was also working with a new oven, new tools (my mom has an electric mixer, but not a KitchenAid stand mixer, which is what I use at home), and a new friend: I’ve upgraded cameras.  I’m now (mostly) shooting with a Nikon D3100, a fantastic graduation gift courtesy of my folks.  It’s amazing.  I love it.  But I digress…

With regular instead of cake flour, the baking time needed to be increased by a minute or two (science-types: why might this be?  Does it take longer for regular flour to absorb liquids than cake flour?), and in my impatience, a few of the cupcakes fell in the middle and remained a bit gummy.  Initially this upset me, but the wonderful thing about filling is that you hollow out the center of the cupcake, which eliminated any underbaked batter completely.

My mom dipped apricots in a boiling bath so she could slip them easily out of their skins, and she chopped them up in a medium dice to add to the mush of raspberries we had available, water, a small drift of sugar, and a generous splash of dry white wine.  We cooked this down for at least half an hour, then poured off some of the remaining liquid and cooked it a bit more. What was left was the consistency of loose jam, and pleasantly melon-colored.  To be honest, though the combination was nice and the filling tasted fine with the cupcakes, I think it could have benefited from less cooking time and less sugar.

Baked, cooled, hollowed and filled, the cupcakes just needed their final element: perhaps the tastiest nemesis anyone has ever had.  I only let the butter and mascarpone cheese soften for half an hour or so.  In my mom’s summer kitchen, it was in the low 70s and the butter had a slight give at the press of a finger, but was not as achingly soft as it would be for chocolate chip cookies.  This seemed to be the right move.  It whipped together with the cheese easily and well – no large clumps of butter, no separation of fat from liquid.  I added powdered sugar a half cup at a time, as I’ve been doing, this time through my mom’s sifter, an ancient, squeaky-creaky crank-powered tube of tin.  Only one tablespoon of milk trickled in, and then I had a stroke of genius.  The problem with this frosting – the problem I’ve been searching in vain for ways to combat without compromising the texture – is that it’s too sweet.  Sitting in a wicker basket on the counter next to me was a large, juicy lime.  What would happen if we whipped a little lime juice into the frosting?

Revelation.  The good kind.  Just a tablespoon of lime juice and the frosting already tasted less sweet.  Another tablespoon and it was markedly less saccharine, but still no citrus flavor overwhelmed it, and it piped on beautifully in both swirls and curlie-cues.  This is an experiment to be repeated.  In a week.  One week.