Shown from their good side, the few that survived a cavalcade of failure; Fresh Apple Cupcakes with Swissamon Buttercream.
When you first fall in love, everything is perfection. Your hair is always neat, your clothes are always pressed, and you are never anything less than your wittiest, cutest, most capable and charming self.
Which brings me to this week. This week I have been a mess. The cold I thought I had long been rid of walloped me upside the head Monday morning; I was back to comfy clothes and congestion. A portrait of prettiness, indeed.
But this week planned to be special; it is the first Valentine's Day that Benjamin truly understands, and William's first ever. So despite everything, on Monday we made stained glass windows out of crayons and waxed paper, on Tuesday we made cards and banners and cutout hearts. Our tables were lost under pencil crayons and safety scissors, ribbons and rickrack, doilies and glue.
And then Wednesday we made cupcakes. With the intention of sending some of our sweet sentiments to our family and friends, I thought we would bake them early and have them ready to deliver on the days leading up to St. Valentine's.
I should have known better, and quit while I was ahead. All of our crafty endeavours had progressed with nary a hitch; all was bedazzled and beautiful, and I could have easily stopped the festive preparations there.
But no. I had wanted to do something specifically-special for our Valentine, our most favourite person in the whole wide world - Daddy. Daddy loves cupcakes, Mummy loves baking, Ben loves frosting and Will is often mesmerized by the whir of the stand mixer. It all seemed simple enough.
Oh, how I was wrong.
Maybe it was the sinus infection causing some sort of pressure on my brain that totally relieved me of my good sense, but I illogically thought it would be a grand idea to not only bake, but also create a new cake especially for my dear husband.
The flavours were easy to decide upon; apple and cinnamon - Sean's favourites. And while those flavours are old-fashioned and lovely, I did not want an old-fashioned sort of taste. I am already looking ahead to spring, and so I wanted a cake that was fresh and light, with a cloud of delicate frosting as its crown. Dark and decadent was not my aim; I wanted to capture the tart tang of an apple when you first bite into it. I wanted to set aside the sweet, deep resonance of slow-cooked apple pie or cobbler. Bright, twangy. That's what I wanted.
After days of reading over other recipes, I improvised my own. A barely-cooked applesauce formed the base, with lemon and sour cream highlighting that acidity. Cake flour was there for ethereal texture, and just enough butter to add a hint of richness. Perfection.
And then things started to go wrong. After making the batter I realized that I had the wrong size of liner for my muffin trays. I knew the batter would not wait for the required trip to the market for replacements, so I foolheartedly forged ahead, measuring and scooping, filling my 24 ill-fitting cupcake liners neatly.
Although my good sense knew better, I convinced myself that these little cakes could magically defy the laws of physics and remain upright even without sufficient support. I popped them into the oven and sent up a silent prayer, hoping that somehow they would bake up prettily.
Ten minutes later, I returned to the kitchen for a peek in the oven; one look, and I knew I was in trouble. Without the proper structure surrounding them, the cakes had risen unevenly; some cakes had crested over their liners and were oozing lazily across the tin, while others had simply given up any attempt to stand upright, instead sagging in on themselves rather sadly.
Undaunted, I rotated the trays and let them bake until done. Maybe all would end well.
Summoned by the timer, I returned to the kitchen to experience the most fabulous of scents; buttery, vanilla-scented air greeted me. It smelled gorgeous. Unfortunately, when I opened the oven door, not everything looked as good as it smelled. Most of the cakes were okay, some even fine, but others were especially Suessian in their looks.
It was of these skewed morsels that I split open to share with Benjamin to try. As we bit into our cake, still warm from the oven, I watched as his face lit up with pride and delight. The cupcake was delicious.
Tender, moist and with subtle apple coming through, the taste was perfect.
I had already planned my frosting, a Swiss meringue buttercream accented with cinnamon; maybe icing could cover my multitude of sins. I could feel that my energy was waning but, buoyed by the cupcakes (or perhaps a sugar rush), I tackled the recipe with gusto and fingers crossed that if I hurried, I would could hold off my cold symptoms until everything was finished.
To rush is to fail when it comes to certain things. Swiss meringue buttercream is one of those things. In my haste, I did not allow the meringue to completely cool before adding my butter; there was enough residual heat in the bowl to turn the frosting from a marshmallow-y mass to a melted mess. The fat turned liquid, and the meringue deflated under the weight.
That's when I walked away from the kitchen for a few hours.
Batch number two came together later in the evening, and without incident. Due to the crooked tops of a few of the cakes, some of my swirls were comically slanted when frosted. Nevertheless, these fairy cakes had their own whimsical charm that had me smitten.
And that is when the final disaster struck. I was lifting the cupcakes off the counter when I inexplicably lost all co-ordination and stumbled, losing my grip on their tray in the process. The cakes were not dropped from a great height, mind you, but from just enough that a few bumped their brethren; just enough that those then tumbled sideways, squashing their curlicued peaks into flattened plateaus.
Hearing my startled yelp, Benjamin ran over to see what was the matter. He saw the tray, surveyed them thoroughly and declared with a grin, "I love these cupcakes. Can I have one please?"
The way he looked at me, I felt brilliant.
Being a Mummy has taught me many things. It has taught me what blocks make the tallest towers, the words to The Gruffalo by heart, speedy tricks for effective stain removal, that baby giggles trump alarm clocks, that kisses can make most boo-boos better and that disheveled hair and smeared frosting will not stop some people from thinking that you're nifty.
Thank goodness for that. Happy Valentine's Day.
* Anyone with small children in their lives might recognize the title; it is the last line from the book Olivia (Atheneum/Anne Schwartz Book, 2000) by Ian Falconer.
Fresh Apple Cupcakes with Swissamon Buttercream
The title is a bit kitch, but Valentine's Day deserves a bit of fun.
As this was the first time I have made this recipe, and since the results tasty but inconsistent, I am going to hold off from publishing the details just yet. I will be sure to share once I have tried it again and everything is just right.