Archive for the ‘Chocolate’ Category

Happy Small Birthday

Chocolate Peanut Birthday Cake

Chocolate Peanut Birthday Cake

I recently had the pleasure of celebrating yet another birthday. I turned thirty-three, an age I chose because I enjoy the alliteration. (I received multiple Hallmark birthday greetings exhorting me to “do” whatever I want, after all, “…it’s your birthday!” I’m “doing” thirty-three. Thank you to Hallmark for the de facto permission slips.)

If you detect the slightest note of bitterness in my tone I will confess that I am not a big birthday guy. I don’t go around crowing, “Next Wednesday is my birthday! Yaaaay!” Just not my style. For me, birthdays help to tick the box on the following tasks: 1. Eat chocolate. 2. Check my surroundings and the overhead compartment to make sure I am still vertical, a/k/a breathing, a/k/a alive. Check. Double check.

The great thing about these reduced expectations is that I enjoy other peoples’ birthdays in a proportion equal to my own if not more—again, if there’s chocolate, and I’m still breathing, and they’re older.

On the surface it would seem ironic that I enjoy baking birthday cakes for my friends, but again, that simply ensures a socially acceptable source of chocolate consumption. Furtive chocolate consumption can be so…dreary. (Dreary is such a great word, but hard to use without sounding, well, dreary.)

Speaking of cake, a few months ago I got together with four or five friends to celebrate one of their birthdays. Someone had stopped by Magnolia Bakery and bought an enormous chocolate cake with frosting the color of a yellow highlighter. It was absolutely delicious. But the cake was so big that even after we all had seconds there was still enough left over for many, many more birthday boys and girls. I love birthday cake, but even a glutton like me has limits.

This is a scene repeated at birthday celebrations around the globe. Birthday revelers circled around a table, pointy hats perched jauntily on their heads, playing a game of, “Have another piece!”/ “No you have another piece.”/ “PLEASE, I’m just going to throw the rest away!”

Well, I’m here to end this game once and for all.

Here’s my proposal: I insist that it is easier to bake a little birthday cake than it is to bake a big birthday cake. Big cakes make you think of big metal pans, drums of frosting, and an endlessly whirling stand mixer.

But my little birthday cake concept is much more relaxed. Let’s break it down, shall we?

This is one time when baking from scratch has a clear advantage over a mix. When you bake from scratch you actually can scale down a recipe to make a smaller cake. Using a mix you are locked in to one or two pan sizes. While you could perhaps bake half a box of mix, the question would remain what to do with the other half? My easy chocolate cake recipe can be made with a big bowl and a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.

Paper Panetone Molds

Paper Panetone Molds

Okay let’s talk pans shall we? I don’t have the nerve to insist that you should go out and buy five inch cake pans. (Martha would, but she and I run in different circles.) Instead, I recommend paper Panetone molds which will break the bank at approximately fifty cents a piece. Admittedly this is not a green solution. You use them once then toss them. But you won’t have to worry about your cake sticking to the pan.

So, the cake is done, but what about the frosting? For that thick, creamy, sugary frosting don’t you need a mixer? Fear not mixer-less folk! I have a magic ingredient. Sweetened Condensed Milk is a worthy short cut—yes, you may think I am taking a page from Sandra Lee, but the end result is too noble, and…uh, addictive for it to be offensive. It is a bit wholesome, and will pull together and smooth out the few other ingredients you’ll need to make frosting. (Like a Kitchen Aid in a can!)

I toyed with this concept for a while. Too much sugar? Too much fat? Then it dawned on me: this is cake frosting we’re talking about. It’ll never be health food.

As it happens, peanut butter is one of my favorite foods, and combining it with chocolate makes my heart sing. My Chocolate Peanut Butter frosting is worthy of the most important birthday on your list. It also tastes like something from an old-fashioned ice cream and confectionary shop, so if cake isn’t on your mind, warm it a bit and pour it over some ice cream.

Finally, don’t be afraid of decorating the cake. Just spread half the frosting between the layers and spread half the frosting on top. Don’t fret about getting the sides just right; Leave the sides naked to the breeze. Even cake maven Rose Levy Beranbaum endorses this concept for its relaxing informality.

But don’t forget the candles. Thirty three. Yes. That’s all.

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Here’s the Chocolate Peanut Butter frosting recipe.

And here’s the All Occasion Chocolate Cake recipe.

And here’s more information about the paper Panetone molds. (Available at Sur La Table.)

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

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The first tweet of spring!

Downton Seder

Flourless Chocolate Napoleons

Flourless Chocolate Napoleons

It should come as no surprise that I am an unapologetic Downton Abbey addict. I was a huge soap opera addict too. If any of the words you’re about to read appear smudged it is because I am still teary-eyed over the loss of One Life to Live. The latter has only been gone since January 13, yet I continue to stare longingly at the list of scheduled recordings on my DVR praying for a miraculous return from the dead (hey, this is after all soap opera we’re discussing. Anything can happen…)

Downton Abbey was a wonderful diversion from my loss, although it was a bit like being given one of those tiny four-piece boxes of Godiva chocolates when you are used to having an enormous Hershey’s with Almonds: it’s delicious, but gone in a blink. Are you sneering derisively at my choice of programming? That, chum, was part of the fun of being a soap fan, so there. If you have any illusions about Downton Abbey, let me help you out: it is a SOAP OPERA. All caps. Period. That’s why you loved it and can’t wait for it to return.

Part of its distinction is the amazing attention to detail that goes into its production. Predictably, my eye is drawn toward the many dinner table and kitchen scenes—seemingly more than most shows. The kitchen and the cooks, Mrs. Patmore and young Daisy, figure prominently in every episode. The folks upstairs eat a lot, and they eat well.

I have always been fascinated by the women who ran the kitchens in those houses. They were from a class of society where they had to “go into service.” Mrs. Patmore is portrayed stereotypically as a bit of a drudge: short, stout, and frowsy. (In fact, Lesley Nichol, the actress who portrays Mrs. Patmore, recently joked in an interview that when she reported to friends that she’d been cast in a sort of upstairs / downstairs series she replied to the question “Which one are you?” with the answer, “What do you think?”)

Yet, think about the skill, judgment, and knowledge required to do the job. I’m not talking about long hours here; walk into any contemporary restaurant kitchen and you’ll see folks putting in some mighty long days. I’m talking about the juggling needed. The Mrs. Patmores of the world fed the folks upstairs and downstairs, and did so while keeping within the budget set by the folks upstairs. You can be sure that she planned every menu around what was available seasonally and had to be able to credibly prepare meals that more than pleased the master and his wife—even if the meal was hunted by the master on the estate (would you know what to do with mutton?)

You can also be sure that special occasions had to be met with a worldly, well-informed eye keeping up with what the more fashionable houses were serving; not just any cake would do for dessert. If Lord and Lady So-And-So served it you did too.

(Okay, yes, perhaps I get too involved with these stories. But good story-telling does that to me.)

So I was thinking it might be fun to bake something in tribute to Downton Abbey and Mrs. Patmore (geek!). I’ve also been on a jag about baking stuff that is Passover friendly and gluten-free. Hopefully there’ll be chocolate involved. (No calories or fat would be even better; alas I’m not a magician.)

Flourless Chocolate cake is certainly nothing new in either the gluten-free or Passover realms. It’s a good idea, but it’s been around the block enough times that it could already use a new outlook.

Surely a woman like Mrs. Patmore was no stranger to the roulade and the genoise. These are cakes that rely on air beaten into the eggs for their leavening rather than baking soda or baking powder and are more what we associate with European-style cakes or tortes than the big fluffy monsters (and I use that as a term of endearment) we bake.

Yes, there is usually flour involved, but eggs are sturdy little creations and if you ask them nicely and treat them with respect they’ll do triple duty for you by adding moisture, structure, and lift to cakes, giving flour the day off. Roulade is baked in a small sheet pan—a jelly roll pan—convenient because roulade is filled with jelly and rolled…usually.

But I have other plans for it.

Rolling a roulade can be fussy. My roulade (chocolate by the way) is simply turned out of the pan and cut into shapes with a knife. You could also pull out your trusty biscuit cutter and make little individual layered tortes…drizzle a touch of lukewarm ganache on top.

I stuck with something I thought Mrs. Patmore would be proud of, Napoleons. I piped a bit of sweetened vanilla whipped cream between two layers of the roulade, and finished with fresh raspberries and dusted the whole affair with confectioner’s sugar.

Gluten- free Passover at Downton Abbey anyone?

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Here’s the Flourless Chocolate Roulade recipe

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

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Tweet this Masterpiece…

Holiday baking with Sneezy

Gluten-free Chocolate Krinkles

fudgy, chewy, and gluten free...

I am no stranger to allergies; I am a drippy-nosed, scratchy-throated, itchy-eyed dweller of a city with questionable air quality. Snow White called me the other day to ask if I’d fill in for Sneezy while he has some minor surgery. (Rim shot. Heigh Ho…)

My glamorous self-portrait aside, I was baking Christmas cookies the other day and realized that someone I admire very much cannot indulge because she is gluten intolerant. This is often referred to as an allergy, but it is actually the result of Celiac Disease which manifests itself by making the body unable to digest the gluten in bread, cake, and cookies. Clearly I have ignored these folks long enough; it’s time to invite them over to the cookie table, eh?

I completely understand. I don’t usually bake with real butter because it upsets my stomach. I use Earth Balance sticks, an excellent substitute, yet I recognize that some allowances need to be made to compensate for the various differences. As an example, I would never make a plain butter cookie with Earth Balance. No matter what they do to the stuff, it will never taste quite like real butter. Luckily—or perhaps because of this—I am drawn to treats with slightly more intense flavors. The latter, I think, is the key to baking without butter.

Call it gustatory sleight of hand if you like, but the fact is, if you draw attention to other flavors in a cookie, no one will notice or care about the lack of butter. (I should mention that I have no opinion about how healthy one type of fat is versus another. This is purely—and predictably—about my personal comfort.) I would only warn you to use caution with whatever product you use instead of butter; some do not match the fat-to-water ratio of butter and will compromise the texture of your baking. (Stay away from tub margarine and hedge your health bets by looking for something with non-hydrogenated oils and / or no trans-fats.)

Anyway, why reinvent the wheel? This sleight of hand philosophy can be applied to gluten-free baking as well. The trick is to find flour that will produce delicious cookies—not just good for gluten-free, but good AND gluten-free. This is not quite as straight forward as substituting Earth Balance for butter. Flour is a tricky item: even substituting different wheat flours can make a drastic difference in your baking. This can be caused by variations in the type of wheat, the grind, or even whether the flour was bleached—the latter is almost always the rule with cake flour.

Then there is gluten which is the product of the protein in wheat, barley, rye, and oats. Here’s the big problem: gluten is what makes bread, er, “bready”. It’s the magnificent “chew” in that baguette you just gnawed you way through while leaning over the sink so the calories wouldn’t count. (Yes, that’s how I think.) One of the reasons cake recipes often tell you to not over mix is so that you won’t over develop the gluten; in cakes and cookies you only want the protein for the structure it can lend the finished cake. Over mix that tender chocolate cake and you get rubber. That cupcake you just inhaled? Flour gave it its structure, sugar gave it its bulk.

Yeah, well, anyway, Merry Christmas, where are my cookies, you ask? Who are you: Santa with a couple million more chimneys to hit before the reindeers’ union mandated golden overtime kicks in?

Okay, I’ll cut to the chase. I found a flour called cup4cup which was created by Lena Kwak, of Thomas Keller’s famed The French Laundry restaurant. These folks seem to know what they are doing (!) so I decided this may be good flour for me to experiment with a bit of gluten-free baking. It is a mix of cornstarch, rice, milk powder, tapioca, and a few other healthy ingredients. The texture is powdery, similar to cake flour. Oh, by the way, it’s a little pricey; a three pound sack retails for $19.95.

I just needed a Christmas cookie with an intense flavor that would distract from any mischief the new flour may cause. A perfect candidate is Chocolate Krinkles, a dark, slightly chewy, chocolate cookie. The fudgy texture and flavor make this a cookie that is hard to ruin. (Put enough chocolate on a football and it would be delicious.)

My main concern, borne of many years using alternative ingredients for Passover baking was that the flour would smell funny (Passover flour often smells like wet paper when added to the wet ingredients.) I’m happy to report that other than a very powdery texture, cup4cup flour handles—at least in this recipe—just like all purpose flour. I’m even happier to report that a select group of associates did not notice anything amiss with the cookies and were genuinely surprised to learn that they were gluten free.

The folks who formulated the flour don’t recommend baking regular bread with the flour, but biscuits, brioche, quick breads, and anything that doesn’t have to rely on gluten for structure all seem like viable candidates. I’ll test a few out and let you know.

In the meantime my gluten-free friends can pack on some holiday pounds with the rest of us.

Ho ho ho…

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Here’s the recipe for the Gluten-free Chocolate Crinkles, along with information about where to purchase cup4cup flour. And don’t forget last week’s regular Gingerdoodles, both perfect for your holiday table.

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Here’s the link to the Butter Flour Eggs Holiday Cookie Baking Primer 101. It also includes a recipe for Chocolate Pepper Cookies and some technique and equipment suggestions. Don’t start your holiday baking without it!

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Holiday Tweets are gluten-free too!

It’s nice to be the King…

Bowl & Spoon Gingerbread

Bowl & Spoon Gingerbread

I hear this all the time: “Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it is not all about the gifts.”

I agree, except for the gift part. Wait! Don’t judge me. In the case of Thanksgiving, the meal is the gift we all give each other. If it is better to give than to receive, then on Thanksgiving we happily have both sides of that equation amply covered. If food is love, then the last Thursday in November finds us all swaddled in a pumkiny, sagey, sugary hug.

Still, the other side of the coin is that for the folks preparing and serving the meal the day can be an absolute test of endurance, skill, organization, and patience. For some of those folks the best thing about Thanksgiving is…the day after. “Fiddle-dee-dee.” (For the incredibly young, the latter is Scarlett O’Hara’s punctuation to the exhortation that tomorrow is another day. Google “Gone With The Wind.”)

My Thanksgiving is actually all about the Macy’s Parade. Even though I am a New Yorker and can easily walk just a few blocks to watch in person, I subscribe to a parade watching technique that I like to call “Warm/Hot”. Here’s how it works: I sit in my warm living room with a cup of hot coffee. There is also usually a restrained combination of toast/pancakes/waffles/eggs in the mix—diet be damned, but still not an oink-fest; there’s a big dinner coming up in just a few hours.

Thanksgiving must be pretty darned great for it to be my favorite holiday because it has one glaring omission: chocolate. Turkey is great and all, but I nominate chocolate as the national bird…uh, I mean, Thanksgiving meal. I look at it this way: your family sits down to a Turkey dinner and after every single American has finished the communal thought, “Mmmm. It’s good. For turkey…” the squabbling and bickering begins, the kids start running in circles, and your Dad falls asleep.

Now picture the same scene, except everyone is served a plate full of chocolate. Yes, the kids will be running in even faster circles, but after you’ve eaten a plate of chocolate, who cares? And the caffeine in the chocolate will keep your Dad awake. Squabbling? Bickering? After chocolate? No way. (And clean up would be a breeze.)

However, until I am King of the World and can unilaterally enact this change, I will respect the current traditions. But that doesn’t mean that I will have Thanksgiving sans chocolate. And because I am subversive I shall sneak it in.

Case in point: dessert. Yes, I realize that Milton Hershey did not arrive at Plymouth Rock before the Pilgrims, and therefore was not waiting to greet them with a bag of Hershey’s Kisses, and therefore Thanksgiving has forever been the provenance of pumpkins and cinnamon. All of this has been carried down through the years in the service of “seasonal flavors”. Is there a season when chocolate is inappropriate? Not when I am King of the World and living in the Cocoa Castle.

I’m not reinventing the wheel here. Folks have been peddling Chocolate Pecan Pie for eons. My recipe for Alfred Lunt’s Famous Pumpkin Pie has been heroically adding chocolate to Thanksgiving tables for hundreds of days. Why stop there? If I am to be King of the World I expect to have to earn the title through (easily attainable, moderately) good deeds. Let’s use a recent request for Gingerbread (the cake, not the cookie) as an example.

A friend asked if I would bake Gingerbread for her to take to her family’s Thanksgiving dinner. She explained that her Mother has a fondness for gingerbread, but because my friend lacked a full kitchen (ahhh, New York apartments…) she didn’t think this was attainable. Oh and one more itsy bitsy little thing; her Mother hates molasses. The latter makes no sense to me because molasses is intrinsic to Gingerbread. But my friend insisted that her Mother always made hers without the stuff.

That’s when everything fell into place for me. My friend has just a tiny kitchen. Her “stove” is a couple of burners and a countertop oven. But that countertop oven is really good. It’s a Breville convection oven and is probably better than the stove in my kitchen, just smaller. My friend has no excuses; she can bake the cake herself. She doesn’t have a Kitchen Aid mixer, so I’ll be giving her a Bowl & Spoon recipe. It’s quick, which makes it perfect for last minute holiday baking.

Gingerbread really is just a spice cake with molasses which adds the well-known darkness and smoke to the sugar. Without molasses you really just have spice cake, but let’s dispense with names for now, shall we?

Molasses is frustrating to me because you may use a tablespoon or two during the holiday baking season, and then you’re stuck with an almost-full bottle staring at you from its shelf for the rest of the year. If you ask me we’re well rid of it. The question is, what can we use to replace the robustness of its flavor? Chocolate. (You saw that coming.)

There are a couple of ways you can use the chocolate. The first is for a subtle addition of dark notes—a kinder, gentler molasses. The other way is to let the chocolate do what it does best: be chocolate. It really depends on your audience. Are they traditionalists? Or are they in line with me, the King of The World? (In line waiting for our chocolate, that is.)

If it’s subtlety you’re after, then grate a half cup of dark chocolate with a microplane and swirl this powdery black snow through the batter just before baking. It will disappear into the batter, leaving behind only the dark, “caramelly” flavor.

If you want your chocolate to scream its presence, then add a half cup of chocolate chips, and swirl them through the batter. You’ll get little pops of chocolate with each bite, and you’ll find the synergy between the ginger and the chocolate to be a happy surprise.

(Yes, I know the microplane is a piece of equipment someone with a limited kitchen may not have, but they are cheap and can be used for everything from chocolate to shaved ice. You’ll get more mileage from a microplane than from a bottle of molasses.)

You can see from the photo that I finished my cake with a bit of powdered sugar, and a few grains of autumn-colored sanding sugar. But plain ‘ole whipped cream will be a hit, especially if you used the chocolate chips. If you happen to use whipped cream from the can, just don’t tell me. And for heaven’s sake don’t start a whipped cream fight or tell anyone you got the idea to do so from me. Unless you bring a can for everyone.

Happy Thanksgiving. Eat well, and be thankful for your bounty.

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Here’s the recipe for Bowl & Spoon Gingerbread.

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Keep these other Thanksgiving recipes in mind:

Maple Walnut Sticky Buns

Cranberry Sauce

Parker House Rolls

Anadama Bread

Baked Indian Pudding

Alfred Lunt’s Famous Pumpkin Pie

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Thankful for your tweets too.

Gold Star

Mocha Lady Fingers

a treat for breakfast or later...

There used to be a TV commercial for Stella d’Oro cookies that was based on an ages-old Borscht Belt sketch.

(And, it goes a little something…like this:)

(The scene: a typical upper middle class suburban home. The husband enters.)

Husband:  Darling! I’m home! Where are you?

Unseen Wife:  (a slightly muffled off stage voice) I’m hiding!

Husband:  (Looking around, trying to guess her hiding place) Darling I’m home! I brought you flowers! Where are you?

Unseen Wife:  (still a slightly muffled off stage voice) I’m hiding!

Husband:  Darling I’m home! I brought you flowers!  And Stella d’Oro cookies! Where are you?

Unseen Wife:  (opens the door slightly) I’m hiding! In the front closet!

(In the original sketch the husband was bringing the Mrs. a diamond bracelet. That would open a few closet doors in my neighborhood.)

How many times have you walked by the Stella d’Oro display at the supermarket? Funny the stuff you take for granted. I haven’t been to the East End of Boston for many years (Go Eastie!) but many years ago I somehow found myself standing in a bakery in that part of town. (Me? In a bakery?)

This was one of those places where you walk in and think, “Ah, this is the real deal.” They could have used it as a location for “The Godfather.” I remember buying a few slices of Anisette Toast and thinking (brainiac that I am) “Ohhh, like Stella d’Oro.” Time has not diminished my gratitude to whatever god of silence prevented me from saying that out loud.

Stella d’Oro was actually a local New York City brand. What may have started as a little taste of Arthur Avenue and baked just a few miles up the road from me in the Bronx is now baked in North Carolina.

(Out of towners are now thinking, “Ohhhhh, that’s what the Bronx was for.”)

I am someone who is a sucker for a wrapper with a few foreign words. But during all those oblivious trips past the Stella d’Oro display it has never occurred to yours truly that I was usually ignoring a product whose pedigree was also “the real deal.” In the same way that the formerly ethnic bagel became mainstream, Stella d’Oro’s goodies lost their Bronx-Italian identity and became just another cookie (or bread stick.) You can take the cookie out of the Bronx; can you take the Bronx out of the cookie? I don’t have an answer.

For, as much as I’d like to rip the crinkly cello off a package of Breakfast Treats and pretend that I am eating something baked by my (very imaginary) Italian grandmother, what I really must do is appreciate the cookie itself, the baker’s art that went into it, rather than some romanticized ethnicity that I painted on it for my amusement.

The humble Breakfast Treat is really nothing more than a generously-sized, lightly Anise-scented lady finger. Lady fingers belong to a group of items baked from the recipe commonly referred to as “biscuit” (pronounced, biskwee). Things like jelly roll and sponge are cut from that same cloth. How this differs from other cakes and cookies is that the air beaten into the egg whites is the only leavener used. The only fat is usually whatever is in the egg yolks. While perhaps not as tender as chemically-leavened cakes, biscuit is another “real deal.” It requires a little technique—although with a stand mixer the only real technique may be knowing when to turn the mixer off. More importantly, it calls back to a time before chemical leaveners like baking powder which have only been in widespread use since the early 1800s.

I love baking this kind of stuff. It really asks that you pay attention to what you’re doing. There are a few steps, and a couple of bowls—and one bowl is used, washed, dried, and re-used. But I still think it is easier than pie crust.

To celebrate the humble Breakfast Treat / Lady Finger / biscuit, I decided to make my own. Should I channel my (very much imaginary) Italian Grandmother or add my own little style? What the heck: Granny had her shot, and she “did good.” I’m gonna do my own thing. Out with the anise, in with the coffee and cocoa. Hey why not? They’re breakfast treats, and that’s when I drink coffee. And I’ll put chocolate on just about anything.

Be warned: Lady Fingers are usually piped through a pastry bag. Don’t worry about it. As you can see from the picture above, you can just as easily make little round cookies by dropping a bit of dough from a teaspoon. Here are a couple of easy hints: whip the egg yolks until thick, pale, and creamy. Err on the side of over beating them. The egg whites are a different story. Whip just until they hold a peak when you pull the beater out of the bowl. Err on the side of slightly under beating. Over beaten egg whites will “curdle” and dry out.

Granted these aren’t a “rock your world” cookie. They’re mildly sweet which is what makes them breakfast friendly, but you can easily dress them for dinner by drizzling melted chocolate on top or just dipping them halfway. I’m even going to experiment on the next batch by sprinkling a touch of almond praline powder on top before they bake to give them just the kiss of a sweet, crunchy glaze.

Do you think they’d approve in “Eastie”?

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Click here for the recipe for Mocha Lady Fingers.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

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If it’s sweets you must send Tweets…

Who?

Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes

No special occasion needed...

Some years ago I was invited to a party at the home of a close friend. When I arrived I made the usual and expected round of “Hellos” to all the people I knew at the party. My greetings included those to one who would best be described as a friend of a friend. She extended a disinterested hand and introduced herself as one would to someone you’d never met. Polite.

Unfortunately we’d played this little charade more times than I am comfortable mentioning. I had met this individual for the “first time” enough times that I don’t have enough fingers to keep count. I was seemingly purged from her memory after each meeting like the contents of your computer’s recycle bin. No recollection at all. Yet, I knew her name, both of her husbands’ names, how many kids she had, and a vague idea of their ages.

After another friend who witnessed this scene picked her jaw up from the floor we recovered nicely and had a nice party.

The next day I called the close friend who had proffered the invitation to thank him for his hospitality and in a moment of fed up candor let fly with the opinion that his friend was a dope. (Yes, I may have used a more explicit compound word.)

He offered some weak excuses for his friend that mainly revealed an acknowledgement and acceptance of her social shortcomings…her “problem” as he called it. He’s simply not a judgmental person. Rather than feeling slighted by this, I actually ended up wishing that I could be less judgmental.

Through the years the same scenario has happened to me a couple of other times with a couple of other people. I may be getting to the age that I just don’t care anymore. Wait. No. I’m not quite there yet. It still rankles and still doesn’t answer the question: if I remember you, why don’t you remember me?

Conversely, a few years ago I was at the theater seeing an awful play. I stepped outside to the street to use my phone. After I finished my conversation I turned to head back into the theater and was stopped by a smiling man who looked at me and yelled, “Bobby!” It took a moment to register that he was talking to me because my name is not Bobby. (Never has been.)

I shrugged, “Sorry, I think you have the wrong guy” and continued into the theater. But he persisted and followed me. In the brighter light of the lobby I could see he wasn’t some unhinged homeless man on a chemically induced field trip. He was nicely dressed, clean, and looked more than a little bit insulted.

“Are you sure you’re not Bobby Smith?”

Taking refuge amongst the theater’s front-of-house staff, I avowed, “Oh, yeah” but the man remained unconvinced—skeptical perhaps that a long lost friend was either playing a joke on him, or had entered the witness protection program.

It was at this point that one of us entered “The Twilight Zone” because he asked me to prove my identity by showing him my driver’s license. Luckily the gentleman was otherwise persuaded that I was, indeed, not Bobby, and departed.

(Actually, I think in part he was intimidated by one of the tougher looking ushers who was giving him the evil eye. I wouldn’t have wanted to mess with her either.)

Tall, bald, bespectacled, and what my grandmother used to call “hamish”: here in New York we are a rather interchangeable, dime-a-dozen crowd. Legions of us swarm the city taking each other’s Bar exams, drug tests, and marriage vows when the real guy is unavoidably detained or just off fishing. Will the real Bobby Smith please stand up?

And what of my insistent pursuer of mistaken identities? One could make a few guesses about him: unacknowledged poor eyesight…unobservant…perhaps he assembles the “no fly” lists for the TSA? Poor Bobby Smith (or is it Smythe?). With friends like that…

The ironic soundtrack to this little documentary is Nat King Cole singing “Unforgettable.” (Use the version where they superimposed his daughter’s voice to create a duet. It’ll be easier to cross cut the film.)

It seems to me that the world may be divided into two groups: the first group looks at you, remembers you, and files you away in the appropriate area of their cortex to be recalled at will by the human brain’s amazing face recognition system. The other, much smaller, group lacks the ability to retain this information. It is to those poor, sad, souls that we must extend a hand to help them through the lunar landscape of social interaction.

Advertising copywriters have been addressing this problem for years in perfume ads. There’s even a perfume named “Unforgettable.” This is all based on the theory that the whiff of a perfume will implant itself in the cortex along with other memories of you. If the proximity is close enough, sometimes it really does work.

Some of us just aren’t the perfume type. That’s why they invented the chocolate cupcake. While we cannot wear cupcakes, we can bring them to work or to friends. There’s no need for a special occasion—we’ll create memories nonetheless. Someone will always remember you. Just play it very cool. “Oh, those? I had a few minutes so I threw them together.”

You won’t be lying. The recipe is part of my Bowl & Spoon program. No mixer is needed, even for the ganache frosting. They mix together quickly, and to frost them you only need to dip the tops in the ganache: no frosting technique is needed. If you can dunk, you’re in.

BTW: if you know Bobby Smith tell him that some guy who looks like the actor Kevin Pollack was looking for him.

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Click here for the recipe for Bowl & Spoon All-Occasion Chocolate Cupcakes.

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Classical Education

Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have an easy answer to the question, “If you were trapped on a deserted island and could only choose one food what would it be?”

My answer is chocolate chip cookies. I don’t even have to think about it. I am known within my family circle as “the cookie monster”. Do you require further proof?

Warning: this means that I am no pushover when it comes to chocolate chip cookies. I have tasted them all—indeed, with a sense of duty—and have developed a vocabulary of preferences. My choices may not agree with yours, but hey, this is my sun-parched trip to the deserted cookie jar.

My grandmother used to reward my angelic behavior by asking, “Mikey, do you want a cookie?” The singularity of this offering makes me laugh now, but the fact is, that’s how we used to roll. If I was particularly good (always!), I was offered a second cookie. I never felt cheated or deprived; in those days I don’t think it ever occurred to anyone to feed a five or six year old more than one or two cookies at a throw.

Those cookies were grueling for my Grandmother to prepare. But her hard work was my first bit of kitchen education. Granny taught me just the right way to use your thumbnail to cut through the waxed paper that wrapped the box, without having to remove the entire wrapper. (Those were the days before cookies and crackers were packaged to survive Armageddon.)

(Uh-oh. I imagine my Grandmother is looking down at me right now, peeved that her bit of kitchen magic has been revealed. For free.)

Oh, I kid Granny. Actually, I grew up at a funny time. Moms still baked, but convenience foods presented such an undeniable novelty that folks naturally gravitated toward them. The first home baked cookies I actually remember eating were the Pillsbury “slice and bake” cookies. As a kid I liked them, and why not? You smelled them baking. They were warm and a little gooey. As they cooled they set up and got a bit crispy.

Then all heck broke loose. Chocolate chip cookies became big business. Companies opened chains of store-front cookie-only bakeries. My favorites were the freshly-baked Famous Amos cookies they used to sell at Bloomingdales. These were a universe away from the packaged ones sold under that name now. (Wally Amos lost control of the company early on via a bad business deal. Sad for him, sadder still for me. Yes, when it comes to chocolate chip cookies it’s all about me.)

Peggy Lawton Choco Chip cookies

Peggy Lawton Choco Chip cookies

Up in New England we had a great regional brand of packaged cookies. Peggy Lawton Choco-Chip cookies were—are— a deli and convenience store staple. The ubiquity of Peggy Lawtons causes folks to take them for granted. Are they a great cookie? Let’s call them “best in class.” Yes, Peggy Lawtons are a factory-made cookie. But allow me to answer the “great cookie” question thusly: whenever I make chocolate chip cookies I think of them. I begged a friend visiting Massachusetts to smuggle some back to New York for me. Your taste buds sometimes trump logic. Granted, some folks may bite into a Peggy Lawton and say, “I don’t get it.” I simply shrug my shoulders and say, “De gustibus non est disputandum, baby.” (There’s no use arguing about taste…baby.)

As I got older and my knowledge of ingredients, baking (and latin) increased I, like most home bakers, went through my Toll House cookie phase. I consider this to be baking adolescence, for one soon learns to rebel against the Nestle recipe. It starts slow: a few walnuts here, a little coconut there, and soon you’ve created “your” cookie.

I’m not a big fan of the basic Toll House recipe—too soft and too cakey for me—but it does represent a really great jumping off point. Over the years I’ve added all sorts of extra ingredients to make my own version—always with Peggy Lawton and Famous Amos in the back of my head. I’ve added walnuts, or almonds, sometimes peanuts. I’ve used different types of chocolate, including chopping my own from a big block. The really good news is that you can’t mess up the basic Toll House recipe unless you burn it.

These past few weeks I have started presenting a series of basic recipes that do not require a stand mixer, just a bowl and spoon. The further good news about homemade chocolate chip cookies is that they fit the bowl and spoon profile. Of course, mine are a bit different than what you may expect.

The first difference is that I do not use butter, I use butter substitute. Note that I have not used the “m” word—margarine. I use the term butter substitute because many margarine products have less fat and more water, which may cause cookie failure. So, look for products that, like butter, have 11 grams of fat per tablespoon. (I like Earth Balance which is made from healthy fats. My aversion to butter? It gives me a tummy ache. I’m being delicate.)

You can use butter, but there will be some differences, the most notable being that cookies made with butter do not spread as much as they bake.

My biggest variance from the basic Toll House recipe is that I use exactly one half of the butter called for. This takes the focus off of the butter and puts it onto the sugar, resulting in a crisper cookie.

The only real adjustment you must make to the basic Toll House recipe when preparing with bowl and spoon is that that butter or butter substitute must be warm and soft, otherwise you’ll never be able to mix all the ingredients into a cohesive dough.

For the cookies in the picture above, I used milk chocolate chips and slivered almonds. Milk chocolate chips make a big difference: they are so mellow that they blend with the strong caramel flavors of the cookie dough. Feel free to use the expected semi sweet chips, but invest the extra dollar or so in really good chocolate. I used Ghirardelli chips. Whole Foods also sells Guittard, another premium brand. You’ll taste a difference.

Semper chocolatum!

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Click here for the recipe for Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies.

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Another Bowl and Spoon “thing”

Tiger-Stripe Brownies

Tiger-Stripe Brownies

I come from a long line of politically incorrect folk, on both sides. Maybe it’s my whole Massachusetts liberal “thing” that makes me, perhaps, a bit too acutely aware of these transgressions? But there’s no escaping it. I had an aunt whose cleaning woman was named “Brownie.” But “Brownie” was white, so go figure that one out. Auntie is long gone so I can’t ask her why her white cleaning woman was named “Brownie”, and I can’t ask my Mother; she just rolls her eyes at the mention of Auntie. (I think that has to do with a sister-in-law “thing”.)

(Oh, my. Another Aunt had one of those lawn jockey sculptures in front of her house. During the civil rights movement in the ‘60’s she painted his face white. That Aunt is long gone too, but for all I know the lawn jockey is still there holding his lamp up to his blushing pale face. )

(I could ask my Mother about that too, but I know her answer would be something along the lines of, “She did? My goodness, what a memory you have…”)

Seems to me that the Brownie—and by that I mean the fudgy, chocolate bar cookie— has been teetering on the edge of all sorts of moral decrepitude for ages now. Freud said, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” but the foul whiff of bathroom humor has also hung over Brownies for me ever since I went to summer camp as a kid. You fill in the blanks on that one. I don’t write that kind of humor. (That would be caused by an uptight liberal “thing”.)

Yet, what are we going to call the Brownie instead? The Chocolate Bar cookie? I think not. It is neither a chocolate bar, nor a cookie.

We liberals have passed this way before. Seinfeld devoted an entire monologue to the racial harmony represented by the Black and White cookie.

I’ll have to go blindly with Freud on this one: sometimes a brownie is just there to satisfy chocolate cravings.

Now, to change the subject slightly (and at this point wouldn’t you?), I recently decided that I needed to unchain myself from what seemed to be an addiction to making things with my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer. I think things had gotten out of hand.

How much marshmallow and whipped cream does one person need to make? I make this claim with only half an apology. Making whipped cream in a Kitchen-Aid mixer is a rush, man. Fast? Let’s just say don’t walk away from the mixer.

Pulling back from this technological addiction seemed a bit limiting at first, but as you can see from the previous paragraph, well advised. Then I reminded myself that my great grandmother came into the kitchen armed only with a bowl and a spoon. (I have skipped a generation. Neither grandmother was a baker. I swear one thought cookies grew in boxes.)

I’ve written about my great grandmother’s kitchen exploits before; she serves as an acute reminder that I can give my Kitchen-Aid a rest and still make some really great stuff. Blueberry Crunch Cake? Done.

In addition to being morally questionable, Brownies are one of the all time great comfort foods. Do you have a friend who just went through a big break up? Nothing fixes a broken heart better than a brownie. (Well, okay, a brownie and some ice cream.) Brownies also make a great birthday cake. To paraphrase a friend, if they don’t like brownies, they must be communist. (Wow. Liberals, communists, Freud, foul whiffs. Happy summer!)

The great unacknowledged truth about brownies is that they are a simple one bowl cookie. Yes, I also know that they say that the best brownies come from a mix, but with all due respect, I disagree on many levels. Shall we break this down?

Cost? The average mix costs about $2.50 per box. To that you must still add your own eggs and oil. Mine? See “quality of cocoa used” below. Cocoa powder is the biggest expense here.

Time? I dunno. Mine are pretty darn fast. And you still have some measuring to do with a mix.

Quality of cocoa used: I know where my cocoa comes from. Betty or Duncan’s? I’m sure it is excellent. (Yes, I’m being condescending.) The truth is, you just don’t know where Betty or Duncan’s cocoa comes from.

Okay, okay, I’ll cave on one area: if you are not much of a baker perhaps the mix is your best bet. I bake a lot, so I have flour and all the other ingredients already. If you don’t bake much you’ll have to buy all that stuff.

But perhaps if you invest in a bag of flour and a tin of excellent cocoa powder you will be encouraged to bake more often? I hear you: a debatable point.

There is one other little nagging item. The mixes contain partially hydrogenated oil, an unhealthy fat. In addition, you need to add your own oil and eggs. My recipe? No partially hydrogenated oil and you can control the quality of all the ingredients, even making the whole thing organic if you wish. No debate there.

What’s the score so far? (Oh, a draw. Darn.)

Okay then, I have one last trick up my (chocolately) sleeve. Tiger stripes. You can’t do these if you make brownies from a mix. These are not to be confused with peanut butter or sour cream which some people—me included—enjoy adding to brownies. The stripes in this recipe don’t introduce any other flavors or ingredients; they are purely for looks. I used to work with a very sweet woman who enjoyed wearing animal prints. These are a toast to her. Make these for someone and they are sure to remember.

You’ll notice that the recipe uses canola oil instead of butter. While there are some health benefits to this choice I must admit I had an ulterior motive. I like my brownies with just a touch of chill on them. I just think the chocolate tastes better that way. If you refrigerate brownies made with butter they aren’t as chewy straight out of the fridge.

The stripes are, of course, optional. If you prefer your brownies monochromatic simply skip that step in the recipe.

That’s a choice “thing.”

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Click here for the recipe for Tiger-Stripe Brownies.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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It’s Mom (by a nose)

Mint Julep Buttons

Mint Julep Buttons

The upcoming weekend is a jackpot for Moms who love horseracing: The Kentucky Derby is run on Saturday, and Sunday is Mother’s Day. This reminds me of an old joke: “Horse walks into a bar. Bartender asks her, “Why the long face?”

(Yes, that’s the whole joke. Think about it.)

(Thanks, I’m here all week.)

I used to consider my Mom really tough to shop for; I never knew which meaningless tchotchke to buy for her. The stores were full of stuff: slippers, perfume, and cheap jewelry. My inbox was loaded with offers of flowers, candy, and ersatz mementos, all aimed at Mom.

Then came my big break: my Mom had planned a trip near Mother’s Day, and I was planning to send flowers, but wanted to time the delivery to make sure she’ d be home. She was delighted at the prospect of receiving flowers, but gently and directly informed me that she’d rather have cash.

The irony is that my Mom and I now trade the same small pile of cash back and forth all year long. I send it to her for her birthday, she sends it to me for mine, and then back it goes to her for Mother’s Day. (I hope Andrew Jackson has frequent flyer miles.)

My friend Dori, a Kentucky native, is glamorous, talented, and a busy mom of two kids under the age of four. This is her weekend, for she always throws a splashy Derby party—hats, hams, Derby Pie, and enough southern drawling to melt butter. But now that her kids are getting old enough to understand what’s going on, they’re going to want to party too, and it is likely other, similarly aged children will follow. What’s a horseracing-fan Mother to serve?

Here’s the thing with the Kentucky Derby: it’s kind of a boozy party. What if you are a teetotaler, a lightweight (yours truly), or a kid? The traditional beverage is the much lauded Mint Julep, made from bourbon, a bit of sugar, and fresh mint leaves. Daiquiris or Piña Coladas can easily be “virgin-ized” by taking out the booze. If you do that with a Mint Julep you’ll end up with a glass, some ice, and a few sprigs of mint, or something that tastes like mouthwash. No, it is better to leave the Mint Julep as is for those who are so inclined.

Yes, there’s Derby Pie, but its bourbon-influenced sweetness can be intense even for adults. (You know something is sweet when they tell you that the addition of a bit of ice cream will “cut the sweet.”)

So here’s my Yankee contribution: something subtly sweet, Derby-themed, and kid friendly—in fact kids can help Mom with the preparation.

Mint Julep Buttons introduce the concept of chocolate to the Kentucky Derby palette. Yes, the mint / chocolate combination is similar to grasshopper pie, but much less gooey. The mint julep filling is a bit restrained in its air conditioned coolness, although you have the option of serving the cookies slightly chilled in keeping with the frosty character of their liquid namesake.

The cookie dough, a fairly basic, intensely chocolate drop cookie, is easily made by Mom. Kids can help her measure the ingredients—a good arithmetic lesson—and even the youngest toddler can make an attempt at rolling small portions of the dough into balls (or get happily messy trying.)

Naturally those who desire something with a bit more sophistication can alter the recipe and technique to suit their needs—after all this cookie isn’t just for Derby day. Instead of filling the cookies with the mint julep filling, you can add the mint extract to the cookie dough, although I would reduce the dosage to ½ tsp. Roll the dough on a floured board and cut with cookie cutters, bake, then dip in dark chocolate. Sound familiar? It should. Girl Scouts have been selling these thin mint cookies for years.

Alternatively, you can add the mint extract to the melted chocolate and dip the cookies in that. A slightly easier variation is to roll the cookie dough into logs, wrap the logs in parchment, and refrigerate. Then slice and bake the cookies.

You can preserve the kitsch of Derby day by melting white chocolate, then add the mint extract and a drop or two of green food coloring. Cookies dipped in this will have an old fashioned “Howard Johnson’s mints-by-the cashier-sea-foam” green.

Practice a little retro-chic by melting the white chocolate, splitting it into small portions, and adding a drop of different colors to each to get Jordan almond colors. (Jordan almonds were little pastel-colored candy coated almonds they used to serve at weddings and Bar Mitzvahs.)

Happy Mother’s Day, y’all, and put two dollars on “Dialed In” to win for me…

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Click here for my recipe for “Mint Julep Buttons.”

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Nostalgia: Not Just for Luddites Anymore

Newton Center Cupcakes

Cupcakes and ocean liners

Here’s a startling revelation: I am a soap opera fan. Some years ago my brother came home from college for winter break and stopped everything to watch “All My Children.” Those were the days when soaps were big on college campuses. I was hooked.

Maybe it’s in the blood: family legend has it that in the days before the invention of the VCR, a late Aunt stopped a Passover Seder between the third and the fourth questions so she could watch “Peyton Place”.

By the time I got to college the shared obsession was “One Life To Live” and I have followed that show, a/k/a, “my stories” on and off since then. (Mostly “on” since the invention of the DVR.)

It was recently announced that ABC has decided to cancel “All My Children” and “One Life To Live” and I’ll admit that the announcement made me a bit emotional. Not many folks watch the soaps anymore, so these shows, which used to be cash cows, have become drains on the network’s bottom line. I’m not here to complain or demonize anyone for this decision, after all, that’s show biz. They say that the soaps are dead. Really? Wait until their long lost “twin” shows up.

Supposedly reality TV has supplanted the soaps in the hearts and minds of the audience advertisers most want to reach. If my Baby Niece is any indication, that may be true. Folks have always criticized the soaps for outlandish storylines and silly plot devices. Guilty, but I say therein lies their charm, buffed to a sometimes uneven gloss by actors of varying talents reading from a script.

Reality shows? We are told we are seeing genuine outlandish behavior. Often though, reality TV feels like video of people who waited to misbehave until they saw the red light of the camera. You are left to wonder if they’d be flipping tables or throwing glasses of wine at each other even if the cameras weren’t there. Some great actors got their start on the soaps. Where will Snooki be in thirty years?

In the meantime, this has gotten me thinking about a rapidly changing world. I think a combination of technology and the ticking clock is at play. Nothing new here. Fifty years ago the Boeing 707 rendered the ocean liner obsolete. Yes, we still have cruise ships, but it is not quite the same experience. The s.s. United States was launched in 1952 and was the most technologically advanced liner in the world. She still holds the records for the fastest east and west transatlantic crossings, and it was widely advertised that the only wood on board was in the grand pianos. Yet, she has sat rusting and abandoned since 1969. Even her sleek mid-century interiors have been stripped away: they were loaded with asbestos. But she was—is—defiantly, a ship. In 2011, the largest cruise ship afloat, the “Allure of The Seas” features a tree-lined park, a Starbucks, and a 3-D theater. After all these years the good news is that the s.s. United States may become a fixed attraction on the New York waterfront, but her silent engines will likely bear witness to countless charity dinners, antiques shows, and Martha Stewart craft events.

No Luddite, I, the very fact that I write a blog—new media—is my testimony to that fact. I am a proud member of the digital / social media age, and I think it is all miraculous. Admittedly, I am conflicted about the BlackBerry and the iPhone, but that has more to do with living in a big city and having to constantly dodge people who walk the sidewalks of the city with their heads down, and of being subjected to them singing loudly in the gym to their “headphoned” music. (They hear Pavarotti. We hear the braying of a donkey.)

I was born too late to sail across the Atlantic on the s.s. United States, to see Olivier on stage as Hamlet, or to drive my Mom’s Rambler convertible. These things were meant to exist in their time and then leave behind only rapidly fading evidence of their existence—like paper streamers stretched between those departing on the ocean liner, and those back on the pier.

You assume things will be around forever. They won’t. That’s life.

I’d hate for you to think that I am a Gloomy Gus. No. There’s too much that’s great about the here and now. Someday we’ll be nostalgic for these “simple” times—a chilling thought.

Life is cyclical. The old maxim, “here today, gone tomorrow” should actually read, “here today, gone tomorrow, and then back again.” And look at all the stuff that has been rendered permanent by technology. Start with the written word and climb the ladder to “You Tube”.

Using a bit of old technology, you can even recreate childhood memories. When I was a little kid there was a bakery in Newton Centre, Massachusetts named Bob Ware’s Yum-Yum Shop. Bob Ware’s closed when I was a little kid –seemingly without an internet trace. Google it and you’ll find…me, or actually, my previous mention of the place. But to this day a certain cupcake my Mom used to bring home from Bob Ware’s (probably in her Rambler) has remained etched indelibly in my memory.

So using the aforementioned old technology called “baking”, I have resurrected this old favorite. And as I was leaning over the sink eating my chocolate cupcake (that’s where my Mother always ate them) I thought they were just as I remembered.

Cupcakes like these were likely a staple in neighborhood bakeries: nothing earth shattering, nothing revolutionary.  Their magic was in their subtlety. It wasn’t all about the big pile of frosting on top. I know that there are folks who insist that cupcakes are merely “delivery systems” for the frosting. This cupcake was a bit different and was more a tribute to balance and harmony…and there was not one ounce of buttercream. The cake was really good on its own (very dunkable), the chocolate glaze added a cap that could be peeled off and eaten separately. The ring of boiled frosting on top was as much a textural accent as a visual one. My Mom could linger over it a bit at the sink, one eye on “Love of Life” or “Secret Storm.”

A quiet moment before all hell would break loose: my brother and I coming home from school.

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Click here for my recipe for “Newton Centre Cupcakes.”

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