Saturday, June 18, 2011

Frosty B*tch

Yeah, I've been called that a few times in my life. But this post ain't about my attitude.

Frosting's never been my thing.
-Gobs of it on store-bought cakes make me ill. I can't stand corner pieces with frosting on three sides; I eat middle pieces that only have frosting on top.
-I got into a tiff once with a college housemate who insisted I ate her Betty Crocker frosting that was wallowing in the fridge.
-My Thank-God-the-CSTs-Are-Over Cupcakes were frosted with what was supposed to be buttercream but which was really just a big pile of fat and sugar. Several hours after inhaling his, one student asked me, "Um, Ms. DiStasi, did you make that frosting?"

Yet I can't quite give up on frosting altogether, and am determined earn my title in the gastronomic realm, not just the interpersonal realm. Michael Recchiuti's Chocolate Obsession  has a decadent yet simple recipe for Devil's Food Cupcakes with White Chocolate-Espresso Frosting. I've made it twice now, and both times the cupcakes were perfect. The first batch of frosting was tasty also. Too bad it was the consistency of gravy. The cupcakes were drowning in it. Of course, those close to me know the first question to ask me is, "Did you actually follow the recipe?" The answer was "No," as it usually is, but my improvisations generally don't lead me so far astray. I guess adding liquid espresso in place of instant-dissolve espresso powder isn't quite an even exchange.

The second batch of frosting was equally tasty, but I followed the recipe more closely (note I didn't say exactly) and after a stint in the refrigerator, I got frosting that stayed in place. At least until the frosting reached room temperature.

Tasty, but espresso granules are too easily mistaken for pieces of dirt.

 For my third batch, I have returned to the use of liquid espresso instead of espresso granules, as the recipe calls for, since the granules make the frosting gritty. At least, mine do, since I refuse to buy the instant-dissolve stuff Recchiuti suggests. I cut back on the cream to compensate for the extra liquid, and added a bit more white chocolate to increase the solid-at-room-temperature fat content. I dumped a bit in the stand mixer, along with a few heaping tablespoons of confectioners' sugar, which I figured was sort of like an ode to my failed buttercream. This frosting is verging on cloying thanks to the extra white chocolate and sugar, but pipes quite nicely.


The cupcakes and pseudo-buttercream frosting turned out as well as I could have hoped for, and I prepared a batch to bring to friends I met for drinks last night. I even added a little decorative espresso bean atop each one. However, since my car had been sitting in the sun all day, the frosting didn't even make it out of Oakland, much less to the peninsula. Guess I'm not a frosty enough b*tch to keep the cupcakes cool. 


Devil's Food Cupcakes with White Chocolate-Espresso Topping
adapted from Chocolate Obsession by Michael Recchiuti

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil (I use canola)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup espresso
1/4 tsp grated lemon or orange zest

2 + 3/4 oz white chocolate, chopped
1 TBSP espresso
1/2 cup (minus 1-2 TBSP) heavy cream

For the cupcakes:
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 12 muffin cups, or spray with cooking spray.
2. Sift flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder and soda, and salt into a medium bowl.
3. Combine egg, milk, oil, vanilla, and espresso in another bowl and whisk by hand. Grate zest directly into bowl.
4. Pour wet ingredients into dry. Whisk to combine. Distribute batter evenly among muffin cups (they should be about half-full). 
5. Bake until cupcakes are puffed and springy to the touch, about 15-20 minutes. Let cool completely in pan on wire rack, then remove from pan.

For the topping:
1. Put white chocolate in bowl. Set aside.
2. Combine espresso and cream in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour hot cream over chocolate and whisk until melted. 
3. Recchiuti says to place bowl in ice-water bath for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. I just stuck the bowl in the fridge for an hour. Either way.
4. Place frosting in pastry bag or zipper bag with corner snipped off. Pipe frosting in swirl pattern over cupcakes and garnish with cocoa powder or a single espresso bean.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

She's Such a Granola

Last week, I was supervising three students while eighty-something of their peers went on an end-of-year field trip. As these three watched a movie, one began helping herself to a bag of granola that belonged to the teacher whose room we were using had broken into. A second student commented, "That stuff is so NASTY. Ugh. How can you eat that?" The first replied, "Well, Mr. [Granola Owner] loves it. He eats it all the time. So." The third kept quiet, but also didn't eat a single clustered oat out of that bag.

I was reminded of similar conversations at my own high school in which we labeled health- and environmentally-conscious students "granolas." I don't think I got labeled a granola, though I not only ate granola, but ate HOMEMADE granola, which is even more granola than eating the store-bought kind.

Years later, I craved my dad's homemade granola, and wanted to change the stigma of granola from Something That Burned-Out Hippies Eat to Something That Martha Stewart Would Make. I called my dad for the recipe, thinking he had invented his, or at least had modified it significantly from its original source. But no, his recipe was lifted directly from some 1970s vegan how-to-get-holy-while-chanting-naked-with-of-all-your-white-hippie-friends cookbook that was probably printed on reclaimed toilet paper and bound with recycled inner tubes. He told me he began making it during his kitchen shifts at sesshin, his Zen Buddhist meditation retreats. While he was fully clothed, I'm sure, this news was not any I intended to spread around my social circles, and would definitely not convince skeptics of the merits of granola.

Mr. Granola Owner Teacher, though, may be just the ally granola and I need. He happens to be in the middle of a health and fitness campaign whereby he has lost over 30 pounds and competed successfully in his first triathlon. All this, of course, is attributable to his love for and liberal use of granola. 

Non-flavored, Non-Naked Granola
adapted from Some Hippie Cookbook

4 cups rolled oats
1/4 to 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup walnuts (sometimes I like to add halved almonds too)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup honey (I use agave)
1/8 cup oil, such as canola
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
1. Mix together oats, salt, sunflower seeds, and walnuts. 
2. In a separate bowl, combine oil, honey or agave, and vanilla. 
3. Add wet ingredients to dry, and coat oat mixture evenly. Spread on shallow baking sheet. 
4. Bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring every 8-10 minutes. Mixture will be slightly wet but golden brown. 
5. Add raisins. Store in airtight container.

*The original recipe says to add the walnuts at the end, but I like them toasted, so I include them in the mix to be baked. 
* You can add other goodies to the mix, such as cranberries, dried apple bits, or cherries. Other nuts work well, too. One of my recent batches included unsweetened shredded coconut. Fabulous.

*This recipe is fairly low in sugar, so it doesn't form the clusters that commercial granola does. This is great for those monitoring their sugar intake, but less great for teachers and their students who like to eat granola straight out of the bag. I like eating it as a cereal in the morning with a bit of milk. 

*Fresh fruit is fantastic in the bowl in the morning. Sliced banana and blueberries are my favorites.