You know what? It is a good feeling when you have been looking for a wedding caterer for a long, long time, to find one that you like.
It is a good feeling to find a caterer who doesn't flinch when you tell her you might not be able to finalize the menu until a few weeks before the event, as there's a farmer to work with and a potato blight in Maine in full swing. It is an even better feeling when not only does she not flinch, but she gets fully on board.
It will make you nearly ecstatic when she tells you that it's fine to put beets in every course because they are In Season and of course she'd like to peel nine dozen tiny local eggs because actually they give a better mouth feel and wouldn't your family like to help her pull the mozzarella one day?
Finding a caterer like this is a feeling very similar, come to think of it, as the one you get when you meet the man you want to spend the rest of your life with. Between Alex and Katy, I'm not sure things could get much better around here. Or at least, I didn't think so until Katy introduced The Cupcakes. Here, would you like to meet them too?
They are the product of a Ms. Alexandra Mudry, a student at the Culinary Institute of America. (Katy went there too, but I like to say she's from the CIA. It makes her seem a lot less Betty Crocker and a lot more James Bond, don't you think?) Anways, Alexandra came up with the cupcakes when the American Cancer Society decided to host a contest to remake the birthday cake. They were looking for a healthier, more old-fashioned version—one with real ingredients and no preservations and maybe a few less sprinkles and definitely no box mix. (Or maybe they were just looking for something to back up their newly assumed position as the Official Sponsor of Birthdays, but we'll pretend not to notice that.) Because really, I could overlook just about anything for The Cupcakes.
The Cupcakes are red velvet cupcakes, the old fashioned kind dyed with beets. They have half whole wheat flour and dark chocolate and even applesauce in the mix, and they are an absolutely stunning color. Sort of like mahogany, only with a bit more red. I've made them with cream cheese frosting, but they're also good with French icing or even a good vanilla buttercream.
As for how they are to make, there's a bit of cooking time involved in roasting the beets and a few odd ingredients to track down, but otherwise, they're a sinch. Plus, once you buy that tiny jar of instant coffee it will last you many, many birthdays. You only have to do the tough shopping once.
And on the presentation side of things, for the wedding we're planning to go to the flea market and stock up on all sizes of cakes stands so that we can stack the cupcakes in small, double-decker circles the way they are below. Not only will it be pretty, but pulling out a piping bag and making a few nice, billowy swirls of frosting on each cupcake will be a whole lot easier than spreading frosting on a crumbling, towering cake.
In fact these cupcakes are so good, so easy, and so pretty, I think they might just be the ones for the big day. What do you say?
RED VELVET CUPCAKES
adapted from the American Cancer Society's recipe by Ms. Alexandra Mudry
This recipe makes 24 cupcakes. For the wedding, of course, we'll be making a lot more, but for your next birthday party, this size batch should be just right. Also, you might notice that this recipe uses a lot more ingredients than I usually go for, but I think you'll find, as I did, that cupcakes this good are well worth a trip to the store.
8 medium-sized beets
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 teaspoon instant coffee
1/2 cup unsweetend cocoa powder
1/2 cup applesauce
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Peel the beets and trim off their tops and tails. Line a cookie sheet with tinfoil and place the beets on top. Drizzle them with olive oil and bake for about two hours, or until a fork goes into them easily. If you're going to make the cake batter immediately, you can go ahead and leave the oven on as the cake bakes at 375, too.
Puree the beets in a food processor with several tablespoons of water. (One or two should do the trick). Once they're smooth, they're done.
Line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake wrappers. In a small, heavy-bottomed pot, melt the chocolate. While it heats up, combine the oil, eggs, egg whites, and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat together until they turn smooth and lighten in color. Add the instant coffee to the melted chocolate and stir until the two are well-mixed. Slowly, beat the chocolate mixture into the eggs, oil, and sugar.
In another mixing bowl, combine the cocoa powder, applesauce, and beet puree. Stir well, and beat this mixture into the egg and chocolate mixture. In yet another bowl (I know, not only are there a lot of ingredients but there will also be a lot of dishes but I swear it will be worth it people, so soldier on!) whisk together the remaining dry ingredients. Fold these gently into the wet ingredients until just combined. (Be careful not to overmix or the cupcakes will get tough and dense.) Pour the batter into the cupcake liners and bake for twenty to twenty-five minutes, or until a piece of straw (my mother used to take hers from a new broom) comes out clean.
Let the cupcakes cool for a few minutes, and then take them out from the pan to cool on a rack. Ice with cream cheese frosting, below.
CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
24 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 and 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
Beat the cream cheese with the vanilla extract until they are light and smooth. Add the confectioners' sugar, bit by bit, until the whole mixture is creamy and smooth. Be careful not to overmix, or the frosting will be hard to spread. Spoon into a piping bag and ice the cupcakes in whatever decorative, lovely way you see fit.
P.S. If you're wondering why there's no Local Food Report today, it's because the station is doing a pledge drive this week. I went up to Woods Hole to help out yesterday, but they could use yours, too. You can head on over here if you're up for becoming a Cape & Islands NPR member.