Ok, so it's fair to say I like cupcakes. Mini cupcakes, giant cupcakes, chocolate, vanilla, red velvet--I love them all (not carrot though, that's just gross. Carrot in cake? Ew.). And why not? A cupcake is pure, simple, easily recognizable and always cheerful. Even the sloppiest and ugliest cupcakes still follow the formula of round, little, cake bottom, frosting top. You can't go wrong! Sometimes, when I'm feeling sad, I'll go get a cupcake, and then immediately feel better, because--cupcake! Come on!
So you can imagine my delight when I passed a book with the to-the-point title of Hello, Cupcake! Hello, cupcake? Yes! Hello!
Hello, Cupcake! (the full title is Hello, Cupcake!: Irrisistably Playful Creations Anyone Can Make) is a cook/craft book devoted soley to the art of cupcake decorations. Be still, my heart. I passed it in a bookstore as Dave and I were idling away, waiting for a dinner reservation. We were on our way out when I saw a bunch of the books propped up. "What is this?" I asked, picking up the book. I proceeded to flip through the book, poking Dave every few seconds to say, "No no, look at this! It's sooo cuuuute! A clown/Yorkie/elephant/TV dinner made out of a cupcake!"
I don't usually buy books in general (I am card-carrying library-goer) or cookbooks in specific (I do own Amy Sedaris's I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, but I see that as more of a cooking/lifestyle manual), and actually I didn't buy Hello, Cupcake! that night either. (anticlimatic...) But I thought about it a lot, dropped enough hints that I could have reasonably hoped Dave would get it for me for Christmas, and when there was no book under the tree (it's ok, baby, I like my bath robe, too), I bought it along with the Giant Cupcake cake pan.
It arrived a few days ago, a reunion wherein I sat my butt on my bed, and, still wearing my coat in scarf from walking into my house, read it cover to cover, giddily imagining the semi-professionally-decorated cupcakes to come. And then, I realized, and this is the worst thing about living with only two roommates and friends that are an hour away even though they technically live in the same city: too many cupcakes. Even one small batch would leave me with 12 cupcakes and a race against time to eat them and/or pass them off on friends before they got stale. Why is this bad? Why can't you just gorge yourself on cupcakes 24/7? Because cupcakes, like cookies, are a sometimes food. Cupcakes are like snow days and tax refunds--wonderful in their rareness. Plus if you eat too many you might get sick, and cupcakes are too wonderful to be associated with food-related illness.
So! I was contemplating puke and stale cupcakes when I should have been lazily dreaming of whipped topping. It was sad. And then my cupcake supply/demand model reached its tipping point, because Dave was coming to visit, a nice enough prospect without the promise of baking cupcakes.
We made dinner last night (lasagna with Toniatti tomato sauce. You can't have the recipe but you can have some lasagna because we have about 3lb left). And decided, for dessert, to pick one of the recipes from Hello, Cupcakes! The choices range from classic and simply decorated to giant nutcracker and Panda cupcakes. Also, they have a selection of April Fool's Day cupcakes, with cupcakes masking as spaghetti, corn on the corb, mashed potatoes, and bagel with lox. I mean, let's just all pause and have a little smile. Dave, being a fan of Happy Feet and the South Pole exhibit at the aquarium, picked the Penguin, a triple-decker, double-frosting ice-loving confection.
A note about the book: part of the charm of Hello, Cupcake! is the suggestion that you will receive top-quality cupcakes with products you can buy at a gas station (I'm not kidding. They actually praised the range of candies available at most gas stations, perfect for tiny cupcake eyeballs, hair, buttons, etc). I am a fan of anything that doesn't require me to buy something from William Sonoma (Martha Stewart, I'm looking at you with your pipettes). Not only did the authors, Karen Tack and Alan Richardson, suggest using store-bought mix and frosting, they praised the qualities of both, implying what I've always secretly believed, that self-satisfying would-be sous chefs whipping up batter from scratch really are just making more trouble for themselves. It was a good feeling, and my appreciation for the book only increased.
So! Dave and I embarked on makin' edible penguins, mostly since the recipe calls for lots of cake but not much fancy decoration (the opposite recipe in the book is a platter of cupcakes that form the canvas for a frosting Starry Night. Showoff.).
The book, while chock-full of colorful cheery photos that left me and Dave late for our dinner reservation, could be a little more informative on directions, especially since the elaborate construction/decoration of many of the cupcakes requires something akin to blueprints to pull off. The penguins were formed by a cupcake base, topped with a mini doughnut for the body and a doughnut hole for the head. The whole thing is dipped in melted chocolated and finished with various edible eyes, beak, wings, tummy.
We started with the cupcakes, frosting the tops. The recipe then called for half of a plain mini doughnut. I could only find chocolate-covered and figured more chocolate couldn't be bad, and the only trouble with them was that they tended to crumble when cut. We couldn't find plain doughnut holes either, instead relying on red-and-pink sprinkled ones. I was worried they would make out penguins look like they had migranes, but they turned out fine and added an extra feeling of biting into someone's skull when you ate it. The cupcake, doughnut, and hole were held together with white frosting, the glue of the sculptor-baker. Then we popped them in the fridge for ten minutes.
While they were freezing, I microwaved dark chocolate frosting for 7 seconds about 5 times, until it was drippy. I took the cupcakes out of the freezer, dipped them into the frosting, and let them sit. While the chocolate was still warm, I added the white tummy (piece of marshmallow), beak (Starburst cut in half), eyes (chocolate chips), and wings (cookies)--and we were done! They came out a-dor-a-ble, so cute they made you want to set them free on an ice floo in the Arctic somewhere. But we ate them. And they tasted really, really good.
I'm pleased with Hello, Cupcakes! although the added decorations mean I have lots of leftover marshmallows, chocolate chips, and cookies. The cupcake chef would say whip up something else with them, but I am trying to eat fake-healthy, which doesn't include half a bag of doughnaughties. The book is heavy on decoration and light on flavor and taste (our penguins came out pretty and charming but the combination of Starburst, doughnut, cupcake was sort of meh), and I would have liked some more actual recipes to try (there are some in the back of the book, to be fair). Still, for pure eye candy (mouth candy), Hello, Cupcake! can't be beat.