Saturday, January 12, 2008

Cupcakes and The Child Within

I’m going to be an uncle again!

That means many reasons to celebrate. It’s some time since I’ve been a new uncle. My nephews Doug and Dave are 21 and 18 respectively. John and Ramiza’s baby will be a much-loved addition to our family, so as they pass through New York returning to their home abroad, we plan an impromptu baby shower, just to make their suitcases a little heavier.

My assignment is dessert, and what better way to celebrate the impending arrival of a little one then to bake a batch of little cakes, or cupcakes? The classic cupcake recipe from the Magnolia Bakery in Greenwich Village is the obvious choice. When John and Ramiza lived in New York, we would often head there for celebrations that required fluffy pastel cupcakes. It wasn’t hard to find a reason!

Admittedly, I’ve never thought much about where this ubiquitous petite celebratory treat first came from. My impulse is usually to eat! But a quick inquiry is almost as eye-popping as a dash of rainbow-colored sprinkles. According to the “Oxford Companion to Food” by Alan Davidson, the name emerged in the 19th century in Britain and North America. The phrase could be similar to “Pound Cake,” which indicated the weight and measurement of ingredients, and might have originally referred to cake recipes made with a one cup measure that produced a single, large cake. Each ingredient was measured by the cup-full. The Food Timeline says there are old cookbooks with recipes for individual confections baked in small cups, teacups or small clay baking pans. The Queen Cake is a recipe that was sometimes prepared as individual cakes. Eventually, our grown-up need for time-management, efficiency and feeding large crowds probably led to the invention of the twelve-portion cupcake baking sheet.

Cupcakes produce a whipping frenzy, and my KitchenAid mixer is set on high speed. It is a little like adult play time. I beat butter, eggs and sugar into frothy mountains. The food coloring swirls into the butter cream icing, creating widening concentric circles of Robin’s egg blue and pale pink color.

The effect is hypnotic, and I am transported to a faraway time and place that is defined by vibrant Play-Doh, bright scraps of construction paper, party balloons and paper mache. It is a time when birthday cupcakes were brought to elementary school in Tupperware to share with classmates. The method of consumption was instinctive – lick off all the frosting first, and then decide if you will eat the cupcake!

Greedily, I lick the spatula, and my tongue is tinted shades of deep blue and shocking pink. Confectioners sugar floats in the air and nonpareils “ping” across the kitchen counter, with only some gripping to the peaks of frosting. The project consumes the morning, and I am completely captivated as grown-up issues fade away, if only for a brief time.

Ramiza’s eyes widen as I bring the Tupperware carrier into the house. We stack the cupcakes high and each of us eagerly waits for the moment when we can snatch our favorite color and take a bite. And the child within, kicks with delight.

©2008 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

I can't imagine that there is anyone who doesn't lick the icing off the cupcake before eating the rest! How nice that you'll have a new little one in the family -- an excuse to bake more cupcakes, not that one needs an excuse.

Anonymous said...

I agree, cupcakes bring back nice childhood memories of celebration and play. My English bloke calls them "fairie cakes" which makes them even more magical :)

Nupur said...

I enjoyed reading this post! It is interesting to know that the word "cupcake" could have originated from the cup measure of ingredients. I always assumed it was because the cake was the size of a small cup.
In any case, the term "cupcake" is such an expression of adoration and cuteness personified :)

Kathy said...

I had forgotten about the birthday cupcakes in elementary school--thanks for the pleasant memory and the cupcake history!

Patricia Scarpin said...

Congratulations, T.W.!
These cupcakes are so adorable!

Veron said...

How I remember us walking all over Greenwich village looking for Magnolia Bakery. I love favorite as a child...and glad to know its origin.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Those are just the most cheerful cupcakes, T.W. You must be the sweetest uncle. Congratulations to you and your family!

~~louise~~ said...

Hi T.W. & Congratulations! on your family's welcome addition. As I sip my morning coffee, how I wish I could just take a bite into one of those cupcakes, without licking off the icing first:) They just look soooo gooood...

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Hi Lydia - we are very excited, and I am going to shower this baby with cupcakes!

Maryann - I did come across the term "fairie cakes" which is quite enchanting!

Hi Nupur - small pastries do have a unique charm. There is a cookbook that is all about little batches of cakes and cookies which I really like.

Kathy - I think I remember more about the cupcakes, than I do about elementary school! :-)

Thanks, Patricia!

Hi Veron - I'm now planning to find the Magnolia Bakery for MY birthday!

Thanks so much, Susan - I think cupcakes make the world a better place!

Hi Louise - good morning! I agree that these cupcakes would go very well with your coffee and I know they make a fine breakfast!