Thursday, February 21, 2008

golden cream cupcakes

Golden Cream Cupcakes 6

I'm not sure anyone was more thankful for the Presidents Day weekend than me. I can certainly appreciate setting aside a day to honor our country's great leaders (didn't those Lincoln-themed cupcakes tip you off?), but that wasn't exactly why last weekend was special. The Presidents Day holiday created a three-day weekend, which meant that I could go home -- to Illinois.

Ever since I joined the real world (i.e., graduated from college and got a job), going home has become something I crave. I long for the sight of the now-vacant bakery, the safe streets of my town, and the massive church steeple that seems to preside over it. In fact, I feel restless out here unless I know exactly how long it will be until I will once again find myself within the familiar confines of the home that has been in our family for three generations.

Though my trips home are something I treasure, especially now that they are few and far between, they can, at times, make me feel as melancholy as they do joyful. It's now common, at least one night during each visit, for me to wander around my room until the wee hours of the morning, looking at the framed memories on the wall and peeking at mementos tucked carefully away in drawers. What happened to those sunny spring afternoons on the softball field? Has it really been nearly a decade since that acceptance letter bearing the Notre Dame seal arrived in the mail? Those days have fallen away with the passage of time, but I can relive them, even if only briefly, with a few quiet minutes alone in the room that is now a shrine to what once was.

Those memories, indeed, are bittersweet. But I expect that they will eventually lose the sting of a time just out of reach and settle into the pleasant past like so many other memories before them. I hope, in fact, just like the memory of Grandpa saying "Twinkies aren't for little girls" as we sat around the kitchen table snacking on golden creams (generic, but far more delicious, versions of the Twinkie). I enjoyed a couple of golden creams while I was home last weekend and thought I might try to recreate them as a cupcake. I turned, as I so often do, to a recipe from Williams-Sonoma, but I must regretfully report that it wasn't a complete success. The cake, with its "plus 2 tablespoons" and other odd measurements, was a bit fussy to put together. It was tasty, but it didn't remind me of its commercially produced counterpart. The cream filling didn't meet expectations either. It had a slightly medicinal taste (perhaps I slightly undercooked the egg whites?) and couldn't stand up to the more pronounced flavor of the cupcake.

I can't say that I'm overly disappointed with how these turned out. After all, if I can't reproduce the golden creams out here in Seattle, I always have a reason to go home to Illinois....

(Like I needed another one.)

Golden Cream Cupcakes
A Williams-Sonoma recipe
Yields about 1 dozen regular cupcakes

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
1 1/8 teaspoons baking powder
3/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 whole egg plus 1 egg white
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

2 egg whites
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

To make the cupcakes:
Have all the ingredients at room temperature. Preheat an oven to 325°F. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a liquid measuring cup or small bowl, stir together the milk and vanilla; set aside.

In another small bowl, lightly whisk together the egg and egg white; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes more. Add the egg mixture in two additions, beating well after each addition. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the milk mixture and beginning and ending with the flour. Beat each addition just until incorporated, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Fill your cupcake containers of choice 2/3 full. Bake until the cupcakes spring back when touched and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 17-20 minutes. Remove the cupcakes to a wire rack and let them cool completely before filling.

To make the filling:
In the bowl of an electric mixer, using a handheld whisk, beat together the egg whites, sugar, corn syrup, and salt just until combined. Place the bowl over but not touching simmering water in a saucepan and whisk until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is hot, 2-3 minutes.

Set the bowl on the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed for 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat until the outside of the bowl is cool and medium-firm peaks form, 2-3 minutes more.

Spoon the filling into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch plain tip. Insert the tip 1 inch into the bottom of a cupcake. Gently squeeze the filling into the cupcake while slowly withdrawing the tip. Pipe filling onto the top of each cupcake if desired. Repeat with the remaining cupcakes and filling.

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