13 May 2007

Baking--It's Good Mother's Day fun.

One of my favorite things to do in the kitchen is combine the artistry and skill involved in baking with the playful, together-time my son and I crave.

It’s a challenge to cook or bake with a toddler. Sometimes I’m happy to let him take over and mix more sugar in the bowl than would ever be necessary or to allow him to decide, “let’s make the muffins GREEN!” Sure, it’s all good. We can be silly. We can make a mess. And I love it! But sometimes I crave to do something a little more sophisticated and see if he can keep up. Usually he does.

Today the topic on my mind is “demystifying candied violets.” I’m not the kind of person who gets easily intimidated in the kitchen. Granted, there’s a lot I don’t know and techniques I have never tried, but some things just look fancier when they are done than they are to make. Candied violets are one of those things. They can be so totally stunning on a cake, but they are relatively easy to do. . .with a little patience. So, let me talk you through it.

Candied Violets

30 pesticide-free violets (have more than you need in case of mis-haps and make sure your flowers are labeled edible!)
1 egg white, at room temperature
1 tsp. water
1 cup superfine sugar or granulated sugar whizzed in the food processor a bit

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg white and water until slightly frothy, but don’t beat the heck out of it.

2. Spread a thin layer of sugar into a large plate. (Leave the rest in a bowl.)

3. Hold each flower by its base or by the stem if the stems are long enough and use a paint brush to paint each violet on *both* sides with a thin coating of egg white. Then sprinkle sugar on both sides. Place the flowers in a single layer on your sugared plate and let them dry for at least 2 hours before using. Cut any long stems.

Now, this is totally doable with child. He can paint the flowers if he’s gentle enough and can handle the small paintbrush. However, if it gets too frustrating for you, put the kid on hold for a bit and have him come back to the kitchen when it’s time to make the cupcakes that these little beauties will be perched a’top. If my son gets impatient or bored, he’ll go run around in the living room and come back in a bit to help with the next thing. I have to remind myself he’s got a lot of energy!

What to do with these sugary blossoms?

Sweet Lemon Cupcakes

This recipe comes to you from williams-sonoma.com and it’s a damn fine one, at that. Have the child help with as many aspects you can. She can rinse the lemons, zest them if her hands are big enough to do the job, pour and mix dry ingredients and my son’s favorite thing—crack the eggs!

2 lemons, washed
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
5 teaspoons poppy seeds
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup milk
2 cups confectioners sugar

1. Zest the lemons—measure out 2 teaspoons zest. Reserve the lemons.

2. Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of an oven and preheat to 325°F. Line two 12-well muffin pans with paper liners.

3. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and poppy seeds. Stir with a whisk until evenly blended. Add the 2 teaspoons lemon zest to the flour mixture and whisk well. Set aside.

4. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until it is soft and fluffy. Turn off the mixer, sprinkle in the granulated sugar and continue beating until pale.

5. One at a time, crack the eggs into a small bowl. Add the eggs to the batter, one at a time, beating well after adding each one.

6. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add half of the flour mixture and beat on low speed just until blended. Turn off the mixer and add the milk. Beat on low speed until smooth. Turn off the mixer and add the rest of the flour mixture. Beat just until blended.

7. Fill each muffin cup half full. Don’t fill the muffin cups any higher than that.

8. Put the pans in the oven and bake until the edges of the cupcakes are pale golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean—20 to 25 minutes.

Remove the pans from the oven and put them on wire cooling racks. Let the cupcakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then lift out the cupcakes, put them directly on the racks and let cool completely, about 45 minutes.

Makes 24 cupcakes.

Ice and Decorate

1. Juice the lemons and measure out 3 tablespoons juice and put in a small bowl.

2. In another bowl, whisk together the confectioners sugar and a little of the lemon juice. Add some more lemon juice but only enough to make the icing thick. It should slowly fall off the whisk.

3. Spoon some icing on top of each cupcake and use the back of the spoon in a circular motion to help spread it to the edges of the cupcake liner. Let the icing stand for a minute until it smooths out to make a flat surface.

4. Right away, place one of the violets on top. Don’t wait too long after pouring the icing or it will harden and the sugar wont stick.

Alternatively you can use whipped cream instead of the lemon icing.

Try these—I think you’ll like them. Go forth into the kitchen and show your kid how it’s done. You can always make grilled cheeses and ants on a log tomorrow.

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