Going to Highland Farms is one of the highlights of my week (I know, I need to get out more…) I honestly don’t know if I could move to another part of the country or even the world, because I would be too far from Highland Farms. I love it because if a food exists somewhere in the world, it also exists at Highland Farms (with a few exceptions – they don’t carry yak butter or dried donkey penis). But the other thing I love about it is that they seem to have more and better local produce than anywhere else. If they can buy it locally, they do. So, June 9 – imagine my glee when I found the first of Ontario’s strawberry crop out in those distinctive green baskets; beautiful, plump, and deep red, they made the plastic boxes of half-ripened Florida strawberries look inedible.
I had decided that I would make a cake for mom’s birthday this year, in spite of the fact that my report cards are due on Monday. My original intent was to try to emulate a white chocolate raspberry cake that she used to love from Longo’s years ago. Seeing the fresh strawberries at Highland Farms prompted me to do a quick change of plans.
I am not known for cakes or cupcakes – when I bake, it’s usually something exotic, and it usually resembles baklava, biscotti or bread – but I really wanted to see if I could make a cute cupcake with my limited knowledge of cake decoration, and my limited supply of decorating tools. What follows is only partly my own creation. The cupcake part is – verbatim – from Martha Stewart’s website, only halved (because I didn’t need 24 cupcakes sitting out, tempting me).Her white cupcake recipe is perfect and divine, and there is absolutely no need to reinvent the wheel (or the cupcake). The strawberry and white chocolate touch is my own. As you can see in the picture, I never even ended up using the fancy icing tips, as I liked the rustic and simple effect of cutting a whole in a bag. Next time I make these might be when Ontario raspberries are ripe – I think they would work just as well!
Cupcake Recipe: (adapted from http://www.marthastewart.com/336098/strawberry-cupcakes)
1 1/2 cups cake flour (Swan’s Down, if possible)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter
1 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp real vanilla extract
4 egg whites
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together and then set aside. Using a mixer (or a lot of elbow grease) blend 1 cup of the sugar and butter until very smooth, and then add the vanilla and blend. Alternating, and beginning and ending with the flour, add the milk and flour, mixing until smooth and fluffy. Set aside.
In a cold bowl, beat the eggs with mixer until frothy. Then, slowly add the 2 tbsp of sugar, and continue to mix on high until the mixture forms little peaks or waves. Very gently fold the egg mixture into your batter until combined. Line muffin tins with cupcake paper and fill each with a heaping 1/4 cup of batter. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the bottom comes out clean. (Alternately, use the trick I was taught by a friend – at your own risk: wet your finger and very rapidly touch the bottom of the muffin tin; if it sizzles, they are done). Gently remove cupcakes onto a cooling rack and allow to cool for half to one hour.
Strawberries and Icing:
20 small to medium sized strawberries (or raspberries)
2 3.5 oz white chocolate bars (good quality, preferably fair trade)
1 1/2 – 2 cups icing sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 tbsp cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
Place a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Put one of the chocolate bars, broken up, into the bowl and melt, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, sift 1 cup of the sugar and use a mixer to blend with the butter. Add vanilla and cream and blend. When the chocolate is melted, allow to cool for a minute or so, then add to the mixture. If will get ‘runnier’ for a minute or two because the heat from the chocolate melts the butter. Gradually add enough of the remaining sugar to thicken your icing. Place in the fridge for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, use a sharp paring knife and cut out a cone shaped “plug” from the centre of each cupcake. The size of the plug should be approximately the size of your strawberries. Keep the ‘plugs’ as little weight-watcher sized treats and store them in the freezer. Remove the stems from the strawberries and ensure that excess water is removed by wrapping them in a thick paper towel. Place one strawberry inside each cupcake. Then, using a piping bag or a thick sandwich bag with a hole cut in the bottom, ice each cupcake in a swirl pattern, covering up the centre where the strawberry peaks out. Set cupcakes aside until ready to serve. Just before serving, slice two larger, stemmed strawberries lengthwise (if you pull the stems out with your fingers, the slices should resemble hearts) and gently press one slice, with a square of white chocolate into the tops of each cupcake. It is important to wait until serving to do this, as the juice from the strawberries will bleed onto your icing if you do it in advance.
And that’s it! The instructions look complicated, but it’s not hard at all, and the results are delicious – thanks to Martha!