Saturday, June 27, 2009

Oh Snap

I know this blog is ostensibly about my love of baking, but you know summer is officially here when I bring you The Cupcake Avenger's inaugural no-bake recipe. With the average summer temps in D.C. hovering around "sunny with a chance of sweat-your-face-off-by-9am," sometimes it's just not worth it to add an extra heat wave of 350 degrees for 35 minutes throughout the apartment.

For a friend's BBQ this afternoon, I knew that a typical chocolate cupcake or pudding pie was not going to do it. When it's this hot out, heavy chocolate desserts just aren't as refreshing paired with hot dogs and frosty adult beverages and, plus, any work you put into presentation usually just melts anyways. Besides, as the temperature and humidity have crept up, I've seriously been craving some chilled fruit. I found a great recipe for a Tropical Cream Tart from an old issue of Woman's Day and it was so quick and easy (and cold!) that I knew it would be just right.

The crust of this tart is made out of just crushed gingersnaps and melted butter and, I have to admit, this is the first time in my life I've ever eaten a gingersnap. For some reason, I feel like gingersnaps have an old-timey quality, like sarsaparilla or Necco wafers. But let me tell you people, these little cookies are addictive and they pack a punch. After sampling one wafer off the top of the box, my tongue was still tingling from the winning combo of ginger and molasses a full 5 minutes later. For your next summer soiree, if you're looking for a dessert that will capture the tropical tastes of the season topped off with a unique flavor twist (and won't leave your hair and makeup looking like you just walked out of the Amazon instead of your kitchen) I definitely recommend this dessert.

A few notes:
*If you don't have a food processor, just pulse the cookies in a blender or (if you're lazy like me, just put them in a Ziploc bag and roll with a rolling pin or empty wine bottle)
*To save time, the crust can be made and refrigerated the night before, and the filling can be made up to 8 hours ahead
*I think this recipe calls for too much coconut for my taste and would reduce it by half next time, but all of the BBQ guests said they liked the coconut level so, just keep that in mind depending on how you feel about coconut

Tropical Cream Tart
26 Gingersnap cookies
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 6-oz containers of fruit-on-the-bottom pineapple yogurt
1 tub whipped topping, thawed
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut, shopped

Garnish: chopped mango, pineapple and kiwi

1. Coat a 9-in fluted tart pan with removable bottom with nonstick spray

2. Crust: Break cookies into food processor; pulse until fine crumbs form. Add butter; pulse until blended. Press firmly over bottom and up sides of pan with your hands and the back of a spoon. Refrigerate.

3. Stir yogurt in a large bowl to combine fruit. Fold in 2 cups whipped topping until blended, then the coconut. Spread into crust. Refrigerate 3 hours or until set.

4. Garnish before serving

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me

I love birthdays. My birthday, other people's birthdays--I just get really excited, which probably belies some unnatural personality bent towards selfishness but hey, whatever, who doesn't like cake and presents? :) I also happen to have an amazing group of friends that showered me unnecessarily with neato baking gear that I am SO excited to try out. I'm so grateful for my new sheep cookie cutter (my favorite animal!), individual cupcake tupperwares, the new Martha Stewart cupcake book and the generous love of all my friends--thanks to everyone who helped make my day special!

As a treat to myself I also ordered catered cupcakes for my party from my favorite shop, Hello Cupcake in Dupont Circle. I ordered a dozen each of Dulce de Leche and Raspberry Beret (chocolate cake with raspberry buttercream) flavors, and they were just as amazing as I'd hoped. Unfortunately I didn't make it over to Artisan Confections to pick up any Michel Patisserie macaroons, so I guess that will have to wait for next year's bash. Stay tuned for my attempts to recreate just about every cupcake from Martha's new book and, in the meantime, enjoy these cupcake shots from the party.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


When I found out that May 31st was National Macaroon Day, I probably got overly excited. I know what you're thinking--"Excited about those lumps of baked coconut popular with Grandmas?" Not exactly. Instead, I get drooling over the French-style macaroons, which are slowly gaining in popularity Stateside and could not be further from the American version.

Seemingly simplistic, French macaroons, or "macarons", are miniature, domed sandwich cookies filled with ganache and come in myriad flavors ranging from traditional (chocolate, strawberry) to exotic (rosewater, jasmine mango). However, this cookie's simple appeal is deceptive; this is one of the most difficult cookies to master. Although the cookie is made only from almond powder, egg whites, sugar and confectioner's sugar, a quick trip to shows that there are no fewer than 20 cookbooks dedicated solely to the love or creation of macarons. Extremely temperamental, it seems that every pastry chef has their own approach to the perfect macaroon. Some advise that the batter MUST rest for 30 minutes before being dolloped onto the baking sheet. Others swear by chilling the batter before making the cookies. I particularly like David Lebovitz's take on the process when he decided to make the ultimate Franco-American fusion macaron--Ketchup flavored.

The origin of this French classic isn't clear but may have come to France from Italy as early as the 1500s. For several hundred years, these cookies were served as a single cookie (no layers) and it wasn't until the 1900s that pastry chef Pierre Desfontaines of iconic Parisian bakery Laduree created the first sandwiched macaroons, inventing the treat as we know it today. Laduree is still the first stop for most macaron seekers, and the last time I happened to stop in it was Mother's Day weekend and the place was a mad house of Parisians trying to get first dibs on the amazing flavor selections as gifts for maman.

Because I know my limits, I plan to wait for a long weekend to attempt what is sure to be an arduous macaron making process. But, in the meantime, I've recently discovered a supplier in my local area that is Laduree-trained, so a few of these little delicacies may make an appearance at my birthday party next weekend--stay tuned.