Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Divided by Common Language

Oxford by Snowlet
Oxford, a photo by Snowlet on Flickr.

As I mentioned earlier, I had a misspent youth in England.  Although the prospect of voluntarily signing up for years of institutional British food was initially horrifying, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the town of Bovine Crossing.

There is the something to be said about drinking where J. R. R. Tokien had his cups.  Looking at the misty Isis before early morning rowing practice, you could pretty much accept the existence of Middle Earth as fact.  The industrial kitchens of some of the colleges looked like Gormenghast.  And, it amuses me to no end that that I went to graduate school at Hogwarts.

There are two things that the English do very well-- sweets and speaking English.  It's not the accent-- I've spent enough time living and working with Brits so I'm not impressed with silly island speech affectations.  It's the use of language.  Americans are slovenly with their word choice (myself included), while the chattering classes in the UK wield English with precision.  I loved the way my peers could a turn of phrase so it was so evocative and perfect that it was simply delicious.  For example, "he's kind of a jerk," would be something like, "In his mind, he is a legend in his own lunchtime."

Common phrases and words sound more appropriate in English English-- aubergine (well thank the French, but at least the Brits have the good sense to use the word), digestive biscuits, mad-keen, crumpet, chuffed, wanker.

One of my favorite English English phrases is "fairy cake" for the utilitarian American "cupcake."  Fairy cakes sound like lovely delicate sugary confections.  Cupcakes sound ho-hum.  So in the spirit of our divided common language, I've reinterpreted a very American cupcake into a fairy cake.

This recipe is my adaptation of one from the New York institution, Magnolia Bakery (which the bakery has made readily available on the web).   The main change is that I swapped out vanilla for Grand Marnier-- I think it gives the cakes a delicate yet grown-up flavor.  The bitter and sharp scent of citrus zest gives it that something extra, and the white frosting with a hit of bright orange or yellow on white is quite attractive.

Fairy Cakes
3 c flour
2 t baking powder
1 c (2 sticks butter) softened
2 c sugar
4 large eggs (at room temp)
1 c milk
2t Grand Marnier 

Yield: enough for 2 dozen cupcakes or 1 (9-inch) layer cake 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line 2 (1/2 cup-12 capacity) muffin tins with cupcake papers.  In a small bowl, combine the flours. Set aside.
In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not over beat. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended. Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about 3/4 full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean.
Cool the cupcakes in tins for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.
Be sure to beat the icing for the amount of time called for in the recipe to achieve the desired creamy texture.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
6 to 8 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Fine Orange or Lemon zest
Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add 4 cups of the sugar and then the milk and vanilla. On the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat until smooth and creamy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition (about 2 minutes), until the icing is thick enough to be of good spreading consistency. You may not need to add all of the sugar. (Use and store the icing at room temperature because icing will set if chilled.) Icing can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.  Decorate with grated orange and lemon zest.

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