In between my break away from physics and finding a job in an established bakery, I worked in a small cake shop selling special order cakes and thousands of cake and cookie decorating equipment. Though my job title was "baker," it was a far stretch from my actual job description. I spent one or two mornings a week baking up boxed cake mixes; my employer hovering over my shoulder convinced I was going to mess them up.
It was frustrating in many aspects. Though my boss was truly a lovely woman who went out on a limb to give me a chance, the job wasn't quite what I had dreamed of. I spent my hours daydreaming of a bakery where I had freedom of ingredients and the trust to make something delicious (it would eventually happen, but not today). The cake shop didn't even have a stick of butter buried in the back of the fridge. I looked.
When I wasn't in the back of the store baking, I was out front helping customers and keeping the shelves stocked. The store was never terribly busy. Most of my time was spent languidly lining the food colors in stick straight lines, the sound of my breathing and the shuffling of paper in the back the only noises in the stilled shop. Among the quiet activities, attending to The Wall of Sprinkles became the most time consuming. The wall held at least a hundred different packages of sprinkles of every imaginable shape and color—jimmies, nonpareils, dragees, sanding sugar, crystal sugar, holiday sprinkles, and so forth. It was, in essence, a sprinkle lover's mecca.
Rather than "baker," my job title really should have read "sprinkle curator." I attentively filled the sprinkle containers by weight, tapped them shut tightly, and priced them with love. I arranged them by color, type, and holiday on the shelves—five containers in back and four in front. I never meant to get irrationally obsessed with The Wall of Sprinkles, but it was beyond my control. As soon as a customer bought one of the sprinkles off the shelf, I would run to the back to grab another to make my sprinkle-lined shelves even.
Looking back, I think I was looking for validation. Validation in my decision to switch careers and validation to pursue baking. If I couldn't prove to my employer that I could bake, perhaps my devout attention to The Wall of Sprinkles would, in some small way, redeem me. It took a couple months of hard work before she allowed me to frost the cakes for her to decorate. It was the smallest of steps for me, but for her it was as large as the Grand Canyon. Though I set out to learn to bake, the true skill I came away with was patience. Honestly, I think it was more valuable in the end.
Well, that and I have an unusual fondness for sprinkles.
Note: I'll be vacationing in warm and tropical Hawaii this week so I'll be taking the week off from blogging to soak up the sun and get sand between my toes. Don't worry, I'll pack as many photographs and anecdotes as can fit in my suitcase on my return. Have a lovely week! I'll be certain to have a Mai Tai and think of you.
These S'more Cupcakes are delightful, irresistible, and impossible to ignore. The cupcakes have a crunchy graham cracker base, topped with a sweet chocolate cupcake, rich chocolate glaze, and toasted marshmallow meringue. I love the texture of these cupcakes—crunchy, light, soft, sticky, and gooey. It truly is a s'more in cupcake form. These are perfect for birthday parties, long summer nights, and when you want a special treat just for you.
One Year Ago: Strawberry Pancakes (and a harrowing tale about a watermelon)
Inspired by Call Me Cupcake!
Yields 24 cupcakes
Chocolate Cupcakes with Graham Cracker Base
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons butter, melted
Chocolate cupcake batter, enough to make 24 cupcakes (use your favorite homemade recipe or box mix)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line a cupcake pan with baking cups.
In a large bowl, stir together graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter until evenly coated. Place a tablespoon sized scoop of the mixture in the bottom of each baking cup. Using a glass or bottle the size of the base of the cupcake, press down the graham cracker crumbs until they form a solid crust.
Bake for 5 minutes to allow the base to harden. Cool for 5-10 minutes before filling with cupcake batter.
Fill the rest of the baking cups 2/3 full of cupcake batter. Place in the oven and bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool to room temperature before glazing and frosting.
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
In a saucepan, melt together the chocolate, butter, and corn syrup over medium heat and stir until completely combined. Remove from heat and allow to cool in room temperature for about 30 minutes until chocolate thickens to a spreadable consistency. Stir occasionally.
4 egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
In a double boiler, whisk together the egg whites and sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved and the egg whites are warm to the touch, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat, transfer to a medium mixing bowl, and beat the egg whites until they form stiff, shiny peaks, about 5-8 minutes.
Using a knife or off-set spatula, spread a thick layer of chocolate glaze on top of the cupcake, extending the chocolate to the edge of the cupcake. Let set for a few minutes.
Fill a pastry bag with the marshmallow meringue and pipe the meringue on top of the cupcake. Alternatively, you may fill a large sealable plastic bag with the meringue, snip off the corner, and pipe it on top of the cupcakes. Using a kitchen torch, lightly toast the marshmallow meringue to resemble a toasted marshmallow. Alternatively, if a kitchen torch is not available, turn the oven onto broil and place the cupcakes on a cookie sheet in the top shelf of the oven. It will only take a minute or two to get a nice toasty marshmallow look, so watch them very closely.