What’s in a Cupcake?

When I was a little girl, my grandmother and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen together, wrapping ground meat in grape leaves, rolling dough, mincing, dicing, crushing nuts in a mortar with a pestle, using spoons to stir and hands to knead. I don’t think my grandmother knew how to work a hand mixer. She rolled her eyes the first time she saw an electric chopper. I didn’t have to cook until I moved out of my mother’s and grandmother’s home at the tender age of thirty-two. (This is a story for another time.) But once I put on an apron in my own kitchen, it all came together. There was an ease that must have come from the memory of tastes, smells, and textures. I enjoy the process of cooking and baking far more than the act of eating, which is saying a lot since I so love to eat. But most gratifying of all is that almost every time I cook, I can feel my grandmother’s presence. Cooking and baking were part of how we experienced life together. We must have shared hundreds of stories and jokes while we cooked and baked. Being in the kitchen wasn’t just a necessity; it was about sharing time and space, and creating dishes around which people would gather.

My son loves food, and has been taking classes at the Young Chefs Academy for over a year now. He welcomes every chance to help when my husband, my mother or I are cooking. He is more of a savory chef. My daughter is a baking fiend. Since I bake at least twice a week, she has become accustomed that we always bake when we are visiting or hosting. The other day, she got a container and took some cookies and brownies from the mountain I had baked to help my students make it through the state test. She said those were for her classmates and teachers. Naturally, when I told her that today would be the last day of school before the summer vacation, she asked that we bake rainbow cupcakes. And because she asked politely and offered to help, we did.

When I asked my daughter what ingredients we needed, she said she didn’t know the recipe for cupcakes, but “prubbly sugar, eggs, flour, vanilla, and butter.” She cracked the eggs, unwrapped the butter, and measured the sugar and flour. While we baked, we joked, told stories, and licked the spoons before putting them in the sink. She cleaned every time something spilled, even though I always tell her to wait until we are done with all the measuring, mixing, and pouring.

Within the next hour, my daughter learned measurements and textures:

Did a little color chemistry.IMG_0554

Talked about how not all girls like pink and some boys also like pink and some girls like Spider-Man and some boys like Dora but not everyone likes green but a lot of girls like purple.IMG_0555

Counted while lining the muffin pan, and practiced pouring.

Counted the cupcakes and sorted them by color.IMG_0558

Noted differences in the textures and colors of the dough and the frosting.IMG_0559

Decorated, all the while talking about how much her friends were going to love the cupcakes.IMG_0561

Et voila!IMG_0562

Daniel came into the kitchen a few times while we were baking, uninterested in what we were doing, but intent on telling us it was all too much sugar, and reminding me that Imani’s classroom would be full of toddlers high on sugar. “Seriously, mommy, is that what you want?” Hmm, not exactly. But I did have a great time with my girl, mixing, dying, pouring, talking, and laughing.

Try these recipes for the easiest, fastest (unless you are separating both the dough and frosting into four batches, each dyed a different color), tastiest vanilla cupcakes, and this recipe for creamy, smooth vanilla frosting.

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