Do you ever get the feeling of a thousand thoughts banging around the inside of your head but when you stop to get a grip, you can't figure out what exactly those thoughts are? It's the sort of thing that leaves me absent-mindedly clicking through the tasks of each day and staring at the ceiling at night trying to focus on just on single thing at a time. Which is impossible, of course, if you're anything like me.
I had all these wild ideas about what to make for dinner yesterday night, I'd spent the better part of the afternoon considering braising a cabbage but then again I'd be the only one eating it, except for Mom who always takes a bite of anything adventurous I prepare, even if she knows it's not her style. And the thought of eating an entire cabbage all to myself kind of made my stomach turn - moving on. So I contemplated something to make my wild heart focus on one thing, something simple and right. I've learned that even when I can't make the thought train screech to a halt, I can try and point it one direction or the other, and eating provides the most instant form of gratification. I considered my ultimate Slow Your Mind food: a grilled Swiss and Roma tomato sandwich on sourdough and yes, that would do the trick. I have to admit, I actually got a little excited about it, the cheese oozing out the sides with a slurry of red juice from the tomatoes sopped up with crusty bread. So I'm banking on the hope that my father isn't reading this, because the sausage spaghetti dinner I was greeted with on arrival hardly made my day. I would not go down so easily - I munched on lettuce leaves and ice water until the garlic smell wafted out of the kitchen.
But dessert is never out of my control, and I considered tackling that chocolate loaf cake that continues to haunt me to this day, but I only had a tiny nub of dark chocolate in the pantry and it wasn't enough for the recipe, plus I promised myself I would keep it simple and a trip to the store was not part of the deal. So I sat still for a moment, what's the most basic thing I can make? I twisted my yellow apron strings around my wrists until the answer floated to the top of my cluttered mind with ease: cupcakes.
Now these little darlings require minimal effort and almost no attention to what you're doing, which is a good thing if you find yourself preoccupied with a thousand other things. You toss all the ingredients into the food processor, blitz away, drizzle a few tablespoons of milk down the chute until it's smooth enough to spoon into cupcake tins and bake away. The original recipe called for self-rising cake flour, which I honestly have never even seen before, so the mad scientist in me swapped it out for all purpose with a dash of baking soda. Don't mind the little humps on top of the cupcakes, life's too short to worry about such a thing. Just saw them off with a serrated knife and get on with it.
In keeping with my simplistic theme, I refused to start beating the hell out of butter and sugar to make a proper frosting, so I nixed the very idea and headed for royal icing instead. Royal Icing is the sort that hardens as it cools and gives you a satisfactory snap under your teeth when you bite into it. Once, on a flight from Detroit back home to the Big City, I sat next to a man who acknowledged my ever-present issue of Bon Appetit magazine and reminisced about a certain icing his mother used to make that was "hard on top but good and crunchy." It could only be royal icing, and I happily scribbled down a recipe for it on the back of his boarding pass. Royal icing is nothing more than an egg white or two, confectioners sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice. Don't shy away from the raw egg white, if they're pasteurized, you don't have anything to fuss about.
Adapted from How to be a Domestic Goddess
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
7 tablesoons sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup all purpose flour
Scant 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
half teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons milk
12-cup muffin pan lined with 12 paper baking cups
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Blitz all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor until smooth, scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula once. Drizzle in the milk until it looks smooth enough to spoon into cups, I used all three tablespoons of milk.
Spoon the batter into paperlined cupcake tins, it won't look like there is enough batter for a dozen but they're supposed to be small, and the extra room at the top will keep the royal icing intact, unlike the drippy mess you see in my photos.
Bake for about 12 minutes or so, keep an eye on them. Remove them from the tins and allow to cool on a wire rack before icing.
2 egg whites
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Squeeze of lemon juice
Whirl the egg whites and powdered sugar in a food processor for 2 or 3 minutes until smooth. Squeeze in the lemon juice until it is thin enough to spoon on top your cupcakes. I considered adding a bit of food coloring paste, but that wouldn't be simple now, would it?