I think an Academy Award themed cupcake needs just a few basic components:
- a fresh taste, like an independent film or Freida Pinto from Slumdog Millionaire;
- a little off-the-wall pizazz, like Mickey Rourke's suits; and
- the ability to make a lasting impression (if only for a few hours), like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's romance or Meryl Streep.
Components to be avoided include:
- super sweetness – like Dakota Fanning or Mamma Mia;
- stale ingredients – like Ryan Seacrest's commentary; and
- anything that induces vomiting – like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's romance or a Mike Myers movie.
I decided on almond cupcakes with pine nuts. I got the idea from the pine nut cookies that every Italian grandmother forces you to learn how to make, and thought I might as well mix things up a little (see fresh taste and off-the-wall pizazz above). If they didn't work out, I figured it would probably be the least of my failures this week (awkward work email, subway trip and fall – yes, I failed at walking), so I was willing to take that risk.
To top the cupcakes, I wanted to use basic vanilla icing and had visions of festive gold toppings (lasting impression!). Unfortunately, after looking around online I determined that edible gold glitter reminds me of asbestos and makes me gag. In an attempt to find the next best thing, I headed over to New York Cake and Baking Supply on 22nd St. That went poorly. It wasn't open. Blackberryless, I wasn't sure where to go next, so I went to the gym and pondered it. I wandered around in the rain and after a stop a Party City (sold out), I concluded that Williams Sonoma was out of my price range and went home in defeat (ok, I did stop at 4 other stores...I was on a mission).
The cupcakes actually turned out rather delicious, if not as pretty as I hoped. I usually mix fat free sour cream in my cake to make it fluffy, but to give the cupcakes a texture more similar to the aforementioned pine nut cookies, I beat milk and folded the foam into the batter (skimming it off the top like they do at Starbucks). To my surprise it worked just as I intended, and while the gold sprinkles were missing, after watching the Hugh Jackman/Beyonce dance routine, I figured my dessert couldn't compete in the lasting impression department anyway.
I love a theme.
The entire recipe (with the exception of the milk) can be done by hand - no mixers or fancy equipment is needed:
1 stick, plus 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp (added to taste) almond extract
1/4 cup pine nuts (crushed/pureed)
3/4 to 1 cup sour cream (or, if you don't have sour cream, beat 3/4 of a cup of milk and use the foam)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and mix until well blended. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, salt and baking soda. Slowly add to the mixed wet ingredients. Fold in the sour cream or foam, alternating with the almond extract. Mix in the pine nuts. If you would like, add a little extra almond (but note, the flavor will enhance while they cook). Spoon the batter into cupcake papers/pan and bake for 16-20 minutes until the tops are golden and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack before icing.