Anyone who was in New York City and thereabouts for the weekend of Valentine’s Day 2016 knows there was an unbelievable Arctic snap of below zero temperatures and all that accompanies that. Therese and I gamely went out the night before to see a Broadway play with some friends (“An American in Paris,” and it was fabulous). But the walk back to our apartment was brutal (no taxis to be had), and sure enough, the next day I had come down with an awful cold. So much for my plans to make duck breast with cherry sauce and bake cupcakes for Valentine’s Day! But I vowed that when I was better, I would still come through on my dinner plans for the holiday.
And of course I did (but in stages). First came the seared duck breast in port and cherry sauce from an Epicurious recipe that I’ve used before (the one change I make is to use half a medium onion instead of a shallot).
The duck could stand by itself as a meal, but in this case I sauteed a package of Trader Joe’s Multigrain Blend with Vegetables to accompany the dish. Excellent dinner, and Therese and I were well on our way to feeling that special V Day feeling.
But next, there were the cupcakes. I had gotten an email a couple weeks prior regarding a class being given by the Prohibition Bakery. This bakery gets its name from the fact that they use wine, beer and spirits in their recipes. The class wasn’t of interest to me – it was on a day that I was busy, and they would surely use dairy in their recipes – but I found out they had published a book full of their recipes, so I bought the Prohibition Bakery Cookbook instead.
The recipes were fascinating, and there are also a lot of techniques described in the cookbook that I had never tried before (like making jelly – more on that later – and icing a cupcake properly using a pastry bag).
For the first cupcake I would tackle, I chose the Port in the Storm, which includes not only port wine, but also stout and espresso in the recipe. I made a trip to my old favorite kitchen store, Sur la Table, to get the equipment I lacked – in addition to pastry bags and tips, squeeze bottles and of course, mini cupcake liners (luckily, we already own 2 mini cupcake pans).
What I like about the Prohibition cupcakes is that they all have at least three components – the cupcake batter, a liquid filling, and the icing (some also have a decoration to put on top of the icing). The Port in the Storm had the stout mentioned above in the chocolate batter, then a chocolate ganache filling (made using Valrhona baking chocolate and Trader Joe’s Coconut Cream) with port wine added to it, then an icing that is flavored with brewed espresso and espresso powder. What a bunch of powerhouse flavors! But they play well together.
I had a few challenges in making this cupcake – like figuring out how much pressure to put on the pastry bag to get the nice decorative ripples in the icing – but overall, it was a great success. We loved the cupcakes, and since I overfilled the liners a bit, the cupcakes came out a bit too big, and thus, instead of the recipe making 48 cupcakes, it made a more reasonable number – 36, which for two people was plenty.
Therese loved these cupcakes as much as I did, but I know that she is not a big chocolate person. So for the second cupcake, I chose one that was dominated more by fruit flavors, the White Sangria. With lemon juice, lime zest, apple brandy, ginger beer and white wine in the recipe, this is a cupcake that has lots of tang to go with its sweetness.
The brandy and the ginger beer go in the icing. The white wine is used to make a jelly which becomes the filling. To make the jelly, I had to use pectin, which I have never seen before. At the Whole Foods where I shopped, I found Pomona’s Universal Pectin. The recipe called for liquid pectin, but this was a powder. Would it work? Well, luckily, I found a website that gave the details of using liquid versus dry pectin. The differences? Basically, you use the pectin with the fruit (or wine, as in this case), and then add the sugar later – and you use a lot less pectin than you might think you would need. From my experience with sauces, I know that powders tend to get lumpy, so before adding it to my hot wine, I added a couple tablespoons of wine to a teaspoon of pectin in a small dish and whisked it to get it smooth.
Putting those three components together – the cake, filling and icing – makes a cupcake which I could eat all day. I am sure I will be exploring this cookbook more in the weeks to come – a lot more!