We were sitting across from each other at the old wooden dining room table inherited from my in-laws before he was even born, each of us at our respective laptops, working. Suddenly he looked up at me, pausing in his typing, a glimmer of mischief in his golden eyes, and he said “You’re requisitioned to make 50 cupcakes for my birthday party.” Sly grin slid over his face, smugness oozing from each and every pore. “Requisitioned? Don’t you mean “commissioned”? I asked, always in the habit of correcting those slight errors of language in my multilingual boys.
Typety type type. His fingers once again clattered across the keyboard of his laptop. He peered closely at the screen before reading aloud: “Requisition: an authoritative or formal demand for something to be done, given, supplied, etc.” “No,” he assured me, “I meant requisitioned.”
And so I found myself scurrying around my kitchen in a panic, flour puffing up around me in great clouds, cocoa powder leaving dark traces across my face, the heavenly scent of vanilla the only thing calming me down. I am always thrilled when my boys ask me to bake for their friends and a birthday party to boot, but why do I take on such Herculean chores that I know only throw me in a tizzy? The cursing emanates from the kitchen on waves of chocolate and cinnamon as I make every effort to measure, stir, pour without dropping anything on the floor, pans and bowls balanced precariously on counter edges and stovetop, utensils scattered willy-nilly all over the kitchen, cupboard doors and drawers gaping accusingly. I watch the clock closely as the minutes tick by, knowing that I have little wiggle room for errors, mishaps or flops. And I still have bowls of buttercream to whip up.
But this is a special day. My baby boy turns 25. Yes, 25 years old. As my own mother would say whenever one of her own children announced yet another birthday “What? You are almost as old as I am! Soon you will be older than I!” Oh yes.
With Uncle Michael
My little bundle of joy. No need to carry you along on a voyage of the years flown by; those of you who are parents already know how it works, those who are not parents will not understand the nostalgia, poignant sadness touched by joy. From plump little baby to curious – more than curious, in his case – toddler to young boy passionate about nature and a gloriously happy eater. Through those turbulent teen years to that odd limbo between adolescence and adulthood – mostly spent in bed, head firmly buried under covers - when he had no idea where to go, what to become, to this. A smart, handsome, funny, oh-so clever and talented young man. Architect, entrepreneur, future politician….
So 50 cupcakes and all of the trouble and anguish that it entailed (necessitated, one could say) was well worth it. A gift for Clem and his friend who shares this birthday with him, a joint party. So I baked. I used several recipes, two for chocolate cupcakes, two for vanilla. And only one disaster of overfilling and overflowing cupcake batter. By the time that I arrived at the frosting stage, I only had time for my Simple Chocolate Buttercream Frosting, but happily it is the best and my sons’ favorite frosting. So I made six batches. Yes, six. And as the clock inched closer to 6 p.m. and pickup time, I pulled out pastry bag and plain tip, all the colored sprinkles I had in my cupboard, the cookies I bought a day earlier expressly for the purpose and began the assembly line production. If in doubt of one’s piping and decorating skills, simply shower cupcakes with sprinkles.
Happy Birthday, Clément!
For the cupcakes, I used:
Simple One-Bowl Special Chocolate Cake : makes 12 cupcakes
Emergency Blender Chocolate Cupcakes (an Abby Dodge recipe) – makes 12 cupcakes
Better-Than-Instant Vanilla Cupcakes (an Abby Dodge recipe) – makes 12 cupcakes
Yellow Layer Cake (from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum) : makes about 36 cupcakes filling the cups only half full. Do not overfill!
Try my Vanilla Sponge Cake in cupcake cups for the same light, ethereal cupcake, filling the papers only half full.
Simple Chocolate Buttercream Frosting – without the mascarpone if the cupcakes will be sitting out or made a day ahead. Feel free to whip in mascarpone if serving immediately to have a richer frosting (you will also need less buttercream). Make one – the recipe given is a double batch - recipe of the frosting at a time (or half, as needed), piping as you like. Simply have enough softened butter, powdered sugar and unsweetened cocoa powder on hand and ready to make more single or double batches as needed; this recipe whips up in a flash. If the buttercream is too soft to pipe immediately, simply pop into the refrigerator for 10 minutes or so.