Sunday, August 13, 2006

Blackberries By The Train Tracks

blackberry orange vanilla cupcakes

(8/07) Sigh. I've been trying to write this post for over a week now. I just haven't been up for it. Am I burning out on this blogging thing? Maybe, but I have also been busy as all get-up, at least for me. I've attended one birth per week for the last three weeks--phew. All that coming and going around the veil sure can make a girl permanently tired and disoriented. And I want to be a midwife. How will I manage???

(08/11) Sigh again. I'm still trying to post this. Someday I will upload the pictures so that you can see how cute these cupcakes were. But not today!

(08/13) Finally. Tonight is the night.

Monday, July 31, 2006
Name of Cake: Blackberry Train Wrecks
Occasion: I gotta do something with all these blackberries
Constituents: Blackberry-Orange Cupcakes with leftover Vanilla Frosting

Brains got me all fired up about his new secret blackberry patch that he discovered during one of his nightly walks in the SE industrial district.

Now, you should understand something about Brains. He grew up in the Eastern Washington backwoods, without electricity for the first few years of his life, with a cow for a pet. He likes to pick things. He likes to pick things for free.

If I'm ever posting about something I've baked up with freshly picked ingredients, 9 times out of 10 it will be the Brains that got me out there pickin'. We once spent several days picking dandelion flowers out of deserted lots in N Portland so that he would have enough to make dandelion wine. We often go down around the train tracks to pick blackberries. We've made numerous trips to Sauvie Island to u-pick raspberries and strawberries. We've sneakily picked thimbleberries from the bushes in Hoyt Arboretum, salmonberries during hikes in the Gorge, and huckleberries off the side of Mt Hood.

Anyhoo, off we went last Monday to pick a bunch of blackberries down by the train tracks in SE Portland so that he could hopefully get enough to make blackberry wine, and me to bake up something.

I LOVE trains, so of course I was all excited. No offense to the blackberries, but I like picking them the least. I would really rather buy them in the store, so I can avoid the thorns, spiders, juice stains, and the feeling that I am standing in shit. I don't know why in my memory I associate blackberry brambles with poo, but I do. I don't get it.

I was really there for the company, and the trains. I freakin' love trains.

The brambles were well stocked with juicy berries, but many of them were either totally out of reach or not yet ripe. But I still walked away with a good haul. Meredith still needs more for his wine.

blackberry orange vanilla cupcakes

Stained, scratched, slightly traumatized by spiders and the feeling of lingering dookie, yet totally jazzed by all the loud, polluting, clanking, mysterious trains rumbling by I hurried off to bellydance class, wondering what I would do with all those damn blackberries.

I thought I should dutifully try my hand at yet another pie, but I am a little turned off by pies at this point. All that freaking time and work for pie dough just pisses me off. I'll get over it, I'm sure, but right now, to heck with pies and hooray for cake. After all, I'm the evil cake lady, not the pie dough dominatrix.

So cake it was. And I was excited! I remembered, with fondness, the blackberry-orange cake I made two years ago for a midsummer night's dream party thingy. That was a damn good, very good, hella good cake. That's right, I said hella.

blackberry orange vanilla cupcakes

I decided to bake it up again, but this time as cupcakes; the "it" food of the year.

Using RLB's yellow cake as the base, I added about 4 tsp of grated orange zest to the egg yolks, milk, and vanilla and let it steep as long as I could stand. The first time I used this recipe, I tossed the blackberries in flour and at the last minute folded them into the batter before scraping into the pans. I had hoped the flour would help the blackberries cling to the batter and not fall to the bottom, but it didn't work. So this time, I left the blackberries where they were until I had scraped about 1/2 to 2/3 of the batter into the cupcake cups. Then I added about five berries to each cup, and dropped a little bit more batter on top of the berries. This last bit of batter I smoothed over the top of the berries as best I could, and baked them for about 20 minutes.

blackberry orange vanilla cupcakes

This technique worked as the berries stayed at about the middle of each cupcake. Looking back, I think I should have added enough berries to make a solid layer of blackberry in the middle of each cupcake. That would have been spectacular.

These cupcakes rock my world. The light, springy texture, the not-too-sweet cake that bursts with juicy tartness from the berries with orange and vanilla notes in the background...sigh. I think this is my favorite cake I've ever made. You don't really need a frosting, but the vanilla buttercream is a nice, creamy, vanilla add-on.

blackberry orange vanilla cupcakes

(And, a side note about frosting cupcakes: why do so many bakers feel the need to spooge on so much frosting that you can't take a proper bite?? You should be able to bite through the frosting and cupcake in one bite. But with these over-frosted cupcakes you end up with two bites: one being 80% frosting and the next being 100% cake. Wrong!! Especially cupcakes like these, where halfway down there is a berry good surprise, you want to be able to bite down through the entire cupcake so you get the real experience. So the frosting has to remain mellow. And, these are cupcakes, not cups o' frosting! So all you out there, go easy on that damn frosting! I mean it, people.)

(8/08) I have a few left over from last week and I'm going to eat them for dinner with some peanut butter ice cream. I'm not convinced its a good idea, but I'm doing it anyway. You only live once.

(08/11) I'm sure that dinner had nothing to do with my present cold.