I woke up this morning and found myself experiencing an overdue existential crisis of sorts.
Well, let me back up. I’m at the apartment, alone, for a few days, attempting to clear my head enough to get a few pages of thesis written down before the semester starts. Yeah, that’s not happening. I’m not quite sure what became of my motivation, but I’m pretty positive it had something to do with toasting the New Year while thinking to myself, FRAK IT.
Let me back up even further. It’s 2013, apparently. Or at least, according to my phone’s calendar. It’s being quite insistent about it, in fact. Which, you know, doesn’t bode well for someone who still finds herself writing “2010” on almost every assignment she’s turned in for the past 2 – no, 3 now – years.
I don’t like it.
But I guess we didn’t all go up in a fiery blaze at the end of last month, so there’s something to be said about that.
I spent much of last weekend up north with Liz, who let me crash at her place for a few nights after days scheduled entirely around eating establishments and Downton Abbey. One evening of Django Unchained – which, by the way, is gloriously gritty, violent, and darkly humorous, in typical Tarantino fashion – to get us into actual civilization, but after close to 45 hours driving around the mall, fruitlessly searching for post-Christmas parking, we figured it’d be safer to spend as much remaining time in PJs whenever possible.
This continued to be the theme for most of my week, and what I anticipate will be most of the next few days.
New Year’s was equally low-key (read: indolent to the highest possible degree), spent with the girls out for nachos, followed by a few hours in Nitya’s basement where we chatted about nothing, made a celebratory toast of some sort for something I felt very lowly about toasting, and promptly fell asleep, sprawled on air mattresses and various objects of furniture, at 12:45. The following morning was met with a headache, a much-needed shower, and a drive back to the apartment.
Happy New Year.
Okay, okay, I’m just being difficult, now. I’m not actually the least bit depressed about the new year, and our indolent night-in was, quite sincerely, the best possible way to have spent it. Decade-old friends, rounds of Cards Against Humanity to remind us just how terrible we are as people (and a reiteration of how we’ve managed to say such good friends for such a long time), and merriment, all followed by a full night’s sleep. (The four of us are a little bit elderly inside, truthfully.)
But toasting it was an odd thing. A mixture of nostalgia, crippling fear about finally beginning what I’ve always known as graduation year, and having absolutely no desire to do more academic work after 7 grueling semesters of trudging through textbooks, pages of half-hearted bullshit typed under the influence of too-much-caffeiene and not-enough-sleep. Mostly, a profound feeling of catatonia has sunk into my bones, leaving me with little desire to do anything save recline on the sofa with a steady stream of Netflix running.
(I’m not quite sure it’s possible to fit 70 hours of Battlestar Galactica into three days while also maintaining some sort of sleep cycle, but I am up for the challenge.)
But even that, I can live with. It’ll be over in 5 months – 5 months which, I’m sure, will fly by just as rapidly as the past 3 years have – and then I can look forward to driving aimlessly across the country with no direction whatsoever. Character-building and all that halfhearted, Catcher in the Rye-esque crap.
No, this existential crisis is a result of the fact that I willingly walked into a cupcake shop a few days ago and left after having actually purchased something.
Almond Vanilla Cupcakes with Coffee Buttercream
Adapted from The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook and Brown Eyed Baker.
Yields about 10 cupcakes.
Ingredients for the cupcakes:
- 2 eggs, separated
- 1/4 cup grapeseed oil
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1 tsp almond extract
- 2 1/2 cups almond flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- pinch of salt
- 1 tbsp flaxseed, if desired
Ingredients for the coffee buttercream:
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 tsp instant coffee
Method to prepare the cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350F and line a cupcake sheet with ten paper cups.
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites on high speed until they form stiff peaks. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks, grapeseed oil, sugar, vanilla, and almond extract on medium speed until pale yellow and light. Gently fold in the egg whites.
In a separate bowl, combine the almond flour, baking powder, salt, and flaxseed (if using) until the dry mixture is uniform. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Dollop enough batter to fill about 2/3 of the cups. Bake for 20-25 mins, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool completely in the pans.
Method to prepare the coffee buttercream:
Mix the instant coffee into the vanilla until dissolved, and set aside.
Using the whisk attachment of the mixer, whip the butter on medium-high speed for about 5 mins. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Reduce the speed and gradually add the powdered sugar. Once all sugar has been added, increase speed to medium-high and whip for about a minute, until batter fluffs up a bit.
Add coffee and vanilla mixture into the frosting, and continue to whip for another minute or two. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Store frosting in the fridge until using.
Frost a generous amount on top of each cupcake.
- This recipe is 100% gluten free, but make sure to check your extracts to verify that they are, in fact, gluten free as well. Flavored extracts are sometimes not. I know, it’s a pain.
- Cupcakes are 100% dairy free.
- If you like your desserts quite sweet, I suggest pouring a bit of simple syrup over the cakes about 5 mins after they’ve left the oven. Not a necessity, but these are not as sugary as your typical cupcakes.
I have this thing about cupcakes. The thing is, I hate them.
They’re a sad excuse for an actual dessert. It probably stems from my dislike of cake. Not that there’s anything wrong with a good cake, but honestly, what makes the cake is what’s hidden beneath the layers. The curds, the jams, the frostings, the creams. The flour disk is just a vessel for the thing – 800% more delicious – smeared on top of it.
Cupcakes – or at least, most – don’t have this saving grace. They’re a mound of flour, topped with a mound of too-sugary-frosting. Plain-looking and off-putting unless painstakingly decorated with colored fondant cut into inane shapes of cutesy animals or faux fruit. A waste of time and energy. But an entire shop devoted to the things? Stereotyped, as well, to be owned and run by a pair of overly peppy women in ribboned ponytails and matching T-shirts? No, thanks.
(To be quite fair, all the cupcake shop owners I’ve ever met have been incredibly sweet. The stereotype is totally undeserved, and taken from the hateful Food Network show, Cupcake Wars. Most episodes leave me with an intense desire to shove my Kitchen Aid to the floor in a fit of rage.)
So, I hate cupcakes. Totally irrationally, I understand quite well, but such is the case. So when I somehow found myself standing in the cupcake shop sitting amidst the quirky, local boutiques in the nice part of the city, I realized something.
And that something is, I owe them. Quite a lot, actually.
For an entire shop devoted to serving solely one type of baked good, it’s a necessity to keep the options interesting. Fruit-filled, bananas mashed into the batter, sugar nests on top, what have you. But cupcake shops are also some of the first to embrace food fads and dietary shifts – at least, in the population of individuals who care about that sort of thing. Which, by the way, is the exact demographic that these sorts of places tend to cater to.
Once gluten-free became a bigger part of the foodie-verse, cupcake shops were quick to whip up batches of them. Dense, mini chocolate tortes, almond-amaretto cakes, lemony-tart with a signature flour blend. Soon after, other cafes and bakeries (local ones, for the most part, but nonetheless) hopped on board.
So when I left the bakery with my sole gluten-free treat, I felt an unexpected rush of gratitude. And vowed not to let pettiness keep me from appreciating the silly little cake that lets me keep baking.
Why these? Perhaps as homage to my eye-opening experience last weekend. Perhaps because waking up, two days after the start of the new year, with a head full of all the thoughts that have kept me from letting myself really enjoy the new year, I had a meltdown akin to that of Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids. Perhaps because sometimes you have to let yourself grow up a bit, and realize that that’s okay. Perhaps as acceptance that it’s 2013, it’s going to be life-changing, and it’s going to be wonderful.
These aren’t exactly the most aesthetically pleasing of cakes out there, but they’re so much more than a mere mound of flour.
And that cupcake I bought, by the way? It was delicious.