I reach into the cabinet to take out two well-worn stainless steel mixing bowls, its clean surface bearing the scratches of past culinary projects.  Almost automatically, I grab the glass measuring cup and silicone mixing spatula from their usual places.  From the pantry, I retrieve the sugar, flour, and baking powder and set them on the kitchen table.  Next to this set up is a piece of scratch paper on which I had carefully listed the ingredients that would mingle and coalesce in these bowls to create something beautiful.

Working swiftly, I measure out the powdery flour that is to be the cupcake body, some of it spilling over the edges of the measuring cup and onto the wooden kitchen table to make small piles of white dust.  Next, I add the baking powder and baking soda that would give the the cake volume.  I grab the whisk with the blue handle and begin to sift, turning everthing around rapidly to destroy clumps and to trap air between the fine grains.

In the second bowl, I pour in the thick coconut milk, the viscous olive oil, and the pale yellow champagne infused with the aroma of peaches.  Into this mixture, I scrape a cup of strawberry puree, the black seeds and tiny lumps of fruit still visible in the dull red juice.  This is the bowl that contains the essence of the cake–from the pinkish hue to the sweet scent of fruit and fermentation.  Finally, the wet mixture is brought together with the aerated flour, the moistness holding everything together like glue.

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As the cupcakes bake in the oven, I pick up a new stick of softened butter, bruising the sides with my fingers to test its readiness.  It breaks and smashes against the whirring metallic whisks; the electrical grinding drowns everything else in the kitchen.  I mix in powdered sugar, coconut milk, and concentrated champagne that had been simmering on the stove.  The stiff clump turns into soft buttercream–a beautiful, fluffy white frosting with a noticeable alcoholic bite.  It is rich without being overly filling.

Gingerly, I wiggle the cupcakes out of their tin molds and let them cool for the night.  In the morning, I choose a cake and decorate its top with a ring of frosting, garnishing the small pillowy mount with sliced strawberries.  But it’s not over yet.  I grab my camera and head into the living room.  I choose the wooden table stand for its checkered pattern and nice grainy texture.  I adjust the curtains to let in the soft, morning light, and find to my delight that the red curtains illuminate the room with a warm hue.  For the next fifteen minutes, I take a barrage of photos.  At first, the shots are mediocre, then, some near misses.  And, finally, the right shot.  This is perhaps, the part about baking that I enjoy the most.  Not the first bite or even the kitchen process.  It is this final picture.  Because I know that everything in this photo, from the beautifully decorated cake to the perfectly exposed and focused image, was created by me.  It doesn’t get more exhilarating than that.

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Strawberry Champagne Cupcakes from Love and Olive Oil

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