Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Thriller from Vanilla - Very Vanilla Cupcakes

After court on the first day of the year, and after I shot the pictures of the downtown sculpture, I stopped by the lakefront.  Although I drive along the northwest edge of Lake Toho almost daily, and certainly have admired the beautiful improvements visible from the car window, I had not yet walked the paths of the interior.  The sky was overcast, but the sights were still delightful.

I have a "thing" for lakes.  While other people crave beach property facing the ocean, I prefer proximity to a lake.  Maybe it has to do with those summers I spent at Jewish sleepaway camps and resorts up in the Catskills, all of them situated around lakes.  When we moved from Long Island all those many years ago, I initially felt the loss of my beloved Lake Ronkonkoma, dramatically touching three townships and possessing two beaches on opposite sides.  Lake Ronkonkoma was also steeped in history, having been the eastern terminus of Vanderbilt's Long Island Motor Parkway, a race car driver's dream and an engineering marvel for its time and place.  Oh, and it has a curse. And it is bottomless.  I really missed it (the lake, not the curse) but got over it once I discovered Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, and East Lake Tohopekaliga in St. Cloud.

Man fishing on Lake Toho.  He waved, I waved back.  
Hope he got a good catch.

I could go on and on about Lake Toho, the Big Lake, world renowned for its bass fishing, its habitable islands which were sanctuary to the Seminole Indians during their various wars with the United States government, the rich and varied history, its fauna and flora, and its cute little lighthouse, which was built in 1999 and isn't really a lighthouse.  But while my obsession with finicky details about old buildings, maps, subways, and arcane history is well-known, I'm not sure it is shared by everyone.

Let's face it, the internet was invented for people like me, who can spend hours pouring over old pictures of the former Flatbush Avenue Long Island Railroad Terminal or Google maps of the building in which my Grandpa Albert had his music store in the 1950s.  I suppose that makes me eccentric, if not downright weird, and I do apologize if my mental meanderings are not your cup of tea.  The good news is that I have an utterly delectable cupcake recipe to enjoy with whatever is your cup of tea.

Kissimmee Lakefront, long long ago

The bad news is that, having drafted that yesterday evening with the plan being to finish it and post it later today, I woke up with a most horrible sort of headache, concentrating its evil powers on my right eye and side of my neck.  Since then it has sent tendrils of pain towards my left eye, the whole back of my neck and shoulder blades.  My usefulness quotient is practically zero, and I had to let my supervisor know I would not be in.  I hate to do that.  I hate having to admit to physical weakness, which I equate with aging.  I don't mind so much if my hair turns gray and my face shrivels like a prune - well, maybe just a little - but I do mind being slowed down.  It's not like I've ever been a marathon runner or terrifically athletic - I couldn't climb the damn ropes in fifth grade - but it should not be an issue for me to gather enough pain-free moments in a day to get to the office and work at my desk.

These are from yesterday; I didn't realize just how overcast the sky was. Gray, like my hair.  Sigh.

And here is the recipe for the cupcakes I wasn't able to bring into the office today. Sorry, guys.  But I'm going to freeze them and bring them in Monday.  Promise.

Very Vanilla Cupcakes

These are my answer to the triple chocolate cupcakes I baked last week.  The recipe is a super-vanilla version, light but rich.  The tops puff up beautifully in the oven, but sink down upon cooling.  Not to worry, I doubled the frosting.

1-18.5 oz. box classic white cake mix
1- 3.4 oz. box instant white chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup canola oil
4 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 cup vanilla/white chocolate chips (I use Ghiradelli)
Very Vanilla Frosting (below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line the muffin tins with paper liners.

Using a stand mixer or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat together all of the ingredients except for the chips. Beat for about two minutes on medium speed until well combined. Stir in the chips by hand.

Spray a regular ice cream scoop with release spray, and scoop, distributing the batter between the muffin cups.

Bake in preheated oven for 22-24 minutes or until the tops of the cakes spring back when lightly touched. Allow cupcakes to cool inside muffin tins for about 10 minutes.

Remove cupcakes from muffin tins and allow to fully cool on a wire rack. Once cupcakes are cool, prepare your frosting.  

Very Vanilla Frosting

2 - 16 oz. tubs creamy vanilla frosting
2 - 1/4 teaspoonfuls pure vanilla extract

Stir the frosting with a spoon, and add 1/4 teaspoon of the vanilla extract to each tub.  Use one tub for half the cupcakes (around 12) and then repeat with the other tub of frosting and the remaining cupcakes.  I used a large star tip and a one quart ziploc storage bag to pipe the frosting onto the cupcake, but you can use your favorite frosting method.  Just remember to fill in the depressions caused by the sinking tops.

The office cupcakes got a sprinkle of colorful non-pariels (Happy New Year!), while the home supply did not.  Good either way.

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