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Lemon-Ginger Fairy Cakes

I think I've mentioned before that J is an alien creature who often resembles a normal fellow but occasionally exposes his true color (green, naturally). One of his little oddities I discovered recently is a propensity to refer to cupcakes as "fairy cakes."

Though there's a little friendly debate about what constitutes a proper fairy cake in the comments over at Becks & Posh and Cupcakes Take the Cake, the Wikipedia lumps cupcakes and fairy cakes together on the same page.

When it comes down to it, the difference between a fairy cake and a cupcake actually seems to be geography.

Ginger Cakelet

I believe that J might insist that the true fairy cake — that is, the most correct example of the genre — is the one that's exactly to his taste: Simple. Petite. Spiced with an unexpected hit of ginger. Something to enjoy with his pot of afternoon tea, perhaps.
Lemon-Ginger Fairy Cakes (Makes about a dozen)

3 cups all-purpose or pastry flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup lemon zest (from about 3 lemons)
2 Tbsp crystallized ginger, chopped finely
3 eggs
3/4 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup buttermilk

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease the cups of a muffin pan or line them with wrappers.
2. In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
3. In a separate bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy, then add the vanilla, lemon zest, ginger and the eggs, beating well.
4. Add about a quarter of the flour mixture into the butter mixture, blending well. Blend in about a quarter of the buttermilk, then continue alternating the flour mixture and buttermilk, incorporating everything until just blended.
5. Pour the batter into the muffin cups to about 2/3 of the way full. Bake cupcakes for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick poked in the center of one comes out clean.
6. Remove from oven and cool in the pan 10 minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. Ice with simple cream cheese frosting (below) and share with people you like.

Across the pond, I think the cakes (fairy and otherwise) tend to have more conservative icing than the mountains of fluffy frosting you see on cakes hereabouts. If you've seen Nigella Lawson's pretty little tabletop-flat cakelets, you'll know what I mean.

But I just can't be satisfied with a thin icing. Truthfully, I'm devoted to cream cheese frosting. It's rich, smooth and tangy and it tastes good on everything from carrot cake to devil's food.

For a recipe like the one above, I add a bit of lemon zest, but I'd resist that urge for cakes of a chocolate persuasion.
Simple Cream Cheese Frosting (Makes enough to frost a 13" x 9" cake or about a dozen cupcakes.)

1 8oz package cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar (or more, to taste)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp lemon zest (optional)

In a mixing bowl, blend the butter and cream cheese. Slowly blend in the powdered sugar, beating until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Blend in the vanilla extract and lemon zest (if using).

Cheers to you and all the fairies in your life!
Miss Ginsu

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2.04.2009

Day 7: Superb English Tea Scones

This post marks Day 7 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Somehow, we Americans tend to fixate on the Victorian era, particularly in London, as the point on the time-space continuum for maximum holiday revelry. I think we can blame Dickens for this.

These days, we don't travel in open sleighs, we don't open the shutters and throw up the sash to spy St. Nick on the lawn, and you won't catch us wearing furry beaver muffs or lighting lanterns around our homes unless it's for reasons of historical romance, but these visions all somehow seem holiday-appropriate to us.


Ice skating at 72nd Street Lake, Central Park, 1894, (from NYC Parks & Rec)

I won't argue with this oddity, but I'll offer that even though the classic English Tea Scone is not in any way fixed on the holidays, it certainly seems to be an appropriately festive addition to the landscape.
Superb English Tea Scones (Makes 10-12)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp butter
1/3 cup currants (optional)
1 large egg
1/3 cup milk or cream
Additional milk or cream (for brushing)
Sugar (for sprinkling)

1. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
2. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or a long-tined fork until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
3. Whisk together the egg and half & half.
4. Mix the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients just until they hold together. Form a ball with your hands and turn the ball onto a floured work surface.
5. Heat oven to 400°F and lightly roll the dough into a 1/2" thick disc.
6. Cut disc into 10-12 wedges, and move the wedges to an ungreased baking sheet, 1" to 2" apart.
7. Brush each wedge with milk or half & half, then sprinkle with sugar. Bake until lightly browned, about 12-15 minutes.

Serve the warm scones alongside your favorite preserves and Devonshire cream, if you can get it. (If not, you can fake up a faux Devonshire cream by whipping 3 oz cream cheese, 1 tsp powdered sugar and 1 cup cream until thick and smooth. Cover and chill at least 2 hours.)

You'll want to gather some friends, iron your grandmother's linens and brew up a nice hot pot of tea to serve with your scones, of course. Coffee just seems... improper.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.07.2008

Google Scores PhD in Tea House Cute

Now, I may not be a cuteologist in the same league as the experts over at cuteoverload or meomi, but I'd say I've done enough concentrated independent study to rate as a connoisseur of cute.

That said, Gmail users, I address you today. Have you seen the fantastically awesome cuteness that is the Gmail Tea House theme?

If not, I urge you to go to your Gmail account, hit the "settings" tab at the top-right corner of the page, select the "themes" tab at the end of the settings bar, and scroll down to the "tea house" theme.

Cute little fox in a grass hat. Cute peach trees. Cute Japanese garden. But wait... it gets even cuter.

Throughout the day, the little fox conducts his cute daily activities. At noon, the sun is high in the sky, and he's playing his flute for the ducks.

Later on, he might enjoy tea and cakes with a little monkey friend or tend his bonsai tree. As I cook dinner, the stars come out and he's making ramen just outside his adorable pagoda as the chicks peck the ground. Under the moonlight, he lights the lanterns. CUTE!


My little foxy friend eats his dinner.

Ace cute. The bus stop theme is pretty great too, but I compulsively come back to find out what the fox is up to. Bravo, Google.

We'll be to the regularly scheduled food blog tomorrow. Just had to share.

Cheers,
Miss Ginsu

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11.23.2008

FoodLink Roundup: 03.31.08

Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was dining at the Minnesota State Fair. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Think you know? Post it in the comments.

What Was Lost
A long-lost French grape is rediscovered 150 years later in a far-away land under an assumed name. Danger! Intrigue! (via WineHazard.com)

Italy roiled by a cheese scare
Not the cheese, Gromit!

Diet pill’s icky side effects keep users honest
So it's come to this...

TeaMap: Tea Room Directory
Looking for tea while you roam? Look no further!

Skipping Breakfast and Packing on Pounds
More research news that really should come as no surprise: brekkie is the most important meal of the day.

Ten Tastiest Food Photography Tips
This piece presents really silly copy, but the tips are good advice whether you're a full-on food blogger or just a food fanatic.

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3.31.2008

FoodLink Roundup: 03.10.08

Cupcake Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was romping through Sabino Canyon near Tucson, Arizona. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post in the comments if you think you know...

The Psychology Of Commerce
A quick lesson in commodity exchange... demonstrated with the aid of vegetables and chickens.

Free the Grapes!
Wine lovers unite to do battle against the evil forces of distribution blue laws (via WineHazard)

A Brief History of Chocolate
"Who would have thought, looking at this, that you can eat it?"

Self-control consumes real energy
Why your deprivation dieting plans fail every time...

Thomas Heatherwick East Beach Cafe
The most expensive chippy you've ever seen. Hope those chips are tasty.

Coffee Prices Skyrocket
Horrors! Time to stockpile those vacuum packs.

Chinese Food: America's National Cuisine
Exploring the march of the ubiquitous "Chinese" restaurant across America.

Make Coca-Cola at home
DIY Coke... A great skill to have after the apocalypse.

Honibe Honey Drop
Solid honey drops. A nifty innovation for tea-drinking travelers. (via
The Food Section)

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3.10.2008

Food Quote Friday: Graham Greene

Cream Tea at Podunk

"Tea at college was served on long tables with an urn at the end of each. Long baguettes of bread, three to a table, were set out with meagre portions of butter and jam; the china was coarse to withstand the schoolboy-clutch and the tea strong. At the Hôtel de Paris I was astonished at the fragility of the cups, the silver teapot, the little triangular savoury sandwiches, the éclairs stuffed with cream."

— Graham Greene from The Comedians

Sample more savoury food quotes here.

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2.15.2008

Day 24: Curd Crazed

This post marks Day 24 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Welcome Christmas Eve! The 24th has arrived, and if you had great intentions of doing anything before the holiday, it's kind of too late. Why not relax and let go of unrealistic expectations?

I've blogged about the thrills of lemon curd previously, but here we are in the middle of citrus season, and I've only blogged four times about various citrus fruits this month, and not even once have I mentioned limes. For shame!

Citrus curds are one of those great condiments that have fallen by the wayside. Is it the name? Curd. Like curds and whey, right? But no. Citrus curds are, in fact, sweet-tart, silky-smooth, sunny-hued and almost translucent.

Lime curd at tea-time

Or are curds unpopular because they're at their very best when they're fresh-made? Truthfully, most people simply don't make fresh spreads for teatime and brekkie anymore. We're busy people. We crack open jars of jelly and twist the tops off honey jars instead of making fresh curd on the stove.

Maybe it's a combination of poor naming associations and lack of free minutes. But listen: you probably have Christmas Day off from work. Making curd takes mere moments, and it's one of those special things you probably never enjoy. You can make some up tonight and it'll be chilled and waiting for your morning toast. A wonderful breakfast adventure to look forward to...

Or do like the Brits and take your curd at teatime. Brew some black tea, make some toast or shortbread and set out your great auntie's teacups. It'll be cute and old-fashioned.

Lime curd is a cinch (And don't let the double boiler frighten you off. It's just a bowl set over a pot of boiling water. How hard is that?), and it makes a great mix-in for yogurt, a glaze for cakes, a topping for cheesecake and a spread to adorn hot crepes. It's also lovely spread on muffins or scones, in tart shells, on fingers...

Supremely Easy Lime Curd (Makes a bit less than a cup.)

1 large, fresh egg
1/4 cup lime juice (1-2 limes)
1/2 tsp lime zest
1/4-1/3 cup sugar, or to taste
1 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter, cold

1. Cut butter into small 1/2" chunks.

2. Boil a small amount of water in a small pot and cover with a stainless steel or Pyrex bowl. (This, friends, is the double-boiler heating method.) Whisk together the egg, juice, zest and sugar in the glass or metal bowl.

3. Whisk the lime mixture continuously over the steamy pot for about three to four minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl to avoid overcooking the edges. (You can hold the bowl in place with a hotpad, if it feels unstable.) The curd should grow progressively thicker as you whisk, and it will look like a pourable pudding when it's done.

4. When the lime mixture is thickened, take the bowl off the heat. (At this point, you could strain it if you cared to do so. I really don't care about the zest remaining in my curd, so I don't.)

5. Add in the butter chunks, and stir to melt and blend the curd.

Transfer the finished curd to a storage container and, if you don't want a skin to develop, cover with plastic wrap touching the surface of the curd.

Lime curd doesn't last forever — two weeks at the max — so use it while you've got it. (Come to think of it, that seems like good advice for most of life.)

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12.24.2007

The Hedonista Hundred, Part V: 21-25

Pushing onward in the quest to uncover and document 100 wonderful and tasty things...

If you've missed prior twenty, you'll find 'em at the archive page.

Ollie's Noodle Shop
Takeout from Ollie's Noodle Shop on a flat-top rock in Central Park.

21. Picnic food. Even if it's only a loaf of bread and a chunk of cheese. Even if you don't have a blanket. Even if you didn't make it yourself. There's just something twice as grand about eating outside under the sky.

roadside farm
Next exit: Ripe stonefruit, berry baskets and fresh zucchini (3 for $1).

22. Roadside produce stands. Likewise, fresh sweet corn out of the back of a pickup truckbed. Sweet. Juicy. Awesome. Extra bonus: farm stands offer unique discoveries... which is kind of the philosophical opposite of the cookie-cutter, gas-n-go, drive-thru, "back on the highway in ten minutes flat" experience one finds along the New Jersey Turnpike.

Canned goods at the Hong Kong Mall, Queens
Canned goods at the Hong Kong Mall in Queens, NY

23. Local grocery stores. Think the museums and monuments tell the whole story? Not likely. Stop into local food shops around the world to gawk at the cool packaging and variety. See how the natives stock their pantries. You don't really know a place until you know how its people eat.

My CSA
Williamsburg CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) pick-up day

24. Community-Supported Agriculture Groups and farmers' markets. Give the money to the farmer. Get vegetables, fruit, eggs and flowers. It's fresh. It's direct. It's local. It's environmentally friendly. What's not to like?

Podunk in the East Village
The afternoon cream tea with scones and berries at Podunk

25. Teatime. I don't have a lot of love for their bangers and mash, but the Brits were really on to something with the afternoon tea. Civility, serenity, caffeine and lush snackies. That's a tradition I can get behind.

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3.04.2007

Podunk: a nook for tea and decorum

Tea at Podunk
Cream Tea (scones, fresh whipped cream, berries, strawberry jam, apple butter, cream and sugar) at Podunk

When we walked into Podunk, a tiny tea shop on a strangely quiet block of 5th Street, J and I were desperate for cardamom cake.

The proprietress seemed tickled that such a craving might force people to canvass the city. She asked if we'd found her shop via Google. Indeed, we had, but more precisely, we found her shop through Halldór Laxness, an Icelandic writer (and Nobel Laureate) with a talent for food description that drove us drooling mad with cardamom-infused daydreams.

The Citysearch reviews for Podunk were puzzling. A flood of gushing praise (cute decor! lovely owner! amazing cakes!) peppered with venomous tales of a witchy woman who flies into rages and throws customers out into the street.

Our experience had been so thoroughly positive (and the cardamom cake so unequivocally delicious), that we left puzzled. That sweet lady in the apron and disheveled bun was obnoxious? A mad woman? It seemed improbable.

On another occasion, strolling past 5th Street, we were taken by a sudden whim for tea cakes. We stopped by and found Espeth (the afore-mentioned tea mistress) brandishing the last piece of her apple chai tea cake — a surprisingly spicy confection layered with chunks of fresh apples. We talked about that day's sudden autumnal yen for apples and spice. Though the piece was much too large to offer as a single slice, and slightly too small to divide, she gave us the whole grand thing for the price of a single. Rude service, indeed!

On our third visit, we arrived for the tea. Nestling into chairs, we reviewed the menu, ordered the cream tea, and looked through a few of her vast array of children's books. The tea service arrived lush and beautiful. Her strawberry jam packed a peppery whollop in the back of the throat. The scones were airy, crisp and tender. The whipped cream was freshly whipped and begging for juicy berries.

As we sipped, a woman burst through the front door, fresh off her cellphone with that unmistakable air of patented New York impatience. We looked up from our steaming cups.

"Can I get a coffee to go?" she asked.

"No," said our tea mistress, "We don't have to-go cups. There's a Starbucks around the corner."

And that's when I resolved the Jekyll and Hyde mystery. Podunk is a reflection of what one brings to it. You don't walk in with self-importance, irritability and an enormous ego yearning to break free.

Tea is a civil occasion. It's a quiet nook in the day for sipping, nibbling and practicing good behavior. Present yourself as well-mannered, warm and friendly. You'll be greeted in kind... and discover some really fantastic tea and cakes in the process.

But honestly, whether there's cakes in the bargain or not, isn't that simply a nicer way to approach your fellow man?



Podunk
Podunk on Urbanspoon
231 East 5th St (Btwn 2nd & Bowery)
New York, NY 10003
212.677.7722

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12.28.2006

Sea and Crumpets

J, a mouth on the move between Seattle and San Jose this week, reports in from the field (or dock, as it were) on a subject dear to my stomach: quality brekkie.

First good brekkie of the trip today. There's a place at Pike
Market
called The Little Crumpet Shop that rocks unconditionally.

$1.50 for a mug of unlimited refills of freshly brewed loose leaf
tea, $3 for a bowl of groats(!) with honey, milk and currants. Mmm.

My insides are so happy. They had the usual little sign about not
bringing outside food into the place, but they wrote in special
permission to bring fresh fruit from the market. Aw.

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11.08.2006