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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Strange Signs of Spring and Red Velvet Cupcakes

At work the other day, the tree outside my window all of a sudden became full with fat, feathery robins.

"Look, look!" I exclaim to my coworkers. "Robins are here! Spring is coming!"

They just looked at each other and laughed. I guess every single day I'm going to say something that sounds like common sense and learn that over here, it is pretty much the opposite. 

"Where do you think the robins were back in December?"

I don't know where they went, but I'm pretty sure they weren't around here. I mean, I think I would know. I watch out for birds a lot. But I didn't say anything.

"Come here. Let me show you something." Now my self-doubt has moved to full on coworker-skepticism, but I follow him into the office next door. He points to a tree full of red berries. "You see that tree? When spring is REALLY coming, all the robins will start eating the berries off that tree. They aren't eating them now, because the berries aren't ready. They need to be fermented to a certain degree. The robins eat them, get drunk, and lay around on the ground. THAT'S when you know spring is coming."

"So you're telling me that seeing robins alone is not an indication of spring, its a group of robins getting collectively drunk."


I was fairly certain he had made the whole thing up when wouldn't you know it, a day or two later the woman from the next office -- who wasn't there the day of our discussion-- shouts out: "They're eating the berries! They're doing it!"

I guess it's really going to take at least a full year before I can start to understand the strange norms and traditions of the Palouse. Also, I'm less inclined to believe them now that it's been snowing for the past 14 hours.

Anyway, I like hanging out with the girls in Rob's program because they all come from seemingly more normal places and can understand the adjustments it takes to live out here. So when it was a new friend's birthday, obviously I felt inclined to make some cupcakes, something way better than what you can get at the town's only bakery, Sweet Mutiny. 

I did some research into what would make the perfect red velvet cupcake. I wanted a recipe that had a good technique for making that bright red color. I liked the idea of making a paste from cocoa powder, vanilla extract and red food coloring to get the chocolate nice and bright before adding red to an already-chocolatey-brown cake batter. Only a scant amount of white vinegar. Buttermilk was fine, but I'd have to make my own with lemon juice and milk. No other weird ingredients aside from the sugar, eggs, flour basics. I decided on this recipe from Brown Eyed Baker, which came out great. 

As for the frosting, I didn't want the cream cheese kind. I read that the real traditional frosting for red velvet cakes were "cooked", but I didn't know what that meant. So a little further investigation proved that indeed, you cook down milk and flour into a non-buttery roux, cool it completely and add it to a whipped butter-sugar mixture. It's alluring because it winds up super fluffy, like whipped cream, and only slightly sweet, as the milk/flour tempers that pure sweet flavor of regular icing. I went with this recipe because I liked the pictures and the step-by-step instructions, which I needed because I was doing this on my lunch break and needed these done stat.

Anyway, I sort of botched this whole thing because after one batch of cupcakes I realized I'd need to make another, but I didn't think I had any more red food coloring, so I made them regular. Of course I found more red food coloring tucked away a few days later. And as for the frosting, all my butter was frozen, and I'm not the best at defrosting the proper way. So the consistency was all wrong. But boy I know the potential is there. 

Don't let my semi-failure deter you and try this cake+frosting combination out! Because regardless of what the drunk robins are telling you, spring's not here and bikini diets can wait.

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