Front Burner Episode One: What’s cooking in verbal cupcake’s kitchen

Several people have asked why I don’t write about food–specifically, why I don’t write about the food that I make at home. I am definitely a food enthusiast: restaurants, bakeries, farmer’s markets, quality ingredients–I love everything about food and the processes that go into producing a quality dish. But for a long time, I wasn’t sure I could also write about food, mostly because many food blogs I’ve seen are light on the writing and big on pictures, which is not to say that they are not good blogs (indeed, I’ve found some wonderful recipes on different food blogs), but I am definitely more a writer than a photographer, so I needed to find an “angle” if I was going to write about the things that I cook up in my little kitchen.

I’ve decided that my “angle” could be true recipe testing. Lots of food sites have a space for people to post reviews of the recipes (Epicurious is my favorite site for the recipes, not so much for the reviews). It’s nice to have this function, particularly when you are browsing a lot of recipes for one particular item, such as brownies or basic vanilla cupcakes.

The problem I often have with the reviews, however, is that they are rarely for the actual recipe as it’s been printed. Far more often than writing reviews of the actual recipe, people seem to use the space to write about of their own version of it, often with long lists of ingredient substitutions and changes in method that would greatly affect the final product. “I loved this recipe,” someone might write, adding, “But instead of baking the banana bread, I whipped the batter extra long and served it as a mousse.” Or someone else will say, “My husband loved this. I swapped out the raisins for goat cheese and added jalapenos instead of walnuts. It was a hit!” Epicurious is plagued by this problem, but so is Cooking Light’s website, which is another “go-to” place for me when it comes to searching out recipes.

I have no problem with people writing about the recipe substitutions they’ve made to create a dish that can be enjoyed by those who may have certain dietary restrictions. I’ve seen diabetics writing about using Splenda instead of sugar, or those with wheat allergies writing about using rice flour in place of all-purpose, and to be sure, such reviews are incredibly helpful to others whose health concerns require similar substitutions to be made. I’m also not opposed to a recipe review that says, “The first time I made this, I followed the recipe exactly,” then compares those results with the substitutions or changes that the reviewer made the second or third time around. That way, I at least know what someone thought of the original recipe, and I can decide for myself what substitutions to make, if any.

Unfortunately, most people seem to just want a platform to talk about how creative they are in the kitchen, ignoring the role of a review in the first place: people look to the reviews to know what separates that recipe from something similar, and whether or not the recipe as printed is successful.

Thus, with that in mind, I have decided that my “Front Burner” category will be devoted to writing about recipes that work, and writing about the results that come from following all of the directions exactly, including the list of ingredients and the method by which the dish is made. Because I am a “recipe cook” (one who happily heard Ina Garten describe herself the same way just a few days ago), I like to make things the first time based on the recipe, and then change it up after that first test run, if need be. Many of the recipes I will review here are from Epicurious, and the reviews will be based on the results from the recipe as printed. If I have made adjustments based on experience with the product, I will certainly say so.

Today’s first installment is a review of an old favorite, from Marion Cunningham’s The Breakfast Book. Cunningham calls these “Cinnamon Butter Puffs,” but I have seen them often referred to as “Donut Muffins,” because of their similarity in taste to a cinnamon-sugar donut.

I love this recipe: it’s easy, fast, and scrumptious, which are three things I think every cook likes in a breakfast dish. Another wonderful feature is that I nearly always have every ingredient on hand, which makes them great for last-minute, unexpected guests, or a spur of the moment morning indulgence. The most “exotic” ingredient is nutmeg, and in the interest of full disclosure I will say that I once left it out on accident and the result was still good (so if you are out of nutmeg, you could make these and enjoy them); still I prefer them with the spice, so I would never skip it on purpose. Of course, if you don’t like nutmeg, you could leave it out.

These muffins do puff up nicely, and their texture is rather cake-like. The topping of melted butter and cinnamon sugar definitely gives them that donut-like taste; they are heavenly with a cup of strong coffee.

Cinnamon Butter Puffs, about to be plated

Cinnamon Butter Puffs, about to be plated

Cinnamon Butter Puffs

1/3 c. shortening

1/2 c. sugar

1 egg

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1/2 c. milk

Topping:

1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, melted

1/2 c. sugar, combined with 1 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease the muffin tins.

Put the shortening, sugar, and egg in a mixing bowl.  Beat well.  Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg and add to the first mixture.  Pour in the milk and beat until blended and smooth.

Fill the muffin tins about two-thirds full.  Bake about 20 minutes, or until lightly golden.

For the topping, have the melted butter ready in a bowl that is just large enough to hold one puff.  Have a shallow bowl ready nearby with the combined sugar and cinnamon.  As soon as the puffs are done, remove them from the pan and dip them one by one into the melted butter, and then roll in the cinnamon-sugar mixture.

That’s the recipe as it’s printed in the book.  I’ve made it as printed several times and love it.  Variations: I almost always use butter now instead of shortening because I don’t use shortening very often; hence, I rarely have it on hand.  I also always make this with cupcake liners instead of greasing the pan, because greasing muffin tins is just one of those tasks that I’m not looking to do when I’m in a hurry for breakfast.

Lastly, Cunningham says this recipe makes “about one dozen puffs,” but I have a smallish (1/3 c. versus the standard 1/2 c.) muffin tin, and I always get exactly nine puffs.  I should say that’s another thing I like about this recipe: because I rarely make it for more than two people, it makes the perfect amount of puffs.

I hope you enjoy these!  Bon appetit!

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About Sarah

Grammar goddess, cultural critic, full-time media junkie. I read, I bake, I watch tv. And then I write about it.
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One Response to Front Burner Episode One: What’s cooking in verbal cupcake’s kitchen

  1. Mary C says:

    Hee hee! Banana mousse!

    These look wonderful – will have to try them!

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