Salted Caramel Whoopie Pies

March 10, 2010

This past weekend the Tufts’ student theatre group—Pen, Paint, and Pretzels; affectionately abbreviated to 3Ps—put up an amazing production of Eric Bogosian’s “SubUrbia.” The play was incredibly powerful and scarily relatable. The acting was great and the set was phenomenal. So at the end of the show I enthusiastically applauded the cast. I decided that I would treat them to a little something extra. Some people give bouquets of flowers, I give baked goods. Because after all, flowers are nice to look at, but their beauty is short lived. Food is equally temporary, but at least you get to eat it. Booyah roses.


In one scene, the hyperactive Buff (played brilliantly by Greg Berney) waxes poetic about Oreos. The show’s producers got really into the whole Oreo thing; they even placed a Technicolor Oreo on the posters. I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is no. I didn’t make them oreos. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So I decided to make Whoopie Pies, which are kind of like Oreos on sterioids. Instead of crisp cookies, the creamy center is sandwiched by two moist chocolate cakes. I decided to swap out the normal buttercream filling with a salted caramel frosting. This added some depth to the cookies, befitting the play’s intensity.

Whoopie Pies originated up here in the Northeast, specifically in Amish-country, Pennsylvania. The Whoopie Pie’s popularity has reached an all-time high.  Swanky dessert places hawk reimagined whoopie pies for ridiculous prices (think Finale).  Even Nabisco has hopped on the bandwagon, selling a bastardized Whoopie Pie in the form of “Oreo Cakesters.” This version requires the use of Dutch-process cocoa powder. This gives the cake a more distinct flavor. If you don’t know the differnce between Dutch-processed and non-dutch cocoa powder, then check to see if the box specifies. If it says “Natural,” then you probably have non-dutch. Go for European brands, such as Valrhona. Hershey’s Special Dark is partially dutched. Generally, brands will label accordingly, saving you the time and trouble. If you want to learn more, check out David Lebovitz’s encyclopedic FAQ about cocoa powder.

But enough cocoa-powder musings. Back to “SubUrbia!” The entire play takes place in front of a 7/11. The characters saunter in and out of the parking lot and pass the days and nights by loitering out front. So I figured that I would re-create the Giant Hostess Cupcake for the cast. Hostess is the quintessential convenience-store snack food, so it would only be right to make that.


The show was awesome, and hopefully the cast enjoyed the desserts.

RECIPE FOR WHOOPIE PIES

1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 cup firmly-packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup DUTCH-PROCESSED cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease baking sheets.

In a large bowl, cream together shortening, sugar, and egg. In another bowl, combine cocoa, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a small bowl, stir the vanilla extract into the milk. Add the dry ingredients to the shortening mixture, alternating with the milk mixture; beating until smooth.

Drop batter by the 1/4 cup (to make 18 cakes) onto prepared baking sheets. With the back of a spoon spread batter into 4-inch circles, leaving approximately 2 inches between each cake.

Bake 15 minutes or until they are firm to the touch. Remove from oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.

MAKING THE FILLING

*  1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened

* 1 cup marshmallow cream such as Marshmallow Fluff

*1 cup salted caramel (see recipe below)

* 1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat together butter, caramel, marshmallow, and vanilla in a bowl with electric mixer at medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Shmear the inside of halve the cookies, and then top them off.

ASSEMBLING THE WHOLE THANG

When the cakes are completely cool, spread the flat side (bottom) of one chocolate cake with a generous amount of filling. Top with another cake, pressing down gently to distribute the filling evenly. Repeat with all cookies.

Deep, Dark Salted Butter Caramel Sauce

(this makes way more than a cup, but believe me, you won’t mind one bit)

1 cup sugar
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) salted butter,

1/2 cup plus two tablespoons heavy cream, at room temperature

Melt the sugar over medium high heat in a large pot (at least two or three quarts) whisking or stirring the sugar as it melts to ensure it heats evenly. If the sugar begins to clump, then you’ve been over-stirring. Should this happen, let it sit for about twenty seconds, before you continue to stir. Cook the liquefied sugar to a nice, dark copper color. Add the butter all at once and stir it in. Once you turn off the heat, pour in the heavy cream (The sauce will foam up quite a bit when you add it; which is why you want the larger pot), whisking it until you get a smooth sauce. If any pieces of hardened sugar remain, they can be strained/picked out.

You use it right away or pour it into a jar and store it in the fridge for up to two weeks. When you take it out, it will likely have thickened a bit but 30 seconds in the microwave brings it right back to pouring consistency.

Advertisements

Kickass Cupcakes Happy Hour

January 26, 2010

Ugh. I’m ready for a vacation. Between my Econometrics class and the precipitation of biblical proportions, I’ve had a pretty rough time getting back into the swing of things here at school. But there’s one thing that will always pick me up: cupcakes. Mick Jagger had it all wrong in “Mother’s Little Helpers.” Who needs happy pills when you’ve got cupcakes?
Well, Kickass Cupcakes offered up three free cupcakes Monday night. This “cupcake happy hour” occurs once a month from 5pm-7pm. It’s best to get there on the earlier side. Trust me, the last thing you want is to show up at 6:30 on an empty stomach and leave empty handed.

There’s something to be said about these tiny cupcakes. Their diminutive size lets you guiltlessly gorge on more than one, unlike their bigger alternatives. And they are so adorable. Whether it’s dogs or ipods or cupcakes, one thing is clear—it’s all about small. Miniature cupcakes are especially prone to dryness, but all three offerings were nice and moist. The three flavors tonight were each a little different. Below are my descriptions and thoughts.

First up, we have the Somerville Sensation, which consists of a Espresso cupcake with a marshmallow fluff center and chocolate Nutella Fluff frosting topped with Taza Chocolate cocoa nibs. The crunchy nibs were a nice touch, as was the fluff center. This cupcake was unique in its liquid accompaniment. This pairing marked the first time that “happy hour” actually included real liquor—in this case a small amount of some liqueur. Personally, I felt it added little to the taste of the cupcake, but I appreciated the gesture nonetheless. The legality of the whole situation is a little iffy, but I’m not complaining. Compared to the drive-thru Margarita stand in St. Louis, this is pretty legit.

The second cupcake, a Chocolate cupcake with a chocolate beer ganache filling and a sam adams cream stout frosting was fittingly titled the Sammy. This was my favorite. The Sam Adams stout frosting was amazing and complemented the cupcake well. The ganache filling and stout frosting weren’t particularly sweet, so they constrasted well with the chocolate cake and the small drizzling of caramel on top.

The third flavor was a raspberry cosmopolitan which was made up of a vanilla cake with a raspberry center and cosmopolitan frosting. I’m never a big fan of fruity sweets like this, because more often than not they taste artificial. The raspberry filling was too sugary for my liking. The lime zest pearched atop the frosting was a nice touch, but beyond that I found this cupcake lacking, especially compared to the other two. In all honesty, I’ve yet to come across a fruity cupcake I’ve enjoyed. If I want fruit, I’ll order a blueberry muffin.

The trip was nice and helped me forget about the stresses of my economics major for a while. As much as I “love” hypothesis testing and multi-variable linear regression, it just can’t compare to this.


“Mini Chocolate Burgers”

January 13, 2010

I had my first—well, my first dozen—macrons in May and was instantly smitten with their taste and cute little design. Since that fateful encounter, I’ve toyed with the idea of making them, but their fragile nature proved too intimidating—until now. My mom’s book group is reading My Life in France (at my suggestion) and I thought that this Parisian cookie would the perfect little snack.

Before we go any further, I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page. We’re talking about macarons, not macaroons. The french cousin to the Macaroon, Macarons can have a variety of fillings and can be identified by their domed tops and tutu-esque ruffled circumference, known as the “foot.”

I decided to use David Lebovitz’s recipe for the French Chocolate Macarons, despite his claim that chocolate macarons are the most difficult ones to make. Go big or go home, that’s what I always say.The recipe called for powdered almonds, but there were none to be had in my local grocery store. I could’ve gone to a specialty shop, but collegiate laziness reared its ugly head—forcing me to buy sliced almonds (Diamond sells blanched, sliced almonds). I pulverized them in the food processor for a good minute. Then I added the powdered sugar and the cocoa, blended them for a good thirty seconds. When it came time to add this mixture to the meringue, I carefully sifted it for good measure.

As for the meringue, there’s a fair bit of debate about how long to age the egg whites before whipping them. Some people leave the whites out for a couple of hours while others swear that a full 24 hours is needed. I just left them in a covered bowl for four hours before whipping them. The main point is that the whites have to be at room temperature to achieve their maximum loft. After folding in the chocolate mixture, I just piped them out using a small plastic sandwich baggie. Yea, I could’ve used a pastry bag, but I didn’t have one. This works just as well and is way cheaper. Just snip off a quarter inch of the tip and you’ll be in business.

Either my oven’s on steroids or the cooking time is way off. My macarons were overcooked by at least five minutes. Next time I’ll put them in for 10 minutes and see what happens. Besides that, they turned out beautifully, complete with that distinctive little foot.

Since I made this first batch for a bunch of peers, I decided to go with chocolate ganache rather than the prescribed prune filling. My baking cohort, Jess, thought that the macarons looked exactly like “little chocolate burgers.” Which got me thinking, maybe White Castle should start offering macarons. After all, McDonalds has its signature McFlurries, and Wendy’s sells Shakes—shouldn’t White Castle get in the dessert game? A variety of Macarons would make the perfect companion to a crave case of those mini burgers, affectionately known as sliders. I’ll be sure to get in touch with the suits over there and let you guys know what ends up happening. Until then, bon appétit!

Chocolate Macrons (adapted from David Lebovitz)

Makes about twenty cookies
Macaron Batter
1 cup powdered sugar
2/3 cup blanched sliced almonds
3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 large egg whites, at room temperature (set them out in a covered bowl for three or four hours hours)
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
Chocolate Filling
2/3 cup heavy cream
1.5 teaspoons light corn syrup
3 ounces of semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (chocolate chips are great time saver)
2/3 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (180 degrees C).

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and have a pastry bag with a plain tip (about 1/2-inch, 2 cm) ready.

Pulverize the almonds in a food processor for a good minute with the pulse setting. Then add powdered sugar and cocoa and process for another thirty seconds.
Beat the egg whites with a mixer until they begin to rise and hold their shape. While whipping, beat in the granulated sugar until whites hold stiff peaks, about 2 minutes.

Sift in the dry ingredients, carefully folding them in with a flexible rubber spatula. Once the mixture in uniform in color and smooth in texture, then place it into a pastry bag or a little sandwich bag. David makes a great disaster-saving suggestion: stand your bag in a tall glass if you’re alone. I used a small bowl and it worked perfectly. With only two hands, we bakers can do only so much…
Pipe the batter on the parchment-lined baking sheets in 1-inch circles (about 1 tablespoon each of batter), evenly spaced one-inch apart. I found that making a swirled shape helped me keep perfect circles when piping out the batter.
Rap the baking sheet a few times firmly on the counter top to flatten them, then bake them for 10 minutes. Once they’ve fully cooled, detach from baking sheet.
To make the chocolate filling:
Heat the cream in a small saucepan with the corn syrup. When the cream just begins to boil at the edges, remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate. Let sit one minute, then stir until smooth. Stir in the pieces of butter. Let cool completely before using.
Assembly
Spread a bit of batter on the inside of the macarons then sandwich them together. (You can pipe the filling it, but I prefer to spread it by hand; it’s more fun, I think.)
I also tend to overfill them so you may or may not use all the filling.
Let them stand at least one day before serving, to meld the flavors.
Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or freeze. If you freeze them, defrost them in the unopened container, to avoid condensation which will make the macarons soggy.


Peppermint Bark

December 20, 2009

There are certain foods that you only crave around the holidays. For some, that culinary craving might be candy canes in December, cranberry sauce in November, Hot Dogs in July, or Peeps in April. Peppermint bark falls in that category, at least for me. I enjoy peppermint bark a lot, but I associate it so closely with Christmas  that my pepperminty appetite lies dormant for 11 months of the year.

I was at the grocery store stocking up on Clementines when saw candy canes and chocolate/white chocolate chips on sale. So easy! So timely! So tasty! I knew then that I just had to do it.

I went without a recipe, relying on my memory to put the bark together. Luckily, bark is one of the easiest things to make. First you prepare your candy canes by crushing them, making it one of the best stress-relievers out there. I did this by simply bagging the candies in a Ziploc baggie and then hammering away at them with a pot until you get the right size. You don’t want to end up with candy cane powder, but they should be manageable bits.

Some people temper their chocolate, but with this recipe I didn’t bother. Too much work, especially considering the fact that the chocolate gets covered up with other layers. The general rule of thumb is that you stop heating up chips once the majority have melted and to stir constantly (assuming you’re using a double boiler). If you’re using a microwave, do it on a lower heat setting and check it frequently—no one likes his chocolate well done.

I distinctly remember chilling the chocolate layer before adding the white chocolate; however I think I chilled it for too long because the white and dark sections didn’t really stick together. The white part was entirely independent of the darker subterranean layer. That’s what I get for not consulting a recipe.

Not that anyone really cared. People enjoyed it all the same. This was probably my last Tufts cooking gig before I head off campus on Monday. Nothing sounds quite as delicious right now as a well-stocked kitchen. Mmmm…

Peppermint Bark (makes probably 4 servings if you’re planning on gifting it for people. But why give when you could receive?)

8 candy canes, crushed

12 ounces of bittersweet chocolate

20 ounces of white chocolate (I cheated and used “Premier White Morsels” from Nestlé)

1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract

1.) Line a 13x5x2 pan with parchment paper.

2.) Melt dark chocolate in double boiler/microwave, then add peppermint extract, stirring until combined. Pour melted chocolate in pan. Place in refridge for 5 or ten minutes. Pull it out a couple minutes before step three is done.

3.) Melt white chocolate chips and place on top of dark chocolate layer. Smooth top with a spatula and then sprinkle that crushed up candy cane mixture on top.

4.) Let set in refridge for half an hour or so.


Super Easy Chocolate Cake

December 8, 2009

We all know them. They’re the people that refuse to drink red wine if it’s served in a white wine glass. Truffle Oil. And they’d never, ever be caught dead buying an off-brand at the grocery store. These epicurean elitists with their snobby tastes are as ubiquitous as they are frustrating.

I don’t consider myself one of these people. Yes, my instincts tell me to choose extra-virgin olive oil over light olive oil, but I’d think twice about dropping dough on something as pretentious as truffle oil. I may make my own vanilla extract, but I’m a sucker for ketchup. I make Marshmallows from scratch, but I’d pick up a Twix bar before snagging a Toblerone.

So imagine how conflicted I was going over this chocolate cake recipe. Here’s the context—I got a text from my mom proclaiming the cake as the easiest and tastiest cake she had ever made. Ever. Only six ingredients and one bowl. Here’s the catch: the cake’s chocolate flavor comes exclusively from Hershey’s chocolate syrup. While I may not be a cocoa connoisseur, we’re talking about Chocolate-flavored syrup. If you look at the ingredients listed on the bottle, cocoa comes after High Fructose Corn Syrup, corn syrup, sugar, and water. This bastardized chocolate is about a genuine as Tiger Woods. If I’m making chocolate milk, that’s one thing, but this is baking—the big leagues. But if it’s good enough for my mom, and Ina Garten, then it’s good enough for me.


I made the cake without too many hitches. The recipe calls for the contents of a 16-oz can of Hershey’s syrup, which is actually 11 fluid ounces. Shaw’s didn’t have the can, so I just bought the bottle and measured out 5 too many ounces of syrup. Don’t make my mistake; the taste was great but the cake was much too dense and brownie-like.

All in all, the cake was incredibly easy and pretty tasty. While I don’t think it beats my ultimate chocolate cake recipe (made with Guiness stout), it certainly was delicious. One of my suitemates said it was the best chocolate cake he’d ever had. So that’s good. Another claimed it was too sweet (probably due to the excess of syrup).

The ganache was nice, but I cut the semi-sweet chips with unsweetened (3 oz unsweetened, 9 semisweet) for a more intense chocolate flavor. In all honesty, I might’ve preferred a simple powdering of confectioner’s sugar cut with cocoa powder. This would’ve been lighter and easier.

Next time you decide to make a chocolate cake, leave your inhibitions at the door and try this recipe. Its simplicity is enough to make the entire thing worthwhile.


Midterms, Marathons, and Marshmallows

October 26, 2009

Vanilla Marshmallows

MARSHMALLOWS

Long time no see! Many apologies for my absence. Between character analyses for theatre rehearsals and Aggregate Demand derivations for Macroeconomics, the flogging has slipped through the cracks. But fear not, I will be updating far more frequently. After all, if Mrs. Smitten Kitchen can have a baby and still make Quiche Lorraine, then surely I can muster up the strength to put out an entry or two.

Homemade marshmallows sounds like a oxymoron, right? Much like Stone Hedge or Spam, only a few people have the slightest idea of how marshmallows are made. This recipe is relatively easy to understand and perform. Makes about 48 1-inch marshmallows.

I was still quite the culinary “noob” when I first came across this recipe in Bon Appetit last summer, proven by confusion over a “candy thermometer.” I had asked my mom why our thermometer only went up to 200ºF. She informed me that I would need a candy—not meat—thermometer. I remember how that sense of accomplishment filled me up after I made my first fluffy batch. With all the stress of classes, I felt the urge to revisit this fail-safe candy on Satuday morning.

Sofa or Prep Station? How about both!

Sofa or Prep Station? How about both!

Our “kitchen” here in Wren Hall has lost its table. This wouldn’t be an issue except for the fact that the table was my only counter space. Now my prepwork has been relegated to the electric stove-tops (not turned on!), the sofa, and the ground (cue Andy Samberg song). Not having gas stove vexed me. Not having a sink angered me. But no countertop? No table? Come on! Hermione of Harry Potter fame would always say that “the wand is only as good its owner.” The same probably applies to kitchens. All it’s gonna take is a little more elbow grease and creativity. And as Kevin Garnett would say, “anything is possible!!!!!” See that—a basketball quote in the same paragraph as a Harry Potter reference!

Please note the missing stove stop to the right of the saucepan

Please note the missing stove stop to the right of the saucepan

Making candy requires precision and attention to detail—marshmallows are no exception. The only difficult part of this is maintaining a boiling temperature of 240ºF. Should the sugar mixture exceed this by too much, the texture will adversely change. Same goes for too low a temp. The higher the temperature, the higher the sugar concentration and the harder the candy. The mixture also will pause at certain temperatures and quickly increase at other points. So don’t freak out when the liquid sits at 180º for a full minute. Similarly, keep an eye out for those quick jumps in temp.
WHIP IT GOOD
Once you let past the boiling stage, you’ve got some mixing to do. Whipping air into the mixture turns it into what is essentially Marshmallow fluff, only better and ten times as sticky. Just go into this knowing that you’re gonna get fluff on your workspace, which in my case was the sofa. It’s a very tasty but potentially dangerous mess. So if you’re the kind of person that likes to use Internet recipes, please print out a hard copy instead of stationing your laptop near your workspace. Your computer will thank you later

The aftermath

The aftermath

I should mention that this recipe would probably work better with a standing mixer, but it isn’t a necessity. The three or four times I’ve made this I’ve done it with an electric mixer with decent results, but they might be fluffier and airier if you use a mixer with the whisk attachment. The other issue with the hand mixer is that once the fluff-like marshmallow mixture gains a certain loft, it tend to swallow up the beaters. The fluff then creeps up the beaters to the handle mounted motor.

See how the mixture worked its way up the beaters?

See how the mixture worked its way up the beaters?

The flavoring of these guys is totally open. As you can tell from the photos, I made half-batch of plain/vanilla and a half batch of peppermint chocolate chip. I’ve used coconut, peppermint, and vanilla extract, for different varieties. I think around thanksgiving I’ll make an orange flavored batch (using zest or extract) for the sweet potatoes. Putting in mini-chocolate chips is another great option, but they tend to melt quickly, so quickly and carefully incorporate them unless you want chocolate marshmallows (not a bad thing, but the chips have a fat content that negates some of the marshmallows’ loft. Dusting them with something other than the potato starch/confectioner’s sugar mixture can be add some nice depth to them as well. I took the Hostess-snowball route once by using shredded coconut. I cut the traditional dust with cocoa powder to up the chocolate flavor, but to each his own. Coloring them can be a nice touch too. So get creative with these guys. You can always buy the original variety in the store, so if you’re gonna make the effort to make them, you might wanna do some experimenting.

The last 200 meters

The last 200 meters

I also ran the Cape Cod Marathon on Sunday (10/25). I had never run a race before in my life (not even a wee 5K), so this was a pretty big deal for me. Much like my first batch at marshmallows, the race was an emotionally and physically draining. As I crossed that finish line, satisfied tiredness and pride overwhelmed me. I was ready to go to bed the moment I arrived back at campus. But not until I update the flog…

Homemade Peppermint Chocolate Chip Marshmallows
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg, Bon Appetit magazine, July 2008
Peppermint Chocolate Chip
INGREDIENTS
A candy thermometer
13x9x2-inch pan
Aluminum Foil
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 cup cold water (you use 2 ½-cups at different intervals)
3 ¼-ounce envelopes unflavored gelatin (Knox brand or any other really)
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons peppermint extract
¼ cup potato starch
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 or so cups of bittersweet mini morsels (the tiny chocolate chips)
An electric mixer
OPTIONAL: Green (or red) Food Coloring

Preparation
Line 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan with foil. Make sure to have the aluminum foil extend beyond the pan itself, so that it will be easy to remove later on. Coat foil lightly with nonstick spray.

Pour ½ cup of cold water into large bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over water. Let stand until gelatin softens and absorbs water, at least 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, you should combine 2 cups sugar, corn syrup, salt, and the other ½ cup of cold water in medium saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Make sure to stir the bottom, and brush down the sides to prevent burning the sugar. Attach a candy thermometer to side of pan. Increase heat and bring syrup to boil. Boil, without stirring, until syrup reaches 240ºF, about 8 minutes. Be careful not to exceed 240ºF, as a higher/lower temperature has an adverse affect on the texture (too hot and it could become more like taffy, not hot enough and it stays as a syrup)

With mixer running at low speed, slowly pour hot syrup into gelatin mixture in (don’t let it splash onto you unless you’re in a particularly masochistic mood). Gradually increase speed to high and beat until mixture is thick, about 12 or so minutes. At this point you basically have a big bowl of fluff. Add peppermint extract, chocolate chips, and about 10 drops of food coloring and beat to blend, about 30 seconds longer. NOTE: A swirl effect can be nice if you’re using red food coloring, since it gives off the candy cane vibe. If you wanna do this, add the food coloring at the same time as the chips and fold them in.

Scrape marshmallow mixture into prepared pan. Smooth top with wet spatula (wet with water). Let stand uncovered at room temperature until firm, about 4 hours.

Stir potato starch and powdered sugar in small bowl to blend. Sift generous dusting of starch-sugar mixture onto work surface, forming rectangle slightly larger than 13×9 inches. Turn marshmallow slab out onto starch-sugar mixture; peel off foil. Sift more starch-sugar mixture over marshmallow slab. Coat large sharp knife (or cookie cutters) with nonstick spray. Cut marshmallows into squares or other shapes. Toss each in remaining starch-sugar mixture to coat. Transfer marshmallows to rack, shaking off excess mixture. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Vanilla Marshmallow


Columbus Day Cupcakery

October 11, 2009

HONK! FESTIVAL AND OKTOBERFEST
KICKASS CUPCAKES, THE UPPER CRUST, SWEET CUPCAKES

Molasses Ginger and Chocolate Orange

Ah, Columbus Day weekend! It makes for a nice little rest stop after a month of school and makes the cold, inexorable trudge toward Thanksgiving a little more bearable. The various towns held festivals to celebrate the holiday. Davis Square played host to the Honk! Festival on Saturday night, while Harvard Square held Oktoberfest. Why am I writing about this? Because it proved to be a rather eventful culinary expedition! So read onward, brave reader, and see what’s in store for ye! (That was my generic pirate voice, just FYI).

How many times have you seen a random street performer and wondered, “Gee, that guitarist/trombonist/accordionist is mildly good.” Well, Davis Square’s Honk! Festival brings all of those lone performers together. Each parking lot and open plaza becomes a makeshift stage for these sketchy musicians and a dance floor for the even sketchier audience. Now, I use the term “musician” rather lightly, and I mean “music” in the loosest sense of the word. Honk! logo courtesy of http://honkfest.org/
Remember the end of “Easy Rider,” when Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda finally make it to Marti Gras but drop some really bad acid? That’s kind of like what it was like walking about the insanely crowded streets of Davis that night. We walked about, aurally and visually taking in the bizarre setting. The dissonance created by this amalgamation of eccentric street performers gave Davis Square a sort of symphonic schizophrenia.

Spongebob Oily-Pants

Spongebob Oily-Pants

A sense of claustrophobia began to overwhelm us, so my friends and I sought shelter in Kickass Cupcakes. My friend Rob and I both ordered deep fried cupcakes, but just like the acid in “Rider,” the cupcakes proved to be a frightening endeavor. The dish starts with a plain vanilla cupcake, dipped in batter and then deep-fried. It is served in a paper cup along with some chocolate syrup and some whipped cream. This sounds good on paper, but wasn’t. The cake was bland and the syrup tasted cheap and artifical, like Hershey’s. This was such a disappointment given the sophisticated flavors they normally offer. I mean, Kickass offers rum soaked cakes and raspberry champagne fillings! The worst part: the cupcake was fried poorly, so it was literally sopping with oil. I expected a little crispiness to the edges, but no. It was like eating a sponge. Moral to the story: never order a fried cupcake from Kickass. And, Kickass, do us all a favor and retire the fryer. Brattle Street minus cars + copious amount of tourists

Today was Oktoberfest in Harvard Square. I’ve never seen Harvard Square so crowded! It was super-intense. While some people go for the parade, I went for the food. I was craving one of those quintessential Italian sausages, but my cohorts and I ended up getting some pizza. The Upper Crust had pizza by the slice, so we stopped by their kiosk. They had set up two industrial-size ovens, which birthed pizzas of four different varieties—Cheese, Chicken Pesto, Peppers and Mushroom, and Pepperoni. I got a slice of the Pesto Chicken and left impressed. The thick sauce was chunky from all the tomatoes. Like any true St. Louisan, I firmly believe that the thinner the crust, the better the pizza. Crust’s crust delivered, serving a pizza with a crisp thin crust that allowed the sauce and toppings to shine. After checking out their website (which enumerates their toppings, from ricotta to scallops), I’m quite sure that my search for the perfect pizza is over.

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie... Pesto Chicken from Upper Crust

The traumatizing experience I had at Kickass on Saturday left me determined to revitalize my love for cupcakes. So to Sweet we went! Alas, they were once again out of that ever-elusive red velvet cupcake. I settled for a Molasses Ginger and a Chocolate Orange. You already know how great the Molasses Ginger is, but the Orange was new. I made some Orangettes over the summer, so I’m pretty familiar with the chocolate/citrus combination. The cake was a nice dark chocolate. Whether intended or not, there were tiny bits of chocolate in the cake, almost like chocolate chips, that I really enjoyed. The vanilla bean buttercream infused with “fresh sweet citrus flavor” was tasty, but wasn’t citrusy enough for my liking. If I wanted a chocolate cake with vanilla frosting, I’d have ordered that. But I wanted the Chocolate ORANGE cupcake! A Gran Marnier buttercream might’ve been nicer. The cake was topped with one of those candy orange slices. While it looked kind of nice, I thought it really cheapened the cupcake. I mean, I buy those fruit slices at Walgreens. It totally goes against the “Madagascan-Vanilla-Bean-Buttercream-infused-with-citrus” vibe that the rest of the cupcake gives off. I’m not a snoot, but if you’re going for sophistication, then please be consistent. Maybe some candied orange zest

Molasses Ginger and Chocolate Orange
On the whole, a pretty intense weekend. But I still have one day left! The blog has slowly veered into restaurant territory, but I promise to actually make something in the next post.