Thursday, March 20, 2008

On becoming a Domestic Goddess

Several years ago, when I was still in high school, I was in a bookstore with my then-boyfriend. We passed by a cookbook display, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a simple cover with an intriguing title: How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson. I quietly gasped and stopped, then picked the book up and began flipping through it, a smile growing on my face. After a few moments, my boyfriend gave me a dubious look and asked "Is that really what you want to be? A 'domestic goddess'?"

About a year later, my mother and I were shopping for a wedding present when we passed by a Kitchenaid stand mixer. Again, I halted and took in the beauty of the lemon yellow appliance, imagining the sorts of elaborate cakes and exquisite pies that could come from it. I implored my mother to buy one for our kitchen, and she gave a short laugh. We left the store with a toaster oven.

Suffice to say, I've had a bit of a baking obsession for some time.

Although I love food, my passion does not generally stretch to the farthest culinary reaches, but can be satisfied quite simply, with a whisk and a mixing bowl in the kitchen. Perhaps this makes me painfully retro, but if that's the case, then so be it. I'm not ashamed that I secretly aspire to be Nigella, with her zest for life, her flair for cooking, and her perfectly whimsical cupcakes.

I always get a little excited when I pass by a Williams-Sonoma, but I unfortunately must admit that I'm not quite ready for that lofty level of baking. I don't make cheesecake enough to elicit the purchase of a springform pan, nor do I have the counter space to show off a lovely stand mixer (however, I'll gladly make the room if anyone is willing to donate one to my humble kitchen!)
Still, I like to think that I can prepare myself for these treasures by beginning my journey to goddess-ness now, with methods more within my means...even if that means using an old cookie sheet from Target.

I may never be a Domestic Goddess when it comes to gardening or re-upholstering chairs, or any other Martha Stewart-esque pursuit. But baking? I unabashedly say to the world (or, more accurately, the six people who read this blog) "I long to be a Baking Goddess."

Alright, those who believe that I just set womankind back 50 years by declaring my desire to spend some time in the kitchen, you may commence with the tomato-throwing. But after that, I highly suggest trying Nigella's super easy - yet entirely elegant - cupcakes.

Nigella's Cupcakes

Yield: 1 dozen

1 stick plus 1 tablespoon soft butter
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 to 3 tablespoons milk
Royal Icing, recipe follows

-Take everything you need out of the fridge in time to get to room temperature - and this makes a huge difference to the lightness of the cupcakes later - and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

-Put all of the ingredients for the cupcakes except for the milk into a food processor and blitz until smooth. Pulse while adding the milk down the funnel, to make a smooth dropping consistency.

-Divide the mixture between into a muffin pan with paper liners, and bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. They should have risen and be golden on top. Let them cool a little in their tins on a rack, and then take them carefully out of the tin to cool in their papers, still on the wire rack.

Ice with Royal Icing.

Royal Icing
2 large egg whites
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice

-Combine the egg whites and confectioners' sugar in a medium-size mixing bowl and whip with an electric mixer on medium speed until opaque and shiny, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the lemon juice, this will thin out the icing. Beat for another couple of minutes until you reach the right spreading consistency for the cupcakes.

Recipe courtesy of Nigella Lawson
Photo courtesy of The Food Network

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