How Sweet It Is


Last week in the midst of school schedules and 85-degree weather, I made cupcakes. What started as the last entry for the America’s Test Kitchen Dish It Your Way” Week 11 Blogger Challenge ended as a contribution to a weekend I’d like to think was more than thirteen years in the making. My brother, the youngest of the four of us, got married. It’s not the story of a couple sticking together for years, eeking out careers, finally ready to get married. Rather, it’s kind of a long story short. It’s the story of a friendship that began their freshman year of high school, continued through distance and years, and over the course of time turned into a companionship strong enough to span time zones. Nathan never had a girlfriend that I knew about, but there was always Polly.

No, I didn’t make cupcakes for the reception — I’m not that crazy (yet), but I may have met my match: Polly’s mother and family made more than 1200 brigadeiros, a traditional Brazilian candy (Polly’s mom is from Brazil). You can see a sampling of them pictured below. Impressive, no?

I volunteered to make dessert for the rehearsal dinner, something to round off a meal from Frank’s Pizza Palace (their summer special of tomato and basil pizza is excellent!). Cupcakes were perfect. After a conversation with my brother about potential flavors, I settled on chocolate peanut butter (it seems his wife is a woman after my own heart) and another to be determined. The next day he emailed me her mom’s never-shared cupcake recipe, Polly’s favorite. So, not only was I making a new recipe, I was making a batch of nostalgia. Can we say pressure? After following the recipe to the letter with four beaten eggs, no other leaveners, a handful of mini chocolate chips, and buttercream frosting, I’m happy to report all went well. (I also have to report that the recipe is to remain top secret — sorry!) Nothing quite links past to present like baked goods in a paper cup.

A couple of years ago I found a recipe for and made a batch of chocolate peanut butter cupcakes. They were passable, but not outstanding. The problem — as is often the case — was that the chocolate cake was not chocolatey enough. But after watching the episode for ATK’s Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes and getting a ringing endorsement from my sister who made them, I adapted the recipe.  I mixed up the batter and divided it among nearly four dozen mini muffin cups. I wasn’t entirely sure I could come up with a peanut butter ganache filling, so I mixed up a batch of the peanut butter filling I use to make homemade peanut butter cups, and dropped a teaspoon of that onto the top of each cupcake. After baking, this is what I had:

After a trip to Wisconsin, each cupcake was smothered in chocolate buttercream laced with peanut butter and topped with sprinkles. That was my daughter’s job. 🙂 (I should also mention that while my husband and I were at the rehearsal dinner, this little girl insisted on taking pictures of the doctored-up frozen pizza she made with Grandma & Grandpa. I take all responsibility…)

The peanut butter was sunken into the cupcake a bit and after you ate it, the full flavor hit your tastebuds. After eating one, a bridesmaid said, “This cupcake changed my life.” While they were certainly tasty, I can’t put all my stock in that one comment — nor in this one cupcake. But it did get me to thinking about how that cupcake shows how my life has changed.

This past weekend was great and it was so much fun to celebrate such a happy occasion with family. I had the unusual benefit of being able to spend time with both my own family and my in-laws, as they now live in the area where I grew up. But there was one person who was not there, and while no one said it and everyone seemed to be able to sail through the moments easily, at least giving the appearance that we’ve all adjusted, were they all thinking what I was? See, Mom wasn’t there. I could imagine her comments, her laugh, her happiness at this wedding. Everyone knows that Nathan, the youngest and only boy of the bunch, was her favorite. She knew that he was going to marry Polly and her joy would have been unbridled.

She would have been the one to make the cupcakes. No, she wouldn’t have done it for the side benefit of an ATK challenge; she would have done it because that’s what she did. I wouldn’t have dreamed of stepping on that. Mom baked for the big occasions. Four years ago she sent a birthday cake for me — chocolate with purple frosting — with my sister who was coming to visit. But when she got sick, the tables turned and I tried to do a bit of what she would have done. I started baking for her.  When I visited, I brought bread and cookies, her favorites, Dad’s favorites — things I knew she would enjoy but couldn’t make herself anymore.

So here we are. Here I am. Life goes on, taking paths we don’t plan for. Yeah, I wish Mom was here — to see my brother in love, to see my younger sister 8-1/2 months pregnant with twins, to talk to my daughters, to be with Dad. But she’s not here. She wasn’t standing next to us in family pictures, but I know she’s standing in the perfection of heaven! And even though I miss her, as I write and share what I love with a whole lot of people, I get to share my mom with a whole lot of people. I like to imagine she would have enjoyed reading my work. I’m sure she would have critiqued it. I also imagine she would have been one to send me recipes to write about.

She would have known whether I could make a peanut butter ganache filling or not.


2 responses »

  1. Wow! What a sweet – and a bit bittersweet – weekend! I’m glad your cupcakes were a hit. 🙂

    It’s so neat that you were able to be so close to your mom during your lifetime. I hope I don’t sound trite or snide when I say that you were very lucky to have been able to have such loving and warm feelings with your mom while she was alive. That was a real gift, and while I know you would have liked to be able to enjoy the gift of your mom for longer, the fact that you got to enjoy such a good relationship with her at all is still a wonderful gift. It sounds like you are treasuring your memories of her well, and that you’re doing things that would have made her proud. 🙂 That’s a wonderful way to honor her memory.

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