Thursday, July 15, 2010

Historic Recipe (And a Life Lesson): Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting


Have you ever had a recipe that was more than just a recipe? Maybe a recipe with a strong nostalgic correlation, or a recipe that was a defining moment for your taste palate?

When I set out to make chocolate and peanut butter cupcakes with peanut butter frosting (both recipes from Grandma's Wartime Baking Book: World War II and the Way We Baked) I started out with the idea that it would be a nice, simple thing to do (and eat) on a day that the girls and I were home while TMOTH was at work.

I mean, what could be easier than cupcakes and frosting?

The recipe for the cupcakes was pretty basic, except that some of the fat came from the (not rationed) peanut butter. The recipe as written was for 12 cupcakes, so I greased up my dozen cup pan and equally poured the batter into each cup.

When they came out of the oven they looked like this:

This was not good. I had not greased the top of the cupcake pan, so I was now confronted with cupcakes which where hermetically sealed by a dome stuck to the pan surface. I had successfully baked cupcakes with built-in safety seals.

After sufficient cooling I used a butter knife to carefully pry the top edges of the cupcakes off the tray and then slid the knife along the outside wall of each cupcake. I then quickly flipped the pan over so the cupcakes could slide out.

It didn't go so well.

Did you know it's possible for a cupcake to be simultaneously moist AND crumbly?

Okay, what to do with this mess? Give up? Start over?

In true WWII homefront style I decided to be flexible and adapt my plan to what was on hand. I decided to press half of the "cupcakes" (I have to use parentheses because at this point I didn't think it was still accurate to refer to them as legitimate cupcakes) into a bowl. My idea was to then spread half of the frosting on this bottom layer, press down the remaining "cupcake" bits on top of this and then spread the top with the remaining frosting.

Now, I'll admit that when I think of frosting I think of something somewhat fluffy and containing only enough adhesive properties to stick to its destined cake. Oh, and most likely loaded with fat. I'm not a big German chocolate cake fan, so the fact that frosting can be a sticky, glue-like mess sometimes escapes my mind. When the frosting consists of sweetened condensed milk and peanut butter heated in a double boiler until it thickens, the frosting is especially sticky. Like, Shelob's web sticky.

So, I didn't so much spread the frosting on the bottom layer but instead poured and coaxed the frosting. I then topped it with the remaining "cupcake" bits and poured the remaining frosting on top.

In the end, it looked like this:

The cake was tasty and sticky but, in my opinion, nothing spectacular. I supposed if you were a 1940s civilian used to lots of sweets then cake of any kind would be something to be quite happy about. As it is, we're not a big sweets house so we usually have plenty of sugar on hand when the mood strikes. No need to beg your neighbor for a sugar ration stamp here.

But what did strike me about this cake was the lesson it reminded me of: that no matter how well you plan and follow directions, sometimes in life you end up with different results than you expected.

Fifteen years ago I was an undergraduate student in anthropology. I had plans to finish my PhD, get a professorship and raise a family while I continued my research.

What a nice, pretty cupcake that would be.

I didn't know that I would hate graduate school (except for the teaching part) and quite early, not have a lot of options for anthropological employment, and start a family sooner than anticipated. I didn't know of all the heartaches we would experience, including TMOTH's cancer.

This life has been one messy cupcake, indeed.

But you know what? Life can be messy and still be good, as long as you're willing to be flexible. I now work in public outreach and children's educational programming and I absolutely love it. Life might require you to think outside of the box at times, or occasionally compromise. But it will usually be worth it and sometimes might be even tastier than you expected.

And as long as you're willing to eat sticky cake instead of cupcakes.

--Rational Mama


  1. I know it's not historic but silicone muffin liners area life saver! You can use them over and over and it saves a lot of prying out. I got a few dozen for a couple bucks at a second hand store (I originally had dollar store ones but they are so flimsy in comparison but still good).

    Anyway, crumbled cake would make great trifle :). You could layer it with pudding or custard in a bowl (MIL makes a skor bar trifle that is divine, but I don't think that would be a very rational recipe ;) ). I'm sure there are historic recipes as it would be a way not to waste food that didn't turn out as expected. Your results still look yummy to me!

    BTW, I chose the same background for my blog earlier, lol! I love it :D

  2. I think you adapted quite well--in all arenas of life :)

  3. Carla - Silicone cookware is definitely on my "Someday when I'm grown up I'm going to have..." list!

    And thanks, Lara.