The other day I was making coconut cupcakes and they were taking longer to bake than I'd expected. I kept opening the oven, smiling at them, and saying things like, "Hi, guys. How's everybody doing in there?" I admit, it had been a long week, and I want to clearly state that I do not talk to just any kind of food. I have never spoken to meatloaf or pie, although I have grumbled while rolling out pie crust. I've never said a word to pasta or muffins. But there's something exceptionally engaging about a cupcake. My new novel, Close to Famous, hits the stores on February 3rd complete with cupcakes on the cover, so I've been thinking about cupcakes and baking them, lots of them, throughout the last year. I set out on a quest — not the most important of my life, but a quest nonetheless, of being able to turn out a moist cupcake every time. It was a lofty goal, and I went through lots of dry, unacceptable prototypes before I perfected things. I learned the supremacy of cake flour as opposed to regular flour. I learned that when you are testing cupcake recipes in your kitchen — recipes that you will share with others — recipes that your publisher will share with others as well — you would mislead yourself (as did I) by thinking that you alone could do this. Oh, certainly, you could bake all by yourself, but you cannot be the sole taster. I have attempted this and failed. Believe me, by the time you've eaten three cupcakes in a row, you are in dense sugar shock and unable to discern any subtleties that might make the recipe better.
My husband would come home from work and I would be slouched in a chair with an empty bowl of frosting before me, declaring I could not get the recipe right. I tried two different batches! "How many did you eat?" he'd ask and I would round down the number. So eventually, Evan took the cupcakes to his office on Long Island where he instructed his colleagues to be brutally honest about the cupcakes. I wanted the truth. And I got raves, but I didn't quite believe it. So when my daughter was here over the holidays, she and I worked in the kitchen together and Jean seemed to be able to improve on a recipe without going into emotional apoplexy. The young are strong.
Two of these recipes are on my website and I can tell you that I killed myself over them and my daughter figured out some lovely distinctions to make them sing. Yes, they sing. Cupcakes do remarkable things when you coax them. The world is a mess, the weather has been grotesque in so many places. and here comes a little cupcake to cheer us. Is that possible? Oh yes. They do that, you know; cheer us up. It's an important attribute in a baked good. "So, kids, are you cool yet?" I asked this of the coconut cupcakes. They didn't reply. If they had, believe me, we would be on the talk show circuit. This is a long way of saying, if you'd like to read a story that takes a cupcake further than you ever thought it could go, take a look at my new novel, Close to Famous.