Margaritaville – Where Cupcake and Cocktail Collide

Here’s why purging your belongings every now and then is a good idea. Greg and I have been meaning to cull our bookshelves for a couple of years now. We live in a small apartment and shelf space is at a premium, which is to say that we’ve completely filled the four standard bookshelves in our living room. While I try to live with the rule of “something in, something out”, the husband is a bit more of a collector and the old bookshelves were beyond the point of full this past spring with stacks of books on beer piled in corners and selected food politics titles jammed in wherever they might fit.

So we started filling a box, looking at every item on the shelf, assessing whether it should stay or go. You get to keep that Clive Barker novel if I get to keep my dog-eared Nabokovs, you can keep the Michael Jackson beer books if I can keep those Marion Nestle tomes… but I can live without the Gordon Ramsay biography if you’ll part with all those old Wired magazines…

One of the things I refused to part with is my collection of 50s and 60s era cookbooks – not because I’ll ever use any of them, but because they’re cool in their own “gallery of regrettable food” kind of way. But in beside them I discovered a cupcake cookbook. Relatively new (maybe a year or two old), I remembered purchasing it but could not for the life of me remember why it got banished to the Siberia of books I never look at but must keep.

Because there were some pretty cool cupcakes in there. Cupcakes with great flavours and interesting but relatively easy decorations. And even cocktail cupcakes. Why did I designate this a “looking at” book as opposed to a “cooking from” book? Was it because I had deemed cupcakes to be so over? (I’m sorry my little friends, I don’t know what I was thinking, I will always love you!)

I moved the book to the kitchen cookbook shelf and… well, I forgot about it there as well. But a couple of weeks ago I had a cupcake craving and pulled it out. Selected a recipe and started reading over the instructions and assembling ingredients and… oh, yeaaaahhh… I remember why I ditched this one now. All of the recipes require a two-step cake batter where you separate the eggs and whip the whites. Which is fine and creates a lovely light angel food style cake, but makes for some extra work. Then I started flipping and realized that the yields on all the recipes were either 16, 18 or 20 cupcakes. Which require two pans. I only have one regular size cupcake/muffin pan. And while it wouldn’t kill me to go buy another muffin pan, I don’t ever really need 18 cupcakes. In fact, 12 is usually too many and 12 cupcakes will all fit into one Tupperware container so I can store the things in the freezer and not eat yet another one every time I walk into the kitchen.

So I pulled out dear old Better Homes and Gardens, did some quick modifications to their single layer chocolate cake (which just happens to make 12 cupcakes!) and came up with my own version of the Margarita cupcake in this cookbook. Omitted the cocoa and replaced it with more flour, then added the zest of a lime and a shot of tequila to the batter. After baking these up I made a butter cream frosting, replacing the milk with lime juice, another shot of tequila and a few drops of green food colouring. Then garnished the top with fleur de sels. A candied lime slice or a lime candy can also be used as garnish.

And they turned out pretty rockin’. They really do taste like Margaritas. The book has some other recipes for cocktail-inspired cupcakes, as well as one made with beer and peanuts. And it’s got me thinking of other cakes with booze that I could adapt. As well as ways to use up all the little bottles of bourbon and single malt we get from PR companies. If award winning tequila makes great Margarita cupcakes then think what I might be able to create with some 18-year-old single malt.

The cupcake trend was starting to get tiresome because the things got too twee; too fussy and sickly, and too expensive. But imagine a single malt cupcake with salted caramel frosting; or a rum cupcake with a dark rum glaze. Maybe we need some grown-up versions of the cutesy treats to save the cupcake’s bimbo reputation.