Nan-nan’s cupcakes

Looking through Nan-nan’s recipe books, the first thing that caught my eye was a recipe for cupcakes from her sister June, see below. I’ve preserved her notes and phrasing as much as possible but have adjusted certain elements to be more usable.

I’m an OK baker but more of a pies-and-cookies person. Every cake I’ve ever made seems a little meh. These were not meh, 10/10.


Cup Cakes

From June, Merle’s favorite. Good with baked icing or white fudge icing. Makes 12.

Preheat the oven to 350F (175C).

In a large bowl, cream together ½ c (113 g) softened unsalted butter, 1 c (200 g) sugar, ½ t salt, and 1 t vanilla extract until very fluffy and light. Next, beat in 4 egg yolks until thick and light in color. In another bowl, sift together 2 c (230 g) all purpose flour and 2 t baking powder. In small, alternating amounts, add the flour mixture and ⅔ c (158 ml) milk to the butter mixture. Beat after each addition, until smooth.

Pour the batter in to a lined cupcake tin, filling each cup ⅔ of the way. Bake in a moderate oven, about 350F (175C), 25 to 30 minutes. Turn the tin once halfway through if you find one side is browning more than the other.

Additional notes

Note that the cupcake recipe originally calls for Spry, a vegetable shortening. I’ve substituted butter here since that’s what I’ve got.

The original recipe also specified 2 c of sifted flour, with an additional note that specified Gold Medal or Swans Down flour. Gold Medal is usually plain / all purpose flour, and Swans Down only produces cake flour AFAIK. This made determining the metric measurement kind of ambiguous, 2 c sifted all purpose flour is significantly different than cake flour. The measurement below worked well ultimately, but I’d like to try cake flour eventually so will need to keep this in mind.

She originally said it makes 18, but I found that it is much closer to 12 in a 12-cup cupcake tin with cups that measured 2″ (4.25 cm) in diameter across the base. The flour debacle might have caused the difference.

The cupcakes supposedly go well with “baked icing”, something I had never come across before. I tried it with baked frosting and failed *spectacularly*. I can see that it could be great though, kind of like a molasses-y meringue on top, so I’ll try again and note here if successful.

Nan-nan’s recipe books

Handwritten recipes by my paternal grandmother

My cousin kindly let me borrow my paternal grandmother’s cookbooks for the next few months until we meet again in August. One is a comb-bound cookbook assembled by the community of Worthington, OH. The other is more of a diary where she recorded her favourite recipes. I had NO idea that these books existed. I had always been told she didn’t keep track of her recipes, so this is pretty exciting.

It’s going to take a while to go through the cookbooks, so I took some rough photos of all of the spreads in case I don’t get through it all by the time I return them. It’s classic late 20th-century Midwestern fare. Most of the pages are dedicated to sweets of all sorts, and there are a fair few recipes that call for Velveeta cheese, Jello, or Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup. I’ll probably steer clear of the gelatine “salads” and sadly have to avoid the cheesiest of things, but I’m up for everything else!

I’ll share some of Nan-nan’s recipes in future notes as I try them.

On saguaros and an old dirt road

Another plant-related fact I learned from Techentin’s essay in “Edges of the Experiment” (see previous): saguaros are frequently chipped by park rangers to deter plant poaching.

Saguaros only grow in the Sonoran desert, the bulk of which lies in the southwest corner of Arizona and in Mexico. Arizona State Route 88 is near the northeastern edge of the Sonoran desert, so saguaros feature in much of the landscape alongside the road. The AZ SR88 runs from Roosevelt Dam along the Salt River to Apache Junction. It is mainly unpaved between the dam and Tortilla Flat. I had the pleasure of driving this road with my grandparents on my mom’s side a little while back.

Satellite view of Arizona State Route 88, imagery and map data copyright Google 2016

Satellite view of Arizona SR 88. Imagery and map data © 2016 Google.

Satellite view of saguaros along Arizona State Route 88, imagery copyright Google 2016

Satellite view of a particularly saguaro-laden hill just east of Fish Creek grade along Arizona SR 88. Imagery © 2016 Google.

One notably narrow section of the road is about halfway through the unpaved portion of AZ SR88. A steep grade culminates in a sharp blind turn that wraps around Fish Creek Hill, with a sandy wall on one side and a steep dropoff on the other.

For the most part, the narrowness of the road isn’t a problem. Drivers don’t use it to get anywhere quickly, so it’s a lonely route.

Most of the traffic flows east with good reason. If you drive west on this route late in the day, you end up driving straight in to the sun. You also end up driving on the outer edge of the sharp turn mentioned above, and it’s a little nerve wracking looking down the long drop just beyond the low barrier.

That said, the westbound trip on AZ SR88 has a pretty spectacular finale. If you time it properly you’re rewarded with a desert sunset over the Superstition Mountains near Canyon Lake before descending in to Apache Junction.