A couple of weeks ago, I burned myself cooking dinner. Like, a bad burn. As in, I picked up a cast iron skillet that had been roasting chicken at 450°F for 20 minutes kind of burn. One that left a pretty cast iron grip mark, that is now turning into a very pretty set of blisters. After I got over the dramatics that come along with an unexpected accident and wrapped myself up in gauze (ok, I cried and jumped around while my better half raided our medicine cabinet and searched WebMD), I got to thinking about the huge amount of things I have yet to learn. Not that I ever claimed to be all-knowing, but I am usually pretty comfortable around the kitchen, which I think is what surprised me most in this whole burn-saga. Even though I love to cook and bake, and spend a ton of time doing it, there is always something I can get better at (a lot!), or something that I can practice more (like using oven mitts).
This all brings me to the realization that all artists had to be taught at some time, right? Michelangelo was not able to carve David upon birth (just soon after, at age 26), and surely someone had to teach Picasso how to draw the human figure before he could distort it? The same goes for cooks and bakers—everyone always needs a lesson at some point, whether it is you watching your mom make veal scaloppini (hint, Mom, please teach me!!), or watching Bobby Flay grill everything and anything on the Food Network. Luckily for me, New York City offers quite a few classes for amateur bakers, and I am thrilled to announce a new series here on primary cookies, where I attempt to learn from the “greats.”
First up is a stop at Butter Lane, a cupcake bakery located in the East Village. What sets Butter Lane apart from many of the other delicious cupcake-specific bakeries in the city is their reluctance to use any artificial dyes or additives, instead favoring high-quality, natural ingredients such as vanilla bean, pure cocoa and seasonal fresh fruit. A few weeks ago, I took the “Become a Baker Class,” a small class (there were only 2 of us!) where you receive one-on-one instruction on how to make a couple different cupcakes and a couple of different frostings, and then how to frost said cupcakes using the “Butter Lane Swirl.” Butter Lane offers a few different class choices: from beginner’s baking to cupcake decoration, all out of its cute East Village location. While my swirl still needs more work, my friend Claire and I had a fabulous time, chatting, baking and sampling for a few hours. The best part is that you get to keep what you make—and since Claire and I were the only ones in the class, we each came out with 18 delicious cupcakes, along with the recipes and a significant sugar high.
Butter Lane’s preference for using all-natural ingredients can be a bit of a departure from the brightly colored confections we are used to seeing at high-end groceries and specialty shops—don’t people realize what red dye is made of? It is all a bit reminiscent of Henri Matisse’s movement away from the more traditional practices of his teacher William-Adolphe Bouguereau, into a more free, painterly style called Fauvism. When Matisse was young, he was a pupil of Bouguereau’s, and therefore trained in Bouguereau’s classical style, with an emphasis on realistic mythological themes. Needless to say, Matisse didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye with Bouguereau’s conservative style, and the two quickly parted ways.
The differences in their work can be seen in their depictions of nudes, a common subject for both. Bouguereau’s The Bather, shows a lone female bathing herself among a rocky landscape. She sits with her body the viewer, her head turned to the side as she cleans one of her feet. The work is peaceful and beautiful; Bouguereau’s figures are typically elegant and realistic, and this is no exception. It is as if the subject was wandering around the rocky cliffs in her white gown (which she is now sitting on), and decided that this rock was the perfect place to strip down and clean the sand from between her toes. Naturally—don’t we all operate like that? On the other hand, Matisse’s Bathers with a Turtle is strange and a bit harsh. The composition consists of three nudes, one sitting, one crouching and one standing, all concentrating on a small red turtle. While Bouguereau’s nude seems almost approachable, Matisse’s nudes seem awkward and meek, with no real interaction between the three—as if, had the turtle not there, they might not interact at all. The color scheme is also a stark departure from Bouguereau’s lovely, natural tones. Matisse’s palette is certainly less realistic, with its bright blue and teal background and the shockingly orange hair of the seated woman.
If we were to translate these into cupcakes, The Bather would be more of a Butter Lane creation, while Bathers with a Turtle might come from the more commercial bakery you know the one—with bright, overly sweet buttercream and sprinkles on everything. One is not better than the other, but they are certainly suited for different moods. Are you in a funky Matisse mood or a natural, delicate, Bouguereau kind of mood?
While I can’t yet attest to a Matisse-approved cupcake, I can share the delicious Vanilla Cupcake with Cinnamon Frosting recipe that I learned in my Butter Lane class. If you are interested in taking one of their baking or decorating classes, check them out here readers who sign up using the code PRIMARYCOOKIES will receive 15% off! Woohoo!!
Butter Lane’s Vanilla Cupcakes
½ pound unsalted butter, room temperature
2 ½ cups sugar
5 eggs, room temperature
splash of vanilla
12 ounces of sour cream
1 tablespoon baking powder
pinch of salt
3 cups cake flour
Combine the butter and sugar in a stand mixer and beat for a couple of minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and vanilla extract. Add the egg mixture to the butter, and continue to mix until light again. In a third bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Pour half of the flour mixture into the batter, and mix just until combined. Pour all of the sour cream, mix, and then follow with the rest of the flour. Be careful not to over-mix. Scoop into muffin tins and bake for 23 minutes at 300˚ F. Let the cupcakes cool completely before frosting.
Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
½ pound unsalted butter, room temperature
16 ounces cream cheese
8 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
Combine the butter and cream cheese in a large mixing bowl, and mix for 5 minutes on medium speed. Add the sugar, continue to mix, and then add the vanilla and cinnamon. Beat until it reaches your desired consistency, and then cool your frosted cupcakes. Enjoy!!
Recipe courtesy of Butter Lane – yields 36 cupcakes
Featured art: William-Adolphe Bouguereau, The Bather, 1879, oil on canvas
Henri Matisse, Bathers with a Turtle, 1907-1908, oil on canvas