I heard the ice cream truck tinkling down the street for the first time in what feels like a long time yesterday afternoon. It still makes me giddy.
There’s an ice cream parlor, much less the tinkling kind, but in twinkly, Paris, nonetheless, that everyone ought to visit. Preferably at the tipping point of summer. Preferably while wearing shoes that come off easily so that you can dangle your legs over fresh air, while looking out on the Seine. If you’re lucky there will be guitars. If you’ve been to Paris before, I hope you’ve had a chance to do this, I hope you’ve been to Berthillon. It’s on the Ile-St-Louis (at the very heart of the city), and it’s the bee’s knees. I said it, the bee’s knees.
I’ve been there several times, usually to remind myself how delicious a city made out of all kinds of light (and dark) can be. The first time I went to Berthillon thinking purely of vanilla. I had been led to this conclusion by recommendation of a musician that I had always thought a bit too cool for me. He told me how much I had to try the vanilla. That it was a thing so good, too good to pass up.
Vanilla vanished from my mind when I arrived at Berthillon and discovered that I could scoop, with wide eyes, things like, hazelnut or caramel au beurre salé. Suddenly, I couldn’t picture such a very cool guy, musician and all, ordering something so plain as vanilla. Maybe he wasn’t so daring as I thought. But so what if he wasn’t? All bets aside, it turns out, that he was right: the vanilla was and is supremely delicious.
I must admit though, I didn’t try the vanilla that first time, because it also turns out that, in spite of knowing just how good vanilla already is, I always venture to make life more complicated in the rocky road kind of way. I’ve got to go and try the salty-sweet caramel, the hazelnut, and only then, maybe, come back to savour that first love that was vanilla at five and seven and ten-years-old.
I suppose that’s why this batch of holy-cow-it’s-the-weekend-cupcakes aren’t just vanilla cake and vanilla frosting, but are instead vanilla dash chai, or chai dash vanilla, because as much as I love something as rustically classic as vanilla bean, done up in an impeccable way, I also can’t help myself from something a bit more spicy.
What about you? Mint-chocolate chip?
Whatever it is, I hope you treat yourself even a little bit this weekend in some small way. Maybe with a cupcake, like this one, because it’s the kind of treat you completely deserve, because it’s almost the weekend, and you’ve been busting it all week to make it here, and if you like frothy chai as much as I do, you won’t be sorry.
For the cupcakes (Adapted from Simplyrecipes.com):
- 1 ½ cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 egg plus 2 egg whites
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup sour cream
For the frosting:
- 2 chai tea bags
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
- 3/4 cup Confectioner’s sugar, or more to taste
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 stick cinnamon
- a bit of orange rind, studded with 2-3 whole cloves
- 1-2 tablespoons milk
Preheat oven to 350 F and line 18 muffin cups with liners.
Steep two chai tea bags in a small saucepan with a cup of boiling water. Allow to continue steeping while preparing the cupcakes.
In a medium-sized bowl, sift together flour, salt and baking powder and set aside.
In a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer, cream softened butter and sugar until thick and fluffy. Add whole egg and then egg whites one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a small bowl stir together milk, sour cream and vanilla.
Alternating between dry-flour mixture and milk-sour cream mixture, gently fold in small portions of each until both mixtures have been added in full, continuing to fold until just combined. Be careful not to overmix.
Using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, scoop batter into lined muffin cups, filling each until cups are 2/3 full. Bake cupcakes for 18-20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Allow cupcakes to cool on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, add honey, cinnamon stick and orange rind studded with cloves, to saucepan with brewing tea and set to medium-low heat. Stir gently, allowing to simmer for about five minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Discard orange rind with cloves and tea bags.
In a medium-sized bowl, cream 1/2 of the softened butter with Confectioner’s sugar using an electric hand mixer. Add tea to butter-sugar mixture and milk beating well until smooth and not streaky, color should be uniform. Add remaining butter and beat until creamy and smooth.
Using a rubber spatula, smooth frosting onto tops of cupcakes. Alternatively, pipe frosting onto cupcakes using a frosting bag (or make your own!): spoon frosting into a zip-locked bag and snip a small corner of the bag open to squeeze frosting onto cupcakes as you like.