Wednesday, April 13, 2011
You know that concept of the bucket list? The list of things you feel you simply must do before you cash in your chips? Well, last week my list got slightly shorter. Finally, for the first time in my life, I visited New York City. Along with my husband and sons, we spent five days immersed in all it had to offer. Unequivocally, we had an extraordinary time. From the chaotic traffic, to the distinctive sounds and smells, to the beauty of the architecture and the diversity of the crowds, to all of the remarkable food, I must say I loved it.
What did we do? A better question might be what didn't we do. Of course, we had to visit the Statue of Liberty (and, as expected, she was glorious), just as we had to take in the view from the top of the Empire State Building, gawk at the neon spectacle of Times Square, and ponder the ice skaters at Rockefeller Center.
We strolled through Washington Square, paid our respects to Central Park, and swooned over the vibrant contents of MOMA's galleries. We managed to make two visits to the Strand Bookstore--that historic catacomb of towering shelves, snugly packed with volumes of every description. We walked and walked and walked. Then we walked some more.
One afternoon, a quiet excursion into St. Patrick's Cathedral offered respite from the churning street for a few minutes and we lit a candle there for my late father in law, Grandpa Joe. With my husband as our chief orienteer, we negotiated the subway, marveling at the freedom it allows (what heaven it must be to be unencumbered with the need for a car).
And, of course, we sampled NYC's culinary wonders. From a shared slice of the Stage Deli's classic, gargantuan, and profoundly dense cheesecake, to Magnolia Bakery's moist and homey cupcakes vs. Crumbs Bake Shop's hefty jumbos, to Francois Payard's delicate French macarons (his beautiful little bakery in Soho is pictured just below), to bialys from Kossar's, the delights just kept presenting themselves.
We sipped fizzy chocolate egg creams while sharing a delicious knish in Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop. We compared the fluffiness of a slice of Lindy's cheesecake to the creaminess of a slice from Junior's Restaurant (Junior's won, in my opinion). If I had a dime for every steaming hot dog my husband and sons bought from street vendors throughout the week I could buy my own cart and set up shop on the next corner. From stem to stern, Manhattan lived up to its reputation as a foodie's paradise. We had great dinners at a lively Cuban restaurant, an Italian hideaway, and an upscale burger joint (appropriately named 5 Napkin Burger) that literally produced the best hamburger I've ever tasted.
All in all, it was a rich introduction to a city that I hope to visit again and again. What did I adore the most? Well, the Brooklyn Bridge was a huge highlight and something I would have been quite sad to miss. Late on Friday afternoon, the four of us walked across the bridge on its wide wooden foot/bike path, high above the traffic. (I think it's a remarkable thing that there is neither a fee to cross this iconic bridge nor a lurid gift shop at its entrance to exploit the pocketbooks of the tourists who flock to it like medieval pilgrims.)
My kids gaped with astonished amusement as I recited to them Hart Crane's famous poem about the bridge as we strode along. I know few poems by heart, but that's one of them. The meaning of its lines can be clear as mud, but the poem reads like music nonetheless. Here's my favorite one of the eleven stanzas:
Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path--Condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.
To me, that magical and shadowy image sums up not just the grace of the bridge, but the magnificence of this enormous city.
Clearly, I'm still processing the whole luscious adventure. And, having been absent from my kitchen for an entire week, I naturally felt the need to bake. Thus I present today's recipe from The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook, by Allysa Torey and Jennifer Appel, which I came across in the Strand Bookstore and promptly purchased. Cookbooks often make the finest souvenirs, yes?
I needed to change this recipe just a smidgen, because I didn't have buttermilk on hand. In its place I used half a cup of plain Greek yogurt mixed with half a cup of 2 percent milk. Also, I decided to make 12 jumbo cupcakes vs. 18 regular size. And, I sprinkled a pinch of grated dark chocolate onto the top of each cupcake before they went in the oven. (Don't panic when your cupcakes sink in the middle as they begin to cool off. That's supposed to happen. It's part of their charm!)
Black Bottom Cupcakes
(For a printable version of this recipe click here!)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners for either 12 jumbos or 18 regulars.
For the cream cheese filling:
3/4 lb. full-fat cream cheese, not softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1/3 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
For the cupcake batter:
1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Dutch process cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt (I used coarse kosher salt.)
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used canola oil.)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt mixed with 1/2 cup 2 percent milk (Or, use 1 cup buttermilk, as original recipe called for.)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 Tbsp. finely grated dark chocolate
In a medium or large bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add in the egg and vanilla, and beat well to blend. Stir in the mini chocolate chips. Transfer this mixture to a small bowl and set aside. Clean the paddle attachment and the mixer bowl.
In a medium size bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In the large bowl of your mixer, again using the paddle attachment, blend the oil and sugar on medium speed for a couple of minutes. In two parts, add in the dry ingredients alternately with the yogurt-milk and vanilla. Beat until well blended.
Using a portion scoop, if you have one, spoon the chocolate batter evenly into the paper-lined cups. Top evenly with the cream cheese filling. Sprinkle grated dark chocolate over each.
Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out mostly clean. Use care not to over-bake them, or the edges will come out kind of dry (I think I over-baked mine by just a few minutes). Cool the cupcakes in the pans set on a rack for at least 15 minutes before removing them from the pan to finishing cooling on the rack.
Just like cheesecake, they taste best when they're not warm.
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