These were inspired after reading The Last Caretaker by Jessica Strawser. I am not sure why I gravitate towards novels that involve abused women. It might be because my mom was a children's psychologist - in one of her careers - and worked at a local battered women's shelter. The stories she told me were horrifying and so beyond any experiences I had ever had. Eventually my mom quit the job as I entered my teens because she thought that she might be damaging my future relationships with men...and she couldn't really leave her work at work as it were.
On the Page
Katie, still reeling from her divorce, gratefully accepts a job offer from her longtime bestie, Bess, to be the caretaker of a cabin at a nature reserve. Oddly it appears that the last caretaker left without really taking anything with her. The mystery deepens when Katie is awoken in the middle of the night by three knocks on her door.
It turns out that the previous caretaker was part of an underground network to get abused women away from their abusers. Katie dives in to finding out what happened to the previous caretaker while she balances whether or not she wants to play a roll in the process.
As Katie digs, she discovers a journal on her bookshelf that has 'Black-Eyed Susans' on the spine. Hidden in plain sight is coded log of the women who have spent time in the loft apartment - before they were shuttled on to the next stop towards safety.
Just as with most novels about domestic violence, there are several uncomfortable moments. It turns out that one of the abusers has lied to get close to Katie and, because she trusts him, he has both of her nieces with him at the book climax. He is creepy and menacing. But the unflagging support of Bess and all the women in the network is a testament to the strength and resilience of women. Girl power! Gotta love that.
On the Plate
Because that first woman was sent to Katie's cabin by 'The Baker.' I wanted to make something that honored that first step of a woman leaving her abusive husband or partner. When Katie visits the baker, she orders...
"'Three cupcakes to go, please,' Katie said. 'Your three best flavors.' Her smile turned warmer. 'Selection rotates, but today that would be . . . Lemon Raspberry, Red Velvet Buckeye, and Butterscotch Chip'."
Okay, these are none of those flavors, but they are decorated to look like Black-Eyed Susans. And I love this 'recipe'...
"It was as if the baker had fed Katie some secret recipe for a measured reaction: two cups of calm, a heaping tablespoon of trust, a teaspoon of good faith. Mix until nerves are blended, spread batter in pan, act like everything is normal, why would anything be wrong, nothing to see here, this is fine."
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
1 cup organic granulated sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon lemon extract
zest from 1 organic lemon
1 cup whole milk
1-1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup almond flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Also needed: cupcake tin, paper liners
5 large egg yolks
1/3 cup water
1 cup organic granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon organic corn syrup
2 cups butter, softened
4 drops lemon essential oil
yellow food coloring, as needed (I prefer vegetable and fruit-based dyes)
chunky black sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place cupcake liners in pan. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until lightened and fluffy, approximately 3 minutes. Add in the egg yolks, lemon extract, and lemon zest. Mix again, then pour in the milk.
In another mixing bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients: flour, almond flour, baking powder, and salt. Sift the dry ingredients into the batter and fold in gently with a spatula until just moistened.
In another mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until medium peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the batter, taking care not to deflate the egg whites too much. Divide the cake batter evenly between 12 cupcake hollows.
Place cupcake pans on a baking sheet and place in the preheated oven. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the trays from the oven and cool the cakes completely on wire racks.
Place egg yolks in a mixing bowl and beat on high until they are thick, pale, and ribbon off the whisks.
Combine water, sugar, and corn syrup in a small saucepan. You can attach a candy thermometer to the side; I just kept testing until it reached soft-ball stage. If you're using a thermometer, heat until it reaches 238 degrees F. For testing otherwise, dip a spoon into the syrup, then into ice cold water. The syrup should immediately set up into a soft ball. Mine took about 8 minutes to reach the correct consistency.
Once the syrup is ready, remove it from the heat. While one hand hold the mixer, use the other hand to pour the syrup into the yolks. When all of the syrup is added, turn the mixer up to high and beat until the yolks have doubled in size and have reached medium peak stage. The bowl should be cooled and just lukewarm to the touch. Mine took about 9 minutes.
Begin adding butter, one tablespoon at a time, mixing well after each addition. The more butter you add, the more firm the buttercream will be.
Once your buttercream resembles what you think of as buttercream, add in the lemon essential oil and the food coloring.
Once the cupcakes have cooled completely, pipe the buttercream on top of your cupcakes to resemble petals. Garnish the center with black sugar. Refrigerate the cupcakes to let the buttercream set, then remove them about 10 to 15 minutes before you want to serve them.
I am adding this to the January #FoodieReads line-up.