Free Range on Food: Why America loves cupcakes

Feb 08, 2012

Today's topics: Cupcakes and a new old pie company.

Past Free Range on Food chats

Happy Wednesday to all. What can you say about Americans and cupcakes? Well, you can start by saying our interest is not flagging. If you don't get that joke, you haven't seen Andrea Adleman's great story on the psychology of the cupcake trend. She'll be a guest chatter today to help field your cupcake questions.  Today's Food also introduces you to Doron Petersan, owner of Sticky Fingers vegan bakery, whose cupcakes won TV's "Cupcake Wars" against non-vegan competitors, and Michael Copperthite, who dreams of resurrecting his great-great-grandfather's pie business in the District.

In addition to Andrea, chatters today include interim Food editor Bonnie Benwick, Nourish columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick, Spirits columnist Jason Wilson, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and Food/Travel aide Becky Krystal. Tim Carman is on assignment.

Giveaway books for two lucky chatters are Doron Petersan's cookbook  "Sticky Fingers' Sweets" and "The Perfect Ingredient," by Bryn Williams, which Bonnie reviews today. We'll announce winners at the end of the hour. So let's get started!


I love cupcakes because I have issues with commitment (food commitment! don't tell my husband!). I love cake but don't want an entire cake of any one kind. So cupcakes are perfect! Particularly on odd or unusual flavors. I wouldn't be willing to purchase a whole s'mores cake, but I really enjoyed the s'mores cupcake I had recently from Sweet Lobby! As for my technical suggestion -- when you put old recipes up online, it would be WONDERFUL if you could include a picture on the recipe page itself. I've been using Pinterest to organize and store recipes, but it only works if there is a picture to pin! Thanks for listening!

Portion control definitely contributes to cupcakes' appeal. (Though I'll shamelessly help myself to more than one. Their singularity is no barrier for me). When you refer to odd or unusual flavors, I'm curious what you think of savory cupcakes. More than one industry analyst thinks they're an emerging phenomenon. Salmon, pizza, red wine with goat cheese and bacon with fill-in-the-blank are some of the savory cucpakes I'm aware of. What do you think? Palatable or an obscene bastardization?

I made your chocolate bread recipe last week and I'd say it was a success for my first attempt at that kind of bread AND using bread flour. Now my only problem is what to do with it. I am not really a jam kind of person so how should I use this bread? I know you have a chocolate bread pudding recipe that I'm going to try but any other suggestions? Thanks! :)

I'd toast thin slices in the oven; you'd be surprised what it tastes like with savory sandwich fillings! And I'd freeze it to make future crumbs and croutons.  Our choc bread pudding recipes call for brioche, etc., but you could certainly sub your bread in this pudding by Ris Lacoste, which has pear in it.  Perhaps I'll experiment for V-Day. . . .

Are there any CSA's in the area that do half-shares?

So I don't understand why these cupcake bakers go to such efforts to use superb ingredients, technique, etc. and top their cupcakes with artificially dyed garbage. As an example, today's photo of the vegan cupcake shows a beautiful cupcake with natural, unprocessed ingredients topped with clearly artificially dyed sprinkles. Why? You'd have so much more credibility if you used natural toppings!

I'll take the rap for that. The sprinkles weren't part of Doron Petersan's recipe but were put there to make the picture a little more interesting. Obviously, if you make the recipe, you can leave off the sprinkles!

Hi Rangers! I got quite a few (12-15) of these potatoes in my last farm box two weeks ago, and I'd love to save them to make mashed potatoes for a dinner I'm hosting ... on the 25th. We're in an apartment that doesn't have a ton of extra storage, but I'm eager to keep them as usable as I can. Do you have suggestions for how I might best prolong the life of these spuds? Additionally, I'm planning on making one of the "America's Test Kitchen" mashed potato variations, but if you have any suggestions for other delicious recipes, I'd love ideas! Thanks so much for your help.

You can go ahead and cook them, drain well, then cool and freeze in resealable plastic food storage bags (extracting as much air as possible). Depending on whether you're after a smooth or rustic mash, you could put the cooked potatoes through a ricer before the freezer treatment, or just chunk them up.

I love the buttery quality of Yukons; usually tend to keep things  simple. Chatters, what do you like to do with 'em?

If my cupcake (or other) recipe calls for two eggs, does that mean a small, medium or large eggs - or doesn't it matter? Is it ever a good idea to add an extra egg? Thank you!

The recipe's from where? Sometimes in cookbooks the author will mention things like "when I say eggs, I always mean large."  Going with large eggs is a safe bet.  And most of the time, 1 extra egg among a batch of cupcakes won't throw things off dramatically -- and even as I write this, I feel the precision of professional bakers searing into my soul. So forget I said that, offiically.

Thanks so much for telling us Doron Petersan's truly moving story. I now have a whole new respect for vegans and also for designer cupcakes, which I've never even tasted (I thought they were way overpriced until I read the ingredients for the champagne-passion flower cupcakes a few minutes ago). But especially I'm touched, impressed by Ms. Petersan, and how her work with dogs led her to become a vegan. It's nice to see someone from a do-good non-profit become successful, hopefully with her do-good values intact. I hope to enjoy a Sticky Fingers creation some day soon. And a particularly vivid image from your story may have made a vegetarian of me, too. Thanks again.

It seems to me that all these new cupcake places put too much frosting on the cupcake. It's almost equal parts frosting and cake. This is the wrong proportion to me. I mean I can always scrape it off but- 1) am I the only one who feels this way, and 2) what do you feel is the correct proportion of frosting to cake? One cupcake place in my town serves what it calls a "frosting shot". Yup. A little cup of frosting, not cake. All you frosting junkies should just order that.

Definitely a matter of personal preference. One professional baker told me she breaks off the bottom of the cupcake and puts it on top to eat it like a sandwich cookie, essentially distributing the frosting to all of the cake. Though this may make some people gasp, I must admit I prefer to eat cupcakes with a fork and knife. I find a plate -- sometimes  an act of improvisation -- and lay the cupcake on its side, schmearing some frosting on each forkful.

**I want to do a buttercream recipe that requires hazelnut-praline paste, do you have a trusted recipe that I can use so I dont have to get it online? ** Im thinking of using this buttercream in regular vanilla cupcakes or do you think it will go better with other type of cupcake?

We haven't run a recipe for one, but here's what I pulled from "Mastering the Art of French Pastry" if you'd like to try it. Anyone else have a recipe?


7 oz (200g) raw almonds

7 oz (200g) hazelnuts

1 cup (200g) sugar

1 1/2 cups (200g) confectioners sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the nuts on one or two large baking sheets and roast them, stirring occasionally, until brown in the center, about 20 minutes. Wipe another baking sheet with a light coating of vegetable oil.

While the nuts are roasting, put the granulated sugar in a 1 1/2- to 2-quart caramel pot or saucepan and cook it over medium to high heat, without stirring. As soon as the sugar begins to melt around the sides of the pot, begin stirring with a wooden spoon. When the sugar becomes fluid, with small white lumps floating in the syrup, reduce the heat to low and continue cooking, stirring constantly and crushing the solid lumps with the wooden spoon, until the sugar is completely melted and turns a medium amber.

Stir the hot, roasted nuts into the caramel syrup. Continue heating, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until nuts and caramel are well mixed, with the caramel syrupy.

Pour the caramel-nut mixture onto the oiled baking sheet and let cool to room temperature.

Break the brittle into pieces. Combine with the confectioners sugar in the workbowl of your food processor and process until smooth. (If you use an electronic blender instead of a food processor, process only about one quarter of the praline at a time, an dif necessary stop the blender occasionally and scrape down the mixture around the blades.) The pureeing will take a while and the praline will become hot in the process. When finished, it will be smooth and viscous, with a slight grittiness.

Transfer the praline to a bowl and let cool to room temperature.

Storage: Covered airtight, for up to 3 months at room temperature or in the refrigerator. If some of the oil from the nuts separates on top of the praline before using.

I think it would go great on vanilla cupcakes, but perhaps even better on chocolate!

I was intrigued by a Food & Wine parsnip-filled pasta recipe. Until I saw that it has 1 entire stick of butter in the filling. How can I lighten this recipe and still have something good? 

STEPHANIE WITT SEDGWICK: I'd bet you can cut that butter in half without doing any harm.:)

Butter, sour cream, salt, pepper. Unadorned delight.

Yukon territory, definitely.

Are muffin pans (or tins) the same thing as cupcake pans (or tins), for baking? Or do I need to get new bakeware to make cupcakes? Thanks.

Same thing! Save your money.

I have done a lot of research on this, and I have a real dark horse candidate: Lavender Moon in Old Town Alexandria. They have an old-fashioned, dense, moist cake with a great frosting-to-cake ratio. For homemake, dark chocolate cupcakes with butterscotch ganache frosting, which you get by melting just a little bit of cream with butterscotch chips, are a yummy change of pace. Make sure they are fresh butterscotch chips with good flavor, and a thin coating of this goes a long way.

You know, I've been to Lavender Moon, and I did enjoy their cupcakes.

Butterscotch ganache sounds great. Same concept as the fabulous chocolate variation in Georgetown Cupcake's Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes.

Georgetown Cupcake's Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes

I recently became fascinated with Pinterest and found a delicious looking recipe for white chocolate cupcakes with truffle filling. I'm not a huge fan of truffles so any suggestions for a filling? Would white chocolate filling be over kill do you think?

I take it you mean a truffle filling of the candy, not the mushroom, kind. :) Would a chocolate filling be overkill? I guess it depends on your tastes. What's the harm in trying? I'm also thinking a dollop of seedless raspberry jam might be nice. Or even a whole, fresh raspberry, a la today's recipe from Doron Petersan.

Since when is Bonnie "interim" food editor? What happened to Joe? Have I missed something?

Bonnie has staged a coup. Joe is locked in his office with only some water and a few crusts of bread.

No, no, no. I guess you missed the chat a few weeks ago when he announced that he was taking a year's leave of absence. He'll be back in 2013.

I'm a fan of cupcakes just as much as the next person. I have seen and even ventured in to some of the "gourmet" cupcake shops but have never actually bought a cupcake (when the realization hits that I can make and eat an entire batch for the price of one.) That being said, can't we all get on board with the fact that (quote from the article) "The popularity of cupcakes directly tracks the rise in cultural narcissism that has resulted from the Internet's impact on our individual and cultural psyche. Through our over-reliance on the Internet, we've become a culture of emotionally disconnected individuals who live in socially isolated cyber-fantasy worlds. The fantasy worlds we create for ourselves on the Internet are an equivalent of the modern myth of Narcissus where we spend hours in an isolated aggrandizement of self. Cupcakes represent the mythical pool into which Narcissus fell and drowned." Is a little ridiculous, they're just cupcakes for goodness sake. Choose flavor, tear off paper, eat and enjoy. Psychoanalysis not needed.

When I set out to research the story, my initial question was this: why are cupcakes so popular as opposed to other portable, single-serving desserts like cookies, donuts, candy bars or even these new-ish hand pies and cake pops? Those desserts just haven't had the same social, psychological and  economic impact as cupcakes. I asked the experts "why" and this is what I learned.

Food Rangers, I am making a buttermilk custard pie for a work Top Chef event which requires that the majority of work be done in our office kitchen (to keep us honest and out of the prepared food aisle). I am tasked with making apple pie and plan on making a buttermilk custard apple pie. I am hoping to saute the apples and prepare the buttermilk batter the night before and then combine the two in the pie shell and bake at the office. My question is would the buttermilk batter (butter, eggs, flour, buttermilk, sugar, cinnamon) be okay to prep the night before? There is no reactive item (baking soda, etc.) and it would remain refrigerated. Even more pie in the sky hopeful, could the sauteed apple mixture be combined with the batter the night before and then just stirred well, put in the shell and baked at the office? Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

I should think it'd be fine, especially with the apples. Might thicken of course, so maybe bring a bit of extra buttermilk along to the office.

So many of the wine pariing guidelines I see pertain to meat, which is pretty useless for me since I'm a vegetarian! I usually stick to fail-safe whites such as savignon blanc. However, we're hosting a pretty big event where an all-veggie dinner will be served, and I want to offer at least one white and red wine each for guests. Any suggestions for some nice wines (especially red) that won't overwhelm veggie fare? Maybe pinot noir? Thanks for your input.

Wine columnist Dave McIntyre says:

Your instinct for pinot noir is right on the money. Pinot is very food friendly, and goes especially well with mushrooms, so if they figure prominently, go for Pinot. Pinot is also good because it is relatively high in acidity (though that can depend on where it's from), making it refreshing and palate-cleansing. That's why your Sauvignon Blanc works.
On the whole, I'd say don't sweat it so much and feel free to experiment. You might find success with Beaujolais (the 2009s and 2010s are excellent), like Pinot a relatively lighter red. But an earthy Nebbiolo might surprise you, too. In fact, I'd recommend having fun with a variety of Italian wines, both red and white.

I make a big pot of stock once a month or so, and freeze it. I've always frozen it in quart mason jars, so I can thaw it in the microwave. (I don't microwave plastic.) But I'm tired of breaking glass jars by overfilling before freezing. No matter how careful I am to leave room for expansion, I always lose a jar or two. What should I be freezing my stock in instead?

I freeze mine in resealable plastic freezer bags. I force the air out and lay them flat to save space. Have never lost one to breakage or tearing. Works like a charm.

Can you make your own almond paste? I love the recipe for David Lebovitz's almond cake but the paste is really expensive and I have a big bag of almonds just sitting here....

Yes! There's a recipe in "The Italian Baker" by Carol Field, which I have sitting on my desk. E-mail me at and I'll send it to you.

Good afternoon. I have a potluck lunch at work next week, and I'm looking for suggestions on an easy to make and transport vegetable/vegetarian dish. It also needs to be American per the theme. The other dishes being brought include quinoa with roasted butternut, dried fruit and nuts (also mine), tuna casserole, chicken and rice, banana pudding, and chocolate cake. I feel the need to round things out and offer something healthy; there's a lot of starch on the menu. Help, please!

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Here's a recipe that's always been a crowd pleaser for me. It's a lemony couscous with chickpeas and feta cheese. I know, I know, it has starch. I'm hoping you forgive me after you see what a hit this dish is.

I am a true cupcake lover--I think it's the creativity in flavors and the perfect serving size that really get me going. I also love that cupcakes have been a vehicle for veganism, in a sense. Because cupcakes are so approachable, people who might be totally averse to veganism, see that you can eat something delicious that doesn't include dairy or eggs. Maybe cupcakes are a gateway drug to reconsidering other eating habits? Anyway, I loved the article on Petersan. I adore Sticky Fingers and can't wait to try the champagne cupcake recipe at home!

It's a good theory that cupcakes could be considered a vegan gateway drug. I've found that they have to be tasted blind. Otherwise, my brain and my taste buds detect a different texture and know something is lacking. But, I intend to visit Sticky Fingers and research accordingly in the near future.

What things I need to take in consideration when I have a great cake recipe that I would like to "adjust" as a cupcake? Sometimes I want to try/test a recipe in a smaller portion so that if it fails I don't feel that I misuse some "precious ingredients."

STEPHANIE WITT SEDGWICK: All you need to worry about is baking time. That's it, so let common sense prevail. The smaller the cake, the shorter the cooking time. I'd figure 20 to 25 minutes as a guideline, but testing works best. Cupcakes are done when they start to shrink away from the sides of the pan, you can see this happen even when using liners, feel firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with crumbs clinging to it.

Jason, I have an opened bottle of St. Germaine (which last week you said I only have about 6 months to finish). I know of very few cocktails that call for St. Germaine, and they all call for a miniscule amount. Can you please provide some cocktails (preferably whiskey based) that call for St. Germaine? Canton as well? Thank you

St-Germain is prob fine a little longer than that if you keep it in the fridge. I learned from experience that it begins to discolor after about a year or so. As for recipes, my favorite St-German cocktail is a take on the Old-Fashioned, called the Elderfashioned: 2 ounces bourbon, 1/2 ounce St-German, 2 dashes Angostura bitters, and an orange peel twist. As for the Domaine de Canton, here's a Gingered Rum Toddy that's very good on a cold night.

We're thinking of purchasing a bread machine to start making our own loaf breads. Do you guys have a recommendation for something not ridiculously overpriced but still a good model to use? Thanks!

Neither Jane, Becky or I have a bread machine on hand these days. Chatters? Seems like maybe a thrift shop or e-Bay might be a good, inexpensive source for you.

Put the glass jars with stock in the freezer without the lid until frozen...then cap. Likewise, when defrosting, remove from the freezer and remove the lid. Liquid expands and contracts when freezing and thawing, and the pressure will crack jars if the lid is on because there is no room to move.

So if you want to keep using those Mason jars, this sounds like the way to go. Me, I'd rather keep glass out of my freezer.

Cupcakes - Yum! Cupcakes with champagne and passion fruit in them!? Yum, YUM!! Just reading the recipe made me crave a cupcake sooo much, I got dressed and went out to get one -- couldn't even wait for the oven to heat. I ended up with an orange Hostess cupcake, but, hey ... Late night, two for a dollar, AND it silenced the craving, if not as elegantly as the Vegan Champagne Cupcake would have done. One question -- The cupcake-to-layer-cake bake-time conversion -- Should it work for most cupcake recipes, or is it specific to this one?

Given a 9-inch cake pan vs. a standard muffin (cupcake) pan, the cake layer will always take longer to bake. But no, you can't use those same times in the Champagne Cupcakes recipe to govern all recipes. However, even with an uncertain baking time, if you have a toothpick for testing, you'll always be able to tell when enough is enough. p.s., The passion fruit was a terrific taste. It really made that cupcake.

Hi Foodies! I saw your recipe for vegan champagne cupcakes. It looks delish! I am surprised the recipe doesn't call for extra-dry champagne though. My vegan master taught me brut champagne is derived from a more living yeast, and should therefore be avoided by vegans. Is this correct or can vegans drink any kind of champagne? Ciao!

I've forwarded this question to Doron Petersan, but in the meantime, if there are any wise vegans out there, maybe they can provide an answer?

I totally agree with the writer of this article; it's amazing how food can bring a remote place and almost lost memories into the present. I'm very far from home now, but when I feel nostalgic, I always try to get a couple of ingredients to attempt to make one of the dishes that my family used to prepare. I think it's the best way to feel at home when you are far from home. I will try for sure the Lobio recipe!

I can attest to its utter deliciousness!

And sometimes a cupcake is just a single serving of cake.

Was there a problem with the clementine crop this year? It seems like I haven't seen them in plentiful stacks of crates and bags over the last few months, as compared to years past. Sometimes, stores didn't have them at all; other times, I passed on them because they just didn't look very good. Also, once this winter I picked up a bag at Trader Joe's, only to realize at home they were labeled "mandarins" --- and maybe I'm susceptible to names, but they just weren't quite the same (even though I'm sure they must be related). I think the season is probably about over, and I feel like I haven't gotten my clementine fill this winter.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: I've seen plenty around but you're on to something with the name. "Sweeties" seems to be one of the new names. Also, the clementines are bagged instead of crated-I guess so you don't have to buy so many at a time. The season is pretty much over now so I don't know that you'll see much of anything in the way of clementines as the supply is running out.

Hi- I volunteer for the Cupcake Challenge at the National Capital Area Cake Show. Last year 56 area bakers brought over 100 flavors of cupcakes to the competition and we sold out all 600 admission tickets for tasters. DC loves cupcakes! This year our challenge will be on Saturday, March 24th and a portion of the proceeds benefit IcingSmiles Inc.

100 flavors of cupcakes in one room! The mind boggles. More proof of our cupcake obsession, as if we needed any.

C'mon -- Cupcakes are like mini-birthday cakes and probably remind many customers of their childhood birthday parties, especially the moment when all hush, the lights go down, the piece de resistance is brought in very ceremoniously, and all eyes turn to the birthday child and the cake that spells out for all the assembled what a very special little girl or boy you are!

We're having a 5th anniversary party in a few weeks (Yay! We made it!), and I have a couple of questions about what we should be sure to provide: 1. We're doing desserts and appetizers. I don't know if any of our guests have gluten intolerances or are vegan. I'm planning to have at least one food for each group, but should I be doing more? Do I need to quiz everyone beforehand as to their needs, or should I rely on them to tell me? 2. We're providing wine and maybe beer, plus water and soft drinks. Is there a good rule on how much to have for each guest? Thanks so much for your help!

I think it wouldn't be tough to do a few in each category that are both GF and vegan/vegetarian. Instead of a quiz, I'd just make sure those foods were labeled clearly on the table -- although a guest who's got serious gluten-free issues probably wouldn't take the chance of eating something that's made in a non-GF kitchen. (If you do find out you have a GF guest, maybe that person's used to bringing his/her own food.) Lots of room for contamination.

As for how much, figure at least 1 slice of something per person, or maybe 4 cookies or 3 small tarts.  For hors d'oeuvres, figure 6-10 pieces per person. For dips, figure 2 to 4 tablespoons per person. Good luck -- and might I suggest a quick, Advanced Search spin through our Recipe Finder with keywords gluten-free, meatless and those course categories? :)


I bought a big piece of frozen salmon that was vacuum-sealed, or something that looks like vacuum-sealed. It thawed in the refrigerator in its unopened packaging -- for 10 days. To my surprise, it looked, smelled and felt okay: No slime, stink or cracking, etc. So I went ahead and dredged it in salt and sugar to make gravalox.Is it possible that even if it tastes okay, it's dangerous to eat? (I'm thinking of the old maxim that visitors and friends stink after 3 days and should be thrown out.)

10 days sounds pretty risky to me, especially since it's not being cooked. I wouldn't do it. Do you still have the original packaging with the processor's name? If so, call and ask.

First week of new CSA yielded sweet potatoes. Daughter wants sweet-potato fries. Any healthy way to make?

Cut them into the size wedges you desire. Toss in a bowl with seasoning (salt, pepper, maybe some cumin or chipotle pepper or herbes de provence) and a little olive oil. Spread on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees till their crisped yet tender.

Why not just call them what they really are -- muffins. There's nothing wrong with that!

I'm not sure about that...for me, it's a texture thing. If the crumb is tender but the flavor happens to be herbal or in the carrot zone, I'd still call it a cupcake.

As Cookie Monster calls them! Alexandria Cupcake is to die for. Their minis are especially lovely. I have only had the classics (choc/van, van/choc, choc/choc, van/van) but they were all amazing. The cake is really, really good.

We had the benefit of being able to eat up our American flag and loved the cupcakes -- even the bright blue ones.

Rather than mason jars, try pyrex with lids. I have a few 60s-era glass squarish things with glass lids, and I also have some 90s-era round pyrex with tupperware-like lids. I have frozen stock successfully in the round ones.

Jane, I see your point about freezing glass because it can break. But it is not considered safe to heat any food in plastic, as the heat may allow chemicals to leach out of the plastic into the food. It's not even clear if 'food grade' plastic is safe. I freeze in plastic, then transfer to a glass container for microwaving. And I know you're a fan of plastic bags, but I don't like to use anything that can't be recycled or re-used.

I don't reheat the stock in plastic; I squeeze it out of the bag and into another container for reheating.

And you'll be happy to know that when possible, I rinse out my plastic bags and use them for dog-related purposes. I make my dog's treats and other foods, and I don't have to be quite as picky about what I freeze those in!

if the theme to the poster's potluck is American, how do couscous, chickpeas, or feta cheese fit the theme? ???

We live ina melting pot. Do we have stick to elbow macaroni to be American?

Hi, I do love cupcakes, but there is a food I love even more - POTATOES! I will eat them any way anyone could possibly make them!! No artificial potatoes - the real deal! Anyway, did I say I love potatoes? Question: Please recommend a cookbook with NOTHING but potatoe recipes - preferably for one. Does not have to be JUST potatoes, another food group may be in the recipe as well. Thanks. Oh, and that is the way I spell "potatoe." Pretty Permanent on Potatoes

Did you check out today's recipe for Almond Potatoes? They were kinda cool.  I've looked through Taste of Home's "Great Potato Cookbook," which has fairly standard stuff that you, as a potato (sorry, cannot do the "e") lover have probably already made. Before you order anything, check out our spudly collection.

I bought some pre-cut butternut squash months ago and then froze it since we ended up not making the recipe I bought it for. It looks a little frosty now. I'm guessing that it's probably not good enough to be roasted and served by itself, but I'm wondering if it still might be fine in a soup.

Try roasting it anyway. If it has picked up a frosty or freezer taste, I think that would leach right into a soup. But if you roast with some onions or garlic, and herbs, the flavor should be fine.

Please no. Sour cream is totally unnecessary, plus, most sour cream actually is not vegetarian (it has gelatin as a stabilizer). I'd toss in a few garlic cloves with the potatoes while they cook, then mash those in. Heaven. (believe it or not, I did a recipe at T'giving that was potatoes, S&P, garlic, and then, really, rice milk. I did not tell anyone the recipe and everyone on their own, even the die hard carnivores, complimented me on them. They were insanely creamy and fluffy at the same time. Now I am hungry.......)

Cucpakes and potatoes are making this a particularly starchy hour. . .

Am I damaging my good knives by using steel wool to get little pieces of fish-skin or meat off the blades -- including the edge? I don't want to accidentally poison another dish hours or days later with little bits of unrefrigerated fish or meat. I also don't want to ruin or dull my blades. What's proper procedure? Thanks.

Hm. I always just use hot, soapy water and the kind of scrubber sponge that's safe for my nonstick cookware.

I ordered these because they looked interesting, but I have no idea what to do with them. I'm not sure I've had many a FRESH lima bean, let alone dried and reconstituted! Also would appreciate a way to view the "gallery" recipes (like the cupcakes one) in text form. Something about the gallery format is offensive to the internet filters at work... Thanks!

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: You can treat lima beans as would any dried bean. Soak them for 8 hour covered with water in the fridge . There's a little controversy about whether this is necessary but I think it helps the beans to cook faster. Drain, cover with water and simmer for about 40 to 50 minutes until tender. You can add to stews, salads, soups, etc. Lima beans are a fantastic food-lots of good stuff -so enjoy.

Yeah, but the point is that many cupcake places will do that and ruin it with these toppings. So my question is still why?

I don't know but I do agree. I find it sad that a super-sugary, artifically colored decoration is placed atop quality frosting. There's the whole related issue of red velvet, too. It's the most popular flavor at nearly every bakery and almost always gets its color from dye.

Am I the only one who has a problem with a gourmet cupcake that costs a small fortune, but is mostly frosting and VERY LITTLE cake??? I love a cupcake with mostly cake and a little bit of frosting!

I'm with you, and so is one of my sons, who used to off-load the frosting before he took a first bite. We certainly came across that phenomenon back in our Cupcake Wars

I jumping on this bandwagon.  That's exactly what I don't like about the cupcake craze: Way too much frosting. I spoke to Food section contributor and local baker Mary Lee Montfort about this trend. Her feeling is that the mound of frosting is almost a required element to today's cupcake. As for me, I make my own and glaze or frost lightly.

Youkon golds make excellent twice-baked potatoes.

I know this is cupcake territory today, but since I saw enchiladas also on the menu, I thought i might ask for a few suggestions for veggie fillings for enchiladas. I'm really not into soy "meat".

A mix of roasted mushrooms would be fab.

I made positive New Years Resolutions, and one of them was to learn to bake pies. In the two pies I've made (pumpkin and key lime), the middle was so liquidy. The pumpkin eventually solidified in the fridge while the key lime was a complete bust. Do I need to cook them longer than the recipe says? Cook the liquid first before baking the pie? I know you can add cornstarch, but I don't want to add anything like that if I can help it.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: My guess is that you're not baking them long enough. Custard pies, like pumpkin, should be set before you remove from the oven. Not a hard set, the custard should still jiggle a little, but no signs of liquid.

Need a local source for Pol Roger Winton Churchill for V day. Needs two bottles for a special dinner I am cooking. I have two bone in NY Strip dry aged for 32 days grass fed and they are the top grade of the nine grades of prime beef, a Ceasar salad, fried oysters for an app girlfriend's request, a simple baked tater and sauted shrooms. Steaks are from a rancher friend of mine. Top grade prime is worth the price superior to any of the prime steaks the top steakhouses in the US sell. Better then anything Peter Luger's sells. My friend did a taste test recently between his top grade prime and other prime steak house steaks and his cam out on top.

Try checking

Dave McIntyre says to check with Wide World of Wines.

Please name the top three bakeries/cupcakeries for red velvet cupcakes . . . my valentine will be so happy!

My heavens, this is equivalent to asking a parent to name their favorite child. Dropping bombs and naming names is so unromantic, so I'll do my best political pivot and say this. I "accidentially" discovered a tasty red velvet at Georgetown Scoops. Yes, an ice cream shop with noteworthy cupcakes.

You know, it's interesting (to me, at least) that the majority of the "successful" Top Chef contestants were also on the All-Stars season. Do you think that the extra exposure contributed to their success, or do we just know more about them because they clearly like media attention?

Thanks for reading my Chat Leftovers! I think it worked both ways:  They were skilled and personable, so they got extra exposure. And the extra exposure contributed to their success.

So, what's the difference between savory cupcakes and muffins? (I also question if there is any difference between "hand pies" and either tarts or turnovers.)

A rose is still a rose by any other name: For me, a savory cupcake is what we've always called a muffin. Old school, I know, but if it's not sweet is really a cupcake? Especially if cupcakes by definition have icing....

Can't I just use an electric beater, or hand beater, to make the cupcake recipes? Or a blender? Please don't tell me I need to buy another piece of kitchen equipment ...

I wouldn't advise using a blender unless it was on a very low speed...extra air in the batter won't help. An electric beater or even some good elbow grease should be fine.

I recently tasted Irish whiskey that was peated, and really enjoyed it. Do you have a recommendation for a bottle to buy? Hopefully somewhat affordable?

Well, the go-to one is Connemara, which I'm assuming you tasted? It's not cheap, about $60 for the single cask, and up to $110 for the 12 yr old.

Oh, that looks interesting - I will need to try that. Is there no sugar/simple syrup in that like a regular Old Fashioned?

No, the sweetness of the St-Germain replaces the simple syrup. You mix in all in rocks glass with good-sized ice cubes.

We make this with giant dried lima beans, but it would probably work with normal size ones. I usually bulk of the kale a little as well.

I seem to be out of control with ginger in cocktails. Everything I make has Domaine de Canton or ginger beer. Knowing that I like that flavor, as well as citrus, what should I try to broaden my horizons?

Hmm. That's not so bad to be taken with Domaine de Canton and ginger beer! Maybe you could stick with the ginger ale/beer theme, but broaden from there by trying new spirits. One I really like is the Cloudy Sky, which is sloe gin, ginger beer and lime juice. So tasty! You'll expand your horizons by trying real sloe gin, from a brand like Plymouth -- not the fake stuff. Another good template is the classic buck, which you can experiement with ginger beer and many different spirits. Here is the Bargoens Buck, which calls for Dutch genever, lemon juiceand Campari.

I have a recipe that calls for self rising flour. What ingredients can I add to plain flour as a substitute for self rising?

I dislike Lima beans, but husband loves them, and even makes chili with them! He says they're good that way.

Thanks for the great cupcake articles, Rangers! Question: I am not a vegan but sometimes vegan recipes look/read really good! Can I substitute butter back in if it calls for margarine, dairy milk for soy, etc? It's not that I'm trying to be difficult or have problems with veganism, but if I already have butter and milk in the fridge, I'm not inclined to go out and buy additional ingredients. Thanks for your help!

It's impossible to give a blanket answer. Yes on butter for margarine, but other things need to be taken on a case by case basis.  I can think of others that generally work, like yogurt and sour cream, but I'd be careful before I go messing around, especially in baking. Ingredients react with heat, moisture and leavenings differently.

I don't give too much thought to the psychology, and I like a cupcake as much as the next gal, but every time I give in I am so disappointed in the quality that I vow to never buy another. I am no master baker, but I can make a cupcake vastly superior to what I have had in Arlington and Georgetown. If you are going to sell a cupccake, no matter the cost, it should taste good!

Timing, as they say, is everything. By and large, a trait of gourmet cupcakes is that they do not contain preservatives or other icky, unpronounceable ingredients. This being the case, they have a limited shelf life and do dry out rather quickly. In my experience, freshness is the baseline variable that makes or breaks a good cupcake. I've had good ones straight out of the oven from a mix and flat-out bad ones from the elite bakeries because they were dry.

Hi, I tried to get this question in last week re: the Middle-Eastern Chickpea Burgers recipe from WaPo. I follow the instructions to the letter, yet they always crumble apart. In a similar tastes-good-but-looks-sad vein, is there a secret to getting cornmeal to adhere to pan-fried fish??? Thank you!

I find the cornemal just adheres to the fish. Don't pat the fish dry-a little moisture might help. Also, fresh fish seems to take a coating better than frozen.

Love cupcakes, but really love pies and enjoyed the article about Mr. Copperthite's new venture. I completely agree with his comment about fresh ingredients being the secret to the flavor of old-fashioned pies. I can still taste my grandmother's fresh peach pie, yum! I look forward to hearing where we can find his pies when he opens!

Georgetown's certainly sweetening our Good to Go spot next week; we're reviewing Pie Sisters. I loved those historic photos Michael Copperthite gave us -- especially the undated one of members of Congress chomping away on pies.

What is grapeseed oil? Where can I get it, and I heard it could be substituted for olive oil?

It's mild/neutral-tasting, and really made from grape seeds! I tend to use it in salad dressings -- although it's fine for sauteing and has a fairly high smoke point, according to Food Lover's Companion (a worthy paperback everybody should have). As for substituting, olive oil has such a range of flavors and intensity, I'd have to judge the usage on a case by case basis.

Nobody else has asked, so I will: "brut champagne is derived from a more living yeast"? What does that mean? More living than what? Why should vegans avoid yeast? If vegans can't eat anything made from yeast (a fungus), then can they not eat mushrooms either?

Well, yeast is used in all fermentation of all wine and beer, as well as spirits prior to distillation. Yep, yeast dies for your alcoholic beverages.

Frankly, I don't understand our love affair with cupcakes. They are very ordinary, and there there's a whole melee of other sweet fixings that are so much more tasty. Why cupcakes?

Some are ordinary, but the boutique cupcakeries are producing something extraordinary that Grandma certainly wouldn't be pulling out of the oven. Artsy cupcakes have been elevated to the realm of  luxury lifestyle products, ones with wide popular appeal because they are affordable (relative to the new car or vacation that's too pricey.)

I, for one, think it's all about the frosting. My family laughs when I eat regular layer cake, because I eat all the cake first and save the frosting for last. Same with cupcakes. Cake first, saving the best for last.

It's great to live in a country where we can peacefully coexist.

A "more living" yeast? Sorry but your vegan master has led you astray. All yeast, if it's fermenting, is alive. And if you're going to start worrying about eating single-celled organisms, then you better stop eating plants, too.

Another opinion!

I've heard back from Doron, who says that though it seems as if the original questioner believes that yeast is not vegan, it is not an animal product, and so it's fine for vegan use.

from our Super Bowl Mexican-themed party. What can I do with them besides guac or slice them into sandwiches/salads?

Have a cauliflower on hand and was hoping for some dinner ideas, other than mashing. And I roasted it last week.

Here's one I love, it's a curried, chicken and cauliflower stir-fry.

We're trying to eat meatless more often, and I've found several recipes the whole family likes, but they are step intensive and are not something that can just be thrown together in 20-30 minutes. I'd love a suggestion for something that isn't pasta for a quick meatless dinner. We're pretty open eaters, including the toddler, and love all beans if that helps

We published several Dinner in Minutes recipes in January, from cookbook author Maria Speck that feature grains -- check 'em out. Twenty minutes; you;'d have to prep ahead, but 30's doable. 

Any advice for what to do with a big bunch of cilantro sitting in my fridge?

If you want to save it for later, you can blanch it ever so briefly, shock it in ice water, drain it, chop it, freeze. Right now, I might toss it into an herb mix for this fresh herb kuku, which I may have mentioned last week but am currently obsessed with.

I am sure you are going to get a lot of haters dissing cupcakes today, but I am not one of them. I just wish the cupcake wars were fought with handguns.

For the vegetarian craving enchiladas, Hungry Girl has a GREAT recipe for guilt-free enchiladas stuffed with canned pumpkin.

Cut in bite-size pieces, steam, then top with Italian Salad Dressing. Serve hot or chilled.

That's a wrap for today! The winner of the Doron Petersan book is the chatter who asked about champagne yeast,  and the winner of the Bryn Williams book is the chatter who made our Chocolate Bread recipe. Send your info to Becky at to claim your prize! See you next week.

In This Chat
Jane Touzalin
Jane is interim recipe editor/deputy Food editor; joining us today are interim Food editor Bonnie Benwick, Food aide Becky Krystal, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin, Nourish columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick and Spirits columnist Jason Wilson. Guest: Andrea Adleman, LA to DC food writer, cupcake-ologist, political operative and communications consultant.
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