Friday, March 30, 2012

Cardamom Cupcakes with Dulce de Leche Frosting

I grew up with guinea pigs and remember each of them with great affection. Benji arrived when I was three and I confided in him whenever I had a rift with my parents. Ginger and Pepper came next. Ginger was a mild mannered calico; Pepper, a jumpy red head. Over the course of their courtship, Ginger gave birth to 34 offspring. Every few months, we found the couple curled up with a new batch of babies. Our last guinea pig, Lola, had pink eyes. Her long white fur arched in the air and then descended over her body like water springing out of a fountain.
After living with guinea pigs (a dog, and other animals), I've come to believe that life is lived the fullest with a pet. When I started to look for a condo, I wrote off buildings that prohibited animals. Several months after getting the keys to my new place, I decided to buy a guinea pig. Part of me longed for a dog. But I traveled off and on for work at the time and felt a dog would be lonely.
I spent the week before Easter in my hometown. Before running errands one day, I stopped by the pet store to see if it sold guinea pigs. I found a dozen or so eating pellets in open cages. When I peered in to select one among them, they ricocheted to the corners of their pen like stray pool balls. The closer I got, the more the poor critters wanted to flee. I felt unnerved and rejected.
Just to the right of their cage was a tiny, very blond bunny. Its posture was straight and its eyes steady. When I walked up to its cage, it seemed totally unaffected. It had things to do and wasn’t going to be distracted by a gawking human. I was mesmerized by its confident, content attitude. I handed over $15 to take her home. When I asked the clerks if the bunny was a girl or a boy, they flipped it over, examined its crotch, and said, “Hmmm. We think she’s a girl.” That’s how my adventure with Honey began.
After six plus years, I've learned that living with a bunny is wonder and a commitment. Over the years, Honey has grown into a strawberry blonde boo with cream colored stenciling around her eyes and noise. She has a white beaver-shaped tail and tummy that she keeps impeccably clean. Her fur is softer than silk and there is nothing more therapeutic than petting her at the end of a long day. Like a dog, she comes running when I call her name (unless she's cross with me or  has other plans). She loves children. She loves family. She loves life.Like Peter Rabbit, Honey gets into all kinds of scrapes. She loves bananas and managed to jump into a plate of honey I had resting in my lap because she smelled a banana I had in my other hand. For a split second, her feet were mired in the sticky substance. Then she jumped off the plate, sat on her hind legs behind the couch, and flung her paws in the air hoping that she could flick off the honey. When I tried to whip her paws with a moisten towel, she hid behind an arm chair.

Living with Honey is like living with an animate saw. She chews on everything - furniture, plaster, my favorite books, wires - except her chew toys. It took me a while to realize that she was nestling between the wall and the bedspread (pictured above) because it allowed her to gnaw on the elegant cloth. Despite the fact that I give her three meals a day, plenty of hay, and snacks. And provide her with chew toys?

When I see depictions of rabbits this time of year, I just shake my head. They're shown as mild-mannered, sometimes even docile, and eager to deliver treats to children. If I handed Honey Bear a basket with candy to distribute, she would rustle through the contents, chew a hole in the bottom, and then leave the scene to take a nap.

CARDAMOM CUPCAKES WITH DULCE DE LECHE FROSTINGPayasm (mung dhal pudding) is my favorite South Indian dessert. It combines jaggery, cardamom, coconut milk, and cashew nuts. These cupcake reflect many of its flavors. Try tucking a few in your Easter basket this year.


For cake:Dede Wilson's recipe for yellow cake
2 teaspoons ground cardamom

For frosting and garnish:

1/4 cup raw cashew nuts
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
1 1/2 cups dulce de leche
1/3 cup coconut milk
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted


Heat the oven to 300. Roast cashew nuts for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool and chop very finely.

Increase oven heat to 350.

Prepare the cake batter as directed. Add the ground cardamom to the creamed butter (with the vanilla). Bake as 24 cupcakes.

Beat the cream cheese on medium speed until smooth. Add the dulce de leche and coconut milk. Beat until smooth.

Add the powdered sugar and beat on low until just incorporated. Increase speed to medium and beat until creamy.

Pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes. Sprinkle with chopped cashew nuts.