Bakeries such as San Francisco's Miette Pâtisserie create beautiful organic cupcakes (Photo courtesy of Miette Pâtisserie)
CakeWalk is a weekly column by Mary Ann Porch dedicated to every baker who has ever struggled to achieve the right consistency with their icing, unsuccessfully searched for the perfect cupcake topper or just wants to learn something new. Because with a few helpful tips, cupcakes are a cakewalk.
It should be inferred that since I write for a cupcake blog, I like food. Well, maybe you think I only like cupcakes or sweets, but I’m actually a big fan of the culinary arts in general. I’m not afraid to try any dish once, unless someone tried to serve me puppy or kitten, and as a result, I’ve eaten quite a few exotic dishes, such as haggis (which I love) and kangaroo (which I almost choked on – true story). However, it wasn’t until I was an adult that I began questioning where my food came from, and unfortunately, I didn’t, and still don’t, like some of the answers.
This past week, I saw the new film Food, Inc. Similar to the books Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the movie showcases the corporate food industry, and frankly, it’s pretty upsetting with regard to how some of these major food corporations choose to do business. I think if most Americans actually knew what they were putting in their bodies, they would think twice before picking up that boneless chicken breast or beef patty at the supermarket.
The film really drives home the point of supporting local farmers, and this is something I’ve always believed in. I think this idea extends beyond the farms and into the rest of your local community – I know my neighborhood boasts some amazing chocolate artisans, such as the Mast Brothers, butchers, like Marlow & Daughters, and cheese mongers, including The Bedford Cheese Shop, who take great pride in how their products are produced, including the origins of the ingredients.
I’m fortunate to live in New York where I have the ability to shop at local stores and the fantastic CENYC Greenmarkets where I can find everything I need to make a delicious cupcake, but not all communities have these resources and the only option is to take whatever the chain supermarket has to offer.
After seeing Food, Inc., I’ve been reminded of the importance of shopping locally. After being a loyal supporter of my farmers market for many years, I have once again renewed my faith in recruiting friends to shop from local farmers and food artisans. But how does this relate to cupcakes you may ask.
Is there such a thing as an organic cupcake? I buy my basic baking ingredients from an all-organic grocery store, so I think my personal baked goods are probably pretty close. When I can, I try to buy things like chocolate from local artisans when I plan on making a ganache topping, and if I know my cupcake will benefit from a decorative topping, I always purchase my options, such as raspberries or strawberries, from my local farmers market.
There are delicious cupcake ingredients to be found at farmers markets, such as the CENYC Greenmarkets in New York City
When it comes to cupcakes, other than shopping at local shops and markets, it can be difficult to think of how this little treat can give back to your neighbors, but here are a few more ideas I’ve come up with:
~ Nothing tastes better with a cupcake than a tall, cold glass of milk: If you have the option, swing by your farmers market and purchase your milk from a local dairy farmer. Not only are you supporting your local community, you’ll be amazed at how fresh, locally produced milk tastes. I promise you – it’s delicious.
I buy milk from Ronnybrook Dairy at my local CENYC Greenmarket - a glass of cold milk is a great way to enjoy your favorite cupcake (Photo courtesy of Ronnybrook Dairy)
~ Don’t be afraid to ask questions: When you go to your supermarket, don’t be afraid to ask if the eggs are cage-free, etc. You have a right to know where your food is coming from and how it’s produced. And hey, you might feel a little better knowing that no chicken was harmed in the making of your cupcake!
~ Feed a farmer: If you used one of their products to make your cupcakes, why not offer one to the farmer that helped you make your delicious treats? I did this once at the farmers market and you would have thought I was handing out $100 bills. If you bought chocolate from a local artisan and used it in your recipe, drop off a few samples at the shop - I can guarantee they'll be flattered.
To some people, eating organic, etc. sounds like a political agenda or a hippy dippy state of mind. But for me, I like the idea of supporting local business any way I can, and if that means I get to know my local chocolatier around the corner, the dairy farmer at my farmers market and I know exactly what I’m putting in my body, then I'm happy. I don’t go into the idea of eating a cupcake thinking it will be healthy for me. Frankly, I want some yummy icing and a delicious cake and don’t care if I gain five pounds as a result of eating it. But if I can eat a cupcake every once in a while that gives back to my community in some small way, I say making the effort to eat organic and support local commerce is as easy as a cakewalk.
Previous CakeWalk Columns:
The secret delights of regional cupcakes (June 12, 2009)
The silver dragée strikes again! (June 5, 2009)
Chic cupcakes for any budget - take that recession! (May 29, 2009)
Top me off bartender…err, baker in this case (May 22, 2009)
The importance of a moist cake (May 15, 2009)
The Savory Cupcake Dilemma of 2009 (May 8, 2009)
Will the real buttercream icing please stand up? (May 1, 2009)
Mary Ann is the founder of the New York City chapter of CupcakeCamp NYC, an ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and eat cupcakes in an open environment. She is also the founder of Puff and Choux, a blog dedicated to the pastry and dessert arts. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, ideas or just to chit chat. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MaryAPorch.