O Soave Fanciulla

I love you boys with every fibre of my body, but when we were still in London I sometimes felt the pressure of being surrounded by too much testosterone.  Just occasionally I wanted to do things that were more suited to my tastes or, once Matt joined us, to have a meal without mentioning football.  For those girly moments, I have my nieces, Jen, Ellie, Bea and Minnie.  I didn’t see Jen grow up but since November 2010 she has been in London and I have been able to get to know her properly and admire the way she has faced the challenges of moving here and making a life.  As she moves towards the next big stage, I want to wish her all the best with loads of love and happy thoughts winging across the Atlantic.  Bea and Minnie of course are much younger but I enjoy their company so much as we bake or play hide and seek.  I love seeing them change and turn into real people with passionate views.  However, this entry is dedicated to Ellie, who has just been here for a week and should be arriving home in a couple of hours.

I was looking at Ellie earlier this week – she was laughing at something – and I could see the seven-month old that I met for the first time in July 1990.  She was standing in all her finery (for Nico’s christening) in the sitting room in Mowbray Road and she was laughing, the same laugh, the same startling beautiful, big, blue eyes.  Now since then, I’ve seen Ellie in all kinds of moods, some welcome, some not so much!  We’ve talked about everything and nothing, her hopes, my hopes, her fears and my fears.  We’ve talked pretty much non-stop for the last week too.  She’s now a doctor and so I asked her all kinds of questions (occupational hazard, I’m afraid) and she helped me.  She’s also very useful in a pharmacy, I’ve found!  What a lovely week we’ve had – doing some obvious but must dos on her own, like the Empire State and Central Park; stuffing our faces in Katz’ Deli; working out together; and walking miles and miles (I’m not exaggerating, I have my Fitbit).  We have tried several cocktails, merely for research purposes, of course; eaten several New York/US classics like Manhattan chowder (tomato-based), crab cakes, pastrami on rye, black and white cookies.  We shopped – oh boy, have we shopped and we were both very successful in our purchases.  Mainly, though I have simply relished talking to this funny, lovely, interesting person and getting to know her even better.

The cultural highlight of Ellie’s trip for me was going to the Met Opera to see La Boheme.  The end of Act 1 was always Grandma’s favourite piece of music, particularly the aria which begins O Soave Fanciulla (O Sweet Girl), so for my own dear sweet girl, here is the one of the recipes you asked me for.  Tzatziki was done last year on 4th April, so this is a recipe for Red Velvet Cupcakes.  I made these for a party in London in 2012 where I wanted to make a typically US recipe.  A true Red Velvet Cupcake will taste of chocolate but is coloured red, and the recipe I use is the one from the Hummingbird Bakery.  It is not bright red because that’s impossible if you have the right balance of chocolate, and the flavour is fantastic.  So here straight from their website,

Red Velvet Cupcakes – Ingredients

  • 60g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 10g cocoa powde
  • r20ml red food colouring – use good quality
  • ½tsp vanilla extract
  • 120ml buttermilk
  • 150g plain flour
  • ½tsp salt
  • ½tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1½tsp white wine vinegar

For the cream cheese frosting

  • 300g icing sugar, sifted
  • 50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 125g cream cheese, cold

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 170 C / 325 F / Gas Mark 3.Put the butter and the sugar in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy and well mixed. Turn the mixer up to high speed, slowly add the egg and beat until everything is well incorporated.

In a separate bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, red food colouring and vanilla extract to make a thick, dark paste. Add to the butter mixture and mix thoroughly until evenly combined and coloured (scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula). Turn the mixer down to slow speed and slowly pour in half the buttermilk. Beat until well mixed, then add half the flour, and beat until everything is well incorporated. Repeat this process until all the buttermilk and flour have been added. Scrape down the side of the bowl again. Turn the mixer up to high speed and beat until you have a smooth, even mixture. Turn the mixer down to low speed and add the salt, bicarbonate of soda and vinegar. Beat until well mixed, then turn up the speed again and beat for a couple more minutes.

Spoon the mixture into the paper cases until two-thirds full and bake in the preheated oven for 20–25 mins, or until the sponge bounces back when touched. A skewer inserted in the centre should come out clean. Leave the cupcakes to cool slightly in the tray before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile for the cream cheese frosting: Beat the icing sugar and butter together in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) on medium-slow speed until the mixture comes together and is well mixed. Add the cream cheese in one go and beat until it is completely incorporated. Turn the mixer up to medium-high speed. Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, at least 5 mins. Do not overbeat, as it can quickly become runny.

When the cupcakes are cold, spoon over the cream cheese frosting on top.

Enjoy!