Monday, January 28, 2013

[Cupcake Portraits] Discworld Personalities: Rincewind

Rincewind had eaten in many countries on the Disc, and sometimes he’d been able to complete an entire meal before having to run away. And they’d always lacked something. Oh, people did great things with spices and olives and yams and rice and whatnot, but what he’d come to crave was the humble potato.
Time was when a plate of mash or chips would have been his for the asking. All he’d needed to do was wander down to the kitchens and ask. Food was always available for the asking at Unseen University, you could say that for the place, even if you said it with your mouth full. And, ridiculous though it sounded now, he’d hardly ever done that. The dish of potatoes’d come past at mealtimes and he’d probably have a spoonful but, sometimes, he wouldn’t! He’d… let… the… dish… go… by. He’d have rice instead. Rice! All very nutritious in its way, but basically only grown where potatoes would’ve floated to the surface.
He’d remember those times, sometimes, usually in his sleep, and wake up shouting, "Will you pass the potatoes, please!"
Sometimes he remembered the melted butter. Those were the bad days.

The Last Continent

If you've been wondering why it took me so long to post a second installment in my Discworld Personalities series, well... look no further than the quote above.
Rincewind and potatoes, this much was a no-brainer; but finding a recipe I could actually use was a nightmare. The easy way out would have been to pick any old cake with a pinch of potato starch in it and tweak the measurements to cupcake-ify it, but that would have felt like cheating - I was going for the real thing here. Because Rincewind deserves no less!

Now, Heather from Sprinkle Bakes has a recipe for Chocolate/Mashed Potatoes Cupcakes, and I was kinda hoping I could simply swipe it and call it a day.
So I boiled some potatoes, made a wonderful mash (it had salt and pepper in it, plus sour cream and yes, melted butter), ate more of it than I care to admit, and forced myself to spare a small quantity for baking...

Into the batter it goes!

...and, sure enough, I got some cutesy cupcakes. 

Only, you know... as soon as I tried one, I realized I couldn't use them. 
It's not that they weren't good - Heather is one of those bakers who couldn't bake a bad cupcake if they tried - but they'd hardly risen at all, and once cool they even appeared to have shrunk a little. They were heavy and dense and filling, just as Heather had said they would be, but while I was quite excited about the batter itself (as it would make a wonderful base for a decorated cake IMHO), they just didn't feel right for what I wanted to do here. 
I crumbled the remaining cupcakes, mixed pineapple marmalade into them, and got myself some gorgeous pops - that cheered me up quite a lot. Still, I had to keep repeating to myself in a slightly dazed way: These AREN'T the cupcakes I am looking for. 

I had to come up with a recipe of my own, and in order to do that I asked myself: Who is this Rincewind character anyway?

Image belongs to GilJimbo @
(In my head, Rincewind looks a bit like Shaggy from the Scooby Doo cartoon actually...)

...He is the protagonist of the first two Discworld novels, so that if you read the books in chronological order, you can't help having a soft spot for him - well, I can't, if nothing else.  Hadn't I liked him so much, I doubt I'd have wanted to delve further in the series. 
-> I must bake something that would ideally convert a cupcake novice to these wonderful treats, and have him/her asking for more!

...He is (usually described as) a coward, and an all-around boring individual. Now, unless we are talking Faust Eric (you don't want me to get started on that one), I have to disagree - while it is true that he has little or no curiosity and despises adventure for adventure's sake, he is the sort of reliable fellow who will always help a friend out of trouble, no matter what. As one who enjoys her daily routine, to the point that I even dislike travelling, his is an attitude I can totally get behind - still, I'll admit that Rincewind is more fun when he teams up with bubblier, more active characters.
-> His cupcakes must be yummy in a homely, reassuring way. Potatoes are thrown in because Rincewind loves them so much, but they're not supposed to be detectable by taste; they're only meant to create a crumbly texture. Surprising new flavours are really not called for here; what I'm aiming for is something (delicious on its own but, so to speak, nothing to write home about) to be paired up with a nice classical frosting and to actually exalt it. 

...He is a bit of a cynic (although not nearly as much as other characters), his snarky retorts providing hilarious balance to the more idealistic individuals he always ends up stuck with. He'd never head into danger on some matter of principle like heroes do on a day-to-day basis, but there are things he'll stand up for - I won't spoil Sourcery for those who haven't read it, but if you don't feel like giving him a hug by the end of that book, you must be dead. 
-> I want his cupcakes to be slightly crusty on the outside, but with a tender, crumbly heart. 

...He is an utter failure as a wizard, unable as he is to cast even the simplest spell, yet a wizard he is - he sticks to this belief, and to his battered pointy hat, with a dogged determination that actually resonates with me on a very personal level. Sourcery may be one of my least favourite novels plot-wise, but I'll be damned if Rincewind doesn't leave me all misty-eyed every time I read that particular scene - and, dammit, I'm a linguist too, even though I earn my living by slaving away in a call center!
-> Rincewind's hat will be my preeeminent inspiration for decorating. 

Keeping all of this in mind, I set out to bake. Here's what I came up with! 

Potato Cupcakes

* 1 cup potatoes, boiled the day before
* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1/2 + 1/3 cup granulated sugar
* 3 Tbsp butter (cold from the fridge)
* 2 eggs
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 3 tsp baking powder

1.  Pre-heat oven to 400° F.

2.  Sift the flour in a large bowl. 

3.  Peel the potatoes you boiled the day before (you did, didn't you?) Mash them with a fork, then measure by packing into a cup. 
Transfer the mush into a sieve, and sift them on top of the flour. (The easiest way would be pressing the potatoes with a spoon to force them through the sieve.)

4.  Add the other ingredients on top of them, in no particular order. The only important thing is, the butter must be cold

5.  Work the ingredients with your fingers, as quickly as possible so the butter doesn't melt. The dough will be slushy at first, but as you work it, it will turn thicker and stickier.

6.  Line a cupcake mold with (red) paper wrappersThe dough will want to form clumps as you fill them. This is great! And if it's thick enough for you to actually crumble it, even better!

My doses yeld 12 cupcakes, by the way!

7.  Remember to place a water-filled silicon cup on the oven's bottom before baking. It is the secret to get soft, moist cuppies!

8.  Bake for 12-15 minutes. The cupcakes will have gone all golden and puffy!

9.  If you don't want to bother with decorations, this is the best moment to enjoy them! While they're hot from the oven, put a little piece of butter on top of each and let it melt - Rincewind would so approve of this, you know... - then dust them slightly with powdered sugar and...

10. ...RUN!

I deliberately skipped vanilla extract or any other flavouring, but you can use them if you really want to. I wanted texture to be the real star!
These babies are meant to unobtrusively enhance the flavour of any frosting you may choose to couple them with; me, I thought a classical, comforting frosting would be better suited to both the cupcakes themselves and the concept, so I picked Stef's Chocolate/Cream Cheese Frosting recipe from Cupcake Project
I really loved the combo, although I am very tempted to use a clear frosting next time (white chocolate maybe?), just so I can tint it a nice red!

Now for the decorating part, using a cutter like I did for Granny Weatherwax would work great, as would modelling the hat itself out of red fondant. 
I chose a different, more symbolic approach, as Rincewind's wizzard hat is not only the character's strongest visual pointer - what with the misspelling, the "symbols of occult significance", and the glittery star on top that is really cardboard and shedding sequins all over the place - but also a vital part of what he is

If you like my solution, just melt some chocolate (in the microwave, in a double boiler or in a small saucepan directly - just take care not to burn it!) Tempering it is not necessary, unless you really want to; untempered chocolate is prone to melting and not nearly as shiny and crunchy, but we'll be painting it anyway, so it won't matter. 
Now you need to make yourself a paper cone. If you don't know how it's done, here's a handy tutorial!

Write WIZZARD on a piece of paper; it will be your guide while piping. Mind that the letters all touch, so that the word will be a single piece - it will save you lots of hassle!
Take a scrap of baking paper, rub a little butter or shortening on it and wipe off the excess with a paper towel (you want it to be just a little slippery, not super-greasy!)
Place the written paper under it, so you can see the guidelines through the baking paper; trace the letters with chocolate, then move the baking paper slightly and repeat. Make more WIZZARDs than you think you'll need, because a few are bound to break/smear/get ruined somehow. It's just how it goes!

You could pipe the stars and symbols too, or cut them out of fondant. Remember to make some larger stars for the tip of the hat; if they turn out a little wonky, it's actually good because it will look old and battered, as it should!
Once the chocolate has dried, paint the decorations with edible golden powder. A single coating will do; you don't want them to look like solid gold, as they are supposed to be paltry anyway...

If you can find some star- and moon-shaped sprinkles, by any means use them! (I think my "moons" were supposed to be bananas but what the heck...) 
You can scatter a few on the serving plate as well, to suggest the loose sequins. 

You're done! 

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