Brie’s Baking Notes: Vanilla Cupcakes
Despite using vanilla extract like so many other desserts, vanilla cupcakes are what I would call ‘boring.’ When a person makes or requests vanilla cupcakes, it is either because they want their frosting to be front-and-center, or they don’t know everyone’s preference.
At least, usually, that’s the case.
In life, one of the best things you can do is just go with the flow. So, when life throws stuff at you, you catch it, mix it in with the rest of what you’re dealing with, and keep moving on.
Going off of those same guidelines, when my mixer started flinging flour onto my apron, I brushed it back in the direction of the mixing bowl. I couldn’t put the stuff that had settled onto the counter back in—there was always the risk of there being an ingredient that shouldn’t be in the batter on the counter (such as cocoa powder in a cupcake that’s not chocolate)—but I could say that my apron had just been washed and the only things on it were the ingredients from my first batch of cupcakes of the day.
“Hiyah!” I exclaimed, laughing slightly as another cloud puffed out at me, repeating the process of brushing the flour back into the bowl. The mixer growled in reply, fighting against the dry ingredients that clung to the bottom of the mixing bowl. It was fighting a battle from both sides, one that I was determined to only let it win on one side. And that side was the one on the bottom of the bowl.
Watching carefully, I let the batter keep mixing until the tiny lumps of flour disappeared and all I saw was smooth, plain, cream-colored batter. Turning to my right, I reached up towards the rack of pans my dad had hung and grabbed the magnetic timer, setting it for a minute. “Just to be sure,” I mumbled to myself, as I always did.
Walking away, I crossed the room, grabbing four cupcake pans from the stack of clean ones and bringing it back over to where I was working. “Dad!” I called, knowing he would hear me through the double doors that separated the kitchen from the bakery. “How many vanilla cupcakes did Mrs. Wilson want?”
I realized a little too late that he may be in the middle of helping a customer at the counter and I’d just disrupted them.
To my relief, Dad poked his head through the swinging doors, smiling. “I think she said three dozen.”
“A normal person’s dozen or a baker’s dozen?”
“Bakers are normal people,” he replied, chuckling. He glanced back through the doors for a moment before looking back. “Go with a normal dozen.”
“Thanks.” The timer I’d set beeped and I shut the mixer off, unlocking the part of it that kept it from pulling up while mixing and lifting the top.
“Everything all right in here?” Dad asked, sounding amused.
“Just peachy.” I grinned, glancing at him over my shoulder. “Or vanilla-y.”
Dad laughed, motioning to his nose. “You’ve got a little something—”
The bell in the shop door rang and he stopped abruptly, turning and disappearing back into the shop area.
I rubbed my nose on my shoulder and looked down to see a large white streak on my pink apron. I laughed slightly, shaking my head.
I took the batter attachment off the mixer as I blindly reached for the rack to clip the timer back on. Without looking, I reached for the dirty bowl that had been lucky enough to get the rest of my dirty dishes. I pulled it closer as I tapped the whisk from the mixer on the edge of the bowl of batter.
Moving swiftly, I put cupcake lines in the cupcake pans. The oven I’d begun preheating before making the batter started beeping to tell me it was ready as I scooped the batter into the liners. When I went to go put the cupcakes in, it took me two trips to get all the cupcakes in, and only a few seconds after that, I had a timer counting down the minutes until they would be done baking.
Twelve cupcakes and fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. You go, Brie.
After tossing a couple potholders on the countertop for the pans, I settled my hands on my hips, looking around the room. After so many long days of baking in this kitchen, most of the things were coated in a thin layer of flour dust. Mostly by yours truly, too, because Dad somehow managed to make no messes at all when he baked. It’s not that we didn’t clean at the end of every day, either. It’s just that, when I bake, flour goes everywhere. We’d need a person constantly cleaning to keep up with it all.
And speaking of dirty things…
I brought the dirty dishes to the sink and sighed, looking at the pile of dishes that was stacking up. Mixing bowls and mixer attachments were piled alongside mixing cups that had gotten used for liquids or sticky ingredients. Flour and sugar measuring cups stayed in their respective containers since they never touched anything else.
Flexing my singers, I glanced at the timer above the minutes. I had seven minutes, roughly, to finish some of the dishes. I stared down at the pile, taking a breath.
Race the timer, Brie. Get as many done as you can. Ready? One, two, three, go!
The tap was shoved on at some random spot between hot and cold as I squirted dish soap into the largest mixing bowl. As I grabbed the sponge, it squished, and as I scrubbed at the dried batter on the bowl, it came out triumphant.
The baker almost always comes out triumphant in their kitchen. Almost.
After only a little bit of cleaning, dripping bowls sat, gleaming on the counter, all in a neat row on the drying rack. Measuring cups were leaned against each other, dripping into a unified puddle. Whisks hung from above, looking silver again, as they should be.
Right on time, the oven timer beeped.
I smiled to myself, crossing the kitchen to pull the cupcakes out. Glancing towards the order tree my dad and I had set up, I checked the frosting on Mrs. Wilson’s order.
Classic Vanilla, darn.
Crossing back to the counter I was working at, I set the pans on the potholders. Despite the counters being marble, it was a habit.
After bringing all the pans over, I set out the wire racks from the cabinet below. Without giving them any time to cool, I started pulling cupcakes out of the pan, being as gentle as possible so that they didn’t smush in my hands. By now, my poor fingers were practically heat resistant; I’d burned them too many times to count.
“New order,” Dad called, humming as he walked through the doors, pausing to kiss my cheek as he went to pin it to the order tree. “Those smell good.”
“They smell sweet. That’s about it.” I rolled my eyes, unable to restrain a slight smile. “You’d think people would be more adventurous when they heard all the frosting flavors we can make.”
“They just like classics,” Dad reminded me, a knowing glint in his eye. We both knew the struggle that came with introducing new recipes. It always took forever before anyone dared try them, no matter how long we’d spent perfecting the recipe. “Although, your blueberry frosting was pretty good.”
“Only pretty good?” I asked him, pausing on a cupcake as I stared at him. I dropped it onto the rack as I began to feel the heat from it. “It was delicious!” I eyed him, developing a scolding tone. “You should know. Most of it ended up in your mouth rather than on the cupcakes.”
“You got me there.” Dad chuckled, moving back to the shop. “I think the next order due after this one is Mr. Simpson’s order for the elementary school function or whatever it was. That’s next week.”
I rolled my eyes at my dad’s cluelessness when it came to anything that wasn’t baking. “Okay. Do we need anything for restocking? Has anyone put any ideas in the box?” I kept pulling out cupcakes and lining them up on the cooling rack, waiting for a reply.
The box I was referring to was a small wooden crate we’d set up on a small pedestal in the shop. It was covered by a piece of fabric with a slit cut in the top for people to put slips of paper into. Inside the crate was a jar that collected all the papers. It was one of my favorite non-edible ideas because it allowed people to submit crazy ideas for flavors and create a little competition that we talked about with our customers, competing to see who can make the better baked good out of the idea provided.
“Not yet.” Dad smiled. “I’ll tell you when we do.”
I raised an eyebrow at him. “Right. You’ll tell me after you’ve seen the customer put in the idea, read it, and decided that you don’t want to do it. One of these days, we’re going to swap so that I get to work at the counter and you get to be in here, flinging flour.”
In all truth, I preferred being in the kitchen to manning the counter. I had to make sure to finish my homework so that Dad would let me enter the kitchen in the evenings after school. As he had said a while ago, “it would be dangerous to let you in a kitchen and say you couldn’t bake.” I couldn’t avoid his point. When I was in the kitchen, I found something to bake. I did not focus on real life.
Seeing as though only the two of us were here to work most of the time, I could at least finish my homework during the breaks at the counter. It seemed like I was always working, but I didn’t entirely mind it.
Dad laughed. “Me? Fling flour? In your dreams, Cupcake.”
I sighed, shaking my head a bit, still faintly amused. Even in my wildest dreams, Dad didn’t fling flour. He seemed incapable of doing so.
Smiling, I finished the cupcakes as the bell in the shop rang again. With one last wink in my direction, Dad disappeared once again.
After a couple more moments, all the perfectly-shaped cupcakes sat in lines by the dozen. Stacking the clean cupcake pans, I crossed back to the pan rack and picked up the chalk next to the chalkboard, adding four more tallies next to my name.
Among other contests between me and Dad, we competed to see who could use the most cupcake pans without getting any batter baked on. Wiping spilled batter was illegal and gave all your points to the other person. If you only spill, the other person gets the satisfaction of wiping all your tally marks off.
I hummed to myself as I read through the orders, pulling the sticky note with Mrs. Wilson’s off to put it on the cupcake boxes I was about to get ready.
Chocolate cupcakes with vanilla icing.
Lemon cupcakes with buttercream icing.
Apple hand pies with powdered sugar…
Blueberries & cream cupcakes with blueberry frosting.
I broke into a broad grin. I had no doubt that the blueberry order was the one Dad had just brought in, because that one hadn’t been there when I’d first checked what I had to make today. Unfortunately, the order wouldn’t be prepared for a bit.
Crossing to my recipe book, I flipped through the odd ideas that I hadn’t used yet but had ‘stolen’ from Dad. My favorite idea I’d managed to grab was blueberry frosting, which had been delicious in both forms I’d made it in. One had blueberry juice mixed in streaks through the vanilla icing, and the other was a thicker frosting with whole blueberries that popped tartly in your mouth.
I sighed at all the unappealing options and turned away, shutting the little notebook and rubbing at my apron until it looked relatively close to clean again. The pink was still dulled by pink and my dark blue shirt was definitely not as dark as it had been before, but it was fine.
I began walking towards the shop, planning on glancing at what we had out and maybe bringing out some other stuff to restock the shelves. When I was bored, I worked more, whether that meant restocking, doing the dishes, or baking more.
When I walked through the door, I found my dad and a woman talking by the pie box. “…looking at the pies. They look professional.” The woman’s voice was admiring, and I had walked in on the middle of their conversation, but let’s be honest, what is there to ‘walk in on’ when they’re talking about food?
I walked over, not too close, but out into the middle enough to be able to look at the boxes of sweets. The cookie box was fine, but I’d have to restock the sugar cookies soon…
“You need something, Brie?” Dad asked.
I turned to see him smiling at me. I shook my head. “Looking for something to do. I finished the orders and I didn’t know if one of the boxes needed restocked. You didn’t answer that question when I asked you.”
“Ah. My bad. The ones that need restocked would be the muffins. Other than that, nothing needs restocked enough to do it now. We’ll wait until tomorrow, probably.”
I nodded, then glanced at his customer. I cleared my throat. “Sorry, I’ll let you two finish—”
“No, no, you’re fine.” The woman smiled at me. “You must be his daughter. I can see the resemblance.”
I smiled back at her, trying not to let it be too obvious that I didn’t want to smile at her. Why did people have to smile at strangers to be courteous? “Yep.” I was definitely showing off my people skills with that snappy comeback. Wow.
The woman glanced back at the pies. “I think I’ll just take the apple pies for now. I never know what my son will eat, so I might as well get something I won’t mind eating multiple of.” She winked at me and I let out a small laugh, trying to be polite.
“Just be warned,” I began, more than slightly awkward. “One of those I accidentally got a blueberry in and I left it in as a surprise.” I may have been trying to multitask and messed up. In all truth, I thought I’d gotten all the blueberries out of the apple filling, but just in case I hadn’t, I preferred to warn people.
The woman’s eyes widened. “You made these?”
I’ll try not to be offended by that, lady.
Dad put his arm around me. “Brie made most of the stuff in the boxes, right now. She keeps stealing the kitchen from me.” He reached up to tousle my hair, but I grabbed his hand to stop him.
“Dad,” I scolded. “Not with customers.”
The woman laughed. “If these are as good as they’re rumored to be, I’ll definitely be back. I have a bit of a sweet tooth.”
I forced a smile, not saying a word.
“That’s never a bad thing,” Dad assured her, grinning. He let go of me and crossed to behind the counter. “That’s five dollars even for the two pies.”
I watched in silence as she pulled out her purse and paid, smiling the whole time.
“Have a nice day, Mrs. Grey,” Dad said, smiling back courteously as he passed her the pies in a bakery bag.
“You too!” A moment later, she slipped out the door and our only customer at the moment was gone.
The bell let out one last ping as the door shut, then it was just the quiet hum of the boxes keeping themselves at room temperature.
I motioned to Dad’s flour-dusted clothes. “You’re welcome.” I smirked.
He looked down at himself and then sighed in an attempt at exasperation. “No! You’ve gotten me floury!”
I laughed softly. “Better go get an apron on before I get you more floury.” I held my arms out as though going in for another hug.
He threw his hands up, backing towards the kitchen. “What has my little girl become?”
“A monster,” I said dryly. Then rolled my eyes. “Seriously, though, I don’t want to make the muffins. Can we swap?”
Dad stared at me for a moment. “You’re giving me the kitchen? Are you okay, kiddo? You sick?”
I shook my head, smiling for him. “No, I just don’t like making muffins. They’re too heavy. I always feel like I’m making them wrong.”
“You could never make something wrong,” Dad reassured me.
I raised an eyebrow. “You keep telling yourself that. Wait until I accidentally poison you with an attempt at making dinner.”
Dad laughed. “You never claimed to be a cook.”
“I didn’t. But muffins, Dad.”
“Muffins,” he agreed, letting out a small sigh. He eyed me for a moment. “You’d tell me if you weren’t okay, right, Brianna?”
When he called me by my full name instead of one of his countless nicknames for me, you knew he meant business.
“Yes,” I said, meaning it with my whole heart. “I’d tell you, Dad.” I smiled a bit more as it became genuine. “Now, go.”
And laughing, he left.