Let's open up the mailbag this morning, shall we? Oh, it's a couple of questions from our good pal Shar in Oakland. (Somehow, this reminds me of Carole and Paula on The Magic Garden going over to talk to the Chuckle Patch...)
I have a fabulous couple getting married at the end of March who is pretty certain that they want my Mexican Hot Chocolate cupcakes with my decadent Kahlua Cafe Au Lait icing but for their non-choc option I wanted to offer them cupcakes featuring a seasonal fruit for that time in our region. what is good that time of year in general and how about this year specifically? What crops are gonna be in next month? I want to start getting a box from Frog Hollow. What will be in it??
Your biggest fan,
Thanks for writing, Shar! Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes with Kahlua Cafe au Lait icing, mmmmm. Those are my favorite, too! So, fruit-wise, your main local option at the end of March is sunny California citrus. Meyer lemons, tangerines, blood oranges, navel and juice oranges: they will all still be available, probably coming from central and southern California. I'd suggest Meyer lemon cupcakes with lemon frosting, or orange cupcakes with orange frosting.
The best way to get citrus flavor into cake batters is to use the aromatic rind. I swear by my microplane zester, which gets the zest (colored part) off quickly and easily without taking much of the pith (bitter white part underneath). I also like to put the sugar I'll need for a recipe into a bowl and zest the peel directly into it, mixing it in well to get all the aromatic oils well-distributed. The fragrant sugar can then be added to the recipe as directed. Here's a recipe for candied orange peels, in which the fruit slices are soaked in syrup and then baked for that stained-glass effect--cut into triangles, these might be a nice decoration on the top of each cupcake.
CANDIED ORANGE SLICES
2 large, thin skinned oranges
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
Wash and dry oranges and slice as thinly as you can, about 1/16th of an inch thick. Use a mandoline if you have one or a very sharp knife. In a medium pot, combine sugar and water. Bring to a boil and stir until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and cool ten minutes. Add oranges to pot. Cover and let stand 2 hours. Preheat oven to 225°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Arrange orange slices on baking sheet and press flat. Bake two hours or until golden. Cool completely. Store in an air tight container in single layers or between layers of parchment.
What else? Dried fruits, of course, and nuts like almonds, walnuts, and pistachios.
As for Frog Hollow, I would wait to sign up for a weekly CSA box until the farm's own fruit starts coming in, in May. Right now, they are sourcing fruit (citrus, apples, kiwi) from other farms around the state, and the quality/mix is not much different from what you'd get at the farmers market or a good market. I would wait til late spring/early summer when you can be sure of getting their fantastic Brentwood-grown cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, and nectarines.