Depression Congestion Cupcakes

I competed in the Sugar River Triathlon on Sunday, my last tri of this calendar year. It was a really good race for me, though not the fastest, and I’ll post a race report soon. I was glad to have the extra (holiday) day to recover, but I found myself really sad about the end of the triathlon season. This was my first year racing tris and I fell in love with the sport. I feel like I wasted so much time between my first and second race and like there was so much more I could have done. That being said, I swam in open water three times (four if you count my one and only practice in a lake), I upgraded my bike and my average mph, and I PRed a 5k at the end of a triathlon. I placed in my first race and I am pretty proud of how I came onto the racing scene.

But the idea that it is all over until next June is kind of sad. And the high algae levels at the Sugar River Tri had my allergies acting up so much that the entire left side of my head (eye, nose, ear) were completely saturated with congestion. The weather here turned drastically overnight, as if to put the nail in the coffin of summer, and we went from very hot to what feels like bonafide fall.

The only solution was cupcakes.

I wanted to bid farewell to a summer that has been truly fantastic for me, so I chose strawberry. Strawberry Balsamic Cupcakes, to be exact.

Josh and I recently started watching Breaking Bad from the beginning, and I commented during an episode tonight that I feel the same way about baking that Walt does about cooking meth. I like the process of it and I like the chemistry of it.

I stood for about three straight hours making 12 cupcakes, and didn’t even notice until the end how sore my legs were from the race yesterday. The concentration it took to measure every component perfectly, to blend and coax the ingredients together, to make a balsamic reduction for the glaze while simultaneously checking the doneness of the cupcakes while at the same time whisking egg whites and sugar over heat for a Swiss buttercream was like Zen for me, and although I could tell you how many cups of strawberries I meticulously diced (3 cups), I won’t (oops).

I took the recipe from my favorite baking blog: Annie’s Eats. I would estimate that probably 97% of my cake and cupcake recipes come from this blog. For cookies and brownies, I do branch out a little bit. Living on the wild side and all.

The only modification I made to Annie’s recipe was to halve it, since we really didn’t need 24 cupcakes between the two of us. (Debatable.) One of my goals for next year’s racing season is to learn more about racing and nutrition. I flew by the seat of my pants for this year, marveling at how much more food I needed, learning the importance of bananas and chocolate milk, and starting to use Gu and Nuun, the former sparingly (can’t get over how much it grosses me out) and the latter on all long bike rides. I am not trying to lose weight and I’m not doing triathlons solely for the fitness, although I do and always have liked working out. But I do want to be fast, and I know nutrition plays into that. I also like making fancy pastry and learning about awesome beer from my husband. Maybe this is the Wisconsinite triathlete balance.

There were four components to the cupcakes: cake, frosting, topping, and balsamic glaze. This meant a lot of measuring. I have several sets of measuring cups, but I have this thing about mixing and matching them. What if the 1/2 cup measure in the white set isn’t the same as the 1/2 cup measure in the red set?

Tell me those don't look slightly different to you.

Tell me those don’t look slightly different to you.

That means I spend a fair amount of time rinsing, washing, and drying. The cake was the easiest part of this to assemble — the only thing I found slightly tricky was the first instruction to melt the butter and then cook it until it was a deep golden brown. I don’t think I let this go quite long enough, but the terror of the smoke detector (have I mentioned how afraid I am of the smoke detector? It’s ridiculous, seriously) had me taking the butter of the burner sooner than I probably should have. As a result (possibly?) I wasn’t able to get the creaming of the melted butter and sugars to be quite smooth.

Smooth and creamy it is not.

Smooth and creamy it is not.

But it worked out okay, and the cake turned out just fine. Moist and springy and all those good things.

The strawberry buttercream, I’m afraid, didn’t fare so well. I have tried Swiss buttercreams about 7 times now. I’ve gotten it right once. And yet I keep going for it because that one time was the most magical, delicious, glorious frosting I have ever made. Infinitely superior to an American buttercream. My crime this time was two-fold. The first fold? Both my candy thermometers are somehow broken. That made it difficult to tell when the mixture of egg whites and sugar had reached 160 degrees.

I bet you can't tell by sight what temperature we are either. Honestly, what good are you?

I bet you can’t tell by sight what temperature we are either. Honestly, what good are you?

The second fold happened after I thought everything was going to still turn out okay. The egg white and sugar mixture whipped up into perfect white peaks and the butter mixed in okay. But as soon as I added the macerated strawberries, everything looked curdled. I knew what to do to save it — just keep beating. But then, I don’t know why, I just stopped.

The kiss of death.

The kiss of death.

The result? Oh well. But making them made me feel a lot better and a lot less sad about the end of the triathlon racing season. As for the congestion, I was pleased to see the Sugar River Tri organizers had noticed the high algae levels and gave us three free samples of Advil Cold and Sinus in each race bag instead of the usual one.

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