When I arrived here in Cairo and moved into our house, I was wondering what our neighbors would be like. I should tell you that we live on a little side street with only two houses and an enormous shared parking space. So good neighbors next door would be an important thing. Well, we were here for several weeks and never saw them up close. From a distance, I knew there was a woman, a man and a little boy. I told dear husband that they must not be American because Americans would have come over to say hello. And, then. Then! I heard them outside talking. And the lady called to the little boy and he shouted, “Yes, ma’am!” And I declared, “They are not only American, they are from the South!” Americans would come over to say hello, but Southerners are duty bound, raised to be polite. We bring warm cookies or pie! Yes, we do! But still no one came to welcome us to the neighborhood. And I sat in judgment and found them lacking. Not that I dwelled on it, but it stung a little. (I have to say that I did go over once and ring the bell, but no one answered, despite the car in the parking space and the gardener telling me they were home.)
I was in the kitchen last Sunday. I am fortunate in that my sink looks out on the front garden. All of a sudden, I caught sight of one of my neighbors, the elder male of the clan, watering his lawn. About the same time, my doorbell rang and it was the meter reader or someone else that is not important. Finally, I had a chance to meet my neighbor! I rushed out and introduced myself. We chatted. He is a very nice man. And he shared with me within those first few minutes that they had lived in Egypt for many, many years and were raising their five-year-old grandson since last August when his mother, their daughter, was murdered by her ex-husband. In front of that sweet boy. I maintained composure and I think I said all the right condolencey-type things, even offering to babysit if they ever needed a break, but once I got back into the house, I was so ashamed. The very last thing on that woman’s mind is surely welcoming a neighbor to the neighborhood! She is raising her grandson and grieving the loss of her own beloved child. Dear God, forgive me! I pray I will remember this lesson forever.
In the face of loss and grief, I do what Southerners do: I baked them cupcakes. Does it make up for judging them? Hell no. But it made me feel the tiniest bit better. And I hope the bright cupcakes cheered them up just a little.
For the vanilla cupcakes:
2 ¼ cups or 280g flour
1 ½ cups or 340g sugar
¾ cup or 170g shortening or butter, softened
¾ cup or 80ml milk
2 ½ teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the butter cream frosting:
16 oz or 450g confectioners sugar
6 tablespoons or 85g butter, softened
11/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3-4 tablespoons milk
Food colorings of your choice (I use Wilton gels because a little goes a long way.)
For the decorative flowers:
About 70 mini marshmallows (for 18 cupcakes)
1/2 cup or 110g fine sugar for each color you make (Store leftovers in a airtight plastic bag - these will keep indefinitely.)
Food colorings of your choice
Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Grease a muffin tin or use cupcake papers.
This is the easiest cake ever. Into a large bowl, mix ALL the cake ingredients at low speed until smooth, scraping bowl occasionally with a spatula.
Increase speed to medium and beat five minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally with a spatula.
Spoon out the batter into the prepared muffin tins. I use a small ice cream scoop for this because I find it easier to distribute the batter evenly and get it neatly in the muffin tin. This batter should make 18 cupcakes. Drop the muffin pan gently on the cabinet a couple of times to let the air bubbles come to the top and pop.
Bake for 20-30 minutes or until nicely browned and a toothpick poked in them comes out clean. Remove from pans and let cool completely on rack.
Meanwhile, make your butter cream icing and decorations. For the butter cream, mix all the ingredients together with your electric mixer until it is creamy.
If the mixture is too thick, add just a little more milk.
Add in your food coloring and mix again. I chose green but you can make whatever color you like best.
For your decorative flowers, mix your food coloring gel in a few drops of water and stir with a toothpick until it is dissolved. I tried adding the gel directly to the sugar and that didn’t work out so good since my gel was too thick and sticky. I ended up with a light color that didn't contrast enough with the white of the marshmallow. If you have liquid food colors, you might be able to skip this step and put the colors straight into the sugar.
|Too light with bits of gel still visible. Don't do it this way!|
Add it to the sugar in an airtight container and shake vigorously until the color is even distributed. You will need at least two colors to make a daisy. Or you could use M&Ms for the center.
|Much better, don't you agree?|
Once your colored sugars are ready, cut the mini marshmallows diagonally for the petals, and straight across the middle for the center of the flower.
|I will be petals!|
|I will be the center!|
Pop them into the airtight sugar containers and give them a shake. They will plump back up in just a few minutes.
Once your cupcakes are cool, frost them.
Add the marshmallows to the top, flat, non-cut side down. Start with the center and then add the petals at 9 and 3 o’clock and then fill in the other two on each side.
Share them with anyone who might need some springtime sunshine.
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Credit for the marshmallow flower idea goes here. Aren’t hers beautiful?!
The cake and frosting recipes came originally from the Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook, 1980 edition.