I picked up two large red grapefruits from the grocery store, turning them this way and that in search of the nicest looking zest. For anyone who has been around when I bake with fresh fruit, you know how much I don't like zesting fruit. No matter how careful I am, a fingertip or knuckle always ends up zested. Of course, I have always done lemons and limes which are small and difficult to hold while zesting. Grapefruit should be easier, right?
Step 1: using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from one grapefruit and cut into thin slices. These will be the candies on top.
A vegetable peeler is very difficult to control on a fruit. I ended up with many odd little pieces where the peeler lost its grip and sliced off the zest too soon. Also, many squiggly strips as I attempted to scoot the peeler through the zest. The joints on my fingers ached so bad; especially my thumb which still suffers a strained tendon from my bartending years. Almost done with a handful of zest strips lined up across the cutting board wait in terror for the sharp kitchen knife that lays intimidatingly at the edge of the board.
A lovely pink line across the pad of my thumb starts to turn red. The vegetable peeler had taken advantage of my lack of attention, leaping from its path in the grapefruit zest and biting me. Fabulous. I guess we have enough zest strips.
So after giving the strips a trim, I boil down the tear-stricken, thin slices of zest in the pan to start the syrup that will candy them. On to step 2: zest the other grapefruit.
The tip of my middle finger mimics my thumb with little spots of red from being zested. I just can’t be trusted around any tool related to fruit’s skin.
As my dad always said: you're not working till you're bleeding. Now that I think back on it that is a horrible lesson to teach a child, even in jest. Ah, well.
The rest of the baking is, fortunately, uneventful and standard affair: zest strips get candied and syrup set aside, batter gets put together with some of the zest from the second grapefruit as well as some liqueur, buttercream is blended with elderflower liqueur and grapefruit juice along with a drop of red coloring gel. The buttercream is, of course, taste tested multiple times to ensure satisfaction. I am very careful to make tasty buttercream!
The cupcakes get a raw deal - stabbed multiple times with a toothpick - before the healing syrup is applied generously followed by the soothing cool of pink buttercream. Dress them up for the party with a twist of candied zest and you’ve just gone gourmet!
The cake itself reminded me of a supple vanilla cake, one that grew up running around naked in a citrus grove. The grapefruit juice got just enough lift from the elderflower to be able to make an appearance in each bite. I think the greatest effect this marvelous duo had was on the buttercream: the flavor is still subtle but noticeable, the consistency of the liqueur added a level of smooth creaminess to the buttercream that isn’t usually there, you briefly catch the elderflower like a passing woman’s perfume. The candied zest was sweet and flavorful, the sharp citrus cooled by the elderflower. The syrup did indeed “candy” the zest but it did not make it candy. The zest was still chewy and slightly bitter with citrus.
All [creativity] is not lost...
Corissa has been an artist her entire life and attended the Art Institute for design after completing a Bachelor’s in Accounting from National American University. She validates the contradicting combination with “I love my art but I don’t have to starve for it.”
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