Cupcoocups and The Cloud Atlas

The Connection. Cupcoocups are cupcakes filled with cookies with a peanut butter cup center, frosted with vanilla buttercream—in other words, a dessert within a dessert within a dessert to go with a story within a story within a story. I couldn’t quite get six layers of dessert to match the six stories in Cloud Atlas. There was some discussion about inserting an m&m into the peanut butter cup, which would bring it closer, but we decided that was just crazy talk (/now I secretly want to try it, but I’d need an excuse to make cucoocups again, which is harder to come by than you might think). All recipes are adapted from the most amazing dessert cookbook ever, Baked: New Frontiers.

Cookie Dough

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup bread flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into tablespoon sized pieces
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
teaspoons vanilla extract
About 8 ounces of chocolate chips

Sift the flours, salt, and baking soda in a medium sized bowl and set aside.

In a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream the butter and the sugars until well combined (3–5 min., or a couple min. longer with a hand mixer). Scrape down and add the eggs one at a time, beating until light and fluffy each each time. Add the vanilla, and mix until just combined.

Add half the flour, mix for ten seconds, then add the rest and stir on low until just barely combined. Fold in the chocolate chips, cover the dough with saran wrap, and refrigerate until needed.

Dark Chocolate Mocha Cake

2 tablespoons dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup hot coffee
1/3 cup milk
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons butter, cut into tablespoon sized pieces
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
3 eggs
teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, whisk together the chocolate chips, the cocoa power, the coffee, and the cream until smooth. Set aside.

Sift the flours, salt, and baking soda in another medium sized bowl and set aside.

Cream the butter and the sugars for 3 to 5 min. until well combined. Scrape down and add the eggs one at a time, beating until light and fluffy each each time. Add the vanilla, and mix until just combined.

On low, add the flour mixture in three separate additions, stirring until just combined each time, and alternating with the chocolate mixture.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 sticks butter, cut into tablespoon sized pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk the sugar and flour in a saucepan. Add the cream and milk and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until it has boiled and thickened (about 15 min.)

Beat in a mixer using the paddle attachment until cool. Add the butter and beat until fluffy. Add the vanilla, and mix until combined.

Assemble

This is the messy part. First, unwrap the peanut butter cups, and fill the cupcake tins about half way full with batter. Remove the cookie dough from the fridge, and wrap as thin a coat as possible around the peanut butter cups. Plop the balls into the center of the cupcakes. They’ll peak out a little bit, but the batter will rise and cover them.

Bake for 15–20 min. until a toothpick inserted into the cupcake comes out clean, or the top of the cupcakes bounce back when pushed lightly.

Cool on a rack, then frost and enjoy. Probably with a lot of milk, ice cream, water, or other cool, refreshing, thirst-quenching accompaniment.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (417 pages) ♥♥♥♥♥

“Power, time, gravity, love. The forces that really kick ass are all invisible.”

The Plot.Six stories nested within each other like Russian dolls, with bits of plot, theme, and references reaching out to bridge the gaps.

Who should read it. Careful readers, adventurous readers, people who can swallow a little pretension for an exhilarating, mind-stretching good read.

Why I liked it. There are actually so many stellar reviews of Cloud Atlas out there that I’m not sure where to start. I’ll begin with a confession: I almost hated it. I had a pretty good idea when I picked it up that I was supposed to stop slack-jawed at every page, totally euphoric about Mitchell’s literary genius. I mean, the matured, respectable former-hipster in  my office gave it a nod of approval in passing, and most of my reader friends get positively giddy when you mention the title. Plus it was a gift from my dad, and I usually don’t question his recommendations.

But I couldn’t get past the first few pages. It starts with an old travelogue, and the writing is formal and strained. Basically, I felt like I was reading some pretentious bore’s diary.* Some of the description was good, but I kept on looking sideways at all the gushers, trying to figure out what I was missing. Like I said, all my friends had seen me pick up the book in December, and six months later I had used every excuse I could think of to explain why I hadn’t finished it. So I hunkered down one day, grabbed the book, a blanket, and supplies (wine, snacks, etc.), and finally got past the first ten or fifteen pages. Turns out it’s pretty amazing.

I knew nothing about the book before I picked it up, which made every twist a delightful discovery, so I’m going to hold off on diving into the themes, format, and the connections between the stories. Those things are best discovered. I have just two pieces of advice: read the first two chapters before you form any opinions on it (and don’t be a lame-o, this shouldn’t take you half a year), and read extremely carefully. Mitchell weaves a world of subtle references and connections into the stories, and it’s worth the extra care. This would also be a great book club book for serious fiction readers—it definitely merits conversation and contemplation. I’m sure I missed tons of interesting nuances.

* I should mention that the most memorable (not favorite) quote from this book comes from the end of the traveler’s story. I don’t want to give anything away by sharing it, but I couldn’t eat cauliflower for weeks after I read it. Keep an eye out; it’s a good one.

Notes.

  • If you want more insight into this book, check out this review by A.S. Byatt, another terrific writer (but beware, spoilers abound).
  • This book is influenced by Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. Mitchell’s style, like Calvino’s, is highly self-conscious and a little fantastical, but I found that Mitchell’s plot barrels right along where Calvino’s sometimes lags, and except for that traveler guy, I was more interested in Michell’s characters.
  • According to David Mitchell, “Cloud Atlas” is the name of a piece of music by the Japanese composer Toshi Ichiyanagi, who was Yoko Ono’s first husband. Mitchell seems to have a thing for Ono.
  • The book is currently being made into a movie with a killer cast, so if you have any interest in being cool, you should probably read it sooner rather than later.
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s