Actually it's that time of the month again. Time for me to hopefully submit my cupcake to the Cupcake Hero contest to Laurie and TW et al and patiently wait for the results knowing that I have a consistently good cupcake, but that someone out there has made one better than me. And then I get sad and I drown my sorrows in leftover frosting. OK, that's not actually true. I make a point of getting leftover frosting under running water as soon as possible after frosting the cupcakes so I'm not standing in the kitchen at midnight eating frosting out of the freezer with a spoon. So here we go again.
This month's theme is Earth Day, picked by the lovely TW! Now that's an odd theme for a cupcake. But I was pretty excited about it. There's all sorts of little things we can do to help the environment. By now, most of us are bringing our own bags to the grocery. (If you can't find bags, I know that both Walmart and Meijers sell them for 99¢. I've bought them and they're pretty great. Nice and roomy and the Meijers one has a little pocket in front and inside wine holders.) And if you're not bringing your own bags, why not? They're a great and easy way to do something good for the environment. And they hold a lot more than regular plastic or paper bags. So you can end up with 2 bags instead of 17.
Another easy way to help the environment is to say goodbye to bottled water. I know. I know. Bottled water is an easy way to get healthy. Water is good for us. That's all true, but there's a better way. Roughly 40 million plastic water bottles find their way to the trash can every day or become litter. You could argue that you can refill plastic water bottles and reuse them. That's true only for the first 3 times. Each time you use a plastic water bottle little cracks form in the plastic and after 3 times they are a bacteria breeding ground. ick. So what's a person who wants to drink healthy water to do? Buy a cool reusable water bottle. I got mine from Dick's for less than $10 (it was on sale).
You can also order them online from a variety of sources. I like the Life is Good line myself. What if you have really undrinkable tap water like I did in Indianapolis? Then buy a faucet water filter like this one from Brita. They are easy to install, inexpensive and last for 100 gallons. I would even bet that the cost of the filter and the replacement filters as well as the reusable bottle over time, even end up being cheaper than buying all that bottled water. But I couldn't figure out how to make that into a cupcake so consider it a public service announcement.
*It has been brought to my attention that In Europe the filters are recyclable while here in the US they are not. There is grass roots movement to encourage Brita to create a recycling program. To sign the petition go here. For a much better explanation go to Fake Plastic Fish.
*Make sure you wash your water bottle by hand and don't store water in it for longer than a day to keep harmful chemicals from leaching from the plastic into the water bottle. Apparently the water bottles also need to be recycled once they get pretty old and beat up. I've also heard there are stainless steel water bottles out there.
So what cause that is good for the environment can I make into a cupcake? Vermicompost! Vermicompost is a system of breaking down food scraps, into a rich fertilizer for houseplants and your garden. OK, it's worm poop. But it's really good for plants and it keeps all that junk from going to landfills. And the fertilizer is a completely organic way to have your plants (and vegetables) grow big and healthy. I can't seem to convince the Brain we should do it either. But my parents have a vermicompost system in their basement. You can read about theirs here. It's pretty odorless really. Kinda cool. I've convinced them to come "help" me plant my vegetable garden this year and maybe they'll transport some of the compost down here too! If you're interested in vermicomposting I highly suggest the book, Worms Eat My Garbage. I got it out of the library. It's easy to read and has some nice illustrations. Also here's a video with Martha Stewart and David Hyde Pierce (aka Niles Craine from Frasier) demonstrating how to do it.
So yeah. Here's my Vermicompost cupcakes. They're a rich dark chocolate cake studded with caramel bits and walnuts because really dirt isn't smooth and homogeneous. Then they're topped with dark chocolate frosting and "vermicompost" with coconut "newspaper strips". The newspaper strips are very important for worm composting (as shown in the video). Then I carefully piped red wiggler worms on top. Red wiggler worms are actually the best worms for composting. I read the book. Also, if you'll notice, my little vermicompost systems are in they're very own little Rubbermaid tubs. OK here I'm totally lying. These are silicon cupcake holders that my mom bought me and are really fun. They also can be reused so they're pretty good for the environment too. (Well OK, I sent a dozen off to my nephews and those weren't in the silicone holders. You know how boys are. They like worms, but i didn't want my square cupcake cups to get lost.)
makes approximately 20 with leftover vermicompost
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup Hershey's Special Dark cocoa
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup Kraft premium caramel bits
Preheat oven to 350°F. Place paper liners in wells (or silicon cups).
Whisk flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together in a small bowl and set aside.
Combine walnuts and caramel bits in a small bowl and set aside.
In a large bowl with a hand mixer beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl once or twice. Beat in the vanilla extract. Beat in eggs one at a time making sure each egg is incorporated before moving on. Add the flour in 4 additions alternating with the milk. Begin and end with the flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl and beat for an additional 30 seconds.
Divide batter evenly among the cups, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the tops spring back when touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes back clean.
Dark Chocolate Frosting:
6 Tbsp butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa
4 Tbsp milk
Beat butter and sugar together with cocoa powder. Add milk one tablespoon at a time until spreading consistency. Set aside.
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup Kraft premium caramel bits
20 fudge sandwich cookies (I used the cheap kind, but fudge filled Oreos would work)
1 cup coconut
Pulse walnuts, caramel bits, and sandwich cookies in the food processor until crumbly looking. The caramel bits won't get chopped up hardly at all, but that's OK. Think of it as organic food waste particles. Stir in coconut to resemble newspaper strips. The leftovers of this would be great on vanilla ice cream.
Red Wiggler Worm Icing:
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp milk
1 cup powdered sugar
Wilton's Aster Mauve Concentrated Icing Coloring (or a combination of food colorings to achieve pinkish purplish worm color.)
Blend together butter and powdered sugar. Add milk to achieve very thick consistency. Add food coloring to achieve proper worm color.
To Assemble Cupcakes:
Transfer "vermicompost" mix to a wide shallow bowl. Frost cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Frosting. Then turn cupcakes upside down into "Vermicompost" mix. Your frosting should be completely coated in "vermicompost". Transfer Red Wiggler Worm icing into a piping bag fitted with a #4 tip. (Or you could just stick it in a small Ziploc bag and cut one corner off to make a little hole.) Pipe worms onto cupcakes. These worms aren't going to want to stick to well, but that's OK it just adds to the randomness of what worms look like.