Monday, January 10, 2011

The Cinecittà Italiano Cupcake

Popcorn is one of my favourite food groups. When it's not that cheap, butter-smothered, microwave crap, it can be a really healthy (and satisfying) snack. Or dinner, in my case. To be honest, in university, popcorn made up the majority of my meals (sorry Mom). It was quick, healthy, and I could munch on it while finishing my twenty page research paper on pornography during the reign of Marie Antoinette (yes, I totally wrote that paper. Sorry again, Mom).

Plain popcorn can only sustain a hungry student for so long. Soon, I started to experiment with adding different flavours and vittles to my favourite meal. Peanut butter and honey was good, but really really sticky. Different types of packaged dry soups was a fine savoury option. One of my roommates even made me put fake cheese powder from a Kraft Dinner box on my popcorn and, sadly, I was totally okay with this. As I got older (and could afford much better meals), I started to move more towards the adventurous. Curry and sun-dried tomato was good. Soy sauce and wasabi was better. The best, however, was an Italian flavour combo that I have stuck to to this day.

ItalianPopcorn (2)

When you go to any Italian resaurant worth it's snuff, you will get two things on your table before you even order: a basket of fresh-baked bread and a plate of extra virgin olive oil with at least a 30-year balsamic vinegar. I could eat that stuff all night. In fact, I could drink the oil and vinegar by the glass. Not unhealthy, no, but a little crazy to do in public. So I've instead started to put these lovely liquids on any plain jane food I could. Including popcorn.

Yes, olive oil and balsamic vinegar on popcorn. It's become my obsession. Sure, Mr. C makes a pretty good kettle corn and sometimes we just get a craving for some good ol' seasoned salt on the stuff, but EVOO and BV are my go-to toppings. I love making a giant bowl of it and curling up to a nice long Federico Fellini film. It makes me feel cultured (and this is coming from a gal who used to put ketchup on everything).

When I saw that the delightful Jamieanne from The Sweetest Kitchen had picked popcorn as her secret Mystery Box theme, I knew I finally had to bake an homage to my absolute favourite snack food of all time. The basil, lemon, and olive oil cake is bright and flavourful. The balsamic vingear whipped cream on top really gives the treats a real zing, but has a very sweet and earthy finish. The popcorn, my favourite part, gives everything a real lovely crunch along with another hit of vinegar. You may think this is a bit of a weird flavour profile for something sweet (in fact, everyone I mentioned these cupcakes to asked if it was savoury) but, as soon as you bite in, you'll fall completely in love.

ItalianPopcorn (7)

The Cinecittà Italiano
Basil, Lemon, and Olive Oil cakes with Balsamic Vinegar Whipped Cream and Balsamic Olive Oil Popcorn
adapted from Cupcake Project

Makes about a dozen cupcakes

2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2/3 cups extra virgin olive oil (Don't skip out, get the good stuff)
3 large eggs
1/2 cup lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil

1) Preset your oven to 375F. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

2) In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and zest so that the lemon oil gets distributed. Add the olive oil and whisk until lovely and fluffy. Whisk the eggs, one at a time, so your mixture's colour lightens and gets a creamy texture to it.

3) Add the flour in three batches, while adding the lemon juice in two batches in-between your flour additions. Mix with a wooden spoon until just incorporated. Add the basil and stir once or twice.

4) Pour the batter into your baking cups and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until your cake tester comes out clean. Set aside to cool before frosting.

Balsamic Vinegar Whipped Cream
2 cups whipping cream
1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Burgundy colour gel

1) Add your cream and balsamic vinegar together into a cool mixing bowl and mix until a little softer than your desired texture. Add your powdered sugar and mixing for a couple more sections until your cream has thickened. Mix in your colour, if desired. Pipe onto cooled cupcakes.

Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar Popcorn
2 tablespoons good quality olive oil
1/4 cup popcorn kernels
balsamic vinegar

1) Heat oil in your wok. Place two or three kernels into your heated oil and cover it with your wok lid. As soon as your kernels pop, add the rest of your popcorn. Cover your wok, remove it from the heat, count off 30 seconds, then return the wok to the heat. Your popcorn should begin popping.

2) While your popcorn is popping, shake the wok back and forth over the heat. Move the lid to an ajar position so the steam escapes. When the popping slows down to several seconds between pop, take your wok off the heat and pour your popcorn into a bowl. Sprinkle with salt and balsamic vinegar as it pleases you. Wait for it to cool before topping your cupcakes. Eat the rest. It is delicious.

ItalianPopcorn (9)

As I mentioned before, this month's Mystery Box should be an exciting one. Make sure you take a peek and vote when you can. Since I won last month's contest, I cannot win this month's. Hey, that's okay by me - as long as I can still bake for it! Take a look at what you could win if you decide to join in the fun:


anna said...

Yummm, I love balsamic desserts! Balsamic cream sounds amazing.

Monet said...

Once again, another creative and beautiful recipe. Like you, I love popcorn. I'm actually about to pop a bowl right now! Ryan and I are popcorn snobs (we buy heirloom corn from Boulder) and I CAN'T wait to try your balsamic vinegar and EVOO idea. Delicious! Thank you for sharing with me. Stay warm and safe during the rest of the week!

Quay Po Cooks said...

What an interesting cup cake? Looks so lovely and delicious!

Angela said...

This sounds great! Very interesting combination to put into a cupcake! I will definitely be trying your popcorn idea if not the cupcake!!

Xiaolu @ 6 Bittersweets said...

A really fun and unexpected combination. Great job thinking outside the box!

Adele said...

I love everything about this recipe. From the cupcake and the icing to the balsamic vinegar popcorn. Who would've thought? Great idea, thanks very much.

Jenn {Cookies Cupcakes and Cardio} said...

That is the craziest cupcake! It sounds, and looks delicious :) I'm a popcorn heifer and I can't wait to try it with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Arthur Kaufman said...


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