There is a fine line between being the sort of neighbor that people love, and the sort of neighbor that people hate. When my parents’ moved into their current house, they took the place of an older couple who had been living in the neighborhood for the better part of twenty years. My parents have been told, more than once, that the previous owners took it upon themselves to, every week, remind everyone in the neighborhood when it was the eve of garbage day, and that they just wanted to make sure everyone took their garbage and recycling to the curb. This story is always relayed to my parents with the sort of bemusement that borders on teeth-gritting repression of irritation. Every week. They told us every week.
In my neighborhood, I fear I am becoming the sort of neighbor who is fast becoming a favorite of children, but perhaps not the favorite of parents. What with the amount of baking and recipe testing I engage in, I tend to have a lot of baked goods left over at the end of my experimenting. Sometimes, I don’t feel like eating cake for three days in a row (not always, but sometimes), so I pawn my freshly baked treats off on the people around me, including my neighbors and their children. My handouts have, thus far, been greeted with open arms, but I sometimes wonder if, in a short time, I will begin to receive a greeting not unlike that of the previous owners of my parents’ house. Oh. More baked goods. Again. Yes. The children certainly are excited.
For the record, if I had a neighbor who was bitten by the urge to create a cake that was spiked with the nutty tones of brown butter and the deep flavor of brown sugar, I certainly wouldn’t hide when I heard my doorbell ring. And if that same neighbor was driven to top said cake with a creamy, buttery lid of vanilla bean-speckled frosting, well, I don’t think I’d be capable of doing anything other than starting a pot of coffee because, my friends, we’re going to be needing some reinforcements.
As for now, however, I am still solidly on the side of being positively greeted. There are, of course, should the situation change, always my husband’s co-workers to receive my gifted baked goods. Failing that (which, who are we kidding, is not a real possibility, since when was the last time you heard of co-workers turning down free treats?), there is always the staff of my son’s school. Basically, I’ve got a long list of recipients lined up, so, should I ever find myself saddled with baked goods aplenty, I think my neighbors will be safe. Whether being safe means, to them, being plied with baked goods or not, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Last year: Garden Spaghetti in a Lemon Butter Sauce
Brown Butter Brown Sugar Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Frosting Recipe
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 ¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (5.5 ounces total)
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup milk, at room temperature
In a medium saucepan or skillet set over medium heat, melt the butter, then allow to cook, stirring frequently, until it is brown and nutty colored. The butter will foam at first, then start to spatter, and then turn brown. Remove the butter to a small bowl, then place the butter in the refrigerator or freezer, stirring every five minutes, to firm up slightly to room-temperature consistency. You will want the butter to become creamy-textured, but not hard. This process can take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt, then set aside.
In a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the lightly chilled butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and then add the vanilla and beat for another minute or so until smooth and combined.
Mixing on low speed, beat in one third of the flour mixture, followed by half of the milk. Beat in half of the remaining flour mixture, followed by the remainder of the milk mixture. Add in the last of the flour mixture, then beat until just combined. Be sure to stir the bottom of the bowl with a spatula or spoon to make sure there are no errant clumps remaining.
Divide the batter evenly among the 12 cupcake liners. Bake on the middle rack for 15 to 20 minutes, until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out with just a few crumbs attached. Cool the cupcakes in the tin for at least 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling completely.
Frost the cupcakes when they are completely cooled.
Vanilla Bean Frosting
10 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 ¼ sticks), softened to room temperature
1 teaspoon milk or cream
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean
1 ¼ cups powdered sugar
In a large bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer, beat together the butter, milk or cream, vanilla extract, and salt. Slit the vanilla bean in half lengthwise using a very small, sharp knife, then remove the seeds from the bean by scraping the knife lengthwise against the cut side of the bean, collecting the seeds on your knife as you scrape. Scrape both halves of the vanilla bean, placing the beans in the butter mixture.
Beat the butter mixture until creamy, then add the powdered sugar and beat on medium-high speed until fully incorporated and very fluffy, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Makes enough frosting for 12 cupcakes.