“I don’t want children,” I once said to my eleventh grade Calculus teacher.
I can’t remember the context though or why it was even brought up. This may seem crazy, but I don’t usually make a habit of sharing my reproductive choices with everyone, nevermind 40-something year old, slightly balding high school math teachers.
He paused a moment and then nodded once, decisively. “You are going to come back to your ten year reunion with five kids hanging off your arm, I’m sure of it.”
It’s been over ten years since that conversation took place. My high school reunion is coming up (which I am not freaking out about, I am not). My maternal instinct has remained the same. That is to say: a complete lack thereof.
I’ll be honest: babies and children just don’t really do it for me. For years and years, I even loudly and defiantly professed a great dislike for them. I am awkward around them. They are loud, undisciplined, and messy. They are difficult to control and expensive to take care of. Otherwise intelligent, interesting conversations get monopolized by inane tales of the incredibly mundane things they do. Louis C.K. sums it all up perfectly:
“It’s hard having kids because it’s boring. That really is the hardest part of having kids. Ask any parent. ‘What’s the hard part? It is looking after their healthcare? Is it making sure their education…?’ No, it’s just being with them on the floor while they be children. They read Clifford the Big Red Dog to you at a rate of fifty minutes a page and you have to sit there and be horribly proud and bored at the same time.”
I’ve gotten a bit softer in my old(er) age, though. I can even coo with the best of them at the endless images that newly-made parents or their close relations feel compelled to share with anyone within five feet. Sometimes in moments of hormone-infused insanity, I even contemplate not minding having a child myself. Just one. Preferably a girl, because little boys can be utter terrors. I would try not to raise her Miss Havisham-style.
But most of the time, when I am perfectly levelheaded and aware, I am not gunning for motherhood any time soon. I don’t have the patience or selflessness to be a mother, and I am really starting to admire those who do.
Lately, babies have been entering my life from all sides. At work, my manager is about to have her first and on the personal side of things, so is my sister. The thought of pregnancy and all its aspects seems nothing short of inconvenient to me at best and downright terrifying at worst, but these women seem to have taken to it with an enviable measure of grace and minimal bloat.
I find myself sharing my sister’s excitement, marveling at the almost-weekly belly pic photos she sends and buying ridiculous amounts of yarn for all the baby-related knitting projects I want to do. I look forward to seeing my future nephew. I want to hold him and smell his milky skin and admire him and spoil him rotten for years and years. My family is not made up of very prolific breeders, so any new family member gets the full weight of our attention. I want to be the favorite aunt. I like being an aunt, if not a mother.
I made cupcakes for a surprise baby shower we threw at work for the other pregnant lady in my life. Traditional blue/pink colors can’t be found here, though. M. wants to be surprised. I also like the idea of breaking down gender stereotypes anyway. Let the boys wear as much pink as they like, let the girls sass it up in blue. But for now, let’s just make some pretty, gender-neutral yellow and green cupcakes.
Version: baby style.
Let’s think about light and fluffy things like genoise cake and Swiss buttercream meringue. Let’s go for utmost adorability with marzipan-shaped baby bootie toppers. You know how to make your own marzipan now, and instead of just eating it by the handful like some people I won’t mention, here is a practical application (in as much as cupcakes are ever a practical application to life — they are, totally, by the way).
Surprise Baby Shower Cupcakes
Yield: 12 cupcakes
To make the cupcake:
1 c plus 1 tbs cake flour, sifted
8 tbs of butter, melted but cool
4 eggs, room temperature
a pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 c granulated sugar
In a heatproof bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar over simmering water for 8-12 minutes. Make sure the bowl does not actually touch the water and that you are whisking constantly. The eggs will triple in volume and appear a very light, foamy yellow.
Remove from heat, add vanilla and salt, then, in a standing mixer with a whisk attachment, continue to whisk batter until it is cool on medium-high speed.
Gently fold sifted flour into the batter in 2-3 batches until just incorporated. Gently fold in melted butter. Pour batter into cupcake liners.
Preheat oven to 375 F with a rack in the center. Bake for 10 minutes and then turn the temperature down to 350 F. Bake for another 10 minutes until the surface and edges of the cupcake are golden and the center of the cupcake is springy when you gently press a finger down on it. Let the cupcakes cool completely.
To make the caramel simple syrup:
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/2 tbs room temperature water
1/4 c hot water
In a pan, mix 1/2 tbs of water with sugar until the sugar is just moist. Heat on medium-high until the sugar deepens into a dark amber. Do not stir or swirl the mixture.
Turn heat down and add your 1/4 c of hot water. Turn the heat back up and stir mixture until it is evenly mixed. Remove the simple syrup from eat and strain the syrup of any crystallized pieces before using. Allow to cool before using.
To make the Swiss buttercream frosting:
Recipe from Smitten Kitchen
1 c granulated sugar
4 large egg whites, room temperature
3 sticks plus 4 tbs butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
In a heatproof bowl set over simmering water (but not actually touching the water), whisk together egg whites and sugar into a thick slurry for 2-3 minutes.
Put mixture into a standing mixer with a whisk attachment. Add vanilla and set the mixer at a medium high speed, whisking until the mixture is cool. Add butter one stick at a time, turning the mixer to a low speed when first incorporating, and then turning the mixer back to a medium-high speed to thoroughly whisk in the butter.
Let the mixer run until the frosting turns smooth and satiny. This process can take anywhere from 7 to 10 minutes or more, but it will happen. I promise.
If you want to add food coloring, you can add it here and beat it in with a spatula.
I can personally attest to the sturdiness of this frosting. On the day of the baby shower, I descended the stairs to the subway, cupcake caddy firmly in hand. It was raining and the stairs were wet.
The next thing I knew, I was flying ass over cupcake.
At that moment, the only thought that went through my head was, I must save the cupcakes! as fiercely protective as a mother would be of her child.
In vain, I tried to keep the cupcake caddy upright, but its weight was too difficult to hold up against the forces of gravity. I’m afraid I jostled the whole thing badly when I landed painfully on my rump on the edge of the steps. I was badly bruised, the cupcakes had been upended from their holders. I feared the worst.
Yet miraculously, this buttercream maintained, for the most part, its smooth swirls. The marzipan toppers hadn’t budged an inch. There were a few dents and scrapes, but on the whole, my ass took the greater damage, with nasty, painful bruises to prove it.
To assemble the cupcake…
Slowly spoon syrup onto the cupcakes a little bit at a time, letting the syrup soak into the cupcake before adding more. Overall, you should spoon about 1 tbs of syrup per cupcake, but honestly, I wasn’t keeping track of this one. The cupcake will be delicious with or without the syrup, but the syrup adds more moisture to the sponge-like cake.
Put the Swiss buttercream frosting into a pastry bag and pipe onto cupcakes using a #809 tip for a smooth, thick swirl. Decorate accordingly. I dyed and shaped some homemade marzipan into baby booties then added little shoelaces with royal white icing.