It's Not You, It's the Humidity

fighting-couple-300x264Saturday morning, I was headed downtown for a walk with my dogs.   On the corner of West End and 116th street, we passed a couple in the midst of a tiff.  She was crying and he was saying “I want to say something that will make you feel better!”  She replied “Then say different stuff!!!”  I chuckled and slowed the dogs down to catch more of their fight- eager for a little distraction from my walk.  The fight wasn’t explosive though, it was just a steam blowing off-er.  I slipped my earbuds back in and trudged onward.

Two blocks later, another couple was fighting.  Actually, it was more of a mutual whine than a fight really.  This time, there was something that needed to be picked up at the store for their baby (that was anxiously cooing from the sling around dad’s neck) and neither wanted to do it because there was other stuff that needed to be done.  Again, there was sighing, head shaking and clenched fists from both contenders, but nothing that entertaining.

We crossed into the park and stopped suddenly when we hit yet another couple deep in conflict.  He was bellowing about dirty laundry and she was yarping about laundromat quarters.  I honestly thought I was on some hidden camera show or something.  Three couples in less than 10 blocks?  Was this sunny day in May a secret relationship Armageddon?  I wiped the pond of sweat from my upper lip and thought, “Huh… maybe”.

Friday morning had been full of promises and gentle breezes.  I had felt inspired by every idea that popped into my head.  I had run my errands, gone to the gym, and decided on my focus for this week’s blog.  It would be a lemon, thyme cupcake- something that I had toyed with before but never focused all my attention on.

At exactly 4:00 on Friday, two things happened simultaneously: I turned my oven on to 350 degrees and a humidity bomb exploded over the city of Manhattan.

What earlier seemed exciting, suddenly seemed insurmountable.

It was too soon for this much humidity.  I mean, this was full-on-summer-stuff in May.  I like a little foreplay with my seasons, thank you very much.  A lingering warm kiss perhaps or a gentle barometric fondle, but this was wham bam thank you m’am, and we were all caught off guard.

lemoncupcakesMy cupcakes agreed 100%.

At 5:00, Shannon walked in the door, innocently asked how I was, and I almost murdered him.  It was the humidity talking.  I see that clearly now.  We all need to be careful of this agent provocateur.

I’m thinking about producing a public service announcement.

On Sunday, the used gym towel the city had been trapped under was lifted and I, happily now, took to the kitchen to re-attack the cupcake issue.  My first approach had been from a lemon pound cake standpoint, but the cake didn’t dissolve into the flavors the way I had hoped they would. 

I countered with a traditional white cake, adding a heaping tablespoon of lemon zest, lemon juice, and thyme as well as almond extract.  This time, it happened.  The magic was there.  This cake dissolves in your mouth leaving refreshing blasts with every bite. 

These flavors are what summer is all about to me.  Not heavy or cloying, just invigorating… and totally addictive.

Humidity shumidity, I’m eating cupcakes.

Lemon Thyme Cupcakes with Raspberry Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients for Cupcakes

2 large eggs
2/3 cup Greek plain yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh, chopped thyme
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cups sifted cake flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Line a muffin tin with cupcake skirts (I call them skirts, but stores call them liners).

In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, 1/4 of the yogurt, the extracts, lemon zest, thyme, and lemon juice.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine the dry ingredients and mix well.  Add the butter and the remaining yogurt.  Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened.  Increase to medium speed and beat for 1 1/2 minutes.  Scrape down the sides and then gradually add the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition.

Spoon batter into cupcake tin and bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Let cool before icing.

Raspberry Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients for Buttercream

2 cups of unsalted butter, softened
5 cups of powdered sugar (I prefer my frosting to not be too sweet.)
2 teaspoons vanilla
pinch of salt
4 tablespoons milk or cream

Beat butter for a few minutes with a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed.

Add 3 cups of powdered sugar and turn your mixer on the lowest speed (so the sugar doesn’t blow everywhere) until the sugar has been incorporated with the butter.

Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and 2 tablespoons of milk/cream and beat for 3 minutes.

Lemon Raspberry Puree

Ingredients for Puree

1 12 ounce bag frozen raspberries, thawed
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sugar

Place berries over a strainer and save the juice.

Put the juice in a saucepan and reduce till it’s reduced to about a 1/4 cup.  Puree the raspberries and then pour into a sieve to strain all the seeds out.  Add to reduced juice, add lemon juice and stir in sugar.

Add raspberry puree by the teaspoon into buttercream, tasting as you go to make sure the combination is just right.

Frost cupcakes on a day that’s not too humid!


Alison Wonderland Tucker is a chef and caterer who lives and works in New York City. She writes about her love of food and life as a chef on her blog A Wonderland of Words.