Sunday, May 9, 2010

Confessions of a Panster

When people ask me for recipes, things tend to get a little dicey. You see, I have a deep, dark, secret.

I can’t follow directions.

I know, shocking, right? No? Oh, well, I didn’t realize you knew me way back when, in which case it is not only not shocking, but laughably predictable. Ahem.

Anyhoo, I take a perfectly lovely recipe, get started tossing in the ingredients, and then… well, I’m not really sure what happens. “That couldn’t possibly be enough butter,” I think, tossing in an extra tablespoon. “That amount of milk will never make it moist enough!” In goes a dollop of Daisy. “Why is there no lemon zest? Everything is better with lemon zest!”

In short, I am a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants baker, otherwise known as a panster.

Interestingly enough, I am also a panster writer. When I first started writing, I tried to plot ahead, but my characters kept taking a right turn at Albuquerque and it was all I can do to keep up. Once I let my story develop organically, I think my writing became smoother and the stories more interesting. My lack of planning seems to work wonders in my writing and baking, but it may also explain why I have such dreadful organizational skills…

Back to baking. Most of the time, my little concoctions turn out, well, pretty awesome. I know, I know. Erin, you say, how could you brag like that? My only defense: because it’s true. I may suck at art, I may have taken two years of piano lessons to be able to peck out Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star off key, and I may quite possibly be the worst housekeeper in the universe, but I can bake a cake that will make you cry with happiness.

So, that should be a good thing, right? Well, it is. All the way up until someone asks me for the recipe.

Now, some of you may not realize that there is a seedy, dark underbelly to the otherwise sweet world of culinary creations. There are certain people out there who take part of a rather dubious practice, and these people bring a bad name to recipe sharers everywhere. I speak of … the recipe saboteur. DA da duuuhhh…

These people bring their famous 7 and ¾ layer dip to a party, where everyone around raves of the delicious juxtaposition of jalapeño to cheese, salsa to sour cream. They bask in the glory, and are inevitably asked for the recipe. With a bright smile on their face, the recipe saboteur readily recites the ingredients and wishes the aspiring dip maker good luck. Said recipe recipient eagerly heads home, anxious to try out the Mexican goodness for the very next party they go to. They buy all the ingredients, follow the instructions to the letter, and proudly set off to the potluck with the dip snuggled in a festive stoneware container that was saved for just such an occasion.

The tortilla chips are produced, masses converge, and everyone dives in. And then… nothing. No praise. No accolades. No rapturous expressions of dip divinity. Instead, Brows wrinkle and looks are exchanged. Horrified, the dip maker plunges her own chip into the dip and freezes. Wait a second! This doesn’t taste like the glorious 7 and ¾ layer dip at the last party—it’s but a pale facsimile.

The recipe saboteur strikes again. These pitiless people are afraid someone else might get steal a bit of their glory and therefore sabotage the next person’s recipe.

*shaking head* A very cruel and underhanded tactic indeed.

I am NOT one of those people.

Well, at least not intentionally. If someone asks me for a recipe, I try to provide them with what they want. I always tell people up front that I’m a panster, but they inevitably give me that you’re just saying that so I can’t make your delicious cupcakes look that makes me feel like an evil recipe-saboteur anyway. Sigh. Recipe intuition is a blessing and a curse.

So for you, beloved reader, I have valiantly curbed my panster tendencies, and have done my best to provide you with my absolute best vanilla cupcake recipe. I promise I did my best to get the measurements right – I used teaspoons and everything (giving my best ‘look ma, no hands!’ expression). Give it a whirl, and let me know how it turns out for you.

Tune in NEXT TUESDAY … as everyone knows, the magic is in the frosting. Every Tuesday for the rest of the month I will provide a different frosting recipe. Keylime, cream cheese, decadant chocolate… oh yeah, it’s gonna be a great month!

Vanilla Cupcakes:

*This recipe makes 3 dozen cupcakes, and can be halved or quartered easily*

2 sticks butter

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

3 cups self rising flour

1 cup milk plus ~1 T sour cream (a dollop about yay sized…)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

½ tsp. butter flavor

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Cream butter and sugar for 7 minutes on medium speed. Add eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition.

Add 1 cup flour, then ½ of the milk/sour cream mix, then 1 cup flour, the rest of the milk/sour cream, then the final cup of flour.

Add the vanilla and butter flavor, mix.

Fill cupcake liners NO MORE than half full. For easy control and optimal neatness, place the batter in a gallon-sized Ziplock bag and snip one corner with a small hole.

For 3 dozen regular size cupcakes, cook 16 minutes or until toothpick comes out cleanly. For mini cupcakes, cook ~11 minutes. Cool on rack for 5 minutes before removing from pan.


  1. I follow recipes the first time I make something. Then I try to improve it. :)

    Usually I add extra vanilla or make a different flavor. But I do record what I change. For two so I can make it again if it's good. And two so I know what I changed if it's bad.

    Can't wait to get new frosting ideas.

  2. What a beautiful blog, Erin. I will have to introduce you to my MIL. All here recipes start out with "Some of this and a bit of that". It's never the same when I make it.

  3. lol Beth - you are definitely one step ahead of me! I wasn't until I set out to make the perfect cupcakes last summer that I started writing anything down. I was looking for my Margarita icing recipe before the meeting this weekend, and ended up finding it on the back of an envelope in my 'catch all' tupperware. And I still messed with it ;)

    Thanks, Clarissa! And it's nice to know there are others like me :) Maybe we should start a 'panster's anonymous' -lol!

  4. Clearly your fly-by-the-seat approach to baking works, Erin! Your margarita cupcakes are To Die For. I will dutifully copy this recipe, knowing The Master has created it. But I sure would rather be the beneficiary of your baking instead. :)

  5. Oh! I forgot!: This blog is beautiful. Can't wait for more of your creative wisdom! :)

  6. Aww, thanks Katharine! I will happily provide as many baked goods as you can eat at the next meeting... and I always take requests!

  7. I am a pantser when it comes to cooking, but NEVER baking. LOL. Baking is like chemistry. You have to have the exact right amount of each ingredient or it doesn't work, and I don't know enough about how they all work together to attempt it on my own.

    But when I'm cooking? I try different things all the time, and usually just start throwing things together in a pan to see what comes out. It doesn't always work. But it often does...

    So I guess I'm a plotter in terms of baking and a pantser in terms of cooking. And a plotter with my writing.

  8. Catherine, how interesting that you are a plotter baker and writer, while I am just the opposite. I wonder if there is something to that. I'd be curious to know if you have good organization skills.
    It's awesome that you have fun with your cooking - I'll bet you've come up with some great dinners! Sometimes we surprise ourselves, don't we?

  9. While I'm a pantser with my writing, I'm JUST like Catherine when it comes to baking and pretty much like her when it comes to cooking. LOL! Like she said, I don't enough about the ingredients to know what will happen if I use less of this, or more of that, or throw in a dash of something random. But I'm really good at following the directions :)

    Your blog is absolutely GORGEOUS, by the way! Are those pictures of your own concoctions???

  10. Thanks, Jerrica! Yes, those are all my own pictures. The best gift I ever got in my life was the Nikon D50 digital SLR camera. Years ago I started taking pictures of stuff that I baked, and it's fun to have a record of all that hard work :)
    You threw off my theory about pansters/plotters in baking and writing! LOL - it's so interesting to learn how other people do things though, don't you think?
    Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Oh, nice, Erin! We have the Canon competitor to your camera and I have to agree, it's one of the greatest things we own. Being able to take quality pics of our princess is priceless :) Looking forward to more pics of your creations...SO beautiful!

  12. I love the blog, EK! I can't wait to try some of the recipes out. My mom swears my Grandma Hazel was a recipe saboteur! I'll have to tell her all about this. Can't wait to hear more. XOXO!

  13. Jennifer, that is too funny! How cruel to sabotage your own family-lol! I'm so glad you stopped by ... and be sure to tell Lucy I said hi :)

  14. Panster! Hahah! Once again, I love how you connect writing and fun:)

  15. Thanks Kara! I bet there is a bit of panster in you too, sister-mine :)

  16. A few notes about this recipe: I finally found my notes of where I found the base recipe for this cake: I added a heaping spoonful of sour cream for a little extra moisture.
    Also, this is a very buttery cake, and will flatten out if you fill the cupcake liners more than 2/3 full.
    For whatever reason, the liners tend to pull away from the cupcakes for this recipe. I generally use the foil liners to prevent this, or an outside decorative paper wrap. Let me know if you have any questions about this recipe :)

  17. Oh wow this is going to be such a fun blog to read but please help out the confused Aussie girl - what exactly is a stick of butter? I'm not used to the term.

  18. Oh, Heather, I didn't even think about that! A stick of butter is a 1/2 a cup. Let me know if you need any other translations :)