Permission to eat cupcakes, please!

Tomorrow: If I ran a restaurant . . .

They let me eat cupcakes, and I was transported — with frosting on my nose!

Finally got to drop by the new cupcake shop opened by my friends Kawehi Haug and Nick Gervais, Let Them Eat Cupcakes, at 35 S. Beretania in the old Mix Cafe location (park in the inexpensive underground city lot off Beretania between Nu’uanu and Maunakea). Cupcakes are sprouting like mushrooms all over town and I wondered how K&N’s would compare.

Though the cake was lovely — with a tender, even crumb — to me, cupcakes are all about the frosting. To Kawehi, too, apparently. Literally for years, she’s been perfecting the icing that Nick so painstakingly extrudes from a pastry bag in a mound of sweetness that reminded me of those old Dairy Queen cones my Grandma used to buy me. The frosting is silky smooth and marries a hint of sour (cream cheese?) with sweet richness. It also climbs high enough to be a bit difficult to navigate but I was up for the challenge. Frosting on my nose? Is there a happier accident?

Check www.letthemeatcake808.com for a changing array of daily flavors. This bakery is primarily takeout but there are a few tables where you can sit, and the coffee’s complimentary. I’ll be back (probably today, when I’m in Chinatown to plan an upcoming tour I’m leading).

With all the professional cupcake shops about, I wasn’t about to enter the competitive field. Instead, I found myself daydreaming about berry shortcake. This was prompted by a project I’m working on (it’s a Big Secret, I Can’t Tell!) and memories of living in the Pacific Northwest where, from spring (strawberries and raspberries ) to fall (blueberries and blackberries), we’d be awash in berries, harvested at U-Pick operations for pennies a pound.

Years ago, baker Jerrilyn Brusseau (who would go on to create the Cinnabon cinnamon bun) was asked to design the dessert course for a dinner for the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference being held that year in Seattle. The unusual banquet the committee hosted was held not in one hotel ballroom but in private homes all around the greater Seattle area, with luminaries including Julia Child dining randomly assigned and seated next to everyday cooking teachers, chefs, bakers, cookbook authors and the food press.

Brusseau came up with a very unbiscuit-like free-form shortcake lavished with Northwest berries that was so memorable I later used it to make an unconventional wedding cake for my best friend.

I’ve lost the recipe and, after 30 years, can’t find it online. Nor do any of my foodie friends from that period seem to have it. I KNOW I kept the menu from that event for years but it’s dematerialized now.

So I married a recipe from my chef friend Kathy Casey (a former “hot new chef” and TV show host) with one from the Internet and came up with something that made me happy. Try it. You can use any ripe berries but if you just can’t find any, frozen (defrosted and drained) are perfectly acceptable. Or use local fruit — mangoes, if you can find good, ripe local ones.

One note: It’s important to use both butter and shortening — butter for richness and flavor, shortening for crispness and structure.

RASPBERRY SHORTCAKE

3 cups fresh raspberries, cleaned, lightly mashed
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup butter, chilled
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, chilled
2 cups whipping cream, divided use
4 ounces softened cream cheese
1/3 cup powdered sugar
Mint for garnish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a bowl, toss lightly mashed raspberrries with sugar. Cover and chill. Grease rimmed baking pan. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Cut in shortening and butter until mixture resembles small peas. Make a well in the center, pour in 1 cup craem. Quickly stir to make a soft, moist dough. Use a large serving spoon to scoop up about 1/2 cup of the dough and drop onto prepared pan. Place them close together, barely touching. Bake 18-20 minutes. Meanwhile, whip 1 cup whipping cream to soft peaks, add 4 ounces softened cream cheese and whip until incorporated. Cover and refrigerate. Remove biscuits from the oven, place on rack to cool. Split biscuits in half crosswise, drizzle raspberry liquor over biscuits and spoon three quarters of the berries evenly over. Divide whipped cream among the biscuits and scatter remaining raspberries over. Garnish with mint leaves.

Tomorrow: If I ran a restaurant . . .

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