First and foremost, you have to buy the Pillsbury Devil's Food cake mix on sale at Kroger for 88 cents, because the whole point of the Killer Cupcakes is to make the most amount of cupcakes for the least amount of money. Especially if you just lost your airline job, like me, and you are pretty close, savings-wise, to sleeping in an abandoned truck with nothing to keep you warm but a discarded pair of piss-stained homeless man's pants. Don't get fancy. Get the mix. In fact, stock up on the stuff. Dried cake batter might make a good coating on those really cold nights.
The frosting -- now, that you have to make from actual ingredients. You'd be surprised at how versed I am in this, seeing as how my own mother liked to serve ready-made cakes that, I swear, came out of a can. There were times, though, when she was unemployed as well, during which she'd bake the cupcakes in an oven and everything and make the frosting from a box, mixed with 40 or so drops of cancer-inducing food coloring. That was the best we could hope for, and it was pretty good, but I have since improved on the traditional frosting-cupcake construction.
Yes, after hours upon hours upon hours of (formerly profitably employed) surmising, I finally figured that the biggest bummer about cupcakes is that you can't put them in your purse, because then you'd have to lick the frosting off your wallet. The frosting, I tell you, is a problem, so I decided to create a cupcake that you can put in your purse, leave there overnight and eat the next day without stuff sticking to it. Believe me, that is a seriously important factor.
So as a blueprint, I used those old Hostess cupcakes they sold at the liquor store where my mother sent me to pick up her Salem menthols until the place got bought by a child molester. After that, it was nicknamed "Horny Pete's" and none of us could go there anymore. The brilliance behind those cupcakes was that the frosting was all nice and tucked away on the inside while the outside was coated with a top layer of stick-free fudge. Genius. Those things could roll across a shag carpet and still come up frosting-intact and virtually fuzz-free.
So my girl and I began experimenting with that idea. Oh, I forgot to mention that it helps to have a 5-year-old with a constant cupcake need, not just for herself but her classmates and teachers and others who might judge you as a mother if you came to a bake sale with nothing but a basket of old mustard packets collected from a decade of Chinese delivery. Anyway, here are the basic ingredients for the cream filling of Mae's Killer Cupcakes: powdered sugar, vegetable shortening, vanilla and milk.
I never measure this stuff, I just get a bowl -- and it has to be, like, a huge bowl, because powdered sugar coats your kitchen like anthrax if you touch it with a mixer and the bowl isn't big enough -- and I put probably four cups of powdered sugar in there, maybe one cup of vegetable shortening, a capful of vanilla and a couple of splashes of milk. (You can get shortening on sale at Kroger, too. It comes in an industrial tub the size of a cement mixer. Perfect.) You beat all that up with an electric mixer. If it's not creamy enough, add more milk. If it's not stiff enough, add more shortening. If it's not sweet enough, add more sugar. I don't have any rules, just guidelines.
Sometimes you end up with three times the amount you need, but that's OK because a fridge full of extra cream filling is fine for those nights you're wallowing in worry on account of how you lost your airline job and all -- but what do I know? If it were up to me, I'd have simply let the planes continue to be clean and the on-board meals continue to be decent, and the people working there to continue to be able to afford to raise their families on their income rather than crap all over that just to cut ticket prices. I know that Mr. Linoleum-Floor-Salesman can now afford another trip to Ft. Lauderdale to fuck that cashier at the QT down the street from the convention center, and that's a good thing. But if everyone's jobs are flushed, then no one will be able to afford his flooring, either, and pretty soon he'll be out of a job as well.
Keiger always tells me that things are only worth what people will pay for them, like he says if I make the Killer Cupcakes bigger, he can charge a buck each for them at his restaurant. But I don't agree. The fudge topping, by the way, is just melted semi-sweet chocolate chips (get the Kroger brand, it's cheaper). One teaspoon plopped on top of each to plug up the hole where you plooged in the cream filling with the tip of a pastry bag, and once that cools, there you have it: the quintessential Killer Cupcake. It costs what it costs. I think of how my daughter's face is fudge-smeared five seconds into each batch, and I'm thankful for that, for every moment my kid is still un-self-conscious enough to revel like that, because cost is one thing. Value is another.
Hollis Gillespie is the author of Confessions of a Recovering Slut and Other Love Stories and Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood. Her commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered."