Holiday travel, what did I ever do to you? Must you always taunt me with your weather delays, lost luggage, and apathetic airline personnel? Can't we have one, just one, holiday season where I don't feel compelled to utter statements like "I'm never flying again!" and "Maybe we should rent a car and drive the rest of the way."??
Yes, Eric and I took a little cross-country jaunt to spend the Christmas holidays with my parents in South Carolina. Packing done? Check. Dogs in the kennel? Check. Flight on time? Big miraculous check.
For the first leg of our flight, everything was hunky-dory (assuming that you don't include the in-flight cuisine.) Then, we arrived in Atlanta. In fact, we arrived in Atlanta earlier than expected, which dissolved my anxiety regarding our tight connection to Savannah.
Four hours later, as we boarded our flight, I laughed at my foolishness. Of course our connection would be delayed. How silly of me to actually think that it would be on time. An hour after that, we arrived in Savannah, but our luggage was likely somewhere near Poughkeepsie. I can't say for sure though. The cheerful cracker-jack airline representative couldn't seem to find it anywhere in the system. It finally turned up a day and a half later, looking as though it had faced off with an angry bull.
Oh, and did I mention that my laptop broke on the flight? Something about a motherboard and the cost of repair exceeding the cost of a new laptop, blah, blah, blah. Just fix it already!!! I. Cannot. Function. Without. My. Computer!!! Honestly, the guy from the Best Buy Geek Squad could have told me just about anything, and I would have believed him. He had me pegged as a non-techie from the get-go when I asked what an external hard drive looks like because I wasn't certain if I had one at home. So, that's what I did on the first day of my Christmas vacation. Jealous yet?
Luckily, we had a full nine days of rest and relaxation at my parents' home before we even needed to think about our 6:30 a.m. return flight home. I had planned to do some serious blogging during the trip, but between the broken laptop fiasco and my parents' jam-packed social schedule, I barely had time to log on. They've only lived in their new home for six months, and I think that my mom is already friends with half of the South. I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised if Paula Deen had shown up for Christmas dinner bearing a big plate of creamed butter. I, on the other hand, have lived in the same house for six years and barely know my neighbors. That's Vegas for you.
After we returned home, I really didn't feel like cooking until I got the house organized, so we went out the first two nights. We decided to try a new locals place, Elements, which we had heard some buzz about. When we arrived at this hole-in-the-wall, we learned that their claim to fame is the "World's Longest Martini Menu." Just what we needed. I'm pretty sure that they are telling the truth about this. Do you have any idea how long it takes to read through 252 martini names and descriptions? While many caught my eye, I was in the mood for something tropical, something that channeled warm breezes and sun-tanned skin to combat the chilly December night (well, chilly for Las Vegas.) I found a concoction that reminded me of the drinks that Eric and I had during our trip to the British Virgin Islands, a Bailey's Banana Colada.
Although I could have had about a dozen of these harmless-tasting drinks, I was the designated driver, so I stuck to just one. It did, however, inspire me to create one last sinful treat to share with readers before they kick off their 2010 resolutions. These cupcakes contain all of the flavors from my new-found favorite cocktail: banana and toasted coconut cupcakes topped with a rich Bailey's buttercream. Certain to complement your champagne toast! Here are a few extra tips for preparing these scrumptious spiked cupcakes:
- Pureeing the bananas before adding them to the batter helps to distribute the flavor evenly and to keep the cupcakes nice and moist. If you prefer to find a few banana chunks in your cupcakes, you can pulse the processor instead of puree.
- If Irish Cream isn't your thing, then try a buttercream flavored with Kahlua, Frangelico, Amaretto, or even Godiva Chocolate Liqueur. Replace the Bailey's in the recipe with 2 parts whipping cream and 1 part your chosen spirit. For example, if you need 6 tablespoons of Bailey's, use 4 tablespoons cream and 2 tablespoons Amaretto. See? Math can be fun!
- The cupcakes can be baked in advance and frozen for up to 1 week. Store them in airtight zip-top bags and defrost at room temperature a few hours prior to decorating. These cupcakes are best eaten the day they are frosted.
- For a decorative garnish, try some toasted large-flake coconut or some caramelized banana chips (as shown in the photos.) For the banana chips, place 1 cup of white sugar in a dry medium skillet set over medium-low heat. Cook the sugar, stirring with a fork, until the crystals start to melt. Continue to cook, stirring, until the mixture is smooth and it has turned a deep caramel color. Remove the skillet from the heat. Working quickly, drop dried banana chips, a few at a time, into the caramel and stir to coat. Remove the chips with a fork and place on waxed paper to harden. Repeat with remaining chips and caramel.
Bailey's Banana Colada Cupcakes
Makes 24 cupcakes
For the cupcakes
½ cup butter, room temperature
1 ½ cups sugar
¼ cup safflower or canola oil
4 large eggs
3 cups cake flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons Bailey's Irish Cream (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon coconut extract (optional)
1 ½ cups shredded, sweetened coconut, lightly toasted
For the Bailey's Buttercream
1 pound butter, softened
6 cups confectioner's sugar
12 ounces white chocolate chips, melted and cooled
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
6-8 tablespoons Bailey's Irish Cream
Caramelized banana chips (optional)
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter with the sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the oil until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the banana puree.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and cardamom. In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, Bailey's, and both extracts. Add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk mixture to the batter in two additions each, alternating and mixing after each addition. Stir in the toasted coconut.
Divide the batter among the prepared muffin tins, filling each about ⅔ full. Bake the until the cupcakes are puffed and lightly golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Prepare the buttercream: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter with the confectioner's sugar at low speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium, and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, 3 minutes. Add the cooled melted white chocolate and beat until combined. Mix in the salt and the vanilla extract. Add enough of the Irish Cream to the mixture to reach your desired flavor and piping consistency (the more the better!!) Pipe or spread the frosting onto the cooled cupcakes, garnish as desired, and serve!