Unlikely Inspiration

The empire of food-based television has been slowly crumbling, rotting from the inside out like last week’s Chinese take out, for years. Rapidly expanding into something larger than the Food Network itself, now every channel has their own foodie tour guide, cooking competition, or pour-and-stir cookalong. Quantity over quality, 99% of these daytime abominations aren’t watchable for even a full five minutes, and yet every new series somehow find a way to up the ante and churn out “entertainment” even more stomach-turning. You know this, I know this, and we can all agree that television programing has all but devolved into the same dozen clips of pornographic food shots and “celebrity” catch phrases over and over, 24 hours a day.

And yet, I watch so much of this crap, even I can’t explain it. Just 30 minutes, maybe an hour, to let my mind unspool and stop thinking. Despite the lack of decent programing, I just need that down time, and maybe an opportunity to spew my venom at all those misguided cooks and bakers making brownies out of pork and beans. Top Chef is hands-down my favorite option of all, typically featuring slightly less loathsome personalities, and providing at least occasional inspiration. That particular hour of programing, I devour like junk food. It’s my guilty indulgence, once a week, every week.

No, the combination of canned meat products and desserts didn’t quite set my world on fire in the last episode, but the quickfire did capture my imagination. Presented with root vegetables to incorporate into a sweet recipe, I immediately knew this was my sort of challenge. Carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes- Bring them on! Yet there were so many other promising tubers I hadn’t even known I was ignoring.

Celeriac, how could I not have thought of it before? Mild, almost sweet and nutty to begin with, I already adore the ugly, gnarled root in soups and salads, so why couldn’t it make the transition into the final course? Celery and peanut butter was an easy entryway into the concept, a combination already proven to work, and not just a passing food fad. After school snacks for decades have included some form of “ants on a log,” peanut butter-smeared celery sticks with a line of raisin “ants” marching along the top. It was so obvious, after making that connection from that unlikely source of inspiration, I couldn’t push it out of my mind.

So I made cupcakes. If you can have carrot cakes and zucchini cakes, why the hell not celeriac cakes? If you hate celery, okay, I can’t help you; You’ll probably hate these. But for everyone else, the sweet peanut butter frosting smoothed out the sharper edges of celery flavor nicely, while still allowing the pairing to be easily tasted. Currants take the place of raisins simply for more even distribution within the cakes, but you could always switch back to the latter.

Especially as fresh fruits dwindle along with summer’s bounty, these cupcakes provide a fun, nostalgic interpretation of more hearty fall and winter produce. Plus, you can painlessly squeeze in another serving of vegetables into dessert!

Ants on a Log Cupcakes (Celeriac-Currant Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting)

Celeriac Cupcakes:

1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
2 1/2 Cups Shredded Celeriac (Celery Root)
1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice
1/3 Cup Dried Currants
1/2 Cup Canola Oil
3/4 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
2 Tablespoons Water
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Peanut Butter Frosting:

1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1 Cup Creamy Peanut Butter
2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Pinch Salt
1 – 2 Tablespoons Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Extra Currants, for Decoration (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line 12 standard muffin tins with cupcake papers.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and soda, spices, and salt so that all of the dry goods are evenly distributed.

After shredding your celeriac, immediately toss it with lemon juice to prevent browning. Add the shredded celeriac and currants to the bowl of dry ingredients, and toss to coat in flour.

Separately, whisk together the oil, non-dairy milk of choice, water, vinegar, and vanilla. Pour the whole mixture into your bowl of dry ingredients. Stir gently with a wide spatula, just until the batter comes together. A few lumps are just fine, as long as you don’t over-mix.

Evenly dose out the batter between your prepared muffin tins. Don’t be afraid to mound that batter up in the center, they should bake up nicely as long as the amount in each tin is equal. Bake for 23 – 26 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of each cupcake comes out dry. Let cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting, beat together the non-dairy margarine and peanut butter in a stand mixer until completely smooth. Add in the confectioner’s sugar, vanilla, salt, and 1 tablespoon of the “milk.” Start mixing on low speed with the whisk attachment, and once there’s no longer a risk of powdered sugar flying out of the bowl, crank it up to high. Whip for about 5 minutes, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, until light and fluffy. Apply to cupcakes, and sprinkle with additional currants on top if desired.

Makes 12 Cupcakes

Printable Recipe