To the Core


“Our biggest disagreement was about chunks.
Ben came up with the flavors and I did the manufacturing, and he wanted bigger chunks and I wanted small ones with greater distribution.
He said people didn’t care if you got a chunk in every bite as long as you knew that fairly soon you’d get a chunk.”

Jerry Greenfield


I think we can apply Ben Cohen’s theory about ice cream chunks to life happiness.

How important, and too often forgotten, is the idea that not every bite will or needs to contain a chunk?
We’re so trained for instant gratification that anything less feels like deprivation.
We forget that not every day needs to be perfect or leave you fulfilled.
You don’t need to be cheery and happy every minute to feel satisfied in the big picture.

We think about our lives in terms of monumental moments; we measure the passing of time with the passing of tragedies and victories.
What about all the days where nothing “of importance” happens?


They are to our lives as bites without chunks are to Ben and Jerry’s, as junk DNA is to genes.
From the outset, they seem less important.  Undesirable, useless.  Wasted.
But more flies under our radar, which is tuned to big spikes in emotion, than we think.
Little things.  Daily things, both annoying and delightful.

The first bite of a crisp apple.
Losing your keys, phone, wallet, mind.
A smile from a passerby.
Stubbing a toe.  Twice.
The smell of cookies baking.
Being overworked and overtired at the end of a long day, a long week, a long year.
Snuggling into your own bed.

So much that we take for granted is beautiful in its own right.

I intend to practice more gratitude and appreciation for the plain, the mediocre, the underappreciated, the kind-of-crappy happenings in my life.
I intend to take each moment as it comes, to breathe it in and live in it,
to meet it with a smile and know it fully.

Each moment of each day in our fantastic, terrible world deserves meaning.


It is a sophisticated hope, then, that sustains true, lasting happiness.
The hope—or rather, the knowledge—that you’ll get a “chunk” fairly soon.
And the deep and conscious enjoyment and appreciation of every moment, every plain bite of ice cream, every pretzel in the Chex mix.

Food for thought.  Thought for food.


Speaking of food… Cupcakes?!  Again?!  Who am I?!
Just last week, I made these “teatime” cupcakes.  And I loved them!
Photographing cupcakes is more pleasant than cookies, and lord knows I’ve made enough of those in recent times.
So.  Many.  Cookies.
Thus, despite my semi-loathing of cupcakes, I made more.

Part of my newly affirmed affection for cupcakes is that I’ve been frosting them with a meringue buttercream.
Seriously, I used to think that thick, American-style buttercream was a decent choice for cupcakes.
But, truthfully, there is no comparison to a cloud of rich, glossy IMBC.
Especially not a brick of confectioner’s sugar/butter ABC.

I wax on about meringue buttercreams all the time (not sorry) but that’s because they’re amazing.
Light, easy to pipe, smooth, shiny, stable, flavorful.
(I’m an adjective junkie.)

They’re only minimally more work, are less likely to break/curdle/be gross and are therefore totally worth the extra 10 minutes of prep.
Give your favorite cupcakes a makeover with some IMBC and you won’t recognize them, or ever even look back.

Maybe you don’t like cupcakes, like me.
I swear to you, cupcakes frosted with IMBC may change you.


These cupcakes were inspired by Ben and Jerry’s ice cream!

One of their “core” UK flavors is called Peanut Butter Me Up.
It’s half peanut butter and half vanilla ice cream, surrounding a core of raspberry jammy goodness.  The vanilla is studded with peanut butter cups.
Sounds like a perfect pint to me.  Heaven is peanut butter+vanilla+fruit.
Why don’t we have it in America?  I don’t know.  But it’s killing me.

These “Peanut Butter Me Up” cupcakes are a soft, buttery, salty PB cake, filled with tart raspberry jam, topped with a big fluff pile of vanilla Italian meringue buttercream, topped with a peanut butter cup.

I used raspberry preserves made only with pomegranate juice as the sweetener, so it was extra tart and tangy!
I only made 12 cupcakes, but there was definitely enough batter/buttercream to make 16 or 18 cupcakes, so I’ve adjusted the yield in the recipe to reflect that.

Since I can’t get the ice cream here, I’ll have to stick with cupcakes.
Somehow, I’m OK with that.


Peanut Butter Me Up Cupcakes
makes 16-18 cupcakes
cake portion adapted from Serious Eats

for the peanut butter cake:
4 tablespoons butter
1 packed cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

for the vanilla Italian meringue buttercream:
3 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
big pinch salt
6 ounces (3 sticks) butter, cut into small bits, soft but cool
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

to assemble:
raspberry jam, approximately 1/2 cup
mini peanut butter cups

Make the cupcakes: preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line 18 muffin tins with papers.
Beat butter until softened, about 1 minute.
Stream in brown sugar and salt and beat for 3 full minutes.
Add in the peanut butter and beat for 3 more minutes.
Add in the eggs, one at a time, and beat for 2 full minutes.
Mix the milk and vanilla extract, and, very slowly and carefully, stream into the batter while slowly, slowly mixing to prevent splashing.
Dump the flour on top of the batter and add the baking powder over the flour mound.
Slowly stir batter until homogeneous (it will be thick).
Portion out with an ice cream scoop into your tins.
Bake for 22-26 minutes, until springy to the touch, very fragrant, and a tester comes out with only a couple crumbs.
Allow to cool completely.

Make the vanilla Italian meringue buttercream: combine sugar, salt, and water in a heavy bottomed pot.
Place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Begin to whip egg whites on medium speed while heating the sugar syrup over medium-high heat.
When the sugar syrup reaches 230 degrees F, your egg whites should be at very soft peaks.
By the time the syrup reaches temp at 245 degrees F, your egg whites should be at soft peaks.
Slowly and carefully pour the hot syrup into the whipping egg whites.
Whip the meringue until it reaches body temperature, then begin to whip in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Add the vanilla and continue to whip the buttercream at high speed until it becomes fluffy, glossy, and thick.

Assemble the cupcakes: place your raspberry jam in a piping bag fitted with a plain tip.
Plunge the tip into the cupcake and wiggle it around, applying gentle, even pressure to fill the cake, until the pressure forces the tip out of the cake.
Frost the cupcakes with the meringue buttercream as desired, then top with a peanut butter cup!

7 thoughts on “To the Core

  1. Your Peanut Butter Me Up Cupcakes look amazing and are my favorite from all of your pictures. Try going to my ‘Sugar Rush’ section and tell me which one is your favorite–I’m really curious to know. I’m going to go with: old fashioned custard; raw meyer lemon and vanilla bean cheesecake; paleo salted caramel cheesecake bites; sliced bananas foster crepe cake; eggless indian cookies, red velvet cheesecake thumbprint cookies; cheesecake stuffed chocolate cups; carrot zucchini cupcakes; blueberry cupcakes with honey buttercream. Bet you can’t pick just one.

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