Cupcakes for the At-Home Connoisseur

Ooey, gooey, chewy cupcakes, creamy icing sliding off the tops, finger-licking, oh heck, paperliner-licking good, crumbs caught mid-air and time-warp flashbacks – a retro rewind to the innocent indulgence of old-fashioned cupcakes, where a kid’s eyeballs over-amp in megawatt lust and grown-ups get a tiny dessert sans guilt. Something for the whole family. Something to get us into the minivan and drive for miles only to stand in line…or maybe not.

In the midst of all the current cupcake hooplah Chef Matt Finarelli breaks away from the pack to say, “Let’s make sophisticated cupcakes and teach everyone how to bake them at home!”

Finarelli, who teaches several cooking classes a week at Open Kitchen in Falls Church, Virginia, in everything from tapas to tamales and pizza to pappardelle, demonstrates an astounding repertoire of international cookery coupled with a keen sense of humor and boyish charm. This month’s single session evening courses have included “Summer in St. Tropez”, featuring Julia Child’s salade niçoise, whole roasted branzino with lemon aioli (author’s weakness) and ratatouille. And for a light dessert, caramelized peaches with peach ice-cream and peach chocolate macaroons. How’s that for a foodcation to the South of France at home!

During an island-inspired night class called “Caribbean Dream,” participants learned how to prepare grilled lobster, seviche atop avocado, and flaming rummed-up bananas Foster with both pineapple and coconut. It’s no wonder his classes fill up quickly. You are both student and diner!

For his “Adult Cupcakes and Wine Pairing” Finarelli demoed and served six of his inspired recipes. Imagine, if you will, red velvet chocolate port cupcakes with vanilla port frosting paired with Terra d’Oro Zinfandel Port from Amador County, CA and dark chocolate and chipotle cupcakes with candied orange peel paired with Banfi Rosa Regale from Strevi, Italy. A bride-to-be with friends in tow came for a bachelorette party and were enjoying a few extra purchased glasses of champagne and port. Yes, you can do that too. How civilized.

Andy Hoyle of Republic National Distributing described and poured for the class of 40 guests. “The cork pops here,” he quipped to an increasingly cheery group. Hoyle took a tricky menu-pairing complementing sweets with spirits. My favorite combination was a pretty prosecco and almond cupcake topped with rosewater and petite flowers. It was served with Kluge Estate Cru, a divine bubbly out of Charlottesville, VA. We heart our champers and this is a lovely one. Here’s your assignment while sipping:

Prosecco and Almond Cupcakes with Rosewater and Fresh Blossoms
Courtesy of Chef Matt Finarelli of Open Kitchen

Yield ~32 cupcakes

4 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
4 sticks butter – unsalted – softened
3 cups sugar
8 ea eggs
6 Tbsp milk
¼ cup Prosecco
2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup slivered almonds – well chopped
1 recipe Rosewater Frosting
As needed Edible blossoms (e.g. pansies, marigolds, small roses, cone flowers, herb flowers, lilac, lavender – all pesticide free and well washed.)

– Preheat oven to 350 degrees, line cupcake pan with papers.
– Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.
– Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
– Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
– With mixer on low speed beat in milk, Prosecco and vanilla until just combined.
– Add flour mixture in 3 batches, beating until just combined after each addition.
– Fold in almonds gently.
– Bake until toothpick comes out clean – about 20 minutes. Cool and top with Rosewater Frosting and then edible blossoms.

Rosewater Frosting

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1¾ cups confectioner’s sugar
5 tsp rosewater

– Beat cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth.
– Add confectioners sugar and beat on low speed until incorporated.
– Add lemon juice and rosewater and beat until smooth.

Open Kitchen wears many toques. It is a full-service caterer, a cooking school with hands-on and demo cooking classes, a flex-timeshare kitchen for local chefs to launch and grow their own business, and a bistro serving lunch Monday through Saturday, and dinner Thursday through Saturday.

To check class schedules, restaurant hours and timeshare availability visit: or call 703-942-8148.

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