Two for the show.

Most American kids wouldn’t say black licorice was their favorite candy. German kids, sure. They probably keep a little stash of Katjes-Kinder in the pocket of their lederhosen, but no American kid I ever knew liked black licorice—except for me.

Mom and Dad didn’t have a date night very often. Money was tight and Dad was tighter. But, about once a month, they would leave me in the charge of my older sisters and go to a “show” (that’s what Midwesterners call a movie).

When allowed, I’d lie on my mom’s bed and follow her every move as she got ready for the show. Mom was what people called a natural beauty. Her high cheekbones and olive complexion didn’t require all the makeup my friends’ mothers wore. I dreamt of the day that I could wear hot pants and tease my hair as high as hers.

(I already knew I couldn’t wear makeup until I was thirteen. It was a rule she reminded my older sisters of daily—show or no show.)

Show nights held a certain excitement for me—not just because I got to see my parents dressed to the nines and holding hands, and certainly not because I had two older sisters bossing me around all evening. No, the real excitement was in knowing what I would find in the morning, perched on the only clean part of my dresser: Two boxes (not just one!) of my favorite candy, Good & Plenty—pill-shaped, soft black licorice pieces covered in a white or pink candy coating. A treat from my parents—two for the show.

Good and Plenty Cupcakes
(star-anise flavored sweet vanilla cake)
makes 20 to 24 cupcakes

What you need: 
2 3⁄4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 2⁄3 cups star anise flavored sugar or regular sugar
12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
4 large egg whites, plus 1 whole large egg
1 teaspoon anise extract
1 cup milk
Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting, tinted hot pink (recipe to follow)
24 to 48 Good & Plenty candies (from one 6-ounce box; you’ll have extra to snack on)

What to do:
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line two standard cupcake pans with paper liners (for 20 to 24 cupcakes).

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and star anise sugar. Add the butter and mix for 2 minutes, or until thoroughly combined. The mixture may form a paste, depending on how warm the butter is, and that’s okay. Add the egg whites one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the bowl as needed. Beat in the whole egg and the star anise extract. Add the milk in thirds, beating well after each addition. Continue to beat for another 2 minutes, or until the batter is light and fluffy.

Scoop the batter into the cupcake liners, filling the cups three-quarters full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the cakes are barely golden. Allow to cool completely before frosting them. Garnish with Good & Plenty candies.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting
makes 5 cups

5 large egg whites 1 1⁄2 cups sugar
1 1⁄2 pounds (6 sticks) butter, cut into chunks, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Fill a medium saucepan with 2 inches water and place over medium-low heat. Set a medium ovenproof bowl over the simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t come into contact with the water.
Put the egg whites and sugar in the bowl and whisk together until all the sugar crystals have dissolved. Pour the hot egg white mixture into the (room temperature) bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on high speed for 10 minutes, or until the meringue has doubled in volume, holds a stiff peak, and has cooled down. It’s important that the meringue is not warm, or it will melt the butter. I usually stick my finger down into the meringue to feel the temp—and get a taste!

Remove the whisk attachment and replace it with the paddle attachment. Mix the butter into the cooled meringue, 1⁄2 cup at a time.


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