I remember flipping through a magazine when I was a child and staring at an ad for Chanel No. 5. My mother peered over my shoulder and commenting on the celebrity model said "That's Catherine Deneuve. She was voted the most beautiful woman in the world." I scrunched up my face and in disbelief and replied, "In the world? In the whole world? How can that be? There are millions of women in the world." My mother, clearly frustrated with my sarcasm said, "Oh come on, you have to admit, she is beautiful."
But that wasn't my point. I was frustrated that she'd let someone else, let alone the powers that be, shape her definition of beauty.
As a kid, I knew that my aunt with her kind spirit, quirky glasses and houndstooth jacket was beautiful. I knew that my teacher who went out of her way to buy ingredients so that we could make our own butter in class was beautiful. I knew that my childhood friend who showed great courage in the face of adversity was beautiful too. I also knew none of them looked like the actress in the magazine.Yet here was this anonymous outside force telling us how we should define beauty.
I sometimes laugh about how firmly people believe in their perceptions about beauty without considering how radically those views have changed over time. Plumpness was in vogue and then out of vogue. Being pale was a sign of wealth until the plague, then being tan was in. Victorians associated makeup with prostitution. I could go on and on but you get the point. Social concepts of beauty are fickle at best. One need only walk through an art museum and glance at a few paintings to see the shifting perceptions of beauty throughout history.
Given all of the media hype, I'm curious - how you define beauty? What in your view, makes a person beautiful. And if you have children, what will you teach them about what it means to be beautiful?
While you ponder that thought, try the cupcakes. They're not perfect looking but to me they're beautiful. Vive la difference as the say...enjoy.
Salted Caramel Cupcakes
187 g (1 c) sugar
118 ml (1/2 c) hot water
115 g (1/2 c) butter
260 g (1 1/3 c) sugar
3 g (1 tsp) vanilla
280 g (2 1/2 c) cake flour
13 g (2 1/2 tsp) baking powder
1 g (1/4 tsp) salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees (177 Celsius)
Melt sugar in a sauce pan over low heat. Stir constantly, until the sugar melts into a golden brown syrup. Stir in hot water taking care not to burn yourself. Stir until lumps are gone. Set aside and let cool slightly. Pour 60 ml or 1/4 cup of the syrup into a measuring cup. Add enough cool water to make 237 ml or 1 cup of liquid. Stir and set aside. Leave the remaining syrup in the pan.
In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the 3 eggs and the vanilla. Sift together the dry ingredients. Stir in alternately with caramel mixture.
Pour batter into cupcake pans and bake about 20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. The time will vary depending upon your oven but be sure not to open the oven door for at least 15 minutes to prevent collapse.
Cool completely and frost with salted caramel frosting.
Salted Caramel Frosting
Remaining caramel sauce
70 g (6 tbs) butter
60 ml (1/4 c) heavy cream
1 g (1/4 tsp) fleur de sel or other fine salt
345 g (3 c) sifted powdered sugar
3 g (1 tsp) vanilla
Return remaining caramel mixture to the stove and heat until hot and melted. Add 30 g (about 3 tbs) of butter and stir. Add about 60 g (1/4) of heavy cream or until it gets to a lightness you desire. Stir in salt and remove from heat.
Beat powdered sugar with the remaining 30 g (3 tbs) butter, the vanilla and the caramel mixture. If desired, you can also add a bit more salt to taste. Beat at high speed until you have a smooth creamy and spreadable frosting.
Note: For accuracy in baking, it is best to use a digital scale (about $20) and measure in grams. Cup measures are approximations and are provided for convenience.