I spent my weekend in the charming, rustic countryside of…New Jersey. Since there’s nothing really to do and there are bugs outside, I spent most of my time baking. Naturally.
Yesterday, after experiencing a bit of cabin fever and lamenting our out-of-shape state, my mother and I decided to go to a Zumba class. I had never done Zumba before and I had plenty of doubts, but she swore it was very fun and even did an excited little body wiggle to prove it. I indulged her and put on my fancy new exercise clothes. I was all set to shake my booty to skinnydom until I realized that all I had were flip flops and my only option was to wear my mother’s sneakers which were a size and a half too big. Add to that the tribulations I’ve been facing with this awful haircut I have. Needless to say, I didn’t feel all that cool wearing an old, broken hairclip on the side of my head to try to tame my weird, manly haircut, robed in hot pink skin-tight exercise clothes, and a pair of casual sneakers that resembled clown shoes more than exercise shoes. Trust me, it was not a good look.
I sucked up my pride and went to the class with her, trying my best to stay open-minded. But about 5 minutes in, when I was fumbling over my enormous shoes and had NO IDEA what was going on, my inner curmudgeon came out. To top it off, the instructor was a chipper, tiny woman who was either on lots of mood-stabilizing drugs or was a Stepford wife. She was happy. Way, way too happy. “HI GUYS!” “HOW’S THIS SONG?” “THIS IS GOING TO BE FUN!” “YOU GUYS LOOK AWESOME!” “KEEP SMILING!” I looked at my mother expecting at least a supportive eye-roll, but she was too busy having the time of her life. Whatever moves she was showing off had absolutely no relation to what the instructor was doing, but nonetheless she was completely nonplussed.
The thing to know about Zumba is that there’s really 3 stages of Zumba-imposed self-awareness. At first, you’re all, “Hey, I look amazing! I had no idea I was such a good dancer!” But then you realize you don’t look like the professional dancers in the Zumba Wii Fit commercial and that you’ve just been staring at someone else who is gifted and talented. Stage 2 comes about when you start losing the rhythm. You’re like, “wait, I see her feet moving but how do I make mine do that? Is this some kind of foot-based morse code? WHAT IS SHE DOING?!” and finally, you realized that you’re not moving, fully paralyzed, trying to make sense of the footwork, while everyone else is perfectly in sync and following along. At this point, you feel not only physically inept, but also mentally. In stage 3, you’re just trying to keep it together. You’ve completely given up on trying to replicate the moves, and you’re just hoping you can make movements that slightly resemble the steps so your painful ineptitude remains unnoticed. You curse yourself for your sad, white-girl genes and for not spending your nights practicing body rolls, hip circles, and the Beyonce booty shake, but are relieved that at least you had the good sense to position yourself at the back of the room. You leave the class with an intense feeling of self-loathing and a plethora of new insecurities.
Suffice it to say, I’m happy to leave Zumba behind. I’ve since recovered (most of) my confidence, but it was a steep price to pay for an hour of exercise. Clearly, I’m going to have to find some other more sustainable form of physical activity. Until then, I’m baking.
The nice thing about New Jersey is that, unlike New York, people have houses with yards. Which means, you can plant exciting things like herbs and flowers. And when I realized I had direct access to fresh, home-grown lavender, I couldn’t help myself. I’ve been craving corn muffins for a while, and decided with my newfound supply of lavender, I could jazz things up a bit. And so, dear friends, I present you with honey lavender cornbread whoopie pies. These are wonderful little pockets of cornbread goodness held together with a delightfully sweet honey frosting, with a subtle hint of lavender. If you don’t have lavender, you could just omit it, but if you can get your hands on some (fresh or culinary-grade from the store), I highly recommend it. It adds a little fancy, a little surprise, a little je ne sais quoi.
Honey Lavender Cornbread Whoopie Pies
Makes about 15 - 20 whoopie pies
- 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 tablespoon fresh lavender buds (or dried culinary grade lavender buds)
- 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 large egg
Honey Frosting Ingredients
- 2 tablespoons flour
- ½ cup milk
- 2 tablespoons honey
- ½ cup butter, softened slightly
- ½ tsp vanilla
- A pinch of salt
- FOR THE CORNBREAD COOKIES: Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- In a medium bowl, crush the lavender buds together with the brown sugar. In a smaller bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Cream the lavender sugar and butter together in a large bowl. Mix in the egg, followed by the buttermilk and vanilla and beat until thoroughly combined, about 3 minutes. Add the flour mixture to the batter and mix until just combined.
- Using a spoon, drop about 1 tablespoon of batter onto one of the prepared baking sheets and repeat, spacing them at least 2 inches apart. Bake one sheet at a time for 8 minutes each or until the cakes begin to brown around the edges. Remove from the oven and let the cakes cool in the pan for about 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.
- FOR THE HONEY FROSTING: In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the flour and milk together and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture has thickened and slightly bubbly at edges (it’s best if you don’t overcook the mixture). Set aside to cool in the fridge for an hour.
- Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla, then add in cooled milk mixture. Beat until until the frosting is light and fluffy (like whipped cream). If the frosting is too soft, transfer the bowl to the refrigerator to chill slightly: then beat again until it is the proper consistency.
- TO ASSEMBLE WHOOPIE PIES: Match the cookies according to size. Using a knife, spread the frosting on the flat side of one cookie, topping with the matching cookie (alternatively, you can pipe the frosting for a neater look).