When I was a kid, my mother called me the Mad Scientist. It wasn't that I was an ace in science, but more that I liked to mix stuff in tiny cups — and leave them scattered around the house.
So when I stumbled on a recipe on the Prudent Baby blog (prudentbaby.com) for a coffeecake in a coffee cup, I was hooked. The ingredients were insanely tiny (half an egg, drops of vanilla) and the results could be tasted in minutes because the cooking was done in the microwave. The instant gratification meant that weekday breakfasts could include a warm, adorable coffeecake for one grateful child. In short, it was kind of brilliant.
Turns out the coffeecake post was Prudent Baby's top post of 2011. Co-founder Jaime Morrison Curtis, who came up with the cinnamon-flavored cake as an alternative to chocolate cake-in-a-cup recipes, recognized its appeal right away.
"Tiny things are awesome," she says. "I did have to mess around with it a bit … but that's the fun part of making recipes."
It was so much fun, it made me wonder what else I could cook in a coffee cup. Here's what I discovered:
Though the microwave is a blunt cooking instrument, it works well with small portions of anything that aims for a soufflelike consistency. Think English steamed puddings, lava cakes, bread puddings, omelets.
Don't overcook, and compensate for the lack of browning by using dark brown sugar or covering the tops of your creations with garnishes such as crumb topping or cheese.
Once you've figured out basic proportions and cooking times (which will vary depending on your cup size and your microwave), start raiding your fridge for ingredients that suggest variations on your themes.
Use a microwaveable cup, and consider placing it on a plate to catch possible overflow. We found that a 12-ounce cup worked best for these recipes. You may need to adjust cooking times depending on the strength of your microwave oven. The cup and mixture will be very hot. Allow to cool a bit before eating.
Because the quantities are so small (though you can double recipes and split them between two cups), you can experiment as much as you like without fretting over wasted ingredients. Once you start, you might discover that you're a mad scientist too.