That old, teeny kitchen we left behind, well, she was good to me. With about six square feet of counter space all told and yet a full-size oven and brilliant natural light, we laughed, we cried, and managed to churn out a few last recipes the weekend before moving day, like some pretty little lemon curd-filled cupcakes for a Mothers’ Day fete.
Meyer Lemon Raspberry cupcakes (with sweet little sugar flowers in lieu of raspberries) inspired by Vanilla Bake Shop (one of my very favorite places in the world–Santa Monica, I really miss you sometimes, sniff) was the perfect kind of thing to make for my favorite comrades in motherhood as we all celebrated our first mama’s holiday together. It was a great day full of abundant sunshine, amazing pulled pork and some pretty little cupcakes fit for exhausted, yet radiant, new mothers.
The cupcakes received raves, and they were indeed beautiful and delicious, but I am making a few tweaks next time to reach cupcakery nirvana with this one. I’ve made the complete cupcake with filling and frosting a couple of times now, and though it the cake part always has very good flavor, I personally find the texture a bit dry against the lush vanilla bean buttercream, even when the cake is fresh and served the day it’s baked. And truthfully, I feel like it’s difficult to not toughen up the cake at least a little because whipped egg whites are folded in after the flour has been incorporated into an already really stiff batter and I’m all folding and folding and getting all nervous at the thought of the heaps of gluten that must be developing before it gets smooth. Shudder. I just don’t need that kind of stress.
Anyway, I still like my version of this cupcake better. But if you’re up for a challenge, or are looking for a nice, sturdy, flavorful vanilla bean cake for a special project, by all means give this one a shot. When making the entire cupcake recipe, I adjust the amounts for the frosting and filling because the original recipe makes way too much curd for two dozen cupcakes. And I find it to be way too skimpy on the frosting, which should be illegal. So I halve the curd recipe and make about 1 1/4 batches of buttercream to make enough to create pretty piped pillowy tops that beg to be sprinkled with something pretty.
For the aforementioned Mother’s Day celebration, I also made a recipe from Giada DeLaurentiis (do you even need to indicate this woman’s last name anymore? She is like Madonna or Cher now, if they had a limitless arsenal of adorable measuring cups and spoons). Her espresso brownies are a brilliant thing to have in your repertoire for those times when you make a somewhat involved dessert that’s on the light/fruity side, but want to have one more little thing on the dessert table for the chocolate people.
Normally I don’t do mixes, especially for brownies, which are so simple to make from scratch it’s almost criminal. But the additions to the mix in the form of good-quality chocolate chips and espresso powder and the gorgeous coffee-colored glaze add enough personality to give it a from-scratch feeling. My name is Shauna and I approve this boxed mix recipe. And come to think of it, I’m also a huge hypocrite, because if Sandra Lee had come up with this recipe and not Giada, I would have deemed it a trashy abomination of a brownie. But these are really fabulous.
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
Makes about 20 smallish brownies
1 (19.5 ounces or 9×13 inch “family size”) box fudge brownie mix
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder (available in better grocery stores, instant coffee is not nearly as good here)
3/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, very soft
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×9 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the pan with two perpendicular strips of parchment paper with enough overhang on two opposite sides to create parchment “handles” to make for easy removal of the brownies later. Spray the parchment with cooking spray, too.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the brownie mix, eggs,1/3 cup of water, oil, and 2 tablespoons of the espresso powder until well-blended. Fold in the chocolate chips. Pour into the prepared baking pan. Bake for about 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs. Cool completely on a wire rack.
For the glaze, dissolve the remaining 2 teaspoons of espresso powder in 2 tablespoons of water. Whisk in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth, then whisk in the vanilla, then the butter until smooth. Pour the glaze over the cooled brownies, coaxing it across the entire surface into a smooth, even layer. Refrigerate until the glaze is firm. Remove the brownies from the pan, remove the parchment paper, and cut the brownies into about 20 small bars.
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