Somewhere in the back of my increasingly feeble, mother-to-an-almost-toddler mind, I seem to remember learning in school about the hierarchy of basic human needs. I’m pretty sure they included food, water, shelter, chocolate and an aunt and uncle set who are significantly cooler than your parents. Baby C scored on that last bit. A prime example being that her awesome Uncle Pat recently rolled through town on a tour with his band, while her totally boring mother baked cookies for said band. But as it turns out, it’s a tall order, baking for rockstars.
Although homemade cookies of all sorts would probably be welcomed by a van full of boys, you certainly don’t want to send them off with a container full of anything too delicate that might shatter into crumbs while getting rattled around among their gear and various gaming platforms. No, surely a lady cookie wouldn’t do. You need something sturdy. Dude Cookies. Road Biscuits. Like chewy nuggets of midnight dark chocolate, nubbly with tart dried cherries, bittersweet chocolate and toasty pecans.
This recipe comes from Alice Medrich’s great Pure Dessert, a book brimming with the kinds of recipes that turn out flavorful, earthy desserts that are never too sweet and always completely satisying. The recipes are familiar enough to create an instant craving, but there’s always a few ingredients that are off my everyday baking radar tossed into the mix that get me all excited to forage aisles in the market that I might not normally visit. And if that kind of spontaneity isn’t rockstar, well then I don’t know what is. How about staying out until midnight on a weeknight to go see a show in a bar AND paying someone to watch our kid for the first time?! THAT’S rock n’ flippin’ ROLL, people! Hard core!
Makes about 4 dozen
The original recipe calls for the dough to come together in a food processor. I’ve never acquired one myself, so I used a standing mixer and have rewritten the recipe as such. The beauty of a food processor is that it doesn’t incorporate a lot of air into the dough, making for a decadent, dense cookie, so if you use a mixer like I did, just keep the speed as low as possible.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened and cut into 12 chunks
3 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 ounces (1 cup) bittersweet chocolate chunks or chips
6 ounces (1 cup) dried tart cherries
1 1/3 cups chopped toasted pecans
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats.
Drop by level tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until the cookies look drier and set–the centers won’t be firm at all, but shouldn’t be too squishy. Cool completely on the baking sheets. Store in airtight containers in single layers separated by waxed paper or parchment.
Little known fact about me: I taste words. Meaning, when I hear or read or speak a word, even non-food words, I can experience a taste with most of them, and usually feel the taste on my tongue. Most of these pairings aren’t logical (some examples: “clock”= peanuts, “quality”= oatmeal, “present”= Twizzlers), but the taste and word pairings go back for as long as I can remember. I heard this really interesting NPR interview with a guy who saw colors while eating–different flavors made him see certain colors, and it made perfect sense to me, what with my wacked-out tasting of words thing and all. Turns out these sort of sensory crossovers have a name: synesthesia. Huh! Who knew? Just add that to the list of Certifiable Things About Me.
What? Oh! Yes, my point. I made a batch of ice cream, and upon tasting, realized that it tasted a lot like what “green” tastes like to me. And in other news which makes me feel a little more normal, it was made from something that was actually green. Whew.
Even if this mention of synesthesia has you totally stumped and kind of afraid of me now, I think you’d agree that David Lebovitz’s recipe for Fresh Mint Ice Cream churns out a frozen dessert that is everything “green” should taste like. It’s invigorating, refreshing, herbal. Makes you breathe a little deeper as you’re eating it. If there was an Official Ice Cream of Spas, it would taste like this one.
It all starts with a pile (and I do mean a pile–two tightly packed cups’ worth) of fresh mint leaves. I had a charming, sizable mint plant sitting on my windowsill which inspired me to make this recipe in the first place, but after plucking it clean of its leaves, I still had to supplement the bounty with a bunch from the produce market. Steep the leaves in a pot of warm sweetened cream and milk, whisk it into a custard with some fresh eggs, and then swirl it into more cream, all the while willing yourself not to lap up the fragrant elixir straight out of the bowl.
But if you stick to your guns and the lush, minty batter actually makes it into the ice cream maker for churning, you can spin some melted bittersweet chocolate into the mix. Although I guess you’ll have to keep yourself from lapping that up too while you drizzle it in. Oh, and then–and then!– there’s the issue of having to the scrape the soft-set ice cream into another vessel for freezing. Call in Lick Prevention, people. We’ve got a situation over here.
After steeping the leaves in the warm cream, you may want to give the mixture a quick blitz with a stick blender or similar–I find this intensifies the mint flavor and bumps up the green color just a bit. Give the puree an extra run through the sieve to trap excess leafy bits, but don’t obsess about getting all the specks of leaf out of the ice cream–a few scattered throughout add character, like vanilla bean flecks.
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
Pinch of salt
2 cups lightly packed fresh mint leaves (no stems)
5 large egg yolks
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (bar chocolate, not chips), finely chopped
In a small saucepan, warm the milk, sugar, 1 cup of the cream and the salt over medium heat–do not let it boil. Remove the pan from the heat. Plunge the mint leaves into warm cream mixture and let it steep for at least one hour at room temperature.
Taste the resulting mint-infused cream–if the mint flavor and green color isn’t as intense as you’d like, puree the mixture with a stick blender or in a standing blender for a brief moment. Strain with a fine-mesh sieve into a medium saucepan and rinse any leafy bits from the sieve. Pour the remaining 1 cup of cream into a large bowl (aluminum will be best for speed-chilling the ice cream batter) and set the sieve on top.
Rewarm the mint cream in the saucepan. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl. When the cream is warm to the touch, whisk it slowly into the yolks, then scrape the yolk and cream mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often and scraping the bottom and sides of pan until the custard thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Pour the custard through the sieve into the large bowl and stir it into the cream. Chill over an ice bath, stirring constantly, about 10-15 minutes.
Begin freezing the ice cream in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Melt the chocolate in the microwave in a glass measuring cup on 50% power in 45 second bursts, stirring well after each interval, until very warm and fluid. During the last moments of churning, drizzle the melted bittersweet chocolate into the ice cream, taking care to avoid the spinning dasher. Scrape the soft-set ice cream into an airtight container, giving it an extra folding to make sure the stracciatella is mixed evenly into the ice cream. Freeze until firm.
WARNING: If, like me, you are prone to becoming obsessed with a certain food and wanting to eat nothing but that food for many days on end, then this recipe is probably a very, very bad idea for you. Because really, it has been quite a while since I’ve come across something so addictive. It will dominate your thoughts and appetite until the only evidence of it having existed at all is a smattering of crumbs. And there you’ll stand, alone at the counter twinged with sadness, wondering where it all went and kind of not remembering that you are the one who ate it all. I give you Cookie Brittle.
Oh, you heard me right. It’s cookie. It’s brittle. It’s crunchy and sweet and a little bit salty with bits of chocolate and toasty nuts. It’s basically an entire pan of the crisp, brown-buttery, sugary edges of the very best chocolate chip cookie, aka The Best Part. I like cutting to the chase. I don’t have a lotta time to spare these days. And I certainly don’t have time to deal with Oprah-esque, Big Life Questions, like, was I really, truly living before I ate cookie brittle? I can’t be sure.
This recipe comes from a really charming cookbook called The American Country Inn Bed and Breakfast Cookbook, a collection of recipes from little B&Bs all across the country, organized by state. It’s actually a really fun read, with descriptions of each place followed by a few of the inns’ favorite recipes, and you really get an idea of the spirit of each place by the kinds of foods they offer to their guests. In the case of Cookie Brittle, our enabler/dealer is a someone named Kris associated with the Wine and Roses Country Inn in Lodi, California. And I am grateful to him/her for offering this recipe (even though the original calls for margarine). Because now I don’t have to travel all the way to Lodi to enjoy this cookie brittle–I can just make a batch of my own and eat the whole thing in the comfort of my dark closet right here at home.
You will be thrilled to learn that this gem of recipe comes together in minutes in a single bowl with a wooden spoon. Nudge it onto a sheet pan, bang it into the oven for a short bake and chain yourself to a large piece of furniture while you wait for it to cool completely (the magic is in the cooling so the brittle crisps evenly). It’s the perfect cookie recipe for lazy bakers. Broken up into cronch-y, no-napkin-required hunks and kept in a container on the counter, conditions are perfect for you to have absolutely no self-control while walking through your kitchen. I repeat, trying this recipe is a really bad idea.
Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle
Adapted from The American Country Inn Bed and Breakfast Cookbook, Vol. 2
Try a variety of chip and nut combinations in the mix–I love bittersweet chocolate chips and cashews, but I’m thinking throwing a few butterscotch chips or shredded coconut into the mix would also be fabulous.
1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsalted roasted cashews
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (60% cacao–I like Ghiradelli)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and set a rack to the center position. Pour the melted butter into a large bowl, and stir in the vanilla. With a wooden spoon (or your hands, if your prefer), add the sugar, salt and flour and mix to combine–the mixture will be somewhat crumbly, like a moist pie dough. Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips. Press the mixture in a thin, even layer onto an ungreased cookie sheet (use the chocolate chips as your guide–try to get them in as close to a single layer as possible throughout the dough, and you’ll have the right thickness). You may not fill the entire sheet with the dough–that’s okay.
Bake for 23-25 minutes, until light golden brown (the edges will be a bit darker than the center). Let cool completely before breaking into whatever sized pieces you desire. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
Back when I was young and unafraid, I had the experience of a lifetime studying in Europe for a summer during college. It was the ultimate summer school–noisy pubs and boy chasing in England, sunbathing and karaoke at a dive bar with the Manchester United soccer (football, whatever) team in attendance in Malta (where did I put that photo of David Beckham and me, anyway?), lots of great chocolate in Germany and Austria. That sort of thing. And I think there may have been some schoolwork in there somewhere. Amazing what you can accomplish with a two-month-long hangover while a college student, really. Comes in second only to what a crazed mother of a 10-month-old can create when thinking of the days she was footloose and fancy-free. Like, say, working out a recipe for Nutella cupcakes.
The constant in my European summer, along with Boddingtons, was Nutella. It sustained Erin (she of Scotch-a-Roo lore) and I through the London portion of our trip, along with bread and Coke Light and a smartly-packed jar (her brillance, not mine) of American peanut butter. And to the delight of shoestring-budget college students like us, it seemed that you could find Nutella just about anywhere on the continent for dirt cheap. The hazelnut-chocolate combination is all over Europe in various forms, and is celebrated deliciously in the adorable Mozart Kuglen that I devoured by the dozen in Austria, making a huge dent in what was supposed to be a haul back to the states to gift to my family, who literally never really knew what they were missing.
The Supermodel Cupcake look doesn’t give away how simple, simple, simple this recipe is. The most difficult thing about it is toasting and peeling hazelnuts for garnish, which, if pressed for time, you could forgo altogether. But even that is pretty simple–just throw the hazelnuts into a baking pan and into a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes or until toasty and fragrant, then let them cool completely before wrapping them in a little bunch in a dish towel and rubbing them in your hands like a bag of marbles–the peels will flake right off. Do a bunch at once and freeze the rest and you too can have peeled hazelnuts at a moment’s notice. The American dream, right?
To arrive at this gorgeous and delicious specimen of a cupcake, I had to really rework the aforementioned chocolate syrup cake recipe (chocolate syrup is fat free, Nutella is pretty much just sugar and fat), and I baked up a couple test batches before declaring number three the winner. The cakes are moist and somewhat dense, almost chewy, and come out of the oven with perfectly flat tops, which beg for a slick of ganache and end up having that gorgeous, streamlined European bake shop vibe.
Even better, these elegant lookers are perfect dinner party make-aheads–they taste so much better with a more pronounced hazelnut flavor the next day. I can’t recommend them enough, people. Have a glass of milk or a nice strong cup of coffee nearby, close your eyes, and pretend you’re at a little scrolly wrought iron table someplatz special.
Nutella Cupcakes with Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache
The ganache in this recipe is my go-to ganache–it firms up nicely with a slight chew and a satiny sheen. The recipe also works with dark, semi-sweet or milk chocolates. After the ganache sets up, I highly recommend storing the cupcakes in an airtight container overnight before serving them–the flavors are so much better the day after they’re baked.
For the cupcakes:
1/2 cup self-rising flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup sugar
8 ounces Nutella
2 tablespoons whole milk
For the ganache:
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (60% cacao–I like Ghiradelli)
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
Whisk together the flour and salt and set aside.
With an electric mixer in a medium bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and beat until well-blended. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy and pale in color. Beat in the Nutella until well-incorporated, stopping to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl while beating. Add the eggs and beat until smooth. On low speed, beat in half the flour mixture just until it beings to disappear into the batter. Beat in the milk. Fold in the remainder of the flour mixture by hand until the batter is smooth.
Pour the batter into the muffin cups, filling them no more than 1/2 full. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs–if in doubt, pull them from the oven a bit early–do not over bake. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, prepare the ganache. Place the chocolate chips, butter and corn syrup in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 30 second intervals, stopping to stir after each interval, until the mixture is shiny and smooth. Stir in the vanilla.
When the cupcakes are completely cool, using a spoon, top each one with about two teaspoons of the ganache, and with the back of the spoon coax it as close to the edges as possible without letting it drip down the sides (or go on and let it drip…drippy chocolate is rarely a bad thing). Sprinkle on a bit of the chopped hazelnuts. Let the ganache set before storing in an airtight container at room temperature overnight–these cupcakes truly taste better the next day. But if you want to defy me and serve the cupcakes immediately, refrigerate them for about five minutes and the ganache will quickly set.
Shirley’s Magnificent Moist Golden Cake has ended my search for the absolutely perfect yellow cake–sweet, tender and toothsome with a tight, velvety crumb, perfect for layer cakes and cupcakes alike. It’s a true food scientist’s cake recipe, so it took a few tries to wrap my brain around the recipe, but man, is it worth the details. Even though every time I’ve made this recipe, I’ve had to pull the pans from the oven in a panic a minute after putting them in because, really, it’s just not natural to “drop the pans from a height of four inches onto the countertop to knock out the air bubbles” before putting them into the oven (P.S.–if you forget to do this altogether, your cake will still be delicious, though pockmarked with air bubbles, so it’s more of a problem to neglect to do this with layer cakes, and a smaller problem with cupcakes). And the relatively small amount of butter in the recipe being offset by the folding in of whipped cream? I’m listening, Shirley.
My first attempt with this cake was a small 6-inch layer cake that had the husband and I closing our eyes and having a moment of silence upon the first tasting. Nom, nom, nom. It was really something.
The second time I used this recipe was to create cupcakes for a crowd of Southerners at a belated wedding reception and not-a-one purty little cake remained on the platter. And those people know cake.
And since I am a freakin’ American, I believe yellow cake belongs with a milk chocolate frosting. The end. So I tweaked Shirley’s Luscious Chocolate Icing a bit for my tastes, and really, truly, you will never find a more beautiful (and simple!) chocolate frosting. The chocolate is the true star here, there is no butter or confectioners’ sugar involved, and it doesn’t crust or run or do anything but just sit like a gorgeous chocolate pillow atop anything you put it on. I’ve spread it and piped it and swirled it on with a spoon and fallen in love all over again every time. I’ve found that as long as you use the right total weight of chocolate, the chocolates can be interchanged to give you exactly the right balance of bitterness and sweetness that you are looking for. So while I use mostly milk chocolate to pair it with a yellow cake, I might do a higher ratio of semi-sweet or bittersweet to milk chocolate for a deep chocolate cake or somesuch. Love.
Shirley Corriher’s Magnificent Moist Golden Cake
The original recipe calls for a single standard 9-inch cake pan for this recipe, with the intention of slicing the one thick layer into two or three layers. But I’d use a springform pan for the higher side for that purpose, or just use two standard pans and adjust the baking time. Quarter the recipe for a 6-inch two layer cake. The rise on this cake can be pretty amazing, so be conservative with how full you fill your cake pans and/or cupcake liners–I stick to just about 2/3 full in both cases. Unless, you know, you like scraping molten cake batter off the floor of your oven. Don’t ask me how I know this.
Makes 2-3 9-inch cake layers or two dozen cupcakes
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/3 cup buttermilk, divided
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups cake flour, spooned and leveled
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch springform pan or two (or three) 9-inch cake pans with cooking spray and dust them with flour, or line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners for cupcakes.
In a large measuring cup or similar vessel, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, 3 tablespoons of the buttermilk and vanilla.
Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of your standing mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat in the butter, oil, and remaining buttermilk on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened, then crank it up to medium speed and beat for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Add one third of the egg mixture, and beat for about 20 seconds, and scrape the bowl again. Repeat two more times until all the egg mixture is incorporated and the batter is smooth.
In a cold bowl with cold beaters, whip the cream to just beyond soft peaks. Stir a quarter of the whipped cream into the batter to lighten it, then carefully fold in the remaining cream.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans (about 2/3 full for cupcakes). Drop the pans onto the counter from a height of about 4 inches to knock out air bubbles. Bake until the center of the cake springs back when touched and a toothpick comes out clean but moist–about 40 minutes for one thick layer, 25-30 minutes for individual layers, and 17-20 minutes for cupcakes (checking progress early and often). Do not overbake. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
Shirley Corriher’s Luscious, Creamy Chocolate Icing
I adjust the proportions of milk and semi-sweet chocolates depending on the sweetness I’m after, and suspect dark and bittersweet chocolates added to the mix would work too. Chips or chopped bar chocolate work equally as well in this recipe.
Makes enough icing to frost and fill 1 9-inch 3-layer cake or 2 dozen cupcakes
12 ounces milk chocolate, chips or chopped
9 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chips or chopped
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups sour cream
Place the chocolate in a microwave-safe vessel and microwave on 50% power for 30 second intervals, stopping to stir after every interval, until smooth.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, salt, vanilla and corn syrup. Stir in the sour cream until nearly smooth. Add the melted chocolate. Beat on low speed until very smooth–it will get stiffer as you go, so beat just until it’s a nice spreading consistency and don’t overbeat. Use generously.
I’ve begun to dabble in the idea of baking more for other people, like maybe, possibly for profit. So I’ve been doing quite a bit of volunteering to be the dessert bringer for various parties and get-togethers as a way to perfect recipes and get feedback. Plus it gives me excuses to patronize dreamy places like Cooks Boulevard and the baker’s paradise that is Spun Sugar to pick up little baubles and piping bag tips and other things that make me dorkily, maniacally joyful. Is there a support group out there for people who clap their hands and bounce on their heels when presented with a shelf full of glistening sanding sugar in every imaginable hue?
A few weeks ago, a great opportunity to pass on some baking love arose. See, my darling husband, whose sweet tooth rivals (read: enables) mine, will eat and at least pretend to love anything I bake. So he likes to ask me to make stuff that he can bring into work and sort of “show me off”, kind of the married guy’s version of posting a hot picture of his girlfriend in his office. In this case, the stand-in for me posing in a short dress and suntan was a riff on Martha Stewart’s One-Bowl Chocolate Cake and a simple vanilla bean buttercream to make some girly cupcakes for an office baby shower.
You know that lovely smell of a freshly baked and American buttercream-frosted cake, all sweet cream butter and sugar, that explodes from whatever vessel in which you are storing said cake in as soon as it’s opened? Well, that kind of gorgeous scent was driving me bonkers, wafting through my car all the way downtown when I went to drop off these beauties. The kind of heady, sweet smell that has got to be caloric. And for that experience alone I highly endorse this combination.
One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes
Adapted from Martha Stewart
I get about 18 cupcakes out of this recipe, but you can stretch it to a full 2 dozen if need be. It also makes two great 9-inch cake layers. Using brewed coffee instead of just water makes the chocolate taste more…chocolatey.
Makes 18-24 cupcakes
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I love Ghiradelli or Valhrona)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup strong brewed coffee
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Spray the top of the muffin tin with cooking spray for extra non-stick insurance, as these cupcakes can have a serious rise and often puff over the edges of the tin’s wells.
Sift together the cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Add the eggs, coffee, buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Beat until smooth with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl to assure batter is well-mixed.
Divide batter evenly among muffin cups (an ice cream scoop works well here), filling each cup no more than 2/3 full. Bake until tops spring back when touched, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely before frosting.
Vanilla Bean Buttercream
Adapted from Amy Berman of Vanilla Bake Shop
I nabbed the idea of letting the salt dissolve in the liquid for American buttercreams from the fantastic Shirley Corriher, and will never go back to just adding it straight to frostings. I like a nice dose of salt in my icings, and this trick allows you to add a touch more without risking having a random crunchy salt grain in the mix. Love.
Makes enough to moderately frost 2 dozen cupcakes
1/4 cup milk
Scant 1/8 teaspoon of salt (one generous pinch)
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces
3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 vanilla bean, scraped
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Add the salt to the milk in a measuring cup and set aside to let the salt dissolve. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the butter until soft and creamy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, beating until smooth. Add the vanilla seeds and vanilla extract, beating to incorporate. Beat in the milk last, adding a bit more milk if necessary to reach the desired consistency.
Use immediately or store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to a week. Bring the buttercream to room temperature and rewhip before using.
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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