Dark Chocolate Cupcakes w/ White Chocolate Cream Filling & Carnival Frosting

It has been a long time since I’ve baked anything in my own kitchen.  I’ve been spending every livingwakingbreathingpossible moment either at work (hostessing for a simply fantastic restaurant) or tucked away in my work’s kitchen helping out and learning from the chefs there.  I love every minute, but that doesn’t mean I’m not desperately enjoying my day off.  There is something very wonderful about being in my own kitchen again, using the same wooden spoon I was licking brownie batter off of when I was five, and knowing exactly where every bowl is.  There is also something wonderful about returning to the kitchen I grew up in with a new confidence and mastery of the culinary arts.

Somewhere in-between the hot-press and stress-rush of the professional kitchen, I lost the doubt, hesitation, and waffling that always surrounded my baking endeavors.  Do I use this recipe or this one?  Two to five hours of deliberation.  Should I add that extra egg yolk in?  One hour of intense consideration.  Is it ready to take out of the oven?  Several minutes of gut-wrenching indecision.  Now I can create a multi-part dessert in 3 hours; that time including prepping, baking, cooling, presenting, and the initial ten minutes of excited imagining.  I can even create frostings sans recipe, with just a few moments of rifling through my fridge.

I had recently made a milk-chocolate panna cotta at work and I wanted to make another.  The original idea was for a dark chocolate panna cotta topped with a white chocolate one and filled with a raspberry or strawberry syrup.  That idea turned into dark-chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate panna cotta filling and bacon-fat icing.  I really need to find a more attractive name for that last bit.

First, the panna cotta middle.  This recipe produces a smooth and deliciously rich panna cotta with a heavy milky taste.  It’s not too gelatinous and pudding-y, it’s more of a creamy and dense feel with a slight goey-ness.  The white chocolate gives it that sweet-cream taste and the vanilla beans come through for an added layering of flavor, giving this dessert a more sophisticated and complex taste.  If you like white chocolate, you will love this.  If you don’t like white chocolate, chances are you’ll still like it.  It’s great just plain in ramekins, topped with tart berry syrup, or accompanied by dark chocolate ice cream.

Second, the dark-chocolate body of the cupcake.  I love this recipe.  I love dark chocolate, I love fudgy dessert, I love little hot molten cakes, and I love this recipe.  It doesn’t produce a liquid-center chocolate cake (which is good because of how I used it), rather a dense, rich cake with a soft and gooey-center.  This is less of a cake kind of cake and more of an almost-brownie.  These little chocolate delights have a little bit of a rise, just enough for a plump and rounded top (which remains delightfully crispy) but not enough to overflow in leavened abundance.  The texture is dense and thick, with a deep flavor that’s all chocolate and bittersweet.  These are absolutely fabulous on their own with a little vanilla ice-cream.

Third, the unusual and really quite good, bacon-fat vanilla icing.  This is something I saw in the fridge, said hey, a little bacon fat never hurt, and went for it.  No recipe, no research, nada.  Just winged it.  It’s a little salty, a little sweet, and completely addictive.  The bacon fat gives it a little extra something that’s hard to identify (if you don’t happen to eat a lot of bacon fat) and very unique.  A good friend of mine said it tasted something like funnel cake or the kind of fried, sugary treats you find at a carnival (which is why I’m calling it “carnival” frosting).  It requires a very delicate balance between the individual elements; too much bacon-fat and it’s too greasy tasting, too little salt and the bacon-fat won’t come through, etc.  I recommend tweaking it to your personal taste but being bold enough to give it a try.

SOFT-CENTER DARK-CHOCOLATE CAKE

Yields 12 regular-sized cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 9 oz. bittersweet chocolate
  • 12 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 4 large yolks (at room temperature)
  • 2 large eggs (at room temperature)
  • 7 tbsp of sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)
  • 1 pinch salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400°F and line a standard-sized cupcake pan with appropriate sized cupcake liners.  You can also do larger or smaller cupcakes, but it’ll affect estimated yield and baking time.
  2. Cut your butter into roughly 1” pieces and chop your chocolate.  You can set aside 2 oz. of your chocolate and place the rest into a small saucepan with your butter or you can just melt it all.  Melt the chocolate slowly over a low flame, checking frequently and stirring slightly less frequently.
  3. Meanwhile, in a medium-large bowl, combine your eggs and egg yolks, whisk until homogenous.  Mix in your sugar, then sift in your flour, cocoa powder, and salt.  Mix until just incorporated.
  4. Once your chocolate has melted, let it cool until it’s about body temperature (so that you can’t feel it as hot or cold when you stick your finger in it) and pour over the rest of your batter slowly and stir until completely mixed.  Fold in the remaining chopped chocolate if you chose to set some aside.
  5. Pour your batter into the prepared cupcake tins (I scoop it with an ice-cream scooper to help keep the amount of batter even) and bake for 12-14 minutes, until top cracks and a toothpick comes out fairly cleanly.
  6. Once they’re baked, carefully take them out of the cupcake pan; try not to let them separate from the cupcake liner.  Let them cool on a wire rack.

WHITE-CHOCOLATE PANNA COTTA

Yields 3-4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tbsp white sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean pod
  • 4 oz white chocolate
  • 1 tsp (0.125 oz)
 gelatin
  • 1 tsp water

Directions:

  1. Pour your heavy cream, vanilla, and sugar into a small saucepan.  Split your vanilla pod and scrape the beans into the cream; toss the leftover pod in, as well.  Heat this over a low to medium flame, stirring occasionally, until your mixture begins to simmer.
  2. While that’s heating, chop your white chocolate (unless you’re using small chocolate chips) and pour into a medium-sized heatproof bowl.
  3. Mix your gelatin with your water in a small cup (I did it in a 1/8 cup measurer).  Stir with a toothpick; it’ll be solid and grainy.
  4. Once your cream mixture has simmered, remove the vanilla pod, and pour the cream over your white chocolate.  Let stand 1-2 minutes till melted, add in the gelatin, then stir slowly until all incorporated.
  5. If you’re using it as a filling, pour your panna cotta through a sieve into the prepared cupcakes and refrigerate for 3 hours.  If you’re just making straight-up panna cotta, pour it through a sieve into individual ramekins and refrigerate for at least 3 hours to set.

Tips:

Don’t let your cream scald or it’ll get a burnt-cream flavor.  Remember to stir it occasionally to disperse any skin that forms over the top of the cream.  If one forms, don’t fret, it’ll be strained out later when you pour the panna cotta through a sieve.

Always strain your panna cotta before pouring it into ramekins (or wherever it’ll end up when you serve it) to get out any larger solids and make sure your panna cotta has a smooth, even texture.  It’s also a good idea to strain ice cream bases and anything else where eggs or dairy is heated.

When you’re melting chocolate by pouring hot cream (or milk, etc.) over it (ie. when making a ganache), pour the hot liquid over it and let it stand for a few minutes to melt.  Then, using a whisk or a spoon, start at the center and make small, calm, circular stirs that slowly, steadily spiral out to the edges of the bowl.  Your chocolate should be melted by the time you get to the edges of your bowl.  Try not to incorporate too much air as you go.

CARNIVAL FROSTING

Yields enough to frost 6 cupcakes excessively or 12 cupcakes moderately

Ingredients:

  • 16 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 10 tbsp solid bacon lard
  • 2 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 4 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp finely chopped crispy bacon-fat bits (optional)

Directions:

  1. In a medium-large mixing bowl, cream together your butter and bacon lard on a high speed until fluffy.  Beat in your vanilla until fully incorporated.
  2. Slowly add in your powdered sugar and salt until frosting reaches desired consistency and taste.  I suggest tasting after each addition and adding more if needed.
  3. If you’re adding in bacon-fat bits, then mix them in at the end at a low speed until evenly incorporated.

Tips:

To obtain bacon grease, simply drain off and save the liquid grease every time you fry up some bacon for breakfast.  Keep it refrigerated and soon you’ll have enough (depending on how much bacon you and your household go through).  I get mine from the restaurant I work at, so I have pretty much an unlimited supply.  The bacon fat I get is also not salty, so make sure to adjust the amount of salt you add to your frosting if yours is.

The key to this frosting is balancing the bacon fat and the salt.  Too much salt will turn your frosting into sea-water but too little and it’ll taste greasy.  The goal is to make a salty-sweet frosting with a hint of something extra.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

  1. Make your cupcakes first and when they’ve cooled a bit, cut out little holes in them for the filling.  My holes were big enough for about 2-3 tbsp of filling. I used a small knife to saw out a hole in the top, leaving about a 1.5 cm rim, then carefully dug out cupcake to deepen it.  Don’t dig too deep though; if you go through the bottom of your cupcake, your filling will drain out.  Try to leave at least 1 cm padding at the bottom.
  2. Stick the hollowed cupcakes in the freezer and let them hang out for 30 min-1 hr.
  3. Meanwhile, make the panna cotta.
  4. Once the panna cotta is done, pour some out into a room-temperature (or slightly warmed) cup and pour into your cupcakes (still in the freezer) until each is filled. Leave the panna cotta somewhere warm (I let it sit on the top of my stove while the oven’s on to keep it nice and toasty)
  5. After about 5-10 minutes, you’ll want to check your filled cupcakes.  The filling’s probably soaked into the cupcake a little, possibly leaked out a little, so you may need to top them off again with more panna cotta.  Then, if you have any left, you can pour it off into little ramekins and voila, two desserts for the price of one.
  6. Once your panna cotta has set (it’ll be firmer to the touch and won’t stick to your fingertip), make your frosting.
  7. When your frosting is done and ready to go, take the cupcakes out and frost them as you please using a piping bag, a spatula, or any other method you so desire (I opted for spatula and massive frosting overload).
  8. Lick the frosting bowl clean, stick the cupcakes back in the fridge after decorating them (chocolate sprinkles, fleur de sel, bacon bits, etc.) or serve them right away if you absolutely cannot wait to eat them.  Mine did not quite make it to the fridge; the crumbs might have though.

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Chocolate Pots de Crème (Cayenne-Chocolate)

I have found my new obsession.  Perfect, creamy, fun, little pots de crème.  They’re adorable, sophisticated, and utterly divine.  I eat them tiny spoon-scrape by tiny spoon-scrape because I absolutely don’t want the taste to end.  These chocolate delights are unbelievably decadent and rich.  The texture is the perfect blend of smooth yet solid, something dense but something that will melt like satin on your tongue.  This is the kind of dessert that turns heads, the kind that will leave your friends dumbfounded and wanting more.  The best part is that it’s so versatile.  This recipe can be added onto, tweaked, and modified almost endlessly.  That’s why it never gets old and always stays fun.

I’ve included the recipe for my absolute favorite version: cayenne-chocolate pots de crème.  It’s got a sweet spice that pricks the tongue gently before rolling into a slow, sensuous warmth.  The combination of cayenne and cinnamon is classic, but combined with the silky richness of the chocolate, it creates a unique and irresistible taste.  Eating these little pots de crème is truly an experience.

CAYENNE-CHOCOLATE POTS DE CRÈME:

Ingredients:

  • 1.3 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 oz. sweetened chocolate
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 3 tbsp powdered sugar
  • 2 sprinkles cinnamon
  • 1-2 dashes of cayenne
  • 1 pinches of salt
  • 2/3 c heavy cream
  • 1/6 c half n half
  • 2 tsp bourbon

Directions:

  1. Finely chop (or grate) your chocolate into a medium-sized, heatproof bowl.  Set a sieve or a strainer over the top (make sure it’s not too fine, otherwise your creme anglaise may not pass through easily)
  2. Whisk your egg yolks and powdered sugar together in a small saucepan. Then, whisk in your heavy cream, half ‘n half, cinnamon, cayenne, and salt (it’s a good idea to taste the mix now, to see if it has enough cinnamon/cayenne.  Remember that the point of this is the spicy kick of cayenne; the cinnamon is only there for additional warmth and a subtle touch of aromatic spice).
  3. Heat  this mix (your crème anglaise) over medium-low flame until thickened (8-12 minutes), stirring constantly (really, constantly.  Get lazy and you end up with lumpy bits of cooked egg not a smooth crème anglaise).
  4. Pour immediately through strainer onto your chocolate and let stand for 3-5 minutes.
  5. Whisk together mixture, adding in your bourbon as you go.  You should also taste your mixture again and add more cayenne, if needed; the rich chocolate taste may cut out some of the cayenne’s punch.
  6. Pour into ramekins and let stand to cool.  Then cover and store in refrigerator for at least 2-4 hours.

Tips:

Stir, stir, stir, stir, stir your crème anglais.  Heat it slowly, building up the consistancy, and keep it lively (treat it like a good romance).  You want every part of your crème anglaise in equal movement at all times (just don’t get splashy and rambunctious).

Add in a splash of alcohol (rum is always a good, complimentary option) to help keep your chocolate pots de crème nice and smooth.  Just don’t add too much or you’ll cut out the chocolate flavor.

If you’re one of those rare people who don’t taste cayenne as spicy (like me), it’s best to have a guinea pig standing by to taste your creation as you go and make sure it’s edible for everyone (unlike my first batch).

*Other variations I like are espresso+vanilla (mix up about 1 tsp strong espresso and 2 tsp vanilla, add in after the chocolate has melted), ginger+anise (mince some fresh ginger and toss it in your crème anglaise with 3/4 tsp anise seeds; you can add in some powdered ginger, too, once your chocolate has melted), and orange liqueur (grate some orange zest and add into your crème anglaise; stir in some vermouth or orange liqueur once your chocolate has melted)

Oreo Cheesecake Cookies

There were more, but they were devoured by the time I got my camera out

You really don’t have to read further than the name to be hooked.  I found these cookies on one of my new favorite blogs, BrownEyedBaker, and they were fantastic. I did make some alterations;  I chose to go for crushed chocolate graham crackers instead of crushed Oreos and I’m happy I did because these had a creamy and milky enough taste without the added Oreo filling.  Plus, it’s healthier and, while I’m not a health-nut when it comes to dessert, if the healthier option tastes just as good (if not better), then why not go for it?

These cookies are incredibly easy and simple, but they have that little extra something that makes them interesting and special.  They taste exactly like an Oreo cookie, chocolatey but also milky.  In fact, I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies a few days later and discovered the Oreo cheesecake cookies taste exactly like a fresh chocolate chip cookie dipped in milk.

These cookies are crispy on the outside and chewy-soft on the inside.  The cream cheese really does a fantastic job of keeping these babies moist and soft even after spending a couple days out and uncovered.  Plus it gives the cookies their unique and intriguing creaminess.  This is one of my new favorite recipes and perfect for summer gatherings.  It’s certain to impress and leave nothing but cookie crumbs on the plate.

OREO CHEESECAKE COOKIES:

Yields 1 dozen cookies (you’ll want the whole batch!)

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 4 oz. cream cheese (at room temperature)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (chopped to chocolate-chip sized pieces)
  • 1/2 cup (aprox.) crushed chocolate graham cracker crumbs

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 375°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat liner.
  2. Cream together your butter and your cream cheese in a medium until smooth and well-combined.
  3. Add in your sugar and vanilla, mixing until they’re well-combined.
  4. Add in your flour and mix on low until it’s just incorporated.
  5. Use a plastic or wooden spoon to stir in your chopped chocolate.
  6. Pour your chocolate graham cracker crumbs onto a plate and, using an ice-cream scoop to scoop up your cookie dough, roll your cookie dough banks in the crushed graham crackers until thoroughly coated.  Place on the baking sheet 1-2 inches apart (they spread out a bit, but not too much).
  7. Bake for 10 – 13 minutes, until the edges are golden (it is a little hard to tell when these are done, but you want them still a little soft when you take them out so that they’re not too crunchy when they cool).
  8. Let them cool for a minute or two on the cookie sheet before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.
Tips:
Because the cookies get rolled in crushed chocolate graham cracker crumbs, it can be a little challenging to see when they’re done.  It took me a couple batches to figure out how long to bake them since it’s tough to see the edges turn golden.  I’ve decided that at 10 minutes, they’re coming out, even if they look a little soft (they’ll firm up and bake a little more on the sheet).

Raspberry-Swirl Cheesecake vs. Caramel Macchiato Cheesecake

It has been way too long since I’ve made cheesecake.  It’s probably my third favorite dessert (second being brownies, and first being whatever I haven’t tried on the menu yet).  After doing a brief search through my saved recipes and through some of my favorite sites for new recipes, I quickly narrowed it down to some ten candidates.  My head was whirling in cheesecake-baking excitement.  I gave word of my upcoming cheesecake expedition to my mother, who promptly replied “keep it to one pan”.  I was crushed; ten cheesecakes would not fit into one pan.  But, two could.  So, I chose raspberry and caramel-macchiato to be pan-mates (later, I discovered that they went rather well together, but that was a happy accident).

The raspberry cheesecake comes from the fabulous Ms. Stewart.  It is a tartly sweet, wonderfully summery dessert with a smooth and creamy texture.  The caramel macchiato cheesecake comes from AllRecipes and actually has a taste to match its title (I was surprised).  This cheesecake is a bit denser, with a rich texture and a smoky-sweet coffee flavor.  I topped it with a luxurious caramel sauce recipe from SavorySweetLife (I have included the recipe in this post)

RASPBERRY SWIRL CHEESECAKE:

(original yields one 9″ cake, but I halved this version)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cups + 5 tbs sugar
  • 4 oz raspberries
  • 16 oz (2 packages) cream cheese (room temperature)
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (I used Slovakian rum since we ran out of vanilla)
  • 2 large eggs (room temperature)

Directions: 

  1. Toss your raspberries into a food processor for about 30 seconds till they’re smoothly pureed. Strain the raspberry puree through fine sieve into a small bowl and throw out what remains in the sieve.  Whisk in 2 tbs of your sugar.
  2. Into a medium sized bowl, beat your cream cheese until fluffy.  Reduce speed to low and add in your remaining 1/2 cup + 3 tbs sugar slowly and steadily.
  3. Mix in your salt and vanilla (or rum) and, when they’ve combined, mix in your eggs, one by one (careful no to over mix, only stir until just combined).
  4. Your batter is ready to be poured into your crust (directions for creating and baking a half-and-half cheesecake are listed after the Caramel Macchiato recipe)
  5. After pouring in the batter, drop tablespoons of the raspberry puree on top and swirl with a toothpick

CARAMEL MACCHIATO CHEESECAKE:

(original yields one 9″ cake, but I halved this version)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese (room temperature)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 eggs
  • 4 oz sour cream
  • 1/8 cup brewed espresso (strong coffee will work, too)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (I used rum in this one, as well)

Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, beat your cream cheese until fluffy. Slowly add in your sugar and keep beating until well-blended.
  2. Mix in your eggs, one by one, and beat well after each one. Then, mix in your sour cream, espresso, and vanilla/rum.
  3. Your second batter is ready to be poured into your crust
  4. Before you serve your cheesecake, top it with caramel sauce (it is, after all, a caramel macchiato cheesecake)
Baking Your Half-and-Half Cheesecake:
  1. Bake/make your crust
  2. Preheat your oven to 325°F
  3. You’ll want to get a piece of sturdy paper material (I used a strip cut from a pastry box) that’s not too thick for your divider.  You can use something plastic, metal, etc. for it, just remember that whatever it is, it will be touching your cake so make sure it’s sanitary.
  4. Fit the divider into your pan (trim the divider if necessary) after you’ve baked your crust and secure it to make sure it stays put while you pour your batter (it’s easiest to have someone hold the divider while you pour).
  5. Carefully, steadily, pour the first batter into one half of the pan.  Then, do the same with the second batter.
  6. Pull the divider out and, voila, two cheesecakes in one pan.  Place the pan in the oven and bake for 50-65 minutes, until the cheesecake is set but still a little wobbly near the center.

CARAMEL SAUCE:

Yields 2 cups (and you’ll want all of it)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (heat for about 30 seconds in your microwave till lukewarm)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream (heat for about 30 seconds in your microwave till lukewarm)
  • 2 tbs rum (use actual rum, not vanilla)

Directions:

  1. In a small or medium saucepan, cook your sugar and water over medium-high heat.  Monitor your syrup carefully until it changes colors around the edges to an amber-brown (350°F on a candy thermometer)
  2. When your syrup changes color, remove it from the heat and stir the mixture quickly with a wooden spoon or whisk (this keeps the syrup from burning).
  3. Continue stirring and carefully pour in 1/2 cup of warmed heavy cream and your butter (I just warmed my butter with/in the cream to make it easier).  This will make your mixture froth and spit, but stir on until everything is dissolved.
  4. Once the sugar’s completely dissolved, add in your 1/4 cup of warmed heavy cream and your rum, stirring until your caramel sauce is smooth.
  5. Once it’s cooled just a little bit, pour the sauce carefully into a heat proof jar and let it cool.
  6. Before topping the caramel macchiato cheesecake, warm the caramel in the microwave until pourable but not too hot.

Review:

Starting first with Ms. Stewart’s raspberry-swirl cheesecake, this fantastic dessert was top-notch.  Ms. Stewart has yet to disappoint, and this tart little treat was absolutely wonderful.  It had the perfect, sweet creaminess of a fine cheesecake with the playful tartness of raspberries.  The base was smooth, creamy, and indulgent, without being overly dense or heavy.  The flavor from the raspberry top came through the whole cake to give it a sweet, fresh flavor.   The recipe is simple, easy, and yields a stunningly gorgeous cheesecake just right for a summer treat.

The caramel macchiato cheesecake was luxuriously delicious and held its own against the fabulous raspberry-swirl.  The deep, smoky flavor from the coffee really comes through in this dessert.  I was a bit surprised at how much it tasted like a real caramel macchiato; the blend of sweet cream and dark coffee hit the perfect note.  The body of the cake was rich, dense, and utterly luscious.  It had the classic thickness of a cheesecake, but without feeling heavy.  This recipe was also simple and painless with an incredible result.  The caramel drizzled on top was perfect and neatly brought together this fantastic coffee-flavored indulgence.

The caramel sauce was sinful, dark, richly-flavored, and delicious.  I don’t think I’ll be using any other recipe from now on.  The caramel was rich, thick, and smooth with a deep and intense flavor.  There is a complexity and depth to this caramel that is truly extraordinary.  I will be topping everything I can with this from now on.

*Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten what exact recipe I used for the crust.  It was one of these two and it was absolutely fantastic:

CRUST 1:

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/3 cup butter (melted)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
CRUST 2:
  • 1 1/2 cup crushed graham crackers
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons melted butter
Directions:
  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F
  2. Mix together all of your ingredients and press evenly into the bottom of a 9″ springform pan
  3. Bake your crust for 8 to 10 minutes.  Wait till cooled before pouring in batter.

My Favorite Brownies

Courtesy of Google images

I am a brownie hound.  The richer, thicker, and fudgier, the better.  I’m also a brownie purist and strongly believe that a brownie should never be cake-like; otherwise, it would be chocolate cake, and it is not.  I have been in constant search of the perfect brownie recipe ever since I graduated from boxed mixes (it’s funny how differently they taste now that I’ve had good, homemade ones) and nowhere did I find one that was as decadent, luscious, dense, and dark as I wanted.  After many, many transformations, I finally evolved an old recipe into something approaching the perfect brownie.

This recipe makes a thick, unbearably rich, and luxuriously fudgy brownie.  For the dark-chocolate lover and all my fellows who scoff at “cake-like” brownie recipes, this brownie is the one for you.

CLASSIC BROWNIES:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter
  • 6 ounces of unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Directions:
  1. Preheat your oven to 350° F. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
  2. In a small bowl, combine your flour and salt.
  3. In a small saucepan melt butter and chocolate, over low heat, stirring the mixture constantly (take your time with the melting, chocolate can be a tricky thing sometimes and you don’t want to burn it)
  4. When the chocolate and butter are melted, remove from heat, and stir in your sugar. Allow this to cool slightly (3 minutes, or until just slightly warm).
  5. Pour the chocolate mixture into a medium bowl and beat in your eggs one at a time, mixing well after each, then stir in the vanilla (don’t over-mix here, stir until just combined)
  6. Stir in your flour and salt.
  7. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.
  8. Bake in oven 20 to 25 minutes (I cheat here and under-bake.  I take them out when an inserted toothpick still has some brownie clinging to it).
  9. To make your brownies a little denser (and prevent over-cooking while in the pan), you can stick them in the fridge and lay a ziplock with ice in it over the top.

Tips:

This is sort of the ultimate brownie rule: never, ever over-mix your batter.  I would recommend hand mixing this entire thing with a wooden spoon (not an electric mixer).  The more you mix the batter, the fluffier the end product becomes.

When you’re looking to try a new brownie recipe, always look to see if it calls for chocolate or cocoa powder.  Cocoa powder yields a drier and more cake-like brownie.

Using unsweetened chocolate (if the recipe calls for semi-sweet or bittersweet) may make your brownie too dry and crumbly.  Sugar holds things together and keeps pastries moist.

Review:

This recipe is incredibly easy to make, consistently delicious, and simple.   It yields an intensely dark, rich fudge brownie (and it tastes amazing as batter, too).  This is a classic brownie and works as a great base with room for improvisation (like adding nuts, caramel, toffee bits, ginger, raspberries, espresso, etc.).  It uses the classic brownie “cheat”: under-baking, but who cares when it tastes so smooth and luscious?  The search for the perfect fudge brownie continues, but so far, I haven’t found anything to top this one.

Ginger Pear Poundcake w/ Salted Caramel Frosting

Courtesy of Google images

My parents hate poundcake.  Or, at least, they thought they did until they tried this cake.

I made this several weeks ago, after a bad knee sprain had me off my feet and out of the gym.  I was managing my frustration by cramming as much sugar and butter into my system as I possibly could, when I came across “pound cakes”.  I figured any cake that originated from a recipe calling for a pound of butter, a pound of eggs, and a pound of sugar couldn’t be anything short of bliss.  While this recipe calls for less than a cup of butter, it was everything I had imagined and more.

(the original recipe made cupcakes, I adapted it for a 9″ round cake and made a few minor adjustments)

GINGER PEAR POUNDCAKE (base):

Ingredients:

  • 3/4  cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 1 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs (room temperature)
  • 1 1/2 cup cake flour (I used all-purpose and it turned out wonderfully)
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp freshly grated ginger (if you like a stronger ginger taste)
  • 1 large ripe bartlett pear, chopped into 1/4 inch cubes

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350° F.
  2. In a medium-large bowl, cream butter and sugar together.
  3. One at a time, beat in your eggs.
  4. Alternate beating in flour and milk in 2-3 additions.
  5. Add your vanilla and your fresh ginger to the mix.
  6. Beat on medium-high to high speed for two minutes.
  7. Then, fold in your pears.
  8. Pour the batter into a 9″ cake pan (if not non-stick, make sure to grease prior to this step).
  9. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until the cake is a rich gold, the top is springy, and a toothpick comes out clean.
  10. Take the cake out of the oven and let it cool slightly before taking it out of the pan.  Let it cool completely on a baking rack before frosting.
  11. When the cake is completely cool, carefully cut it in half so that you can spread frosting in between the halves as filling.

Meanwhile, while your cake is cooling…

Courtesy of Google images

SALTED CARAMEL FROSTING:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 candied ginger (optional, I used some in the filling)

Directions:

  1. Pour your granulated sugar into a small saucepan and gently shake it to even out the sugar (uneven sugar will cook unevenly and burn).  Wait until the mixture begins to turn liquid and brown, do not stir.  If you so desire, turn off heat before all the sugar is completely dissolved so that some crunchy sugar chunks remain, or you can wait until everything is completely melted (just make sure not to burn it).  Now, you can stir.
  2. Remove the caramel from the heat and slowly add in your cream and vanilla, stirring with a wooden spoon until completely smooth (it will fizzle and spit and look very scary while you do this).
  3. Set aside until cool to the touch, about 25 minutes (or you can speed it up by sticking it in the fridge).
  4. Beat your butter and salt in a medium bowl at a medium-high speed until it becomes light in color and fluffy (about 3 minutes).
  5. Reduce the speed to low, add in your powdered sugar (you may not need all of it, remember you’ll be adding in caramel as well), and mix until completely incorporated and the mixture has the consistency/sweetness/saltiness you desire.
  6. Turn your mixer off and scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add in your caramel. Beat the frosting on medium-high speed until airy and thoroughly mixed (about 2 minutes).
  7. Cover and refrigerate until firm, but not too stiff (about 10-20 minutes) before frosting.
  8. Spread a little less than half the frosting in-between the two halves of your cake (you can sprinkle your chopped candied ginger inside the filling here), use the rest of the frosting to cover the top and sides of your cake.  The recipe makes just enough, so if you like more frosting/filling, make sure to increase the recipe.
  9. You can use more candied ginger as a garnish on top of the cake, or leave it plain, the frosting looks gorgeous on its own!

Review:

This cake was a total hit.  Everybody who tasted it had seconds (if not thirds, and, in my case, fourths).  Best of all, it was so easy to make.  The poundcake was incredibly moist and thick, without being soggy.  It was dense, like a typical poundcake, but not over-rich and it had a wonderful, smooth fullness to the texture.  The amount of sugar was absolutely perfect.  It gave the cake a soft quality and didn’t overwhelm the gentle, sweet flavor of the pear.  The ginger was essential; it gave a fantastically exotic and mesmerizing spice to the cake.  The salted caramel frosting was the perfect complement to the ginger and pear base.  This was what really got people hooked; everyone agreed the combination of rich, smoky sweetness with softly pricking saltiness was absolutely addictive.  Its raw intensity was happily balanced with the mellow spice of the cake base.  All in all, this was a beautifully done recipe with an exotic and wonderfully complex product.

French Toast Cupcakes w/ Maple Syrup Cream Cheese Frosting


This recipe comes from one of my favorite food blogs, The Cupcakery.  I have been making a lot of chocolate desserts lately (I’m huge on chocolate, the thicker, richer, and darker, the better) and I decided to try something new that contained absolutely no chocolate.  So, I found this cupcake recipe and it sounded absolutely divine. Plus, as I adore anything cream cheese, this frosting had me sold.

I followed the original recipe pretty closely, but I did make a couple tweaks, so I’ve listed the modified recipe below.

Ingredients:

(cupcakes)

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. maple extract
  • 1/2 tsp. praline extract
  • 1/2 cup milk

(frosting)

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp maple syrup (make sure it’s also at room temperature)
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 dash of cinnamon (for dusting/decorating)

Directions:

(cupcakes)

  1. žPreheat your oven to 350° F. Line your muffin tin(s) with baking liners (recipe yields 12 smaller cupcakes, or I suppose 6 large ones)
  2. Whisk together your flour, baking powder, cinnamon, clove, and salt in a cooking bowl
  3. žBeat butter, sugar, and eggs until creamy in a medium/large mixing bowl. Add in maple and praline extract
  4. žWhisk flour mixture and milk into this, in roughly three additions of flour and two of milk. Then beat until smooth
  5. žUse an ice-cream scoop to divide the batter into the cupcake tins and bake 20-25 minutes (mine took about 23 minutes).  They’re done when they’re  a golden brown, tops are springy when lightly touched, and a toothpick comes out clean
  6. Let the cupcakes cool for a bit until they separate away from the tin, then take them out (I used a fork and my fingers to gently nudge them out, but you could also just carefully invert the pan)
  7. Let them cool completely on a rack before frosting

(frosting)

  1. žCream together your butter, cream cheese, and salt (keep in mind cream cheese is already a little salty).  Add in your maple syrup
  2. Reduce speed and carefully pour in sugar 1/2 cup at a time until the frosting has the sweetness and the consistency you want (I prefer my cream cheese frosting more tart and thicker, so I used much less sugar than the original recipe).  Beat on medium-high until smooth
  3. Refrigerate the frosting for 5 minutes or so to reduce melting while you pipe it onto your cupcakes
  4. After frosting your cupcakes, decorate with some dusted cinnamon on top
Review:
This is a wonderfully crafted recipe (no surprise coming from The Cupcakery).  It yielded a perfect 12 cupcakes with just enough leftover batter for a delicious fingerful.  The cupcakes rose without any fuss and did not overflow their cups at all. They smelled absolutely heavenly (think a spiced combination of Christmas and chai tea) and they tasted exactly the same.  The frosting called for much more sugar than I used, and I don’t feel it needed anywhere near four cups of confectioner’s sugar; it was sweet enough with less than half of that.  Just by itself, it had a mild maple syrup flavor, which, while pleasant, wasn’t as powerful as I was expecting.  On the cupcakes, however, the flavor was drawn out as it played off the delicious spice of the base.

Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova

I found this recipe a while ago in the massive clutter-pile of food articles on my mother’s desk and I had been waiting to make it until raspberries were in season. But, staring at the gorgeous picture on the recipe, I just couldn’t wait any longer and so I made it a little ahead of schedule.

I was very excited to try this dessert (fun fact: it’s named after a ballet dancer and originated in New Zealand) as my mother had never made one (very surprising) and my father had never eaten one (more surprising). I was a little hesitant since the dessert is meringue-based (and I really, really hate meringues), but it was a simply fantastic little treat.

This recipe is simple and turned out perfectly, but from my pavlova research (courtesy of Google) I have found that there are several things that can go wrong with this dessert (and often do). The two biggest problems seemed to be with having your egg whites refuse to whip up (or having them collapse after the other ingredients were added in) and having the entire pavlova collapse once it was taken out of the oven. The solutions I found to these are at the bottom of this post (under tips); they were simple to do and I’m sure they worked since I didn’t experience any of these minor disasters.

Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova with Whipped Cream and Fresh Berries:
Recipe:

(base)

  • 6 egg whites (room temp.)
  • 300g powdered sugar (careful if you want to reduce the sugar, it may affect how well it whips up)
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 50g dark chocolate, chopped to smallish bits (I chopped mine to roughly the size of average chocolate chips, but don’t use actual chocolate chips, because they don’t incorporate or flavor the cake as well as chopped chocolate)

(topping)

  • 500ml heavy cream (this really depends on how much whip cream you want on top)
  • 500g raspberries (again, this one’s more to taste/looks)
  • 2–3 tablespoons coarsely grated dark chocolate (same as above)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a large, shallow baking pan with a silpat pad (you can also use a similar non-stick mat or a baking sheet, this is just what I used)
  2. Beat your egg whites into peaks (the recipe was vague on what kind of peaks, so I did them somewhere between soft and stiff and it worked just fine). Little by little add in the sugar
  3. žAdd in the cocoa a tablespoon at a time, then add the balsamic vinegar (some recipes have you fold in the cocoa, but I beat it in)
  4. Fold in the chopped chocolate, take care not to crush your egg whites
  5. žPile the batter onto the baking sheet into a pile and carefully round and smooth out to a 9inch circle. You want a slight indent in the center, but don’t go gouging out a hole; it’s a slight indent
  6. Now, turn your oven down to 300°F, and set your pan (with the pavlova in it, of course) into the center of your oven. Bake for about 1 hour (mine took about 45 minutes, but my oven bakes a little faster than most). It’s done when the top is springy and it looks like every online picture of a chocolate pavlova. Careful checking this dessert; it’s very delicate, so only open your oven if you absolutely have to and try to open it as little as possible.
  7. žWhen your pavlova is done, turn the oven off and open the door slightly to let the pavlova cool off (we just stuck a sturdy wooden spoon in the door to prop it open about an inch or two). Slight cracking may occur.
  8. žWhen it’s cooled, take it out and either invert it onto a serving platter or carefully transfer it on (I had my gracious mother help me with this one, and we opted to transfer it by lifting it on the silpat liner and carefully folding the liner away until I was left holding the pavlova. This definitely requires two pairs of hands)
  9. žRight before you’re ready to serve, whip up the heavy cream (you can add in some powdered sugar, but you’d essentially be sugaring a meringue and that’s most definitely not necessary). If you’re not planning on eating the entire pavlova in one sitting, I’d cut slices first (which, as you will see, is easier said than done) and then put the topping on those pieces. Otherwise, your cream will sit on the pavlova and make it soggy, etc.
  10. Finish it off with the raspberries (side note: I’m not a huge raspberry fan, but they really are the perfect thing for this dessert. While other berries would be pleasant, the raspberries are essential) and the grated chocolate

Review:

After reading all about pavlovas, I was a little nervous about this dessert, but this recipe made it easy. While the original was a little vague in the directions and obviously was meant for more savvy bakers (hopefully, I’ve managed to simplify it a bit), the final project was fantastic. The outside is sugary and crunchy, while the inside is sticky and, dare I say it, almost a little gooey. While the base of the cake is sweet (unsurprising since it’s essentially just egg whites and sugar), the plain whipped cream topping and raspberries make it refreshing and very summer-y. One of the best things about it is how fun it is to eat; it’s definitely a different gastronomic experience than other desserts. The crisp top and the gooey bottom mixed with the creamy topping make for a very enjoyable texture experience, while you get the play of flavors from the sweet cocoa of the base and the freshly-tart burst from the raspberries (I imagine this is even more incredible when the raspberries are actually in season). My favorite part is how light this dessert is; I had a sizable slice and I didn’t feel the slightest bit full from it. There is serious danger of eating the entire cake.

Tips:

Keep your egg whites pure. Make sure absolutely no oil touches them and no egg yolk gets in. Make sure your bowl, beaters, wooden spoon, and whatever other implements touch them are clean, clean, clean. And keep your fingers out of the bowl!

Egg whites whip up better when they’re at room temperature, so leave your eggs out for 30 minutes or so.

After your pavlova is baked, turn the oven off, but leave the pavlova in the oven. Just crack the door a bit and let it cool off in there. This should prevent it from collapsing.

When transferring your pavlova to a serving platter, be very gentle, they are extremely fragile (especially the bigger they are).

Not mine, found this one off google!