I am probably one of the most unlikely people to ever start a blog. My exposure to posting anything on-line has been limited to writing on someone's wall on Facebook, which I've only recently gotten used to, and rarely do I read other people's blogs. But I've always loved writing, and once contemplated writing a novel, only to find that my lack of creativity was an insurmountable roadblock. But there is one thing I can probably write about: food, mainly baked goods and making them.
My foray into baking as a pastime really began only about two years ago (I'm not counting making cake from a box mix), when a good friend gave me a cookbook--a cupcake cookbook--for my birthday. Most of my time spent in the kitchen had been to fry eggs for dinner (!) or to heat up leftovers in a microwave. I might try making a dish or dessert here and there, but I never fully appreciated the comfort that creating a pastry has to offer. That was until I tried making my first cupcake.
I have to admit, I only first became a fan of cupcakes because, well, they were popular in New York City—and if you know me, I love all things New York. On a trip to New York City, I tried a cupcake from a famous bakery which I will refrain from naming, and was just a little disappointed and disenchanted. They were good but not great. Maybe I had high expectations, and I wanted to love cupcakes. As the cupcake fever finally began hitting the West Coast, some of my friends made them for my birthday--a really nice treat! I thought I'd try my own hand at making them, especially since I now had this cookbook, and following my first attempt, I became a true believer—not in cupcakes alone, but the thought that maybe I could really do this. It was rewarding to be able to create something that others could enjoy, almost therapeutic, and it didn’t hurt that cupcakes were so cute. Ever since, I've been baking (not always cupcakes) for fun and for friends.
As you can tell, I’m hardly a seasoned professional or even an experienced homemaker, but I love to experiment and hope you’ll come with me for the ride as I try out new things.
My first cupcake recipe was the chocolate cupcake from Dede Wilson's A Bakers’ Field Guide to Cupcakes. I made them for an Easter brunch, and they turned out to be such a crowd-pleaser (I was pretty proud of myself, too), I've been asked to make these again for birthdays and showers. I believe what made them so good had much to do with the type of cocoa I used. I bought a canister of Italian cocoa from Williams Sonoma on a whim, and the cupcakes had a very rich, deep, unique—almost sharp, chocolate flavor. Sadly, I think Williams Sonoma no longer carries it (I went there today to check again, but it was nowhere to be found). I have used Droste, which you can find at Whole Foods and some supermarkets—the results were still very good, but just not the same.
Here is my adaptation of the recipe that started it all:
Makes about 18 regular-sized cupcakes
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (butter should be a little cold and slightly firm, but not soft like a spread)
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 t. vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup good quality Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- 1 t. baking soda
- 1 cup 2% lowfat milk, at room temperature (using lower fat milk—but not nonfat—produces results almost indistinguishable from full-fat milk)
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees, and line cupcake pans with cupcake liners.
1. Mix together the dry ingredients except sugar (i.e. flour, cocoa, baking soda) with a whisk in a bowl.
2. Cream the butter in a mixing bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed for a couple of minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add sugar, and cream the sugar and butter until "fluffy" (the butter should look a little more voluminous). Beating the butter on high may make the butter too soft, which renders it unable to incorporate enough air. I check on readiness based on visual cues, but this step usually takes another few minutes.
3. Beat one egg in at a time on low until just combined, scraping down the bowl after each egg. Add the vanilla extract.
4. Beat in the flour mixture and milk on low, alternating between the flour mixture and milk, but always starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined each time the flour mixture or milk is added and try not to over beat (over beating the batter results in a dense texture), and scrape down the sides along the way.
5. Fill the cupcake pan with the finished batter; each well should be about 3/4 full. (I used to use a regular spoon to do this, but discovered that an ice cream scoop really sped things up.)
6. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 20-25 minutes. They're done when the cake has risen into a slight dome, and an inserted toothpick comes out mostly clean with slightly moist crumbs. Remove cupcake pans from the oven to cool on cooling racks. Wait until the cupcakes have cooled a little before taking them out of the pan so you don't burn your fingers (I can be kind of overeager and forget to wait for the cupcakes to cool a little!).
Cupcakes should be frosted after they’ve completely cooled—melted frosting on a cupcake is a little messy and unsightly. My favorite frosting on these is a chocolate ganache, which adds the right amount of richness. I like to keep things simple, so to make the ganache, I use the following:
- 3/4 of a 12 oz. bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips (Trader Joe's chocolate chips are a great economical option)
- 1/2 cup heavy cream (you can vary this depending on the consistency you desire)
1. Pour chocolate chips into a heatproof bowl.
2. Heat the heavy cream in small pot until boiling.
3. Upon reaching boiling, pour the heavy cream over the chocolate chips and stir until the chocolate is melted.
4. At this point, you can take a cupcake and turn it upside down to dip the top into the ganache. I've also spooned the ganache on to the cupcake and used the back of the spoon to spread the dollop of ganache over the cupcake top. Once the ganache cools, I pipe a little pink-tinted whipped cream on top just for fun.