Kickass Cupcakes-April Happy Hour

April 28, 2010

There are some things I will miss when I go abroad for the entire school year. I’ll miss my friends, family, and the Tufts community. I’ll miss the Dunkin’ Donuts; something tells me that they won’t be as ubiquitous in Madrid as they are here in Boston. I’ll miss american holidays and customs, like Thanksgiving and Football (no, not soccer). But more than anything, I’ll miss the food. Things like gargantuan breakfasts or frozen yogurt vendors.  Oh yeah, and cupcakes.
Monday night was probably the last Kickass Cupcake Happy Hour I will attend until September 2011. After all, I won’t be here over the summer. You know the drill: last Monday of every month means three free cocktail inspired miniature cupcakes. Fittingly, I went with a friend who recently got his Bartender license, for which he had to memorize over one hundred drink recipes. This month, we had Chocolate Kahlua Kiss, Scorpion, and Lemon Drop.


The Chocolate Kahlua Kiss was easily my favorite. The chocolate cake was very moist, and the white chocolate flakes garnished on top of the mocha frosting provided a nice contrast. The Kahlua cream filling was disappointingly subtle; I didn’t even taste it. Maybe there just wasn’t a lot of filling in it. It is interesting to note how prevalent fillings have become in cupcakes. It seems as though half of all cupcakes offered at bakeries nowadays have some sort of filling. As cupcake vendors become more and more common, the offerings become more and more complex.


On that note, the Scorpion was probably the most ambitious. I found the almond cake to be a little on the crumbly side, but the orange liqueur frosting tasted great. I’ve made a Gran Marnier frosting before, and that had turned out quite well. The crushed cherry jolly rancher garnish seemed superfluous and detracted from the orange frosting. On the whole, it was certainly a different cupcake, but not one that I could see myself actually ordering, especially if it were full-size.


The Lemon Drop succeeded where the Scorpion had faltered. The Lemon Drop consisted of a Lemon Cupcake soaked with Limoncello and topped with a lemon frosting. By using Limoncello (an Italian lemon liqueur), the Kickass bakers tempered the sugary cupcake with perceptible tartness that I certainly appreciated.
I noticed that Kickass had updated (i.e. raised) the price of their cupcakes from $2.75 to $3.00. Not exactly sure when that happened, but as long as they keep offering free cupcakes at the end of every month, I can’t complain.


Salted Caramel Whoopie Pies

March 10, 2010

This past weekend the Tufts’ student theatre group—Pen, Paint, and Pretzels; affectionately abbreviated to 3Ps—put up an amazing production of Eric Bogosian’s “SubUrbia.” The play was incredibly powerful and scarily relatable. The acting was great and the set was phenomenal. So at the end of the show I enthusiastically applauded the cast. I decided that I would treat them to a little something extra. Some people give bouquets of flowers, I give baked goods. Because after all, flowers are nice to look at, but their beauty is short lived. Food is equally temporary, but at least you get to eat it. Booyah roses.


In one scene, the hyperactive Buff (played brilliantly by Greg Berney) waxes poetic about Oreos. The show’s producers got really into the whole Oreo thing; they even placed a Technicolor Oreo on the posters. I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is no. I didn’t make them oreos. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So I decided to make Whoopie Pies, which are kind of like Oreos on sterioids. Instead of crisp cookies, the creamy center is sandwiched by two moist chocolate cakes. I decided to swap out the normal buttercream filling with a salted caramel frosting. This added some depth to the cookies, befitting the play’s intensity.

Whoopie Pies originated up here in the Northeast, specifically in Amish-country, Pennsylvania. The Whoopie Pie’s popularity has reached an all-time high.  Swanky dessert places hawk reimagined whoopie pies for ridiculous prices (think Finale).  Even Nabisco has hopped on the bandwagon, selling a bastardized Whoopie Pie in the form of “Oreo Cakesters.” This version requires the use of Dutch-process cocoa powder. This gives the cake a more distinct flavor. If you don’t know the differnce between Dutch-processed and non-dutch cocoa powder, then check to see if the box specifies. If it says “Natural,” then you probably have non-dutch. Go for European brands, such as Valrhona. Hershey’s Special Dark is partially dutched. Generally, brands will label accordingly, saving you the time and trouble. If you want to learn more, check out David Lebovitz’s encyclopedic FAQ about cocoa powder.

But enough cocoa-powder musings. Back to “SubUrbia!” The entire play takes place in front of a 7/11. The characters saunter in and out of the parking lot and pass the days and nights by loitering out front. So I figured that I would re-create the Giant Hostess Cupcake for the cast. Hostess is the quintessential convenience-store snack food, so it would only be right to make that.


The show was awesome, and hopefully the cast enjoyed the desserts.

RECIPE FOR WHOOPIE PIES

1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 cup firmly-packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup DUTCH-PROCESSED cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease baking sheets.

In a large bowl, cream together shortening, sugar, and egg. In another bowl, combine cocoa, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a small bowl, stir the vanilla extract into the milk. Add the dry ingredients to the shortening mixture, alternating with the milk mixture; beating until smooth.

Drop batter by the 1/4 cup (to make 18 cakes) onto prepared baking sheets. With the back of a spoon spread batter into 4-inch circles, leaving approximately 2 inches between each cake.

Bake 15 minutes or until they are firm to the touch. Remove from oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.

MAKING THE FILLING

*  1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened

* 1 cup marshmallow cream such as Marshmallow Fluff

*1 cup salted caramel (see recipe below)

* 1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat together butter, caramel, marshmallow, and vanilla in a bowl with electric mixer at medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Shmear the inside of halve the cookies, and then top them off.

ASSEMBLING THE WHOLE THANG

When the cakes are completely cool, spread the flat side (bottom) of one chocolate cake with a generous amount of filling. Top with another cake, pressing down gently to distribute the filling evenly. Repeat with all cookies.

Deep, Dark Salted Butter Caramel Sauce

(this makes way more than a cup, but believe me, you won’t mind one bit)

1 cup sugar
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) salted butter,

1/2 cup plus two tablespoons heavy cream, at room temperature

Melt the sugar over medium high heat in a large pot (at least two or three quarts) whisking or stirring the sugar as it melts to ensure it heats evenly. If the sugar begins to clump, then you’ve been over-stirring. Should this happen, let it sit for about twenty seconds, before you continue to stir. Cook the liquefied sugar to a nice, dark copper color. Add the butter all at once and stir it in. Once you turn off the heat, pour in the heavy cream (The sauce will foam up quite a bit when you add it; which is why you want the larger pot), whisking it until you get a smooth sauce. If any pieces of hardened sugar remain, they can be strained/picked out.

You use it right away or pour it into a jar and store it in the fridge for up to two weeks. When you take it out, it will likely have thickened a bit but 30 seconds in the microwave brings it right back to pouring consistency.


Valentine’s Day Clincher: Molten Chocolate Cake

February 7, 2010

Chocolate is a requisite for Valentine’s Day.  I still remember picking out chocolates in hopes of winning the heart of my third grade crush, Anya. Unfortunately for me, another boy was competing for Anya’s heart, and he shrewdly took credit for my act of love. Oh the agony! I despondently watched as he proclaimed himself her “Secret Admirer.”
While it didn’t exactly work out as planned, there’s no denying the aphrodisiacal powers of chocolate. So when you’re planning a dinner date for V-Day, dessert is a huge consideration. And while there’s no denying the romantic allure of posh dessert spots like Finale or Burdicks, they can be a little draining on the wallet.

The solution—make it yourself. It’s cheaper and far more rewarding. Spending money on a girl will make her blush, spending time on a girl will make her purr. Girls love it when you take them to a swanky restaurant, but if you slave over a good dessert, you’ll have her eating out of the palm of your hand. But guess what? You don’t even have to slave over the dessert. So for all those guys out there with ladies to impress; it’s easy to do, just follow these steps.

Step 1: Cut a hole in a box

Just kidding. I highly doubt you’ll score many ladies with that sort of gift. Here’s a better option.

First, you should invite a girl out to dinner. You can either take her to a restaurant (Sushi or Tapas are options that strike a nice balance between informal and fancy). If you’re a little more confident in your cooking skills, get some pasta from Dave’s Fresh and dine at home/dorm. If it’s a first date though, I’d keep it in neutral territory, like a restaurant.

Step 2: Prepare dessert yourself. A mediocre meal can be remedied with a phenomenal dessert. This final course is the clincher, which is why you should make it yourself. She’ll appreciate the fact that you made it yourself, and best of all—it’s a guaranteed way to get her back to your place.

You should make either the chocolate soufflé or the molten chocolate cake. Both desserts are flashy enough to wow her and easy enough to keep your pre-date day stress free. And best of all, these desserts can both be made ahead of time. Just make them right before you go and place them refrigerator. When you get back, put them in the oven and bake them and voila! Hot, freshly baked dessert! The last thing you want to be doing when you bring her home is fretting over the dessert in the kitchen. By prepping everything beforehand, all you have to do when you get back is put it in the oven. What you decided to do after dessert is all up to you.

If you wanna make the Soufflé…
I detailed this one in the soufflé post, so just click here for that recipe

If you wanna make the molten chocolate cake…

Molten Chocolate Cake
(adapted from New York Times recipe, which in turn was taken from “Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef” by Mark Bittman and Jean-Georges Vongerichten)

INGREDIENTS
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, plus more to butter the molds
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons flour, plus more for dusting

METHOD

1. Beat together the eggs, yolks, and sugar with a whisk or electric beater until light and thick.

2.) In a double boiler (Saucepan of simmering water with a bowl on top), melt chocolate and butter together until the chocolate is almost completely melted.

2. Pour in the egg mixture, then quickly beat in the flour, just until combined.

3. Butter and lightly flour 2 8-ounce molds, custard cups, or ramekins. Tap out the excess flour, then butter and flour them again. Divide the batter among the molds.

(At this point you can refrigerate the desserts until you are ready to eat, for up to several hours; however, you must bring them back to room temperature before baking.)

4. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Bake the molds on a tray for about 11 minutes; the center will still be quite soft, but the sides should be set.

5. Once baked, take ramekins out of oven. Immediately place a serving plate on top  of the ramekin. Acting quickly, flip ramekin/plate over. The cake should unmold itself onto the plate. Serve immediately.

Ps: It’s good with vanilla ice cream and a couple of sliced strawberries.


Kickass Cupcakes Happy Hour

January 26, 2010

Ugh. I’m ready for a vacation. Between my Econometrics class and the precipitation of biblical proportions, I’ve had a pretty rough time getting back into the swing of things here at school. But there’s one thing that will always pick me up: cupcakes. Mick Jagger had it all wrong in “Mother’s Little Helpers.” Who needs happy pills when you’ve got cupcakes?
Well, Kickass Cupcakes offered up three free cupcakes Monday night. This “cupcake happy hour” occurs once a month from 5pm-7pm. It’s best to get there on the earlier side. Trust me, the last thing you want is to show up at 6:30 on an empty stomach and leave empty handed.

There’s something to be said about these tiny cupcakes. Their diminutive size lets you guiltlessly gorge on more than one, unlike their bigger alternatives. And they are so adorable. Whether it’s dogs or ipods or cupcakes, one thing is clear—it’s all about small. Miniature cupcakes are especially prone to dryness, but all three offerings were nice and moist. The three flavors tonight were each a little different. Below are my descriptions and thoughts.

First up, we have the Somerville Sensation, which consists of a Espresso cupcake with a marshmallow fluff center and chocolate Nutella Fluff frosting topped with Taza Chocolate cocoa nibs. The crunchy nibs were a nice touch, as was the fluff center. This cupcake was unique in its liquid accompaniment. This pairing marked the first time that “happy hour” actually included real liquor—in this case a small amount of some liqueur. Personally, I felt it added little to the taste of the cupcake, but I appreciated the gesture nonetheless. The legality of the whole situation is a little iffy, but I’m not complaining. Compared to the drive-thru Margarita stand in St. Louis, this is pretty legit.

The second cupcake, a Chocolate cupcake with a chocolate beer ganache filling and a sam adams cream stout frosting was fittingly titled the Sammy. This was my favorite. The Sam Adams stout frosting was amazing and complemented the cupcake well. The ganache filling and stout frosting weren’t particularly sweet, so they constrasted well with the chocolate cake and the small drizzling of caramel on top.

The third flavor was a raspberry cosmopolitan which was made up of a vanilla cake with a raspberry center and cosmopolitan frosting. I’m never a big fan of fruity sweets like this, because more often than not they taste artificial. The raspberry filling was too sugary for my liking. The lime zest pearched atop the frosting was a nice touch, but beyond that I found this cupcake lacking, especially compared to the other two. In all honesty, I’ve yet to come across a fruity cupcake I’ve enjoyed. If I want fruit, I’ll order a blueberry muffin.

The trip was nice and helped me forget about the stresses of my economics major for a while. As much as I “love” hypothesis testing and multi-variable linear regression, it just can’t compare to this.


Giant Hostess Cupcake

January 21, 2010

Ah, slushy old Medford, how I’ve missed you! The Tufts campus seems slightly more formidable than before; the previously walkable cement pathways have been with slushy canals. Now, walking from building to building takes a certain degree of skill and blind courage. These deadly slush-puddles hearken back to the mine-laced paths of Vietnam that I read about in all those Tim O’Brien books. With weather like this, I think I’d take the Vietcong over a merciless Mother Nature.

Unfortunately it takes me days to get adjusted to my dorm bed, which is good news for all of you. With a week of sleepless nights ahead of me, I have all the time in the world to flog.

Growing up, I never really got the chance to indulge in mass-produced sweets. Sure, my mom would make me pancakes and muffins for breakfast, but she’d die before feeding me those saccharine cereals like Lucky Charms and Cocoa Krispies. When it came to packing me lunches for school, she would opt for homemade cookies or blood oranges rather than those Hostess or Little Debbie confections. Whatever the case, I’ve always enjoyed Hostess Cupcakes. The moist chocolate cake with the crème filling is so perfectly matched that it almost seems mundane. In an age when the average candy bar has twenty million things going on (pretzel wrapped in special dark chocolate nougat encased with caramel and milk chocolate), there’s something to be said for Hostess’s minimal design.

Here was my chance to remake the forbidden fruit of my childhood. But since I had grown up, it was only fitting that the cupcake did too. So I supersized it. The cake is eye-catching with those distinctive swirls and alters the chocolate-cake formula just enough to surprise all your dinner guests. It’s deliciously retro, with one bite transporting you back to a time when people were blissfully unaware of trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup.

Below you’ll find the assembly steps, and below those you’ll see the recipes. This idea is courtesy of Deb over at Smitten Kitchen

Step one, take your favorite chocolate cake recipe (like the absurdly easy and supremely delicious one-bowl Hershey Chocolate Cake)
*NOTE: If you’re using this cake recipe (and you should), then double the recipe and use two 9 inch pans

Step two. Once cakes have fully cooled, halve one cake horizontally. This should leave you with three cake layers—one full size, and two halved layers. I used unflavored dental floss to slice my cake.

Step three. Cut a four or five inch circle out of the center of the full-sized cake. Hold onto it for snacking, since you won’t be using it for the cake.

Step four. Carefully place one of the thin cake layers on whatever dish you plan on serving the cake. Then carefully line the doughnut shaped cake layer on top of that one.

Step five. Fill the cake layer with the marshmallow frosting (see below for recipe), making sure to leave about a half cup behind for decoration.

Step Six. Carefully place the other half-sized layer on top of the cake. At this point you can frost the cake with the chocolate ganache (again, see below)

Step Seven. Using a pastry bag (or the ol’ fashioned circumsized sandwich baggie trick), finish off the cake with that distinctive white squiggle. If you want to be historically accurate (I would’ve said anal, but that’s a word that should never appear in a cake recipe—ever), make sure to have seven full loops.

RECIPE NOTES: After making and serving this cake, I think that it would be easier to probably just fill the middle with the marshmallow frosting. That way everyone gets a uniform amount of the filling. If you want the appearance of a the Hostess cupcake when you halve the cake, you’re gonna have to do it the long way. Everyone who ate the cake loved it but said that they wanted more filling, so if you decide to make the cake, you might consider putting a dollop of the frosting on each person’s plate.

OTHER NOTE: Remember that discarded center part of the cake layer from step three? You can totally go all Russian Nested Doll (or Matryoshka doll) with this leftover and make a hostess cupcake with it. Just go through the same steps as before. It’s a tad bigger than a normal hostess cupcake but it’s manageable.

Hershey Chocolate Cake, doubled for your convenience

2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 cup sugars
8 eggs, at room temperature
22 ounces of hershey chocolate syrup (the contents of two 16oz cans or measured out from one of the BIG bottles)
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with parchment paper.

Cream butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

Add eggs, one at a time, mixing all the while. Then add chocolate syrup and vanilla.

Add the flour and mix until just barely combined.  Don’t overbeat, or the cake will toughen.

Pour batter into the pan and bake for around 45 minutes, or until just set in the middle (test by placing a toothpick in the center, if it comes out with a few crumbs, it’s done). Let it cool thoroughly in the pan.

Crème Filling—Seven Minute Frosting

2 large egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Combine all the ingredients in a double boiler (simply a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water) and beat with a handheld electric mixer at high speed until frosting is thick and fluffy. This should take around 7 minutes. Remove bowl from heat and continue to beat until slightly cooled. Use frosting the day it is made.

Ganache Frosting

1/2 pound semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 stick (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter

Place cream sugar and corn syrup in a saucepan and bring to a boil under medium-low heat, whisking constantly. Once the sugar has dissolved, add chocolate and whisk until the chocolate has melt. Once they’ve fully blended, add butter and whisk until smooth.

Transfer frosting to a bowl and let it cool (stirring it occasionally) until it is spreadable. If you want to hasten the cooling process, just pop it in the refridgerator.


Beer + Chocolate = Cake

January 9, 2010

Remember my last post? Of course you do! After all, you check my blog religiously, right? Anways, I wrote about how adding vermouth to gravy took the dish to a whole different level. They say that alcohol makes everything better. While I’m not entirely sure who “they” are, I’m gonna have to agree. At least when it comes to cooking. Whether it’s the theatrics of flambéing a dish or for the purposes of sorbet making, alcohol is an important part of every kitchen. And not just hard liquor like rum or Vodka. I’ve found that stout beer has a magical effect on chocolaty baked goods. Chocolate and Guinness stout beer go together like peanut butter and jelly. Frankly, I don’t like the taste of stout on its own, but when combined with chocolate, it’s truly delightful.

So onto the main course: Chocolate Stout Cake. I’ve made a lot of chocolate cakes in my day, but this one takes the… no, I’m not gonna make that joke. But the cake is really good. I get bored with those super sweet chocolate cakes; this one has an intense bittersweet chocolate flavor. The cake is moist and stays moist for days.

The fudgy ganache frosting is good, but one of these days I might replace it with a fluffy buttercream. The ganache has that same bittersweet chocolate flavor as well, and for some people that’s just too much.

Something to consider about this recipe—it’s huge. It fills three 8-inch cake pans. I’ll often make a dozen mini cupcakes and one (13×9) sheet cake. You could always make all three cake layers and freeze one for later. Cakes do freeze well, but you can’t freeze a frosted cake.

Chocolate Stout Cake (adapted from Barrington Brewery via Bon Appetit, September 2002)

Ingredients for the Cake

2 cups stout (such as Guinness)
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)

4 cups all purpose flour
4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups sour cream

Ingredients for the Ganache

2 cups whipping cream
1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used chocolate chips, and that worked fine)

Directions for the cake

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans and then line with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper. Bring 2 cups stout and the 2 cups butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in a large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Make sure not to overbeat at any point, as overbeating leads to a tougher cake. Divide batter equally among prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer cakes to rack; cool 10 minutes. (If you’re doing cupcakes, keep in mind that they take less time, maybe all of 20 minutes) Turn cakes out onto rack and cool completely.

Directions for ganache

Bring cream to simmer in heavy medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chopped chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Refrigerate until icing is spreadable, stirring frequently, about 2 hours.

Putting it all together

Place 1 cake layer on plate. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with second cake layer. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with third cake layer. Spread remaining icing over top and sides of cake.


Super Easy Chocolate Cake

December 8, 2009

We all know them. They’re the people that refuse to drink red wine if it’s served in a white wine glass. Truffle Oil. And they’d never, ever be caught dead buying an off-brand at the grocery store. These epicurean elitists with their snobby tastes are as ubiquitous as they are frustrating.

I don’t consider myself one of these people. Yes, my instincts tell me to choose extra-virgin olive oil over light olive oil, but I’d think twice about dropping dough on something as pretentious as truffle oil. I may make my own vanilla extract, but I’m a sucker for ketchup. I make Marshmallows from scratch, but I’d pick up a Twix bar before snagging a Toblerone.

So imagine how conflicted I was going over this chocolate cake recipe. Here’s the context—I got a text from my mom proclaiming the cake as the easiest and tastiest cake she had ever made. Ever. Only six ingredients and one bowl. Here’s the catch: the cake’s chocolate flavor comes exclusively from Hershey’s chocolate syrup. While I may not be a cocoa connoisseur, we’re talking about Chocolate-flavored syrup. If you look at the ingredients listed on the bottle, cocoa comes after High Fructose Corn Syrup, corn syrup, sugar, and water. This bastardized chocolate is about a genuine as Tiger Woods. If I’m making chocolate milk, that’s one thing, but this is baking—the big leagues. But if it’s good enough for my mom, and Ina Garten, then it’s good enough for me.


I made the cake without too many hitches. The recipe calls for the contents of a 16-oz can of Hershey’s syrup, which is actually 11 fluid ounces. Shaw’s didn’t have the can, so I just bought the bottle and measured out 5 too many ounces of syrup. Don’t make my mistake; the taste was great but the cake was much too dense and brownie-like.

All in all, the cake was incredibly easy and pretty tasty. While I don’t think it beats my ultimate chocolate cake recipe (made with Guiness stout), it certainly was delicious. One of my suitemates said it was the best chocolate cake he’d ever had. So that’s good. Another claimed it was too sweet (probably due to the excess of syrup).

The ganache was nice, but I cut the semi-sweet chips with unsweetened (3 oz unsweetened, 9 semisweet) for a more intense chocolate flavor. In all honesty, I might’ve preferred a simple powdering of confectioner’s sugar cut with cocoa powder. This would’ve been lighter and easier.

Next time you decide to make a chocolate cake, leave your inhibitions at the door and try this recipe. Its simplicity is enough to make the entire thing worthwhile.