Mocha Cupcakes

Sometimes I wonder who came up with different flavor combinations, like coffee and chocolate. Although I live a caffeine- and chocolate-free life, mocha is still a delicious flavor, and it’s really nice to bake with for the heavenly aroma that floats around my kitchen. Mocha also reminds me of tiramisu, my absolute favorite dessert, which I still eat despite its migraine risk. I figure that a tiramisu-triggered migraine would be totally worth it…but fortunately, I haven’t had one from it. Fingers crossed that this remains true for the rest of my life.

These mocha cupcakes are adapted from a recipe I found at Brown Eyed Baker, another Pittsburgh-based baking blog. Although I didn’t have whole milk, which the original recipe required, I used an interesting combination of 7/8 skim to 1/8 heavy cream. I added heavy cream to the frosting as well, along with more espresso powder than the original recipe…and let me tell you, it is crazy delicious. I could actually see it as a nice complement to plain chocolate cupcakes, or even the right vanilla cupcake. These treats were very well-received at work this week.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1/2 cup coffee, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder
  • 1/2 cup milk*
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature

*As noted above, the original recipe calls for whole milk, but I only had skim and heavy cream on hand, which I used in a 7/8 skim, 1/8 heavy cream ratio.

For the frosting

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons heavy cream

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners; my recipe yielded 18 cupcakes.

In a medium-sized glass measuring cup, whisk together coffee and espresso powder until the powder is completely dissolved. Add milk and vanilla and stir to combine, then set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and mix to combine, scraping down your bowl at least once. Add flour mixture and coffee/milk mixture in alternate batches, starting and ending with the flour and mixing just to combine between each. Stir with a spatula to ensure that all the flour mixture is incorporated.

Using a two-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of batter into the cupcake wells, filling each about two-thirds full. Bake for 17-20 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven, then remove cupcakes from tin and cool completely on a wire rack.

To make the frosting, combine espresso powder, vanilla extract, and heavy cream in a small bowl and stir to completely dissolve the espresso powder. Beat butter on medium speed for about 2 minutes, then add powdered sugar all at once and beat until the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter. Add espresso mixture and beat 2-3 minutes until completely combined; you’ll want to scrape your bowl a few times in the process.

Fit a large piping bag with a Wilton M1 tip and pipe swirls of frosting on each cupcake. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days.

Honey Almond Cake

I bought myself Mary Berry’s Fast Cakes: Easy Bakes in Minutes cookbook for my birthday last summer, and I’m working my way through the British baking queen’s many recipes. I’ve made several adjustments based on ingredients we have available here in the U.S., tweaked the preparation to accommodate those changes, and also swapped out a few ingredients to better suit my tastes.

For example, most of the cakes in this book call for margarine and use the all-in-one method, where you toss all of the ingredients into the mixer and blend it all at once. For this cake, I chose to use butter, and therefore also the creaming method, for this cake because I simply prefer the taste of butter-based cakes to margarine-based ones. The end result is delicious, not too sweet, and a great size for a small dinner party or get-together. It’s the kind of cake you could make if you want a cake, but not a standard-sized, what-am-I-going-to-do-with-all-the-left-overs kind of treat. Note: I found the deep, 7-inch round baking tin on Amazon.

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 10 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups self-rising flour
  • 3/4 cup almond flour
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

For the frosting and topping

  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted and cooled

Preparation

Preheat oven to 320 degrees. Lightly grease a deep, 7-inch round cake tin and line the base with parchment paper.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and light brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add honey and blend to combine, then add eggs, one at a time, beating well and scraping the sides of the bowl between each addition. Add self-rising flour and almond flour, then milk and almond extract, and beat to combine until you have a smooth batter.

Pour batter into prepared tin and bake for 40-45 minutes, until well risen and the top of the cake springs back when lightly pressed with your finger.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then turn onto a wire rack and cool completely. Once cake has cooled, slice in half horizontally.

To make the frosting, combine butter and powdered sugar in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix until the sugar has been fully incorporated into the butter. Add honey and almond extract and beat until smooth and fully combined.

Spread frosting on bottom layer of cake and top with the second layer; frost the top and sides of the cake, then top with toasted slivered almonds.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes about 8 servings.

Blood Orange Madeira Cake

My appreciation for blood oranges is well documented on this blog. Both beautiful and tasty, they make great additions to baking. And because I’ve been on vacation since Christmas (I have to go back to work tomorrow, sigh) and I’ve been watching a lot of Great British Baking Show re-runs, I realized that one perfect use for blood oranges would be in Madeira cake. And I was right.

I adapted my previous Madeira cake recipe to use a 9 x 5 (rather than an 8 x 4) loaf tin and included the zest and juice of two blood oranges instead of just one. The end result is a delicious, aromatic creation that needs absolutely nothing to enhance it, though you could certainly serve it with some whipped cream if you like.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • Zest of 2 blood oranges
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • Juice of 2 blood oranges

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9 x 5 loaf tin, then line the tin with parchment.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar, and orange zest until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes, scraping the bowl well at least a few times.

Add the first egg and one spoonful of flour mixture, beating to combine. Scrape down the bowl, then repeat with remaining eggs and one spoonful of flour mixture for each egg, scraping the bowl between each. Add remaining flour and orange juice and mix until combined; batter will be quite thick.

Spoon batter into the pan and smooth out the top, then sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar over the top. Bake for about 45 minutes, then cover with foil and continue baking for another 10-20 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan completely, then lift out by the parchment and store, well wrapped, at room temperature. Makes about 10 servings.

Frozen-Inspired Almond Spritz

My goddaughter Maureen will turn 10 this week, and she and her sister Margo love all things Frozen. For her birthday, I wanted to bake a Frozen-inspired treat, but most options – like snowflake sugar cookies frosted with intricate details – weren’t good candidates for shipping. But spritz-style cookies, made with a cookie press, could certainly hold their own in shipping and would look enough like snowflakes to hopefully bring a smile to Mo’s adorable face.

My Grandma Zella always made her famous almond cookies in spritz fashion each Christmas, churning out tree and wreath shapes from her cookie press without batting an eyelash. But for me, the cookie press presented great challenges. Today though, I was determined to master it, and master it I did. Whether this dough counts as actual spritz dough, I’m not sure, but it worked very well for my purpose. Happy birthday, Mo!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon almond extract
  • Purple gel food coloring
  • Blue gel food coloring

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream shortening and sugar until blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each. Scrape down your bowl, then add flour and almond extract, beating to combine into a smooth dough.

Divide dough in half; tint one portion purple and the other portion blue.

For purple wreath-shaped snowflakes, fit a cookie press with a wreath disc and fill with purple dough; press shapes onto an ungreased, unlined cookie sheet. Bake for 3 minutes, then rotate the pan halfway and bake for another 3 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet for about 30 seconds, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

For blue swirl snowflakes, fit a cookie press with a sunburst/swirl disc and fill with blue dough. Press shapes onto an ungreased, unlined cookie sheet. Bake for 3-4 minutes, then rotate the pan halfway and bake for another 3-4 minutes, being careful not to let the edges brown (which, in full disclosure, mine did). Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet for about 30 seconds, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for several days; their flavor becomes stronger after a few days and they do last a while. These are a drier cookie, almost like a biscotti, and are best enjoyed with a nice cup of tea or coffee or glass of milk.

Makes several dozen, depending on which shapes you choose – the recipe can make about 5-6 dozen.

 

Blood Orange Bars

It’s blood orange season! Oh, how I love baking with these sweet, ruby-red citrus treats. I bought a bag at the supermarket a few days back intending to make some curd, but decided that blood orange bars would be a better experiment.

If you’ve ever had a lemon bar, you know the unique joy that the sweet/tart combination of filling set against a tender crust brings. Blood oranges are sweeter than lemons, and therefore yield a more mellow citrus flavor. This recipe is adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction, using less sugar than her lemon bar variety. Next time, I might actually include some blood orange zest in the filling and see what happens.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour

For the filling

  • 1 2/3 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • 6 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup blood orange juice, at room temperature*

*It took four blood oranges, about the size of tennis balls, to yield 1 cup of juice

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a glass baking dish with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine melted butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla extract, stirring to combine. Add flour and stir to completely combine; press into the baking dish and bake for 20-22 minutes, until the edges are just barely golden brown.

In another medium bowl, sift together sugar and flour, then add eggs and blood orange juice, whisking to combine completely. Pour over crust and bake for another 22-24 minutes, until the center is set. Remove from oven and cool in the pan for a few hours, then place in the fridge to chill further before cutting. Cut into 24 squares and store in the fridge; you can keep these bars at room temperature, but they’re best served cold.

Peanut Butter Cup Brownies

So, I wanted to mail this pan of brownies to my brother and his family, but I didn’t want to cut them and risk them drying out in the shipping process. I began with a disposable pan, baked the brownies, and let them cool completely. Then I wrapped the pan in foil, placed some of those air pack bubble things that coming in shipping boxes on the top, and secured the lid with enough packing tape to last through the apocalypse.

Fortunately, it appears that my plan worked – as you can see by the photo here, the brownies arrived in North Carolina unscathed and, to my knowledge, still tender. Everyone in Andy’s family likes Reese’s peanut butter cups, but you could swap in miniature Snickers bars or another type of candy in the recipe if you like, or just leave them plain. This recipe is adapted from an “on-the-fence” brownie recipe from King Arthur flour and yields a texture somewhere between cakey and fudgy.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups Dutch process cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 24 miniature Reese’s peanut butter cups, unwrapped

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking pan.

Melt butter over medium heat, then stir in sugar and continue heating until just warm; this helps give a shiny top to your brownies. Remove from heat and place in a medium bowl along with cocoa powder, salt, baking powder, and vanilla and stir to combine. Whisk in eggs, then stir in the flour and chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pan and add miniature peanut butter cups; I spaced mine out into four long rows of six cup each. Gently press peanut butter cups down into the batter.

Bake for 28-32 minutes, until a cake tester inserted near the center comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs. Cool completely; store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes 24 brownies.

Hazelnut Cookies

My dear friend Amanda gave me an awesome cookbook a few weeks back called The Boozy Baker. Each recipe involves alcohol of some kind; cakes made with rum or bourbon, pies spiked with brandy, icings flavored with a range of liqueurs. One recipe that’s suitable for shipping across the country is these hazelnut cookies, which actually featured chocolate chips in their original iteration. But Amanda also gave me a recipe notebook, titled I’m A Whisk Taker, in which to record my own concoctions. And so, I adapted the original recipe to feature more hazelnuts (because can you really ever have too many?) and some salted caramel chips.

The end result is a delightfully delicious hazelnutty creation, and the next time I bake these, I’ll add another cup of salted caramel chips to the dough to pump up the sweetness just a bit. At present these treats are en route to California, where Amanda and her family will hopefully enjoy them.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon hazelnut liqueur
  • 1 1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, cooled, and chopped*
  • 1 cup salted caramel baking chips

*To toast hazelnuts, place them on a rimmed baking sheet in a 350 degree oven and toast for 5-10 minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove from oven and place in a kitchen towel, then rub so the skins fall off – don’t worry if you don’t get every last bit of skin from the nuts, as this will add to their flavor. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the bowl a few times. Beat in hazelnut liqueur.

Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing just until combined. Stir in hazelnuts and caramel chips.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of dough onto prepared baking sheets. Bake for 5 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake another 3-4 minutes; these cookies brown very quickly, so keep an eye on them. You want set edges, but a puffy middle.

Remove from oven and cool on the baking sheets for 2-3 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes about 30 cookies.