vegan vanilla bean cupcakes with chocolate ganache

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Lovely people. If you’re still out there, you have my heart. It has been forever and ever since the last time we were all here and I can’t tell you how much I have missed this place. I feel like so much has happened in the three months I’ve been away. It’s been a journey.

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I wish I could say that I had gone away for three months traveling the world, doing fabulous things, but that just isn’t the case. I did sneak off to Montreal for a weekend in May, which was lovely and hilarious and full of deliciousness (poutine! and fois gras! oui!). I guess the best excuse for my extended absence is my move. I moved to Berkeley in the beginning of June. I didn’t go very far, about 10 miles, but it was a big deal move. It’s my first time ever being on my own, my first time living outside of the town where I grew up. It took me over a month to kind of sort of get it together. I spent the first few weeks slowly bringing things over from my parents’ (so. much. stuff.). Spent an obscene number of hours perusing the interwebs for home furnishings, obsessing over bar carts and throw pillows and pink sofas. Temporarily forgot how to cook for myself. It was rough in the beginning. I use to fantasize about living alone, but it got kind of lonely after the first week. I didn’t realize just how quiet it would be. I bought a small fountain just because I needed some ambient noise. I’m still figuring a few things out, but I absolutely love my place and can’t wait to share it with you.

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These cupcakes were the last thing I baked in my old kitchen, way back in May. My bestie had a birthday party, and I couldn’t show up without goodies in hand, even though she specifically told me not to bake anything (I know she was just being nice, and didn’t want me to be two hours late like previous years). And although I was already packing up my kitchen at that point, I really wanted to squeeze in one last baking day and one last shoot in that old space. So here we are, visiting the old kitchen for the last time.

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If you’re ever in need a solid vegan cupcake recipe, Isa Chandra is the source. I had something very simple in mind, and vanilla cupcakes and chocolate ganache are about as basic as it gets. I couldn’t resist the berries at the market that morning, and they were the perfect way to finish off these beauties. On to the next chapter…

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vegan vanilla bean cupcakes with chocolate ganache

very slightly adapted from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s post punk kitchen

makes 1 dozen

For the cupcakes:

1 cup unsweetened almond milk

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons cornstarch

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup canola oil

3/4 cup sugar

1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped

For the ganache:

1/3 cup almond milk

heaping 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 tablespoon Earth Balance or margarine 

2 tablespoons corn syrup or pure maple syrup

Bake the cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line muffin pan with cupcake liners. Set aside.

Whisk the almond milk and vinegar in a small bowl and set aside for a few minutes to curdle.

Sift the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl and mix.

Beat together the almond milk mixture, oil, sugar, vanilla extract and vanilla bean in a large bowl. Sift in the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and mix until no large lumps remain.

Fill cupcake liners two-thirds of the way and bake for 20 to 22 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool.

In the meantime, prepare the ganache.

In a small sauce pan, bring the milk to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer and add the chocolate, Earth Balance, and syrup. Mix with a rubber spatula for about 30 seconds. Turn heat off, continue stirring until the chocolate is fully melted and the icing is smooth.

To assemble:

Let ganache cool for about 10-15 minutes. Dip the top of the cupcake in the ganache and then set them on a cooling rack. Alternately, you can spoon the ganache onto the cupcakes. Top each cupcake with a few raspberries and let set in a cool room for an hour or so, or place in the fridge to set.

 

 

car bomb cupcakes

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I noticed recently that the sweets around here have been very chocolate-centric. I meant to remedy this. There were citrus desserts in the works. But then these cupcakes happened. And I’m super excited about them. Let me explain.

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There were a couple of birthdays to celebrate, and I was racking my brain for a dessert that was suitable for a bunch of dudes. At first I thought some sort of s’more concoction would do the trick. I also liked the idea of a grown-up Hostess cupcake. Then I realized that a boozey sweet treat was most appropriate for this group of young fellas.

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And then it became obvious that an Irish car bomb cupcake was going to cover all of the bases. I can’t actually remember the last time I had an Irish car bomb, though I’m guessing it was sometime in my early twenties. I don’t recall ever being too fond of them, but I really liked the idea of them in cupcake form. For the sake of research, I did a car bomb while these were baking in the oven. It made for a fun Thursday night at home to say the least.

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This little car bomb cupcake is the bomb (yes, I’m totally from the 90’s). It’s a hybrid of Deb’s cupcake and a Hostess cupcake. It’s a chocolatey Guinness cake filled with Baileys buttercream and glazed with Jameson spiked ganache. I threw in a little gold and silver sparkle for good measure (and because I can’t resist the bling), which gives them that sort of “pot of gold” effect, making these perfect for St. Patty’s day. Bottoms up!

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car bomb cupcakes 

adapted from smitten kitchen

makes 2 dozen cupcakes

for the cupcakes: 

1 cup stout (such as Guinness)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar

1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

2/3 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 standard cupcake pans with liners. Set aside.

Bring beer and butter to a simmer in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in large bowl to blend. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the eggs and sour cream and beat until combined. Add the chocolate mixture to sour cream mixture and beat just to combine. Add the flour mixture and beat briefly on low speed. Using a rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them 2/3 to 3/4 of the way. Bake until tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Let cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely.

for the Baileys buttercream: 

2 cups confectioners sugar

1 stick (1/2 cup or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 – 4 tablespoons Baileys 

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add butter and beat on medium speed for several minutes, until light and fluffy. Slowly add the sugar, a few tablespoons at a time.

When the frosting looks thick enough to spread, drizzle in the Baileys and whip until combined. If the frosting becomes too thin, beat in another spoonful or two of confectioners sugar.

for the chocolate-whiskey glaze: 

adapted from Martha Stewart 

makes 1 cup

2/3 cup heavy cream

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1 tablespoon corn syrup

2 teaspoons Irish whiskey (like Jameson) 

Heat cream in a small saucepan over medium heat. Place chocolate and corn syrup in a small bowl. Pour hot cream over chocolate mixture, and stir until smooth. Add whiskey and stir until completely incorporated. Use immediately.

to assemble cupcakes: 

gold and/or silver sanding or crystal sugars  (optional)

Using a cupcake corer or the small end of a large pastry tip, insert into the center of the cupcake and remove a small hunk of the cake to create a well.

Fill a prepared pastry bag with the Baileys buttercream. Pipe buttercream into the well of the cupcake until it reaches the top. Use a spatula to smooth the buttercream at the cupcake’s surface.

Repeat with the remaining cupcakes.

When all of the cupcakes have been filled, dip the tops of each cupcake in chocolate glaze, letting excess drip off. If the glaze gets too thick, set over a pan of hot water until it melts slightly and stir. Let stand until set, about 30 minutes. Embellish with sprinkles.

Cupcakes will keep, covered, for up to 2 days.

top-secret chocolate mousse

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Last week I subsisted on pâté and Triscuits and chocolate mousse. It was obscene. But it was that kind of week. I also might’ve been just a tiny bit concerned about asteroids and crazy meteor showers and other things that are way beyond my control. Cuckoo, I know. Don’t judge. The good news is I have chocolate mousse for you.

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I mentioned a while back that I had been contemplating chocolate mousse. I finally decided to do something about it. I ended up testing two recipes. The first wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great. I initially liked the idea of a chocolate mousse recipe that called for egg whites and whipped cream and butter. But it was a bit labor intensive and included a lot of calories that didn’t necessarily need to be there. I felt like I needed to go back to the drawing board.

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Since I was getting together with the boys for dinner on Sunday, I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to try out a second recipe. I had a feeling when I stumbled upon Dorie’s top-secret chocolate mousse that the search was over. The recipe only called for a handful of ingredients and was super simple to whip up – I threw it together while catching up with one of the Gregs over bourbon cocktails, and did it all without a mixer.

As always, the Lady Greenspan did not disappoint. The chocolate mousse was rich, intensely chocolate, and perfectly textured – velvety and airy all at once. Totally decadent. It’s definitely a winner in my book. It was the perfect ending to our homemade pasta dinner (more about that later).

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top-secret chocolate mousse 

adapted from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan

serves 4

3-1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped

3 large eggs, separated, at room temperature (use the freshest eggs available)

Pinch of salt

1-1/2 teaspoons sugar

3/4 cup chilled heavy whipping cream 

1 teaspoon sugar 

chocolate shavings (optional)

Gently melt the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth.

Using a whisk, stir the eggs into the chocolate one at a time until smooth.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a bowl with a hand mixer, beat the egg whites with the salt until they start to form peaks. Gradually add the sugar while beating. Continue to beat until the whites are shiny and hold medium-firm peaks. Be careful not to overbeat.

Spoon about one quarter of the whites over the melted chocolate and stir until the mixture is almost smooth. Spoon the rest of the whites into the chocolate mixture, and very carefully fold them in with a large rubber spatula. Be as thorough as you can without overworking the mixture.

Spoon the mousse into a serving bowl or 4 individual bowls. Serve immediately or cover and keep refrigerated until set, about 4 hours.

Beat cream and 1 teaspoon sugar in another medium bowl until peaks form. Spoon whipped cream atop mousse. Garnish with chocolate shavings.

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pretzel toffee with chocolate and almonds

pretzel toffee with chocolate and almonds

I’m sorry. I know you’ve probably reached your threshold for holiday sweets at this point. But I feel like I would be doing you a huge disservice if I didn’t share this with you.

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You might already be familiar with cracker toffee. I’ve been making it every year since I first encountered it here. Crackers (saltines or matzo), swimming in brown sugar toffee and topped with dark chocolate, toasted almonds, and sea salt – it is dangerously addictive. I make at least one batch of cracker toffee every holiday season because people love the stuff. It’s the right thing to do.

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I brought the matzo toffee to a Secret Santa party last week and the entire tin was empty by the end of the day, which is always the sign of a winning treat. Even though I’ve had it a million times, I had to try a piece (quality testing). As I munched, I started thinking about pretzels. I’ve had pretzels on the brain the past few months, and have been meaning to make a toffee covered pretzel of some sort. And then I realized that the matzo could very easily be swapped out for pretzels.

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So that’s exactly what I did a few days later. I picked up a bag of pretzel sticks and went to town. I decided that cellophane bags filled with hunks of pretzel toffee were going to be a nice little surprise for the peeps this year. I packed up most of it, but made sure to save a few pieces for myself. Salty, sweet, crunchy, nutty, chocolatey – all the bases are covered. Just do it.

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pretzel toffee with chocolate and almonds 

adapted from smitten kitchen

makes one 11×17-inch sheet of toffee

1/2 pound pretzel sticks 

1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into a few large pieces

1 cup packed light brown sugar

a big pinch of sea salt

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups semi- or bittersweet chocolate chips (or a combination of both)

1 cup sliced almonds, toasted

extra sea salt for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 11-by-17-inch baking sheet completely with foil, and then line the base of the foil with parchment paper, cut to fit.

Line the bottom of the baking sheet with pretzel sticks, covering as much of the pan as possible.

In a medium heavy-duty saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together, and stir it over medium heat until it begins to boil. Once it has begun boiling, let it bubble for three more minutes, stirring it well. It will thicken a bit as it cooks. Remove from the heat and add the salt and vanilla, and then quickly pour it over the pretzels. You’ll want to spread it quickly, as it will begin to set as soon as it is poured.

Bake the caramel-covered pretzels for 15 minutes, watching carefully as it will bubble and the corners might darken too quickly and/or burn. You can reduce the heat if you see this happening.

Remove from oven and immediately cover with chocolate chips. Let stand five minutes, and then spread them evenly across the caramel. An offset spatula works great here. If you’re using them, sprinkle the chocolate with toasted almonds and/or sea salt.

Once completely cool, break it into pieces and store in an airtight container.