Brownie Chunk Cookies update

No new recipe today, I’m afraid, for though I do know what our soup for March is, a combination of being back in school for the semester and unexpectedly running out of eggs has not left enough time for composing and photographing a final February dish.

That being said, if you need a sweet baking project in the next week, may I suggest this one? And may I suggest further, after a little experimentation this weekend, that the addition of about 2 teaspoons of instant espresso powder to the brownie component, and about 1 teaspoon of cinnamon to the cookie component, makes something even more transcendent?

Food Blog December 2014-0972

Till next week, my friends…

Pumpkin Chocolate Cupcakes with Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting

2015 Blog November-0577The beauty of having a perfect chocolate cake recipe, as I do, is that it’s always there in the back of your memory, ready for any holiday, any event, any Wednesday evening you really need a piece of cake. It’s always tender, it’s always moist, it tastes refreshingly of cocoa but is not overly sweet. It is easy to make – 45 minutes from empty bowl to tins hot out of the oven if you’re organized, and its recipe is easily halved and quartered for when you want a single layer, and when you just need a 6-inch cake for you and somebody you’re willing to go halfsies with right out of the cake tin.

2015 Blog November-05572015 Blog November-0560Because this recipe is so dependable, because it is so easy and so well loved I’ve learned the measurements by heart, I’ve basically come to the conclusion that it is magic. It’s delicious, it’s quick, it’s vegan (until you drape it in whipped cream), which also means it’s cheap. But most magically, it is easily modified in dozens of ways, and every time it seems to come out right. I’ve made it gluten-free, I’ve soaked it in liqueur, I’ve added coffee, I’ve used olive oil instead of vegetable oil, I’ve switched out the type of vinegar, I’ve turned it into cupcakes; somehow, it just always works.

2015 Blog November-05622015 Blog November-0563Here, in the ultimate experiment, I added an entire cup of pumpkin puree without adjusting any of the other ingredient values, and it STILL WORKED. That shouldn’t be possible. Pumpkin is so wet that dumping in such a healthy portion of it should require some tweaking. But because this cake is magic, it produced more than two dozen deeply dark, tender, moist cupcakes within an hour and a half.

2015 Blog November-05642015 Blog November-05662015 Blog November-0569Though I usually fill and slather this cake in an unapologetically thick layer of whipped cream, for cupcakes, I wanted to play with the subtle pumpkin flavor by spiking the frosting with the spices of pumpkin pie. Cream cheese frosting is a perennial favorite of mine, though for some reason I always forget about it when I’m not addressing a carrot cake. Here, though, it works perfectly: the tang of the cream cheese prevents the frosting from getting too sweet too fast, and it can hold up to the strong flavors of the spices that get whipped in.

2015 Blog November-0573Plus, bonus, cream cheese frosting is easy to pipe because it remains nice and stiff, which means you end up with professional looking cupcakes you can impress your coworkers or your Thanksgiving guests with. You know, if you feel like sharing.

2015 Blog November-0575

Pumpkin Chocolate Cupcakes with Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes 28
60-90 minutes (plus at least 30 minutes cooling time for cupcakes)
For cake:
3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
⅔ cups vegetable oil
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup unsweetened pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
2 cups cold water
For frosting:
16 ounces (2 packages) plain, full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces (8 tablespoons or 1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla
2-3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon cardamom
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ginger
  • Preheat the oven to 350F and spray or line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake wrappers. Set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. It turns a lovely pale pinkish color when the cocoa is fully integrated.
  • In a 2-cup glass measuring cup, measure out the vegetable oil and stir in the vinegar and the vanilla. Carefully add the pumpkin puree and whisk together. Add to the dry ingredients and use the stand mixer or an electric handheld mixer to combine – it will form a wet, clumpy mess.
  • With the mixer running on low, slowly add the 2 cups of cold water. As the batter loosens you’ll want to add no faster than a trickle lest the now suddenly deep, deep cocoa-brown batter splatters.
  • Once all the water is added, continue mixing until well combined – at least a minute. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl with a spatula to ensure no hidden pockets of dry ingredients.
  • When the batter is fully mixed, scoop ⅓ cup into each cavity of your prepared muffin tin. I use an ice cream scoop that holds ⅓ cup and has one of those trigger pieces that sweeps across and cleans out the scoop – I highly recommend this. It’s very convenient.
  • Bake for 18 minutes or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted comes out with only a moist crumb or two. Cool in muffin tin for 5-10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining batter until all cupcakes are baked and cooled.
  • To make the frosting, drop the cream cheese into a large bowl and beat well with an electric handheld mixer or the whisk attachment on a stand mixer. When the cream cheese is looking fluffy, scrape down the sides, add the room temperature butter, and beat again until mixture is thick and fluffy. Scrape down the sides, add the vanilla, and beat once more.
  • Now, sift in the powdered sugar ½ cup at a time, beating well in between each addition. You will want to start with slow speed each time to avoid a powdered sugar cloud. Once you’ve hit the 2 cup mark, let the mixer run for 2-3 minutes until the frosting becomes very thick. Give it a taste to check for sweetness and texture. If it seems thick enough for your purposes, add the spices, beat to integrate fully, and you’re done (I found 2 cups was perfect in flavor and texture). If the frosting is not thick enough, add the remaining powdered sugar ½ cup at a time, beating well, for additional stiffness. Then add the spices, beat to integrate fully, and prepare to frost the cupcakes.
  • If you have a piping bag, fit it with a star shaped tip and use a rubber spatula to fill it halfway with frosting. If you don’t have a piping bag, cut the bottom corner off a gallon sized zip-top freezer bag and slide in a star shaped tip (or just leave it open for a less defined swirl of frosting). Half fill with frosting. Use your fingers to gently smoosh the frosting toward the bottom of the bag. Twist the top (empty) half of the bag around two or three times.
  • To frost the cupcakes, hold the filled half of the bag in your dominant hand and a cupcake in your other hand. Without touching the icing tip to the surface of the cupcake, squeeze the bag gently and move your hand in a clockwise circle, letting the frosting ooze out and create a curlicue of frosting on top of the cupcake. Repeat until all cupcakes are frosting, refilling the bag when needed. You’ll likely have some extra, which seems to me like a terribly good thing, and which apparently freezes quite well.
  • Refrigerate cupcakes until ready to serve – they keep just fine overnight (and, in fact, were still moist and tender into day three).

Cinnamon Mocha Swirl Bread

Food blog June 2015-0938Around here, we take afternoon snack time very seriously. During the school year, it’s an opportunity to sit down together for a few minutes and work our way through notable moments from the day. During the summer, it’s a good way to reconnect from whatever individual projects we might have lost ourselves in. It feels like a restart, in a lot of ways, which can be important if the day hasn’t gone all that well.

Food blog June 2015-0916More than that, though, we are gluttons, and our mid-afternoon snack, or “teatime” as my wannabe Londoner husband likes to call it, is a sacred few minutes reserved for cramming something delicious into our mouths. Usually this is something quick: chips and salsa, or crackers and cheese; on Fridays it often dovetails into an impromptu happy hour of some sort (stay tuned for snack-y developments on this front, by the way…). But sometimes I like to get fancy.

Food blog June 2015-0911Spurred by this month’s Twelve Loaves theme “A Little Something Sweet,” I decided a special “teatime” loaf was in the works: I wanted a swirled bread, and since N. was working his way through his very last week of school, I decided something with a bit of pick-me-up was called for. Playing with flavors of Mexican chocolate and tiramisu, with a block of cream cheese thrown in for good measure, I ended up with this stunner: a lightly sweet cinnamon spiced loaf, with an unapologetically thick filling of sweetened cream cheese, espresso powder, and chopped semi-sweet chocolate. Yes, please.

Food blog June 2015-0910The production of this loaf is fairly standard: a good knead, two rises, with the application of the filling in between, and the better part of an hour in the oven. The most difficult part, honestly, is waiting for the finished loaf to cool enough to slice into it without making a mess. I waited almost long enough.

Food blog June 2015-0915Oddly, despite the Mexican and Italian dessert inspirations, what this reminded me of more than anything else was mocha chip ice cream. You know, the luscious, rich brown scoops with just the right amount of coffee flavor, studded with chunks of dark chocolate. Except in my version, it’s a soft swirl through a moist slice, and the chocolate pieces melt easily on your tongue (one of my biggest complaints about “chip” anything ice cream: the cold, hard chunks of chocolate. I know, I know, first world problems).

Food blog June 2015-0920Food blog June 2015-0921Obviously, this is a rich bread. I’d say it’s more than a “little” something sweet, but let’s indulge anyway. Unless caffeine doesn’t disrupt your sleeping patterns, I’d stay away from it as a bedtime snack. But as a pick-me-up in mid-afternoon, or mid-morning for that matter, it’s solid. I can imagine thick slices on a brunch table as well, maybe even as part of a bridal shower (colors: espresso and vanilla?) since the presentation is so pretty. But then, I’ve got weddings on the brain this summer.

Food blog June 2015-0933Oh, p.s., like my new “studio” set-up next to the window? My Photo Friday post from the other week had such lovely lighting I decided to make it a more regular shoot location. I’m looking forward to playing more with angles and light at different times of day.

Food blog June 2015-0942

Cinnamon Mocha Swirl Bread
Makes 1 large 9×5 inch loaf
For dough:
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
½ cup lukewarm milk (I use whole milk)
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
¼ cup + 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, soft or melted and cooled, divided
2-3 cups bread flour
For filling:
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped or broken into small pieces
  • In a glass measuring cup, combine the lukewarm milk and the yeast, and let sit for 5-10 minutes to allow the yeast to wake up a bit. While you wait, combine the sugar, cinnamon, salt, vanilla, eggs, and ¼ cup of butter in the bowl of a stand mixer (or just a large mixing bowl).
  • When the yeast and milk mixture is bubbly and smells like bread, add it into the egg and butter mixture and stir well to combine. Add 2 cups of the flour, and stir well to combine again.
  • If you are using a stand mixer, fit with the dough hook attachment and begin to knead on medium speed. If you are working by hand, dump the dough out onto a floured board and knead for about 5 minutes. As needed, work in more flour ¼ cup at a time until the dough is easy to handle. I ended up using about 2 ¾ cups total. In the stand mixer bowl, it will start to pull away from and then slap the sides.
  • After you’ve kneaded for about 5 minutes, the dough should feel smooth and stretchy and be texturally reminiscent of play-dough. At this point, lightly oil the inside of a large bowl (I use the stand mixer bowl for this – you don’t even need to clean it out), flip the dough around in it to coat all sides, then cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rise until doubled; about 90 minutes.
  • While you wait for the dough, make the filling: in a medium bowl, beat together the cream cheese, espresso powder, and granulated sugar until light and fluffy; 1-2 minutes. Then gently incorporate the chopped chocolate, and set aside.
  • When the dough has doubled, punch it down by depressing your fist gently into its center to release trapped air, then let it rest for 5 minutes to get its breath back. Turn it out onto a floured board and roll into a rectangle of roughly 9×16 inches.
  • Spread the dough rectangle with the filling, leaving a border of about 1 inch on all sides to ensure minimal overflow. Working gently, roll up into a log starting from the short edge (so you’ll end up with a fat log about 9 inches long). Crimp the edges at the end to seal it – be aggressive! The dough might not want to stick to itself at first.
  • Now that you have your fat log, well-sealed, twist it 4 or 5 times to disperse the swirl. This may stretch it out a bit, so when you carefully wedge it into a buttered 9×5 inch loaf pan, just tuck the ends underneath.
  • Once the loaf is settled in the pan, rub the top with the remaining 1 tablespoon of soft or melted butter, then cover lightly with plastic wrap, set aside for another 30 minutes, and preheat the oven to 375F.
  • By the time your loaf has risen for another 30 minutes, it should have come close to doubling in size again, and your oven should be fully preheated. Bake the loaf in the preheated 375F oven for 35-40 minutes, until the exterior is nicely burnished and the interior tests 180-200F (A skewer that comes out clean works too, though be careful, because the cream cheese filling will remain gloopy).
  • Cool loaf in pan for at least 10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool on a wire rack for at least another 10 minutes. The cream cheese and chocolate need time to solidify a bit, or the layers within the loaf will threaten collapse.
  • Enjoy with coffee, or tea, or milk, or your fingers. Keeps well in the fridge for 4 or 5 days (probably more would be fine, but ours didn’t last longer than that). Bring to room temperature before eating for best leftovers.

#TwelveLoaves is a monthly bread baking party created by Lora from Cake Duchess and runs smoothly with the help of Heather of girlichef, and the rest of our fabulous bakers.

Our theme this month is A LITTLE SOMETHING SWEET. For more bread recipes, visit the #TwelveLoaves Pinterest board, or check out last month’s mouthwatering selection of #TwelveLoaves Mexican Breads!

If you’d like to bake along with us this month, share your “A Little Something Sweet” Bread using hashtag #TwelveLoaves!