Orange-Topped Black Bottom Cupcakes

Orange Black-Bottom Cupcakes

Orange Black-Bottom Cupcakes

Baseball fans are a highly superstitious bunch, and our household is no exception. Our San Francisco Giants won the pennant last night in a landslide victory against the Cardinals, and B and I are convinced that these cupcakes are part of the reason why. We were losing the series until I baked these beauties; after eating them, we’ve been unbeatable. When it comes to mystical game-winning powers, your mileage may vary, but if nothing else these cupcakes are guaranteed to be a magical eating experience.

Classic black-bottom cupcakes consist of a rich chocolate bottom and a cheesecake-like filling. I’ve modified the traditional recipe by using dark cocoa powder and adding a punch of orange to the cheesecake mixture, as well as using balsamic vinegar to bring out the bittersweet flavor of the dark chocolate and fruitiness of the citrus topping. The result is a beautifully balanced and surprisingly light dessert! The cake and filling are both moist and fluffy, while the richness of flavor means you can be satisfied with just one. And because these treats take advantage of a very simple cake recipe, they’re easy for anyone to make.

I was already thinking this recipe would be perfect for Halloween, but as you can see in the final result (top right), some of them turned out ghost-like, making them even more suited!

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Orange Black-Bottom Cupcake Recipe

Black Bottom Cupcakes (Before Baking)

Black Bottom Cupcakes (Before Baking)

Topping:

  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 8 oz cream cheese (full-fat, low-fat, or Neufchâtel)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp orange extract
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar

Cake:

  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup dark cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350° F and line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake papers.

To make your creamsicle filling, you first need to reduce the orange juice by about half. (This will concentrate the flavor without making the topping too runny in your final product.) Measure your 1/2 cup of juice and pour it into a shallow pan. Simmer over medium heat until you have about 1/4 cup. Set aside to cool off while you cream together the cheese, egg, and extracts, just until combined. Beat in juice and sugar, and set aside while you make the cake batter.

Finished Orange Black-Bottom Cupcakes

Orange Black Bottom Cupcakes

For cake batter, sift together dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix wet ingredients separately, then pour into the dry mixture and mix just until combined. Working quickly, distribute the batter evenly between the 12 muffin cups, then spoon the cheesecake topping to the center of the top of each cupcake. (Both mixtures should be fairly runny.) If you apply it to the center each time, the filling will naturally distribute both outwards and down into the cake itself.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the chocolate part of the cupcake comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

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Green Tea Cupcakes with Pomegranate Foam

Green tea cupcakes topped with pomegranate foam

Green tea cupcakes topped with pomegranate foam

This weekend I was tasked with providing a non-chocolate dessert for an Oscars party. With a pomegranate languishing on my counter, I headed to Foodily, a website and smartphone app that makes it easy to find recipes by ingredient. A featured recipe from Cupcake Bakeshop caught my eye: Green Tea Pomegranate Cupcakes.

Gabrielle enjoys a cupcake

Gabrielle enjoys a cupcake

I love green tea desserts, and keep matcha powder in my pantry the way I do sugar, flour, and other baking staples. Green tea cake, green tea ice cream, green tea cocktails… you name it, I love it. I was slightly weirded out by the idea of putting pomegranate seeds into my batter the way the original recipe did, and was also low on useable pomegranate seeds, so I omitted that step. I also made changes to the recipe: using white whole wheat flour (reducing the amount to avoid changing the texture), adding vanilla, and making a more complex flavor profile for the foam topping. I also added cream of tartar to stabilize the egg whites. The result: a perfect pairing of fluffy, earthy green tea cake cut with an airy topping with the tangy sweetness of pomegranate and a hint of orange. These little numbers got rave reviews, not only from Gabrielle, but from the rest of the group as well. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did.

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The World’s Easiest Chocolate Peanut Butter Bark Recipe

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Bark

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Bark

I don’t really go in for the whole Valentine’s Day experience.  It’s what I call a Hallmark holiday, invented by card and candy companies to move product.  On the other hand, I’ll take any excuse to eat chocolate… not that I need one.  Whether you’re looking for a quick treat for yourself, your loved one, or want to give it away as gourmet gifts, this recipe for peanut butter bark is delicious and darn easy to boot.

Just how easy is it?  To give you an idea, I invented it this past Saturday, probably between 11 and midnight, in the middle of a [paused] movie.  What can I say?  B wanted something sweet and crunchy, and I wanted to deliver.  And in this case, it was easy: it only takes about 5 minutes of active work (plus time to set).

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Low-Fat Banana Bread Recipe

As you may have read, Maddie’s zucchini bread started a revelation for me: Dessert can be reasonably healthy AND delicious(!!!). I have friends who do not need dessert and can give it up for months at a time. Let’s be clear: I can’t do that. I have dessert way more often than I probably should, so this discovery that it can be delicious and healthy enough to have several times a week was extremely exciting.

Sometimes, Shay buys more bananas than he can consume in a week. On one such occasion last week, as the bananas were starting to get a little soft, I decided to try out Maddie’s zucchini bread recipe but with bananas and a few minor changes. Instead of half white flour and half whole wheat, I used my new latest obsession: whole wheat pastry flour. Seriously folks, those who have not tried it, jump on the band wagon, you won’t be sorry.

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Lemon-Chocolate Madeleine Cookies

Lemon-Chocolate Madeleine Cookies

Lemon-Chocolate Madeleine Cookies

It might surprise you to learn that until this past holiday season, I did not own the proper equipment to bake my own namesake cookie.  Thanks to the love of my life, that tragic situation has now been remedied.

I baked my first batch of Madeleines about a week ago, sticking pretty faithfully (for me, at least) to the Joy of Baking‘s recipe, and tried them out on my godmother Barbara, one of the founders of the now-ubiquitous Just Desserts.  (No, she’s no longer an owner, so no, I can’t get you free goodies.)  After receiving her thumbs-up and agreement that, as I suspected, I’d baked them about 30 seconds too long, I decided I was ready to… you guessed it… improvise.

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Lemon Custard Cakes – An Easy & Elegant Dessert

When Brendan and I bought our first house a little over a year ago, there were a few major selling points.  One, if you recall, was a stove with gas burners for fire-roasting peppers.  Another was the big back yard, complete with a fully-mature lemon tree.

Serving lemon custard cakes

Yes, I'm wearing a tiara. It wasn't my idea.

I was already famous (among friends) for my lemon bars, but living with such easy access to fresh lemons, I’ve had a chance to experiment with other delectable citrus desserts.  One of my very favorites has to be these individually-sized lemon custard cakes.  They’re super simple to make, but come off as incredibly impressive due to their delicate texture — top half smooth and custardy, bottom half almost soufflé-like in consistency.  I first served them on New Year’s Eve 2010 (the first we spent in this house) to none other than Gabrielle and Shay, in an epic celebration that lasted until almost 5 am.  And yes, I’ve had them since.  And yes, they’re every bit as good without a stomach full of Champagne.

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Low-Fat Pumpkin Cheesecake Recipe

Having just made both apple and pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving, I decided to avoid pie altogether when Christmas rolled around.  I settled on the idea of making a pumpkin cheesecake, so that my sister (an avid pumpkin pie lover) would not feel deprived, but I wouldn’t need to be bored in my baking either.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Pumpkin Cheesecake (with candied orange garnish)

I browsed half-a-dozen recipes online and considered the pitfalls of cheesecake making.  The problem with many cheesecakes, in my opinion, is they are too heavy; it feels almost like eating a block of solid cream cheese, in terms of density.  Pumpkin is a wonderful ingredient for lightening up rich recipes, so we’re halfway there already.  But I was disappointed with the relatively small amount of pumpkin called for in many of the recipes, and astounded at the amount of cream cheese others called for.  (Three8-oz packages, Paula Deen?)  So, once again, I found myself improvising.  I know you’re all surprised.

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Orange Chocolate Chip Cookies

Orange Chocolate Chip Cookies

Orange Chocolate Chip Cookies

These were an experiment. About a year ago, I decided to make my first batch of chocolate chip cookies.  I ended up trying several recipes, and believe it or not, decided that I liked the outcome of the one on the bag of Ghiradelli chocolate chips.  There is this episode of Friends, where Monica, the chef on the show, is trying to recreate Phoebe’s grandma’s incredible chocolate chip recipe. She tries dozens of recipes only to realize that Phoebe’s grandma’s recipe was the one printed on the Nestle Chocolate chip bag. Anyway, that’s how I felt.  Since then, I have been doing minor alternations to the original recipe I found.

This latest experiment resulted from two things:  My quest to make cookies that are a tad bit healthier, and my love of the combination of chocolate and orange.

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The Best Zucchini Bread Recipe Ever

I know what you’re thinking.  But this time, it’s not me tooting my own horn.  It was Gabrielle who declared this recipe the “best zucchini bread [she’d] ever tasted,” after sampling a piece on our almost-weekly MarioKart-at-Maddie’s date.  This prompted us to discuss at length the common pitfalls of zucchini bread: notably, an oily texture that leaves napkin and mouth alike feeling greasy, or a loaf that’s shiny on the outside, but dry and crumbly on the in-.

The whole point of using zucchini in a cake or bread is to retain moisture, but this also means that you don’t need to go heavy on the fats.  My recipe (which Gabrielle now insists is all she needs for Christmas) uses unsweetened applesauce instead of oil, providing the springy, cakey texture you want without the oily mouthfeel.   I also use half whole wheat flour for more nutritional punch.  If you’re making this as a breakfast item, rather than a dessert, you could definitely use all whole wheat flour.  I also don’t bother peeling the zucchini, as the skin adds fiber and is grated up so finely that it makes no different texture-wise.

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Healthy Beet Brownies Recipe – Moist and Delicious!

Any time you use the word “healthy” to describe a dessert, you’re bound to get some rolled eyes… so do what I do: just don’t tell anyone.

Beet brownies

Beet brownies

Yesterday, with beets in the house and a hankering for something rich and chocolatey, it occurred to me to combine the two.  Apparently I’m not the first; there are a number of “beetroot brownie” recipes out there, but none of them were exactly what I wanted.  First of all, most brownie recipes seem to use cocoa powder, while I prefer using unsweetened baking chocolate for a richer, deeper choco flavor.  Then, in the case of the beet brownie recipes I found, people seemed to be simply adding beet puree to a regular batch of brownies, and the accompanying photos confirmed my suspicions that this would produce a result that was overly moist, to the point of almost falling apart.  I read one blog post that replaced all fat with beet puree, as many low-fat cooks do with prune puree or applesauce, but that’s going a little too far, even for me.

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