Scrumptious cupcakes for a special occasion


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: brownies are my favorite dessert. When I’m craving chocolate, I usually whip up a batch of brownies. When I’m feeling creative, I start with a base brownie recipe and improvise with the flavor. But brownies never seemed quite right for a special occasion — until I discovered Curtis Stone’s Brownie Cupcakes.

From the chocolate-loaded brownie cupcake to the decadent, creamy cream cheese frosting, these are perfection. The cupcake has a bit of give to it when you bite in and the frosting is wonderfully smooth. It’s the most delightfully messy cupcake I have ever made and eaten. It really doesn’t get much better than this.

My birthday is tomorrow. Each year, when I think about what to make, these cross my mind. I have only made these twice, but each time they left me wanting more — which is why I make them strictly for special occasions. Whether the festivities are for a birthday or other type of event, these cupcakes definitely merit being part of the celebration.

6 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (60 percent to 70 percent cacao), chopped

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

Pinch of salt

3/4 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

2/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1/3 cup light corn syrup

4 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (60 percent cacao), chopped

8 small, fresh strawberries

To make the cupcakes: Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line 8 standard cupcake molds with cupcake liners.

Stir the chocolate and butter in a small heavy saucepan over low heat until the chocolate and butter melt and the mixture is smooth. Stir in the syrup and salt. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar and eggs in a large bowl for 2 minutes or until the mixture is thick and light. Stir in the chocolate mixture. Add the flour and baking powder and stir just until blended, then stir in the walnuts.

Divide the batter equally among the prepared cupcake molds filling the paper liners completely. (Filling the liners completely is key — otherwise the cupcakes will collapse and will be less fudgy.)

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the cupcakes puff and crack on top and a skewer inserted into the center of the cupcakes comes out with fudgy crumbs attached.

Remove the cupcakes from the oven and cool completely on a cooling rack.

To frost the cupcakes: Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese in a large bowl until light and smooth. Beat in the syrup. Place the chocolate in another bowl and place the bowl over a small pot of boiling water. Stir constantly until the chocolate melts. Add the melted chocolate to the cream cheese mixture and beat until blended and fluffy, stopping the machine and scraping the bottom of the bowl to ensure that the mixture is well-blended. Spread the frosting generously over the cooled cupcakes. Garnish each one with a fresh strawberry and serve.

A triple-threat cookie for Christmas

cinnamon swirls

I discovered one of my now-favorite Christmas cookies in the 2010 edition of America’s Test Kitchen Holiday Cookies. I tried many of the recipes in that edition, some failures and some successes, but this one stood out. I could make the dough ahead of time, something that really helps when making a large number of cookies.

Some of the cookies I make for Christmas are elaborate — chocolate cookies with homemade caramel, carefully decorated sugar cookies, chocolate-dipped mint cookies — so I need a couple that are less involved. These Cinnamon Swirls were exactly what I wanted. They’re simple, beautiful and tasty, what you might call a triple threat in the world of baking. They’re like a sweet shortbread, one with cream cheese mixed into the dough; and the cinnamon not only adds a bit of spice, but a nice design as well.

One thing to note when making these is to make sure to roll them tight enough. On my first attempt a couple years ago, the rolls were too loose, so there were gaps in the baked cookies. Be sure to refrigerate the dough for the proper amount of time, too, because they’ll spread out too much if the dough is at room temperature before it goes in the oven.

I really do love this recipe. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup super-fine sugar, plus 3 tablespoons for filling
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces and softened
2 tablespoons cream cheese
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

With electric mixer on low speed, combine flour, 3/4 cup sugar, salt, and butter, and mix until crumbly and slightly wet, 2 minutes. Add cream cheese and vanilla and mix until dough just begins to form. Finish kneading dough by hand to form large cohesive mass. Divide into 2 disks of dough, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Whisk remaining sugar and cinnamon together. Roll one disk between two large sheets of parchment paper to a 12-by-7-inch rectangle. Remove the top layer of parchment and sprinkle dough with half of the cinnamon-sugar, leaving a 1/4-inch border along the edges. Spritz the filling with water, and roll dough into a 7-inch log, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, about two hours. Repeat with remaining dough and cinnamon-sugar.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and place rack in the middle position. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Trim the edges of each log, then cut each log crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Transfer to parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing about 1 inch apart. Bake until edges are golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes, switching baking sheets halfway through baking time. Cool 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.