Scrumptious cupcakes for a special occasion

browniecupcake

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.

Ingredients
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

Frosting
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.

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Sweet strawberry-filled success

Strawberry oatmeal loaf

When I’m not in the mood to tackle regular bread recipes, I opt for a quick bread. I like quick breads because there’s no rising process and I can usually find a recipe that uses ingredients I have on hand.

One of my favorite quick bread recipes is this Oatmeal-strawberry bread. The bread is sweet and moist and makes a nice treat or breakfast with a cup of coffee; not to mention it smells delicious while it’s baking. It would also make a great snack for kids.

I often have strawberries around and there are few recipes that use strawberries correctly — most breads and muffins that incorporate them end up with large soggy spots where the berries are. For this recipe, take the time to slice the strawberries so they’re thin. If you leave them in chunks, the bread will get too soggy in spots or the strawberries will sink to the bottom of the loaf. I know this from experience. Also make sure to grease the bottom of the pan well, or the bottom of the loaf will break off when the loaf is being taken out of the pan. Check the bread with a toothpick about 10 minutes before it should be done baking. If you’re at high altitude, use 1/2 teaspoon baking powder instead of a full teaspoon or it won’t come out correctly. It may need to bake longer, too.

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
1 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
10 ounces fresh strawberries, sliced
2 tablespoons rolled oats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 7-inch-by-3-inch loaf pan.

Stir together the flour, 3/4 cups rolled oats, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl.

In another bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil and eggs; stir into flour mixture until just moistened. Fold in strawberries. Pour into the prepared loaf pan, and sprinkle the tops with the remaining 2 tablespoons of rolled oats.

Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool the strawberry bread in the pan for 5 minutes before cooling completely on a wire rack.

Strawberry Bavarian Pie

Strawberry pie

I grew up in Watsonville, Calif., the land of strawberries. Around this time of year, the summer scent of strawberries fills the air on San Andreas Road between Manresa Beach and Beach Road. Taking that drive on a summer night is one of my favorite things.

Having recently moved from the area, I’ve been missing that drive quite a bit. I miss seeing the setting sun over the ocean in one direction and the rolling strawberry fields in the other. I miss being able to pull over at a farm stand and buy beautiful, fragrant strawberries directly from the grower, often at a lower price than many stores offer.

The last time I was at the store, strawberries were on sale. Though not as fragrant as the ones I’m used to, I figured they were the best I could get. I decided to use them to make one of my favorite summer treats: a strawberry Bavarian pie.

The pie doesn’t have the heft of most fruit pies. Instead, it combines crushed fresh fruit with gelatin and cream. I got the recipe from “The Joy of Cooking,” one of my go-to reference books for kitchen projects. For now, it will have to satisfy my longing for those sweet summer drives.

Crust
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 + 1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter or shortening + 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
6 tablespoons ice water
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon ice water

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Combine the flour and salt in medium bowl. Cut half of the butter into the mixture, working it in with the tips of your fingers until it has the consistency of cornmeal. Cut the rest of the butter into the dough and work in until the dough turns into pea-sized balls. Sprinkle the dough with 6 tablespoons of ice water.

Using a fork, blend the water into the dough. If needed to hold the ingredients together, add the remaining water.

Either roll the dough out and fit it into a pie dish or pat it into the dish. Prick the crust with a fork.

Put a piece of foil in the crust and fill with pie weights. The pie weights will keep the crust from slipping into the dish and keep the bottom from bubbling.

Bake in an oven preheated to 425 F for 15 minutes or until golden. Cool.

Filling
1 quart (about 4 cups) strawberries, hulled
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cold water
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
3 tablespoons boiling water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice
1 cup cold heavy cream

Crush the strawberries in a large bowl. Add 1/2 cup sugar and let stand for 30 minutes.

Pour the cold water into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let stand for 5 minutes. Add the boiling water and stir to dissolve the gelatin. Stir mixture into the berries. Add the lemon juice. Chill the gelatin until it is the thickness of unbeaten egg whites.

Whip the heavy cream until firm peaks form. Fold the cream into the berry mixture and pour into the cooled pie crust.