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.

Advertisements

Winding down with mint chocolate mousse

chocolatemintmousse

Last week I traveled for work. No matter how long I’m gone, it’s always nice to come home to my own space.

Because I didn’t return home until late Saturday afternoon, I knew I’d only have one full day of the weekend to myself. So I planned to do some cooking. To get a head start, I decided to make dessert.

Work has been particularly time-consuming lately, so much so that I haven’t had time to try anything from the new cookbook I bought in April, Curtis Stone’s “What’s for Dinner?” That was the first place I looked for inspiration. I settled on his Bittersweet-chocolate Mint Mousse.

Stone’s version of the mousse is thick and creamy, and the mint extract helps to bring out the richness of the chocolate. Other versions of mousse that I’ve made ended up overly foamy or the chocolate flavor wasn’t rich enough. The texture and flavor in this recipe are just about how I prefer them to be.

The only cooking involved is melting the chocolate. Making something with eggs that aren’t cooked always makes me a bit uneasy, so I researched whether it was OK and found this page in the Farmers’ Almanac, which stated that the risk of salmonella is low. If you’re worried about consuming the raw eggs, it also suggests substitutes for them.

Ingredients
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao), coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, thinly sliced
1/2 cup whole milk
3 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon mint extract (use 1/4 teaspoon if at high altitude)

Set a large heatproof bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Add the chocolate and butter to the bowl and stir until melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the saucepan. Whisk in the milk. Let stand for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the mixture is cool.

In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks and 1/3 cup of the confectioners’ sugar on medium-high speed, until light and airy. In another medium bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites with the remaining 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Using a large flexible spatula, fold the egg yolk mixture into the cooled chocolate mixture. Gently fold in the egg white mixture.

Add the cream and the mint extract to the bowl that held the egg whites. Beat with the mixer (no need to clean the beaters) on high speed until thick, soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture.

Divide the mousse among six to eight dessert cups or bowls. Cover each one with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least two hours to chill and set the mousse.

Whipping up dessert in a hurry

banoffeepie4

Every time one of my staff members celebrates a birthday, I bring in a baked good just for them, something they don’t have to share with anyone else. When one of my staff members celebrated her birthday Friday and I knew I didn’t have a ton of time to make and decorate a cake, I instead chose to make a Banoffee Pie.

I first made a Banoffee Pie years ago after seeing Curtis Stone make one on “Take Home Chef.” It looked easy and I was pleased that I found it just as simple to make at home. The pie gets its name because it uses bananas and toffee. Making the toffee sauce is the only part that really takes much effort — and it doesn’t take much if you follow the instructions. The pie is framed by a simple graham cracker crust, filled with a base layer of toffee sauce, then topped with whipped cream with bananas folded into it. The rest of the toffee sauce is drizzled on top. It’s easy as, well, pie.

The nice thing about this recipe is that you get a lot more flavor than you might expect. When I first made it, I was worried about getting a mouthful of whipped cream, but the sliced bananas that are folded into it keep that from happening, and the toffee sauce on the top and bottom add a certain richness to it.

For the record, let me say that this is not a banana cream pie. There are bananas and cream, but they are not blended together as they are in the traditional desert.

Another plus is that you can do this in parts if you’re strapped for time. I made the crust and toffee sauce the night before, then made the whipped cream-and-banana filling the day of so it would be as fresh as possible.

This is a great option if you’re short on time and want to serve a light, flavorful dessert. It was a big hit with the birthday girl.

Ingredientsbanoffeepie1
9 ounces graham crackers, crushed

1 stick butter, melted
1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1 14-ounce  can sweetened condensed milk

1 stick butter
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
5 small ripe bananas (about 1 1/2 pounds)

Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper.

Chop the graham crackers in a food processor until they are finely ground.

Pour the melted butter over the crumbs and process to blend well. The crumbs should stick together when pressed.

Press the crumb mixture over the bottom and 1 1/2 inches up the sides of the springform pan. Refrigerate.

To make the toffee sauce, place a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Combine the sugar and 3 tablespoons of water in a medium heavy saucepan. banoffeepie3

Stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and boil without stirring until the color is deep amber, occasionally swirling the pan and brushing down the sides with a pastry brush dipped into water, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the condensed milk and butter. Continue stirring for 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens slightly.

Remove the toffee sauce from the heat and spread 1 cup of the sauce over the prepared crust and refrigerate for about 1 hour or until the toffee is semi-firm. This can be refrigerated overnight if you prefer to prepare the rest on the day it will be served.

Keep the remaining toffee sauce at room temperature.

Using an electric mixer, beat the cream in a large bowl until thick and very soft billowy peaks form.

Very thinly slice three of the bananas into discs.

Fold the sliced bananas into the softly whipped cream and spoon into the prepared pie crust.

Slice the remaining bananas and arrange them decoratively over the pie.

Re-warm the remaining toffee sauce gently over low heat.

Drizzle some of the sauce decoratively over the pie. If the sauce has thickened too much to drizzle, stir a few tablespoons of milk into the sauce to create a thinner consistency.

Cut the pie into wedges and transfer to plates.

Drizzle each pie wedge with more sauce and serve.

Cookies to satisfy any craving

pbcookie

When I was a kid, peanut butter cookies were my favorite treat. My mom used to make them by rolling the dough into balls and flattening them by making criss-cross fork imprints on the top. I used to love eating them warm shortly after they came out of the oven.

Around the same time, my grandmother in Wisconsin sent me a couple books from the “World Famous Muriel” series. In each book the heroine, Muriel, would solve mysteries as long as the person seeking her help provided her with peanut butter cookies. My grandmother must have seen that we had that in common.

Even now, I still enjoy peanut butter cookies; but I now use a recipe that incorporates chocolate. When I’m craving something sweet, I often turn to Curtis Stone’s Peanut Butter Cookies With Chocolate Chunks. The best part is how quickly they can be made. I had seen him make these cookies on an episode of “Take Home Chef,” and was delighted when the recipe was included in his most recent cookbook, “Relaxed Cooking With Curtis Stone.”

The original recipe calls for 5 ounces of semisweet chocolate. The first time I made them, all I had was a 4-ounce semisweet chocolate bar, and that turned out to be plenty. I once used chocolate chips, but I prefer chunks of chocolate for this recipe. When it comes to breaking up the chocolate, I’ve found the best way to do it is to smack the wrapped 4-ounce bar of chocolate on the edge of the counter until it feels broken up enough. The different size chunks add a homemade charm to the cookies. If using a stand mixer, just throw the whole bar into the bowl and let the stand mixer break it up into chunks.

The recipe says to remove the cookies from the oven when they’ve puffed up and begin to brown on top. At first, it might seem like you’re taking them out prematurely, but really, follow the recipe. The cookies continue to cook because of the residual heat. If you follow the recipe, you’ll have large, soft cookies to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Ingredients
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup natural chunky peanut butter
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated / caster sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ tablespoons honey
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Mix the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

Using an electric mixer, beat the peanut butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, honey, egg, and vanilla in a large bowl until well blended.

Stir the dry ingredients into the peanut butter mixture in 2 additions. Stir in the chopped chocolate.

Scoop about 3 tablespoonfuls of dough for each cookie onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 2 1/2 inches apart.

Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the cookies puff and begin to brown on top but are still very soft to the touch.

Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 5 minutes.

Using a metal spatula, transfer the cookies to a rack and eat warm or cool completely.