A Better Hot Chocolate

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The Pie found this recipe from Jamie Oliver and he thought it was worth a try. I think it will also make a great wintry gift.

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The interesting thing about the original recipe is it involves Horlick’s, a malted beverage very popular at the beginning of the 20th century and through the 1950s. Horlick’s is hard to find in Canada, but a close equivalent is Ovaltine.

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Ovaltine on its own is definitely an acquired taste (I personally find it revolting), but it will add a richness to the hot chocolate that improves everything. You will need 2 tablespoons Ovaltine or Horlick’s.

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You will also need 100g chocolate (pretty much a large-sized chocolate bar), your choice.

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I made some with dark chocolate, but the Pie and I both prefer it with milk chocolate, seeing as there’s also a decent amount of unsweetened cocoa powder in this, 4 tablespoons cocoa powder, in fact. Make sure you choose a cocoa that you like – don’t go cheap on this!

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You will also need 2 tablespoons cornstarch (corn flour in the UK) to make this a nice thick beverage.

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Here is 3 tablespoons icing (confectioner’s) sugar. You can adjust this according to your taste.

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This is also a pinch or two of sea salt and a pinch of ground cinnamon, which, again, you can adjust to what suits you.

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To put it all together, take your chocolate and pop it in your food processor. The original recipe calls for you to finely grate the chocolate but who wants to sit there and grate that much chocolate? Not me, and I made six batches of this.

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So I just pulsed it in the food processor until it formed little crumbs.

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Then you simply add in the rest of the ingredients.

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Pulse it until the colour is uniform, kind of a grayish brown. The crumbs of chocolate will mix in and get smaller while you do this, too.

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To prepare the hot chocolate for two people, dump about 3 heaping tablespoons of the mix into a small saucepan.

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Dribble in about 1/4 cup milk.

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Whisk that until you get a nice paste. This will prevent the finished hot chocolate from being lumpy.

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Then pour in another 1 1/4 cup milk.

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Stir that until smooth and start heating the milk until it’s a temperature you like.

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Serve hot!

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To give the chocolate as gifts, you can pack the mix into these cute jars.

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Or you can put it in a wee bag.

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And then pop it in a customized mug.

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Or whatever floats your boat!

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Atlas’ Giant Stacked Cookie Cake

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This past Father’s Day was a first for Krystopf, but it was also his lovely wife’s birthday, so we of course celebrated in style.  She requested cookies instead of a cake, but I can’t just make cookies for someone’s birthday, now can I?  Pshht.  NO.

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While I do excel at making cookies from scratch, from my brain meats only, for my first foray into the physics of cookie stacking I decided to stick to a recipe.  I picked this one from Big Girls Small Kitchen, which is an adaptation of a Martha Stewart favourite.  Like many Martha recipes it’s persnickety with its rules, but worth it in order to learn the proper technique.

Start by preheating your oven to 350°F and grab some baking sheets and some parchment paper.  Find something that is 8″ in diameter (like a cake pan) and use it to draw circles on your parchment to fit the baking sheet.  You’ll need five circles.

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One of my baking sheets is big enough to fit two circles, but the rest only fit one.

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Whisk together 4 cups flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, and a teaspoon or so ground cinnamon.  Set that aside for the nonce.

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In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together 6 tablespoons butter, 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, and 3/4 cup granulated sugar.  Keep going until it starts to stick together — there’s not enough butter to make it truly creamed, so don’t worry if after 3 minutes or so you just have sugar and butter mixed together and nothing super fluffy.

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Add in 3 whole eggs plus 2 egg yolks and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract and keep beating that until it’s smooth.

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Dump in half your flour mixture and stir that in on low for a while; then, drizzle in 3/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream.

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Once that’s mixed in you can add the rest of the flour.  Mix that until it’s fully combined.

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Now you’ll want to stir in at least 2 cups chocolate chips.  Atlas likes a mixture, so I have about 1/3 each of milk chocolate, white chocolate, and butterscotch — her favourite!

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Scoop out a level cupful of your cookie dough. Or as level as you can get, with cookie dough.

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Dump that into the centre of one of your circle outlines.

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Use a spatula (or a knife) to spread the dough into a level circle within the confines of the outline.  Do that four more times (confession: I actually had enough dough for exactly six circles, but this did make the “cake” absolutely huge).

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Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edges are a light brown, then pull them out and check them over.  If your cookie isn’t as circular as it should be, use a clean spatula (or knife) to gently nudge the cookie back into shape.

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Shove that back into the oven and bake a further 6-8 minutes, until the whole cookie is a nice light brown. Leave the cookies on the baking sheet for a few minutes to firm up before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

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While the cookies are doing their thing, you can mix up some frosting.  Beat together 2 8oz packages cream cheese with 1 cup icing sugar, then add in a drizzle of cream to smooth things out.

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The original recipe called for FOUR packages of cream cheese but I think there was enough going on with this cake without adding double the icing.  And I normally never say that there’s too much icing on something.

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Spread the frosting on the top of four of the cookies. Or five, if you ended up with extra like me.

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As you can see I used some commercial cookie icing to write on the top.  Forgive my handwriting and the weird run in icing at the beginning of the B.

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Stack the frosted cookies on top of each other and then put the unfrosted (or decorated) one on top.  Chuck that in the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes, and bring it to room temperature before serving.

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It was a hit!  Having made it though, I think I’d like to try it again with some of those lovely thin greasy/chewy/crispy chocolate chip cookies you make with melted butter.  The cakey ones were nice, but there was just too much cake and it was hard to cut thin slices of it.

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Bookmark Brownies

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This recipe comes from a laminated bookmark I received as part of a promotional package from Chatelaine magazine.  While I was not so struck by this unsolicited mail that I wished to subscribe to the magazine, I kept the bookmark because the brownie recipe on it was gluten free with an interesting twist.  Actually this is a lie.  As soon as I’d typed in the ingredient list into this entry, I threw it out.  And was annoyed that it was unrecyclable.

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Below is the original recipe for one pan of brownies.  I tripled this because I was baking for work, so ignore my photos involving massive amounts of baking materials.

First, separate 4 eggs, and bring the whites to room temperature.

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Preheat your oven to 350°F and line an 8″ square pan with parchment paper, letting the paper hang over the sides of the pan (you’re going to use these as handles later, see?).

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In a large bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups icing sugar with 2 cups ground almonds (I used almond meal), 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, and a pinch of salt.

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Add to that your egg whites and 2 teaspoons vanilla and mix well.

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Pour that thick loveliness into the prepared pan.  And by thick I mean that this stuff will suck you into oblivion if you’re not careful.

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Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the top is shiny and crusty and a cake tester inserted into the centre comes out mostly clean.

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Use the parchment handles to carefully lift the brownie out of the pan (you don’t want it to suddenly sag and break in half, for instance) and set the brownies on a rack to cool completely.

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What this recipe doesn’t tell you (because I guess the bookmark was too small) is that these things are next to impossible to cut cleanly.  I thought mine weren’t cooked enough and ended up putting them back in the oven for another fifteen minutes and they were still ridiculous, sticking to the knife and crumbling everywhere.  Warm, cold, didn’t matter.  Crumbles all over the place.

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But they tasted like brownies.  So that’s that.

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Cinnamon Buns: What I Do At Work on Fridays

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Remember how I started that Sweet Treats group at work? Not only do I get a glorious baked good every Friday morning, but I get to experience a number of new and intriguing recipes. This one is from one of the women I work with, who, before she became a legal assistant, was a professional baker (strangely enough, she is one of several former and current professional bakers associated with the firm, and I’m not sure why).  She made these glorious sticky things for us one rainy Friday a few years ago and I asked her for the recipe almost before I’d swallowed the first bite.  I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to make these for myself.  She says the recipe is a little dicky to make, in terms of time consumption, but not too hard, and totally worth it.  And I totally agree.

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Definitely dropped these on the floor while taking them out of the fridge. It’s all good.

Start with 1 cup milk, and warm that to 115°F (about 46°C — use a thermometer).

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Add to the warm milk 1 tablespoon yeast and 1 teaspoon granulated sugar and stir to dissolve.  Let that sit for about 10-15 minutes.

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In a large bowl, mix together 1/2 cup melted butter, 2 large eggs, and 1 teaspoon salt.

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Add in the yeast mixture and stir to combine.  Add in 1 cup granulated sugar, and then 6-7 cups white flour (you may not need all of it, or you may need more; such is the way of yeast breads, so do one cup at a time), stirring with a wooden spoon until well-combined.

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Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, adding more flour as needed, then cover and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.

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On a clean surface, roll out your dough into a large rectangle.

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In a bowl combine 2 cups brown sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, and 1/2 cup melted butter.  This is your roll filling.  If you wanted you could put pecan pieces or raisins in here as well. Since this was my first time making the recipe I left them out, but they’re totally doable.

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Spread the filling over the rectangle of dough.

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Make sure you go right to the edge.

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Grab one of the long ends and roll it up into a neat little torpedo.

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With a sharp knife, cut the roll into 16-18 little discs.  It’s easiest to do this by cutting the roll in half first, then cutting each section in half again, and then each further section in half, et cetera. The human eye is pretty good at estimating middle points, so this is the best way to ensure that each disc is evenly thick.

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Let those rise for another 45 minutes.

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Preheat your oven to 350°F and find yourself a large rimmed baking sheet, about 12″ x 18″ or so and arrange your discs on the sheet, cut sides flat. I put mine on parchment paper. Leave a good amount of space between them because they will spread.

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Bake those suckers for about 30 minutes, or until the tops are browned.

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While the buns are cooling, combine 2 cups confectioners’ (icing) sugar with 2 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons milk, and 1 250g package of plain cream cheese (room temperature).

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Spread the frosting on the buns while they are still warm enough to make the frosting a little runny, but not too warm that the frosting melts right off them.

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AND THEN YOU EAT THEM.  ALL OF THEM.

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Orange Coconut Scones

Orange Coconut Scones

I had a bad experience making (read: burning) scones when I was a kid and haven’t tried them since.  But our receptionist at work made these for the Sweet Treats club (seriously, the best idea I have EVER had) two weeks ago and I thought I would share with you the awesomeness.  If you think something is awesome in Newfoundland, you say that it’s “best kind.”  Not THE best kind.  Just best kind.  And these are best kind.

Orange Coconut Scones

Preheat your oven to 400°F and line two baking sheets (or three, depending on the size of your scones) with parchment paper.

Orange Coconut Scones

Stir together 4 cups all-purpose flour, 2 tablespoons baking powder, and the zest of 2 oranges in the bowl of a stand mixer.

Orange Coconut Scones

Dice up 3/4 cup cold butter and add that in, mixing on the lowest speed until the butter pieces are all pea-sized.

Orange Coconut Scones

Lightly beat 4 eggs and pour in 1 cup cold heavy cream.  Give that a stir then add it to the mixing bowl and mix until just blended.

Orange Coconut Scones

Combine 1 cup shredded coconut with 1/4 cup flour and add that in as well.  I found I had to stop the mixer at this point and manipulate it in with my cold hands, as it slowed the machine down quite a bit.

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Dump the dough onto a floured surface and knead it into a ball.

Orange Coconut Scones

Flour a rolling pin and flatten the stuff out until it’s about 3/4″ thick. Use a cutter or a knife to cut your scones from the dough.  When you run out of room, squish up the scraps and roll them out again.

Orange Coconut Scones

The scones will expand upwards while they cook, not sideways, so you can crowd them pretty close on the baking sheet.

Orange Coconut Scones

Bake the scones for 15-20 minutes, until the tops are browned and the insides are baked all the way through.  They will be firm to the touch, not sticky.

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Let them cool for about fifteen minutes, and while they’re doing that, mix together 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar), 4 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice, and the zest of 1 orange.

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Drizzle the glaze over the still-warm scones.

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Serve right away, with honey and butter.  Or secretly leave half the batch on your neighbour’s doorstep.

Orange Coconut Scones

O Canada: French Toast

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!French Toast

Wait a second. Are you telling me that French toast is Canadian?

No, not really.  In fact the first reference to a dish resembling French toast is written in Latin and dates back to the 4th or 5th century.  French toast, or pain doré (“golden bread”), can be found in a lot of recipe books from all over the world.

But it does form part of what the Pie and I refer to as a “lumberjack breakfast,” and that makes it part of our Canadian cuisine.

French Toast

Picture this: most of Canada is unpopulated by people, and in many places still there are huge tracts of old-growth forest stretching off past the horizon.  One thing we do got is trees.  A steady supply of timber is one of the reasons Canada was colonized in the first place.  Our capital city was founded in the 1850s as a lumber town, and mills operated there even as late as the 1960s, clogging the Ottawa river with rafts and rafts of logs.

From our old $1 bill, image from Steve Briggs

The timber that flowed downriver to the mills came from logging camps far upstream, and these camps were occupied by big, rough men, mostly immigrants from Poland, Ireland, or the wilds of Québec, working in miserable conditions to earn enough money to send to their families, who often lived hundreds of miles away.

Norris Point

Logging was (and still is) a rather dangerous occupation, and it took a lot of energy just to stay alive and get the job done.  That is why every logging camp worth its salt (and many weren’t) had a reputable camp cook, and this cook was responsible for providing all the loggers with the caloric intake they needed to last out the day.  This meant a breakfast crammed with carbohydrates, proteins, and fats: bacon, biscuits, eggs, pancakes, bread, sausages, steaks — and French toast.

French Toast

The traditional lumberjack French toast would have originally started out as a loaf of stale bread, sliced and left to soak overnight in a mixture of milk and eggs.  It was fried up and served hot, slathered with sugary maple syrup and dusted with more sugar.  Our version is only slightly more refined.  Oh, and if you’d like to read a bit more about logging camps, John Irving produced a great novel recently on the subject called Last Night in Twisted River.  It’s a good read, one of Irving’s best, in my opinion.

French Toast

Anyway, French toast.  Here we go.  This recipe will give you six to eight slices of eggy toast, depending on the size and absorbency of your bread.

In a shallow bowl, whisk together 2/3 cup milk (or half milk and half cream) and 4 eggs.

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Add in as well 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla.  If you want to go very traditional, try a teaspoon of rum instead and replace the sugar with maple syrup.

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One at a time, soak your pieces of bread in the egg mixture.  Here we used raisin bread because we love it.

French Toast

Traditionally you would use a thick hearth loaf, but if you want to get fancy, it’s also good with brioche, or pannetone, or even biscuits.  Experiment. Make sure to get both sides good and eggy.

French Toast

Slip the bread into a hot buttered skillet.

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Brown both sides (this takes about three minutes a side if you use medium heat).

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Serve hot, sprinkled with icing sugar and fresh fruit, if available.

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You can add a sprinkle of cinnamon, too, if the mood strikes you.

French Toast

Canadian-style means, of course, lots and lots of maple syrup. Lumberjacks need their caffeine, too, so have it with a hot cup of coffee.

French Toast

Makes a great start (or end) to any day.

French Toast

Espresso Cupcakes with Mocha Buttercream

Espresso Cupcakes

So here I was, trying to come up with a good morning cupcake for my Sweet Treats committee at work.  Everyone at the firm seems to need a bit of a caffeine kick in the morning, so I thought I would modify my espresso brownies into cupcake form.  Then I thought, what about a smooth mocha buttercream icing on top?  Yeah, that sounded good.

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And then, lo and behold, what did I find on the internet?  The exact recipe I wanted!  And I didn’t even have to make it up myself!  Score one for the lazy part of me and big thanks to Nam for cooking it up and writing it down.

Brew  up a pot of strong coffee and save 1 cup coffee for this recipe.  Do what you like with the rest (preferably drink it, or save it for iced coffee).

Preheat your oven to 350°F and line two muffin pans with cupcake cups.

In a large bowl, sift together 2 1/4 cups flour, 1 1/2 cups cocoa, 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, and 2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda and set aside.

Espresso Cupcakes

Dissolve 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder in 1 cup coffee and set that aside.

Espresso Cupcakes

Clear the spider out of your stand mixer.  Apologize profusely to it as you send it on its merry way, but explain that despite its residency of nearly two weeks in your bowl, it does not qualify for squatters’ rights.  Then decide that, as you are doubling the recipe, the batter won’t fit in the mixer anyway, and opt for a larger bowl and a hand mixer.  Sorry, spider.

Espresso Cupcakes

In the bowl of the stand mixer, cream together 2/3 cup canola oil, 2 eggs, 1 1/4 cups buttermilk, and 1 teaspoon vanilla and beat until well combined.  Add in 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar and mix some more.

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Pour in the coffee and beat for another minute.

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Scrape down the sides of the bowl and slowly add in the dry ingredients, mixing until all the ingredients are incorporated.

Espresso Cupcakes

Using a spoon, fill the paper cups about two-thirds full.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the centre cupcake comes out clean.

Espresso Cupcakes

Let the cupcakes rest in the pan for about five minutes before removing them to a rack.  Remember that a super hot dropped cupcake will explode all over your floor, while a cooler cupcake will just bounce a bit.  That’s a handy fact to remember.

Espresso Cupcakes

Now for the luscious buttercream frosting.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (you know, like the one you just used), whip 10 tablespoons room temperature butter (which, by the way, is 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons butter) until it’s fluffy, light, and creamy. Add in 1/2 tablespoon cocoa powder and whip until combined.

Espresso Cupcakes

Slowly add in 3 tablespoons room temperature espresso (you can make this by following the instructions on your bottle of instant espresso powder).  As with most buttercreams, it will look a little curdled and gross at this point, but don’t you worry.

Espresso Cupcakes

A little bit at a time, add in 3-4 cups icing sugar.  You may need more or less, depending on the consistency you want, or the temperature outside, or a bunch of other variables.  Just go with what looks (and tastes) right to you.  Refrigerate the buttercream for at least ten minutes before using.

Espresso Cupcakes

Once the cupcakes have completely cooled and the frosting has chilled out a little, you can frost your cupcakes, or pipe on the frosting, if you wish.

Espresso Cupcakes

Garnish each cupcake with a dusting of cocoa powder (or some shaved chocolate) or a chocolate-covered espresso bean.

Espresso Cupcakes

Your coworkers will be appropriately wowed, especially once the caffeine kicks in.  Good morning to you, too!

Espresso Cupcakes