Sexy Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes

Sexy Cherry Cupcakes 36

Check out these sexy puppies.  I made them as a killing-two-birds-with-one-stone for both Valentine’s Day and Mags’ and Papa John’s joint birthday.  So very very good.

Sexy Cherry Cupcakes 34

For the cupcakes, preheat your oven to 350°F and line a 12-capacity muffin tin with cupcake liners.  I used fancy schmancy pink polka dot ones.  Because I am that cool.

Sexy Cherry Cupcakes 15

Drain a 375mL jar of maraschino cherries, reserving the juice.  Let the cherries dry a bit on a paper towel before roughly chopping them.

Sexy Cherry Cupcakes 16

In a large bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 cup fine cocoa.

Sexy Cherry Cupcakes 17

In a smaller bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons cherry juice, 2 eggs, 3 teaspoons vanilla extract, 3/4 cup vegetable oil, 1/2 cup sour cream, and 1/2 cup milk.

Sexy Cherry Cupcakes 19

Add the flour mixture to the liquid and beat until smooth.

Sexy Cherry Cupcakes 21

Fold in the chopped cherries.

Sexy Cherry Cupcakes 22

Drop into cupcake cups until about 3/4 full and bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the centre cupcake comes out clean.  Let cool slightly in the pan and then remove to a rack to cool completely.

Sexy Cherry Cupcakes 23

I ended up having enough after my doubled recipe to make a wee sheet cake as well.

Sexy Cherry Cupcakes 24

For the ganache, in a double boiler, melt together 2 ounces chocolate (your choice) with 1/4 cup whipping cream.  Whisk until fully combined and chill for 30-40 minutes (any longer and you might have trouble spreading it).

Sexy Cherry Cupcakes 14

For the icing, we’re going with our old favourite.  Beat together 1 cup room temperature butter with 1 250g package room temperature cream cheese until fully combined and un-lumpy.

Sexy Cherry Cupcakes 3

Slowly add in about 2 cups icing sugar (more if you want it more stiff) and a few tablespoons cherry juice (from the jar of maraschinos).

Sexy Cherry Cupcakes 5

For the garnish, take 12 cherries, fresh or maraschino (but with stems if you can) and dip them in a couple ounces melted chocolate.

Sexy Cherry Cupcakes 6

Sexy Cherry Cupcakes 9

Let those cool on a sheet of waxed paper until solid.

Sexy Cherry Cupcakes 10

To put it all together, take your cooled cupcakes and spread a little ganache on top as a chocolatey base.

Sexy Cherry Cupcakes 25

Chuck them in the fridge for a few minutes to set.

Sexy Cherry Cupcakes 27

Shove your cream cheese icing into a piping bag and squeeze it out all over your cupcakes.

Sexy Cherry Cupcakes 30

Save yourself some heartache and buy a decent bag, too.

Sexy Cherry Cupcakes 28

I’m sure you can do a more artistic job than this, but I’m also sure it will taste the same regardless.

Sexy Cherry Cupcakes 29

Top with a chocolate-dipped cherry and serve.  SO AWESOME.

Sexy Cherry Cupcakes 32

And here’s the sheet cake with the leftover icing.

Sexy Cherry Cupcakes 38

Chocolate Cherry Cordials

These wee confections are the favourite treat of both my brother Ando and my father-in-law Papa John so finding a recipe on the internet was a small step towards making a really cool home-made Christmas present for the both of them.  Thanks to Veronica at Recipe Rhapsody for the idea.

These are pretty easy but they are quite time-consuming and you have to be vigilant about your chocolate coating.  You can make your cordials more alcoholic by soaking your cherries overnight in kirsch or amaretto or other liqueur but I prefer my chocolates to be teetotallers.

You will need about 2 10oz jars maraschino cherries in syrup (about 30-40 cherries), which you will need to drain (make sure to reserve some of the cherry syrup while you’re at it, a couple tablespoons’ worth just to be on the safe side).  Plop the drained cherries on a paper towel and pat them dry.

In a bowl, cream together 1/4 cup softened butter and 1 cup icing sugar.

Add in 1 tablespoon reserved cherry syrup, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract.  Stir it until you get a slimy pink goo.

Stir in a further 1 1/4 cups icing sugar.  You will end up with a nice pale pink dough.  If the dough sticks to your fingers too much you can add more icing sugar.  You need it to stick to itself but not to you.

Lay out a sheet of waxed paper and take a pinch (about 1-2 teaspoons) of your pink dough (fondant) in your hand.  Roll it into a ball and then clap your hands together to make a flattened patty.  Plop a cherry in the centre and pinch the dough all around the cherry.

Roll the cherry and fondant between your palms to create a nice sphere and set on the waxed paper.  Repeat with the rest of the fondant and cherries.  I found I had to make extra fondant to do all my cherries, but that’s fine.  Chill your fondant cherries in the freezer (overnight is good) while you melt your chocolate.

Melt 12oz chopped chocolate (dark or milk, it’s your preference) with 2 tablespoons shortening in a double boiler.  The shortening is there to make the melted chocolate smoother and shinier.  Who knew?

Using a fork, dip the cherry balls into the chocolate and set on waxed paper.

You can see here how the fork marks leave some of the fondant exposed.

Dip a spoon in the melted chocolate and use it to repair the holes.  The cherries have to be completely sealed in chocolate or bad things happen.

When the chocolate has hardened, remove from the waxed paper.  You will find that you have to re-seal the bottoms that were touching the waxed paper as well.  Make sure you get all the gaps!

You can store the chocolates in the refrigerator until they are set, but you will want to store them elsewhere so that they can liquefy like they are supposed to (this takes about two weeks).  Once they are ready, feel free to enjoy!

I think next time I would dip the cherries and put them on a wire rack (to avoid that unfortunate puddle at the bottom) and then, when dry, I would just dip them in their entirety again.  I would probably also be less vigilant in patting my cherries dry, as I think they would liquefy better if they had some liquid in them to begin with.

Christmas Fruit Cakes

My mother calls them fruit cakes.  My father calls them Christmas cakes.  Or it’s the other way around.  I can’t keep track of those two.

Nevertheless, before every holiday season, my dad makes between two and three dozen of them to give away to all their family and friends.  Being the stalwart Scots that we are, we fight over who deserves a whole cake and who gets only a slice.

You can’t be ambivalent about fruit cake.  You either love it or you hate it.  And I can promise you that this is not the leaden, dry, horribly frosted version that you hate.  This is the ooey-gooey sticky sweet and moist brick of goodness that you will LOVE.  Guaranteed.

Keep in mind that this recipe is easy to make.  Especially if you make several dozen.  However, you have to start your preparations the day before and baking time can take up to four hours for large cakes.  Not to mention that you can’t eat them right away — these cakes need a spell before they’re good to eat.  These ones here are from back in 2007.  They should be super excellent now.

Day the First:

In a large bowl, measure in 1 1/2 cups whole blanched almonds (blanched is key because the skin is bitter), 2 cups dark raisins, 2 cups light raisins, 1 cup currants, 2 1/2 cups chopped dates, and 2 1/2 cups candied citron peel.  My dad says that when making several batches it helps to bring a measuring cup to the health food or bulk store and measure what you need right into the bag so you don’t have to worry about having any leftover.

Drain a 12oz (340g) bottle of maraschino cherries, saving the juice.  The cherries should measure about 1 1/4 cups.  Add them to the mixture in the bowl.

Pour in 1/2 cup brandy (or fruit juice, if you prefer) and give it a stir.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature overnight.

In a heavy saucepan, simmer one 19oz (540mL) can crushed pineapple with 2 cups granulated sugar.  Cook, uncovered, until thickened, about 45 minutes.  Make sure to stir frequently. 

By the end, the sugary pineapple should measure 2 1/2 cups.

Let the pineapple cool, and then stir in 1/2 cup reserved cherry juice.  Stir in as well 1 cup strawberry jam (the more all-natural, the better).  This doesn’t necessarily need to be done the day before, but it has to be cool before you add it to the cake batter.

Day the Second:

Preheat your oven to 275°F.  Butter your pans (we use four regular-sized loaf pans) and line them with parchment paper.The knob on our oven is positioned badly so we take the knob off in order not to hit it accidentally.  And yes, we probably should clean our oven more often.

In a large measuring cup, whisk together 4 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda.

Add about a cup of the flour mixture to the fruit and nuts and toss until the bits are all covered.  This will prevent them from sinking to the bottom when you mix them in the batter.  Set the rest of the flour aside for now. 

In another large mixing bowl, cream together  2 1/4 cups granulated sugar with 1 pound (2 cups) butter.

Beat in 12 eggs (yes, 12!), two at a time.  This is less of a pain in the butt if you have someone crack the eggs while someone else runs the mixer.

Take your flour mixture and your pineapple mixture and, alternating them, stir them into the butter and egg mix.  Make 3 dry and 2 liquid additions and stir it all in well. 

Your batter will be a lovely pink colour once you’re all ready.

Pour over your flour-coated fruit and nuts and mix well. 

Pour into your pans and chuck them in the oven.

Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven to keep the cakes moist.

Bake in your oven for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, for the larger cakes.  Smaller cakes might be done in about 3 hours. If you have a fast oven you might want to lay a sheet of aluminum foil loosely over the top to prevent them from drying out in the last hour or so.

The cakes should be fairly firm to the touch in the centre and should test clean with a toothpick.  Once you’ve removed the cakes from the oven let them cool in the pans for about five minutes. 

Then remove the cakes from the pans and peel off the paper.  Let the cakes cool completely.

Now you do your wrapping.

Lay a sheet of aluminum foil on your work surface.  Overlay that with some plastic wrap.

And some cheesecloth.

Plop your cake in the centre.

Baste it generously, all over, with rum or brandy (if you don’t baste you will need to keep the cakes in the refrigerator).

Wrap the cheesecloth tightly around the cake.  Then the plastic wrap.  Then the aluminum foil.

As the cloth dries out, give your cakes a periodic dousing with rum or brandy.  Don’t freeze the cakes or the flavours won’t mellow properly.

The cakes will make good eating in about three weeks, just in time for the holidays.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

This cake is my childhood.  Or at least the part of my childhood where I didn’t think I was allergic to pineapple.  Turns out it’s just the No Name brand of pineapple that makes me throw up.  Who knew?

This flat, dense, cakey, sugary, sticky, buttery, crispy, pineapple-y, and cherry-y masterpiece is one of my absolute favourite things.  I have seen variations on the classic design on the internet but this is one of those setups I wouldn’t mess with.

You gotta do it in a cast-iron skillet.  Otherwise it just ain’t the same.  If you do it in an oven-safe skillet then you can do your butter melting and stuff all in the same dish.

Maraschino cherries are optional.  I know that they are probably the most disgusting bit of processed food there is, but they really make this cake extra-special, so I buy them for this reason, and this reason only.

I also like to use fresh pineapple instead of the canned stuff.  Less chance I might be allergic to it if I know that it hasn’t been processed.My mother has recently discovered the ease of email (crazy, I know, but we also bought our first touch-tone phone in 1991), so this recipe came to me over the interweb.  The original recipe, for an 8″ cake pan, comes from a Fanny Merritt Farmer cookbook dating back a few decades, but my mother has modified it for the skillet, adding a bit more flour, sugar, and butter as appropriate.  I get my lack of standardized measurements from her.  Here we go.

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Melt, in your skillet, between 1/4 and 1/2 cup butter.  The butter should be liquid, but not boiling hot.  Burns do not make for enjoyment in baking.  I suggest you remove it from the heat at this time and put it on a trivet on your counter.  More elbow room, for me at least.Spread 1 cup brown sugar evenly over the butter mixture, covering the bottom of the pan.  Add more if you like.  It’s going to melt with the butter and turn to caramel, and it will mix with the pineapple juice and the cherry juice and it will all be so incredibly incredible.  Drain a can of pineapple rings (or use a cored fresh one, as I did in this case) and lay them in the bottom of the pan, taking up as much space as you can, but don’t overlap the rings.  You can see that my rings are sliced open because of the way I’ve cored the pineapple.  I squeezed them together a bit so they’d fit in the pan, but they will shrink while you cook them and there will be plenty of room.If you wish, you can put maraschino cherries in all the little empty spaces, especially in the centre of the rings.  I of course do so wish.Sift together 1 1/2 to 2 cups flour (depending on the size of your skillet) with 2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 cup granulated sugar.  In another bowl, mix together 1 egg and 1/2 cup milk and add to the flour mixture.  The batter will be very dense, so you can add more milk to make it more spreadable.  I ended up adding about an extra 1/2 cup of milk to my 2 cups of flour.  Feel free to experiment with the batter.  My mother says she sometimes adds grated orange peel to it.

Carefully spread the batter in a thin layer on top of the pineapple in the skillet.  You’ll notice that the batter doesn’t spread all the way across.  There will be gaps and even holes through which you can see the pineapple stuff.  That is okay, as it will expand while it cooks.  And it will pull away from the sides, anyway, as the butter starts to bubble up.Bake for 35 minutes or until the top is brown and crusty.  If you are using a skillet this will likely take less time because the skillet is already warm and the batter is stretched across a bigger surface.  For me this took about 30 minutes.

You can see how the butter/sugar mixture is still molten at this point.  You want to let it cool to more of a molasses consistency, so that you don’t burn yourself and it doesn’t get everywhere.  About ten minutes should do it.

Carefully flip upside down onto a serving plate.  Sometimes it’s easier to put the plate on first, then flip it.  My mother has this old-fashioned brown one that I covet because it is the exact size of the skillet, but I made do with this cheese plate instead, which is why the melted sugar oozed everywhere.  Some stuff may still be stuck in the pan, but because your now caramelized brown sugar is still liquid you can glue it all back into place before it cools.  Make sure to get all the good stuff out of the pan before it cools completely or you will never get it out.

Serve with fruit sauce or ice cream or whipped cream.  I like it best just by itself.  We’ve also made this recipe before using peaches and pears and plums instead of pineapple and it’s just as good.