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.

Espresso Cupcakes

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.

Espresso Cupcakes

Pour in the coffee and beat for another minute.

Espresso Cupcakes

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

Baked’s Sweet and Salty Cake

Sweet & Salty Cake
Not only do the Pie and il Principe share a birthday, but I’ll have you know that Cait’s birthday is only four days later.  And then Jiss’ birthday is only a scant five days after that.  Because we were heading back to Ottawa for a visit at the beginning of the month, we decided to postpone our birthday celebrations until we got there so that Cait  and Jiss could share in the fun.

So, for my husband on his birthday and my best friend on her birthday, and my husband’s friend’s spouse on HER birthday, I made them this fantastic confection, which comes out of our favourite cookbook of all time, Baked.
Sweet & Salty Cake
You can read the recipe online here, here, or here.  But you should really buy the book.  The pictures are glorious and the authors explain everything so well.

This recipe involves caramel, chocolate, and salt.  Yes, SALT.  I rarely use salt in baking but this one made it all worth it.  If you can get your hands on fleur de sel, all the better, but you can use sea salt as a substitute if necessary.  It’s also worth noting that this cake takes many steps, and you can save time by making things like the caramel the day before and putting it in the fridge.
Sweet & Salty Cake

For the Caramel:
Pour 1/4 cup water, 1 cup sugar, and 2 tablespoons light corn syrup into a medium saucepan and stir it around.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Plop a candy thermometer in the pot (making sure it doesn’t touch the bottom) and bring the mixture to a boil, cooking until the temperature reaches 350°F, which will take about 10 minutes.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Keep a close eye on it.  If you cook it any higher than the specified temperature it can burn super quickly.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup whipping cream and 1 teaspoon fleur de sel.  Bring that to a boil as well and cook until the salt is dissolved, about 5 minutes.  Remove that from the heat and set aside.

Sweet & Salty Cake

When the sugar has reached 350°F, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool for one minute.  See how it’s browned a little bit? That’s the caramelization of the sugar, but you don’t want it to get too dark.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Carefully (very carefully) add the hot cream to the sugar mixture.  It foams and fizzes quite a bit, so you don’t want that in your face.   Whisk that all up until it’s smooth.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Whisk in 1/4 cup sour cream and let the caramel cool.

Sweet & Salty Cake

For the Cake:
Preheat your oven to 325°F and butter three 8″ round cake pans.  Cut a circle out of parchment paper for the bottom of each one, butter it as well, and dust them all with flour.

Sweet & Salty Cake

You need two decent-sized bowls and the bowl of a mixer for this next part.  In one bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, 1 1/4 cups hot water, and 2/3 cup sour cream.  Set that aside and let it cool while you do the other things.

Sweet & Salty Cake

In the other non-mixer bowl, sift together 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and set that aside.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Now, in the mixer bowl, beat together 3/4 cup softened butter and 1/2 cup vegetable shortening.  Beat them until they are smooth and kind of stringy when the paddle is spinning around, about 7 minutes.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Beat in 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar and 1 cup dark brown sugar until light and fluffy.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Add in 3 eggs, one at a time.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Add in 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and beat for a further 30 seconds or so.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Carefully add in a third of the flour mixture, then half your chocolate mixture, then a third of the flour, the rest of the chocolate, and the rest of the flour.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Divide the batter evenly between the three prepared pans and bake for 18-24 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of each cake comes out clean.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Allow to cool completely before removing from the pans and peeling off the parchment paper.

Sweet & Salty Cake

For the Caramel Ganache:
First, finely chop 1lb dark chocolate.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Also, cut up 1lb butter into tablespoon-sized pieces.  Make sure they’re soft but still cool.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Now we’re going to make some more caramel, but this time without the salt or the sour cream.
So, in one pot, combine 1/4 cup water, 1 cup sugar, and 2 tablespoons light corn syrup and stir it around.  Bring it to a boil over high heat until a candy thermometer reads 350°F, which will take about ten minutes.  Remember to watch closely.

Sweet & Salty Cake

In the other pot bring 1 1/2 cups heavy cream to a boil, then remove from heat and set aside.
When the caramel has reached 350°F, remove it from the heat and allow it to rest for a minute.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Carefully add the hot cream to the caramel and stir to combine, then let it cool for 5 minutes.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Plop your chopped chocolate in the bowl of a mixer and pour the caramel over the chocolate.  Let that sit for a minute, then stir the chocolate to dissolve it.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Shove your bowl into your mixer with a paddle attachment and mix the chocolate goo on low until the outside of the bowl feels cool to the touch.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Dump in your cut-up butter bits and mix on medium-high until it’s all well-combined and smooth and a little bit whipped, another 2 minutes or so.

Sweet & Salty Cake

To Put It All Together:
Now I followed the instructions up to this point to the letter, and ended up with a slippy-slide-y cake that ended up looking a bit like a giant pile of poop.  When I put my cake layers together, they kept sliding off on the caramel and the weight of the cake pushed all the lovely caramel goo out of its insides and it was altogether rather a disaster.  So I recommend cooling your ganache and your caramel slightly before you do this, just so they’re slightly colder than room temperature and a little easier to handle.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Slice the tops off your cakes to make them level and place one on your cake plate.

Sweet & Salty Cake

If you are concerned about making a mess with your icing (though considering how goopy mine was it didn’t matter anyway) you can place four strips of parchment paper on your cake plate under the cake to catch the excess, and then pull them away later, leaving a nice clean plate.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Take about 1/4 cup of the caramel and spread a thin layer on the cake, allowing it to soak into the cake a bit (which will only happen if your cake or your caramel is warm, and will just make everything quite slippery).

Sweet & Salty Cake

Layer on top of that about 1 cup of the caramel ganache (also, at room temperature, incredibly slippery).

Sweet & Salty Cake

Add another layer of cake.  See what I mean about gravity really being annoying here?

Sweet & Salty Cake

Repeat your caramel and ganache steps and top with your final cake layer.  This is where I tried to remove some of the excess and failed.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Use the remaining ganache (easy to do if it’s cold, if it’s room temperature you’ll use wayyy less) to cover the surface of the cake.  At this point the whole thing started to slide slowly and rather unnervingly to one side.  It was like watching a mudslide in slow motion.  There was much yelling.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Sprinkle the top with fleur de sel and chill for an hour or so before serving, to set the ganache.

Sweet & Salty Cake
At least it tasted good.
Sweet & Salty Cake

Make Your Own Marshmallows

Don’t be afraid.  Making your own marshmallows is surprisingly easy.  First, round up your ingredients:

2/3 cup water, divided in half

3 (1/4oz) envelopes unflavoured gelatin (or two packets of 1 tablespoon each)

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

pinch kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup icing sugar, for dusting

Spray the inside of an 8 x 8″ pan with vegetable oil (I used a 9 x 13″ pan and it worked out fine).  Generously coat this with icing sugar and set aside.  I took the added precaution of laying waxed paper in the bottom to make removal easier.

Pour 1/3 cup water into the bowl of an electric mixer and sprinkle the gelatin over top.  Leave to stand about 10 minutes.

In a saucepan off heat, combine the remaining 1/3 cup water with sugar, corn syrup, and salt.  Place the pan over medium heat.

Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan (don’t let it touch the bottom) and cook the mixture without stirring it until it reads 240°F.

Brush down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water to wash away the residual sugar crystals.  Be careful — this is boiling sugar, after all.

With the mixer on low, very carefully add the hot syrup to the gelatin.

Add in the vanilla and increase the speed to medium-high.  Beat for 8-13 minutes, or until the mixture is very stiff, white, and sticky.

Spread the mixture into the prepared pan using a lightly oiled spatula.  With wet hands (and I mean SOAKING), press the batter evenly into the corners and smooth the surface.  Allow to sit for about an hour, or until the mixture is firm and cool.

Run a wet knife around the edges of the pan and turn out onto a lightly oiled surface. 

Cut the marshmallow into squares of your desired size.  Wet the knife often to make this less sticky.

Sift the icing sugar into a bowl.  Toss each marshmallow in the icing sugar until completely coated.

Alternatively, you can also toss the marshmallows in unsweetened cocoa (my favourite) or toasted coconut.  You can also fold things into the marshmallow batter (like chocolate chips, dried cranberries, etc.) before you spread it into the pan.

Store the marshmallows in a single layer or in layers separated by waxed paper in an airtight container for up to a month.That wasn’t that hard, was it?  These were quite popular at the hockey team bake sale.

Coconut Cream Cheese Cookies

There is a new god in the pantheon and its name is COOKIE.

Holy SMOKES these are wicked good.  And I don’t even really LIKE cookies.

I was going to make cream cheese brownies to give to the Pie when he came to visit for Thanksgiving, but I figured I should probably go with something new that he hadn’t had before, and besides, I had a lot of cream cheese on hand.  What goes well with cream cheese?

Coconut, of course.  This recipe was adapted with thanks from Dawn Finicane at Vanilla Sugar (who made some adaptations of her own) and it’s fantastic.  FANTASTIC. 

(Just note that this is a two-day cookie to make.  And yeah, I doubled the recipe, as usual.)

DAY ONE:

Preheat your oven to 325°F.

Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and divide 5 cups unsweetened shredded coconut between them.  Seems like a lot, I know, but trust me on this one.

Bake for 10-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, for even toasting.  When the coconut is a golden brown, take it out and let it cool.

Melt 1 1/2 cups butter and let it cool to room temperature.

Whisk together4 1/2 cups flour with 1 teaspoon baking soda and set aside.

In a large bowl, plop in two 400g packages cream cheese.

Add to this your now-cooled butter.

Use an electric mixer to cream the crap out of it.

Add 2 cups packed brown sugar, 1 cup granulated sugar, and 4 teaspoons vanilla extract and mix until thoroughly combined.

Add your flour gradually and mix at a low speed until just combined. 

Stir in your cooled coconut.

Cover the dough and chill it overnight.

DAY TWO:

Preheat your oven to 350°F and line your baking sheets with parchment paper.  For this amount of cookie dough you’ll need to use your pans several times, so I prepped four pans, to bake two at a time.

Drop the dough onto the parchment — the cookies will not expand much but might settle slightly during baking.

Bake for 12-14 minutes or until the edges of the cookies are set and the bottoms are light brown.  You have to be careful not to overbake these babies. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets until you can lift them without breaking them. Place on wire racks to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container until you eat them all up!

Next time I think I might add a bit of lime juice and grated lime peel to the recipe.  I think that would boost its godliness to new heights.  It will be like the creamy coconut lime cupcakes, but in cookie form.

*** Ali’s Note, 31 January 2010: I added the juice and rind of two limes to this at the cream cheese stage.  The result? OH.  MY.  DO IT.

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