Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Mint Chocolate Hi-hat Cupcakes

Submitted by Heather

Cupcakes are all the rage these days.  I can't believe how many shops can stay in business just selling cupcakes!  There must be something about having a personal-sized (actually some are big enough to share with the family) cake for yourself that makes them irresistible.  For dessert club this month, I got to choose the theme of our desserts, and I chose cupcakes.  There are just so many fun combinations!  I wasted so much time dreaming up the perfect cupcake, looking at them online, and then waffling about which one to make.  There were quite a few that I think would have been wonderful.

I chose chocolate mint, obviously, since I'm posting about it now.  I tried a trial run of a chocolate cupcake recipe, and a malted milk chocolate frosting, neither of which were that good.  My next try at a chocolate cupcake recipe was great though.  I really like these cupcakes, because they actually taste like chocolate, instead of just being brown with no flavor.  And they're moist.  The chocolate mint ganache doesn't hurt the chocolate and moistness factor either!  This chocolate cupcake recipe is my new go-to recipe any time I need to make chocolate cupcakes.

I really like the frosting too.  It is so light and fluffy and smooth!  There are those out there who don't like swiss meringue buttercream, saying it's too silky, but I don't understand.  They want to have it gritty or with sugar grains still detectable?  Those sorts of people don't deserve this cupcake.  One thing I would do is add a bit more extract to the frosting (in small increments, lest you make it taste like toothpaste).  It was good, but could have been a bit more minty.

And last, but not least, is the hi-hat portion.  How fun!  I've looked at those for years and never dared try them.  I thought it would take too much time or be too complicated.  It was really very easy.  I even did it with a frosting different from the kind most recipes use (a marshmallow frosting) when they use this coating.  So I was a bit nervous it wouldn't work out and that the buttercream would plop right into the chocolate.  Nope.  I just made sure to chill the cupcakes with the frosting on them for about 1/2 hour before dipping them in room temperature chocolate.  These cupcakes really pack a "wow" into a dessert.  My kids were so impressed and I loved them too (even though they didn't win at dessert club).  Don't be afraid - try them!

Yield: about 32 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
¾ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
¾ cup hot water
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1¼ tsp. coarse salt
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
2¼ cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature

For the filling:
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. heavy cream
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
2 drops of peppermint oil

For the frosting:
5 large egg whites
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar
Pinch of salt
1 lb. (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2-3 tsp. mint extract (and maybe more - this wasn't quite minty enough for me.  But go slow - it's hard to fix if you add too much).

To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line standard cupcake pans with paper liners. In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder and hot water until smooth. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the butter and the sugar over medium heat. Heat, stirring occasionally to combine, until the butter is melted. Remove the mixture from the heat and transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium-low speed, 4-5 minutes, until the mixture is cooled. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed and beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla and then the cocoa mixture and beat until incorporated. With the mixer on low speed add in the dry ingredients in two batches, alternating with the sour cream, beating just until combined.

Divide the batter between the prepared cupcake liners, filling them about ¾ of the way full. Bake 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Allow the cupcakes to cool in the pan 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the ganache, place the chopped chocolate in a medium bowl with a fine mesh strainer set over the top. Add the cream to a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate. Let stand about 1 minute. With a whisk, gently stir the chocolate and cream together in small circles. When the ganache has become smooth, whisk in the butter 1 piece at a time until incorporated. Whisk in the creme de menthe, if using. Transfer the bowl to the freezer or refrigerator to chill and thicken the ganache a bit. Whisk every 5-10 minutes to help it cool evenly. Once the mixture is slightly thickened and no longer runny, you are ready to fill the cupcakes.

To assemble the cupcakes, cut a cone out of the center of each cupcake with a small paring knife. Cut off the pointed end of the cone and discard (or eat) so you are left with a cap of cake to cover the filling. Drop a spoonful of ganache into the center of each cupcake and recover the hole with the cap.

To make the frosting, combine the egg whites, sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture reaches 160° F and the sugar has dissolved. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes.

Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. If the frosting looks soupy or curdled, continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth again, about 3-5 minutes more (don't worry, it will come together!) Stir in the mint extract and mix just until incorporated. Tint with gel icing color as desired.

Add the frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tip (I used a large, unlabeled closed star tip). Frost the cupcakes. Garnish with chocolate shavings or fresh mint leaves as desired.

For The Chocolate Coating
2 cups chopped (about 12 ounces) semisweet chocolate
3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil

Transfer cupcakes to a baking sheet, and refrigerate while preparing the chocolate coating.

Prepare the chocolate coating: Combine chocolate and oil in a medium heat-proof bowl set over a medium saucepan of barely simmering water; stir until melted and smooth. Transfer to a small bowl, and let cool about 15 minutes.  It needs to be at room temperature - not hot OR cold.

Holding each cupcake by its bottom, dip cupcake in the chocolate to coat frosting, allowing excess to drip off. Transfer to a baking sheet fitted with a wire rack. Spoon more coating around edge of cupcake and any exposed frosting; none of the frosting should show. Let cupcakes stand at room temperature 15 minutes.

SOURCE: cupcake, frosting and ganache: Annies-eats.com who adapted it from Martha Stewart
chocolate coating source: Martha Stewart

Monday, May 6, 2013

Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Curd and Mascarpone

 By Heather

Another lemon dessert!  At the beginning of this year I started a little dessert club with some of my friends.  It's really a fun excuse to try new recipes that I would never make for my family, since half of them might dislike it and then I'd be forced to eat the rest of the dessert by myself.  This selfless service has been rendered in the past, but I'm hoping not to repeat it often.  I can no longer call my squishies "baby fat", when my smallest child is almost 3 years old.

So last month for dessert club the theme was "lemon."  And boy did we have a lot of absolutely delicious desserts.  There were so many good and beautiful treats that I'm still dreaming about them.  I was the lucky one that night, and won the prize for best dessert.  Hooray!  It was fun to win, but I only edged out two other desserts by one and two points respectively.  As I said, there were masterpieces present.

This cake was very delicious, with light spongy layers that became wonderful with the lemon simple syrup soaked in.  I made a couple of changes to the recipe (not reflected in the recipe below, though).  One, I had made a different lemon curd recipe and used that in the cake, merely because I was comfortable with that recipe and wanted to use it in another recipe I was making.  Second, I was too cheap to spend $15 on three tubs of mascarpone, so I bought one and used two 8-oz. blocks of neufchatel (light cream cheese) in place of the other two tubs.  I thought the frosting was really good, so I think you can get away with it if budget is an issue. I made the cake, curd and frosting over a couple of days and then assembled it all the day before serving.  I think that helped the flavors to meld well.  This would work really well as a special occasion cake for a citrus fan.  Or a chocolate fan - you may be surprised!

Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Curd and Mascarpone

You'll need a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch star tip to create the decorative rosettes. Begin making this cake two days before you plan to serve it.    Yield: Makes 10 to 12 servings


Lemon curd:
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

6 large eggs, separated
14 tablespoons sugar
1 3/4 cups sifted cake flour (sifted, then measured)
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup boiling water
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Filling and frosting:
2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup sugar
3 8-ounce containers chilled mascarpone cheese* or a combination of mascarpone and cream cheese

For lemon curd:
Whisk first 4 ingredients in medium metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water). Whisk constantly until thickened and instant-read thermometer inserted into mixture registers 160°F, about 10 minutes. Remove bowl from over water. Add butter; whisk until melted. Transfer 1 cup curd to small bowl for spreading on cake layers. Reserve remaining curd for filling. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface of both curds. Chill overnight. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Keep chilled.)
For cake:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Line bottom of two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides with parchment paper (do not grease pans or parchment). Using electric mixer, beat egg yolks and 7 tablespoons sugar in large bowl until mixture is very thick and slowly dissolving ribbons form when beaters are lifted, about 4 minutes. Using clean dry beaters, beat whites in another large bowl until soft peaks form. Add remaining 7 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff and glossy. Fold half of whites into yolk mixture, then sift half of flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt over and gently fold in until incorporated. Fold in remaining whites, then sift remaining flour over and fold in just until combined, being careful not to deflate batter.

Divide batter between pans; smooth tops. Bake until tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 15 minutes. Cool in pans on racks.

Run knife around edge of pans to loosen cakes. Invert cakes onto 9-inch-diameter cardboard rounds, tapping on work surface if necessary to release cakes. Carefully and slowly cut each cake horizontally in half (layers will be thin). Peel off parchment.
For syrup:
Place sugar in small metal bowl. Add 1/2 cup boiling water; stir to dissolve sugar. Stir in lemon juice.

For filling and frosting:
Beat whipping cream and sugar in large bowl until peaks form. Add mascarpone to lemon curd in medium bowl; whisk until blended. Fold whipped cream into lemon-mascarpone mixture.

Place 1 cake layer, flat side up, on platter. Brush with 1/4 of syrup. Spread 1/4 cup lemon curd over, then 1 cup lemon-mascarpone filling. Top with second cake layer; brush with 1/4 of syrup and spread with 1/4 cup lemon curd and 1 cup lemon-mascarpone filling. Repeat with third cake layer, syrup, lemon curd, and filling. Top with fourth cake layer. Brush with remaining syrup, then spread remaining lemon curd over. Spoon 2 cups lemon-mascarpone filling into pastry bag fitted with 1/4-inch star tip (to be used for rosettes). Spread remaining lemon-mascarpone filling as a frosting over sides of cake. Pipe small rosettes of frosting over top of cake, covering completely. Cover cake with cake dome; refrigerate at least 6 hours and up to 1 day.

*Italian cream cheese available at Italian markets and many supermarkets.

Source: Slightly adapted from Epicurious