Classic Yellow Cupcakes & Devil’s Food Cupcakes

Within the past couple years there has been a craze about cupcakes. From little cupcakeries popping up across the country to people experimenting with cupcake flavors and designs at home, cupcakes have truly taken over the sweet snack world. While they used to be an individual portion of cake with frosting on top, cupcakes have evolved into flaunting an array of savory tastes and fashioning beautiful tops covered with intricate scenes.

While my recipes are no competition to Sprinkles’ gourmet cupcakes at $3.50 a piece, the yellow cupcake and chocolate cupcake recipes that follow are manageable for at home and create a fun activity for a group of friends.

The recipes are from Sur la Table’s The Art & Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet. They call for cake flour, but since I didn’t have any in the pantry, I made some. For every one cup of cake flour that you want, sift together 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour and 2 tablespoons cornstarch, in essence replacing the removed flour with cornstarch.

The classic yellow cupcake recipe is an adaptation of the classic yellow layer cake recipe.

~ 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
~ 3/4 cup sugar
~ 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
~ 2 cups sifted cake flour
~ 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
~ 1/4 teaspoon salt
~ 1/3 cup sour cream, at room temperature

1. Preheat oven to 350° with the oven rack in the center. Lightly coat the inside of the muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray or place with paper cupcake liners.
2. Beat the butter and sugar on  medium speed until very light (almost white) in color, 5 to 6 minutes. Scrape down the bowl with a spatula.
3. Beat the eggs and vanilla in a small bowl to blend. With the mixer on medium, add the eggs to the butter mixture about 1 tablespoon at a time, incorporating each egg before adding the next. About halfway through, turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl, then resume adding the eggs. Scrape down the bowl again.
4. With a fine-mesh strainer, sift the cake flour (or 2 cups minus 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour sifted with 4 tablespoons cornstarch), baking soda and salt into a medium bowl and whisk together. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add the flour mixture and the sour cream alternately, beginning with one-third of the flour mixture and half the sour cream; repeat, then finish with flour mixture. The additions should be first one-third flour mixture and half sour cream, second one-third flour mixture and half sour cream, and last one-third flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl and finish blending the batter by hand, if necessary.
5. Scrape the batter into the prepared muffin pan, filling each cup to 1/4 inch from the top of the liner. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

The devil’s food cupcake recipe is an adaptation of the devil food’s cake recipe.

~ 1/2 cup unsifted unsweetened cocoa powder
~ 1/2 cup plus 1 cup water
~ 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
~ 1 cup granulated sugar
~ 3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
~ 3 large eggs, at room temperature
~ 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
~ 2 cups sifted cake flour
~ 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
~ 2 teaspoons baking powder
~ 1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350° with the oven racks in the lower and upper thirds. Lightly coat the inside of the muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray or place with paper cupcake liners.
2. Place the cocoa powder in a small bowl. Heat 1/2 cup of the water in the small saucepan just until it begins to simmer. Pour it over the cocoa and whisk or stir until blended and smooth. Add the remaining 1 cup water and stir until the mixture is smooth. Set aside until the mixture cools to room temperature, about 15 minutes. If it is warm, it will melt the butter and ruin the texture of your cupcakes.
3. Beat the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar on medium-high speed until very light in color, about 5 to 6 minutes. Scrape down the bowl with the spatula.
4. Beat the eggs and vanilla in a small bowl to blend. With the mixer on medium, add the eggs to the butter mixture about 1 tablespoon at a time, incorporating each egg before adding the next. About halfway through, turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl, then resume adding the eggs. Scrape down the bowl again.
5. With the fine-mesh strainer, sift the cake flour (or 2 cups minus 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour sifted with 4 tablespoons cornstarch), baking powder and salt into a medium bowl and whisk together. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add the flour mixture and the cocoa water alternately, beginning with one-third of the flour mixture and half the cocoa water; repeat, then finish with flour mixture. The additions should be first one-third flour mixture and half cocoa water, second one-third flour mixture and half cocoa water, and last one-third flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl and finish blending the batter by hand, if necessary.
6. Scrape the batter into the prepared muffin pan, filling each cup half full. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Now that the cupcakes are baked, you can have fun decorating them and filling them if you have a cupcake corer. For the core of the cupcakes, I filled them with either Nutella or a caramel frosting. The caramel frosting was created by making frosting and then adding a caramel topping to it. An easy (and clean) way to fill the cupcakes is to use a spout, whether it’s by filling a frosting decorator or by filling a ziploc bag with the frosting and cutting a tip. After filling the cupcakes, you can either put the core that you removed back on top or just fill the core to the brim.

Then the contemplation is how to decipher which ones have which filling. That’s where the sprinkles come in hand. I used red sprinkles to signify Nutella-filled and yellow sprinkles to signify caramel frosting-filled. The ones that weren’t filled adorned other fun sprinkles! After coring and filling the middle or just leaving the cupcakes pure, you can choose a store bought frosting or make your own to top them off with. I used store-bought varieties of buttercream frosting and fudge chocolate frosting.

These decadent cupcakes make a great contribution to a party, a wonderful gift for someone deserving a token of thanks and a delicious dessert for the baker!

Chocolate Macadamia-Nut Tart

If ever you are asked to bake a decadent chocolate dessert, this chocolate macadamia-nut tart will be a sure hit! Macadamia nuts and chocolate are a duo that go perfectly together. Hawaii lays claim to making the macadamia nut an international hit, with many macadamia trees planted among the islands. While many nuts are valued for their protein and omega-3 fatty acids, macadamia nuts are not among them. They are high in fat and low in protein.

Nonetheless, this dessert is just another to add to your festive desserts that cause us to pack on a few pounds around the holidays. Friends and family at holiday parties are sure to want leftovers of these (if there are any)!

The recipe is from Martha Stewart’s collection of baking recipes. While the recipe is quite time-consuming and labor intensive, it is well worth the effort.

The first step is to make the pastry dough as a pie crust. Since the recipe I used made two 11-inch shells and only one is necessary, I have halved the recipe here to make things simpler.

~ 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
~ 3 tablespoons sugar
~ 2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut up
~ 2 large egg yolks
~ 4 tablespoons ice water

1. Combine flour and sugar in a large bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour and sugar until mixture resembles coarse meal. There should no longer be any large chunks of butter
2. Lightly beat egg yolks in a small bowl; add ice water. Add to mixture in large bowl and knead with hands. While continually kneading, add more ice water one tablespoon at a time until the dough holds together.
3. Mold dough into a flattened disc and wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Once the dough has chilled for at least 1 hour, the filing can be made.

~ 2 large eggs
~ 1 cup sugar
~ 1/2 tablespoon bourbon
~ 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
~ 1/4 teaspoon salt
~ 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
~ 6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
~ 2 1/2 cups unsalted whole macadamia nuts

1. Preheat oven to 400°. On a lightly floured surface and with lightly floured hands, roll the pastry dough into a 14-inch diameter circle. Fit pastry into an 11-inch pie pan; trim dough evenly along edge. Use trimmings to patch any thin spots in shell. Refrigerate 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk eggs, sugar and bourbon until combined. Whisk in flour and salt. Whisk in butter. Stir in chocolate. Pour into chilled pie shell. Cover top with nuts, pressing them halfway down into filling.
3. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°, and continue baking about 35 minutes, until crust and nuts are golden. If tart gets too brown on top, place aluminum foil over top for remainder of baking time. Cool on wire rack.

Decadence awaits you once the tart has cooled. The chocolate sinks to the bottom to give it a layered look. A bite with crust, chocolate and a macadamia nut is the best. Be sure to have a big glass of water or milk nearby.

While thinking about the tart makes my mouth water, there are some alterations I would make to the recipe in the future. The tart was taken out of the oven when it looked finished; however, when it was cut into, the middle was still gooey. Therefore it had to be refrigerated before guests arrived. Also the tart tasted like pure butter. A solution to help both of those cases is to reduce the amount of butter, but still have enough for decadence and the same flavor. I would recommend reducing it to 1 stick instead of 1 1/2. Additionally, the macadamia nuts were very overwhelming. Either using half the amount of whole macadamia nuts would be better or simply cutting the macadamia nuts in half so that you still have the same visual appearance of whole macadamia nuts on the top.