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January 2012

Decadent Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes 2

Decadent Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Swiss Meringue Buttercream

  Download Decadent Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Swiss Meringue Buttercream recipe

My friend Pat asked me to make some chocolate cupcakes for a gathering at her home. I wanted them to have a little extra flair and started searching recipes.  I had recently found one that sounded intriguing in an issue of Cook’s Illustrated that featured a dark chocolate ganache filling – they promised to be intensely chocolate with a truffle-like filling. Cook’s recommended a chocolate frosting, but I prefer to balance the chocolate cake with a vanilla buttercream.  The Swiss Meringue recipe below is worth the extra work – it’s more like whipped cream than frosting – not overly sweet, with a billowy soft texture. I had some fresh raspberries on hand, so I topped each one with a bright red raspberry.

Ganache Filling:

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine

¼ cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar


Chocolate Cupcakes:

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate , chopped fine (see note)

1/3 cup (1 ounce) Dutch-processed cocoa

¾ cup hot coffee

¾ cup (4 1/8 ounces) bread flour

¾ cup (5 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar

½ teaspoon table salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons white vinegar

1teaspoon vanilla extract



1.    Place chocolate, cream, and confectioners’ sugar in medium microwave-safe bowl. Heat in microwave on high power until mixture is warm to touch, 20 to 30 seconds. Whisk until smooth; transfer bowl to refrigerator and let stand until just chilled, no longer than 30 minutes.



1.    Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard-size muffin pan (cups have ½-cup capacity) with baking-cup liners. Place chocolate and cocoa in medium bowl. Pour hot coffee over mixture and whisk until smooth. Set in refrigerator to cool completely, about 20 minutes. Whisk flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

2.    Whisk oil, eggs, vinegar, and vanilla into cooled chocolate-cocoa mixture until smooth. Add flour mixture and whisk until smooth.

3.    Divide batter evenly among muffin pan cups. Place one slightly rounded teaspoon ganache filling on top of each cupcake. Bake until cupcakes are set and just firm to touch, 17 to 19 minutes. Cool cupcakes in muffin pan on wire rack until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes. Carefully lift each cupcake from muffin pan and set on wire rack. Cool to room temperature before frosting, about 1 hour.

TO FROST: Mound 2 to 3 tablespoons frosting on center of each cupcake. Using small icing spatula or butter knife, spread frosting to edge of cupcake, leaving slight mound in center.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

(you can also use my Easy Vanilla Buttercream recipe - http://bit.ly/bNLmha)

½ cup granulated sugar

2 large egg whites

Pinch table salt

12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool, and cut into 1-tablespoon pieces

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Combine sugar, egg whites, and salt in bowl of stand mixer; place bowl over pan of simmering water. Whisking gently but constantly, heat mixture until slightly thickened, foamy, and registers 140 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 2 to 3 minutes.

 2. Place bowl in stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Beat mixture on medium speed until consistency of shaving cream and slightly cooled, 3 to 4 minutes. (Mixture should cool to about 80 degrees) Add butter, 1 piece at a time, until smooth and creamy. (Frosting may look curdled after half of butter has been added; it will smooth with additional butter.) Once all butter is added, add vanilla; mix until combined. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light, fluffy, and thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds, scraping beater and sides of bowl with rubber spatula as necessary.

 3. The biggest threat a buttercream faces is temperature. If the frosting appears soupy and slippery, it’s likely grown too warm. Plunge the bowl into an ice bath and whisk briskly until the icing becomes silky and cohesive again. If the buttercream resembles fine-curd cottage cheese and slides about in the bowl, it’s likely too cold (from cold butter or a chilly ambient temperature). Wrap a steaming hot dish towel, turban-like, around the bowl to heat it up and whisk or stir it with a wooden spoon to bring the icing back to its shiny, satiny self.

Dark Chocolate Cupcake batter
Dark Chocolate Cupcakes ganache
Dark Chocolate Cupcakes cooking
Dark Chocolate Cupcakes 1

Triple Layer Deep Dark Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream

Triple Layer Chocolate Cake slice
I'm reposting this amazing Chocolate Cake recipe in honor of National Chocolate Cake Day. My friend David always requests this "showstopper" when his visits LA. It’s a classic American dessert and the three layers of moist tender chocolate cake slathered in billowy buttercream make for an impressive slice. It’s important to use the best chocolate available – my favorite is Callebaut (http://bit.ly/bTrdw7

Download Three Layer Deep Dark Chocolate Cake Vanilla Buttercream recipe 

Deep Dark Chocolate Cake:

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

¼ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

1¼ cups water (boiling)

¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour

¾ cup cake flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon table salt

8 ounces unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened, plus extra for greasing pans

1 ½ cups packed dark brown sugar

3 large eggs, room temperature

½ cup sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Easy Vanilla Buttercream, recipe follows


Deep Dark Chocolate Cake: 

 1. Adjust oven rack to upper- and lower-middle positions; heat oven to 350 degrees F. Meanwhile, grease three 8-inch cake pans with butter and line bottom of each pan with parchment paper round. Combine chocolate, cocoa and espresso powder in medium bowl; pour boiling water over and whisk until smooth. Sift together flours, baking soda, and salt onto large sheet parchment or waxed paper; set aside.

2. Place butter in bowl of standing mixer and beat at medium-high speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Add brown sugar and beat on high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Stop mixer and scrape down bowl with rubber spatula. Increase speed to medium-high and add eggs one at a time, beating 30 seconds after each addition. Reduce speed to medium; add sour cream and vanilla and beat until combined, about 10 seconds. Stop mixer and scrape down bowl. With mixer on low, add about one third of flour mixture, followed by about one half of chocolate mixture. Repeat procedure, ending with flour mixture; beat until just combined, about 15 seconds. Do not overbeat. Remove bowl from mixer; scrape bottom and sides of bowl with rubber spatula and mix gently to thoroughly combine.

3. Divide batter evenly among cake pans, smooth batter to edges of pan with rubber spatula. If baking three 8-inch cakes, place two pans on lower-middle rack and one on upper-middle rack. Bake until skewer inserted in center comes out clean, 20 to 23 minutes for 8-inch cakes. Cool on wire rack 15 to 20 minutes. Run knife around pan perimeter to loosen. Invert cakes onto large plate; peel off parchment, and re-invert onto lightly greased rack. Cool completely before icing.


Easy Vanilla Bean Buttercream

3 sticks unsalted butter, softened

3 ¼ cups confectioners' sugar (12 ounces)

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

2 ½ tablespoons heavy cream

1. In standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat butter at medium-high speed until smooth, about 20 seconds. Add confectioners' sugar and salt; beat at medium-low speed until most of the sugar is moistened, about 45 seconds.

2. Scrape down bowl and beat at medium speed until mixture is fully combined, about 15 seconds; scrape bowl, add vanilla and heavy cream, and beat at medium speed until incorporated, about 10 seconds.

3. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down bowl once or twice.

Triple Layer Chocolate Cake half frosted
Triple Layer Chocolate Cake frosted
Triple Layer Chocolate Cake slice lift

Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Endive Appetizers

Beet Goat Cheese Endive Salad

Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Endive

Beet and goat cheese salad is probably one of my favorites and this recipe creates perfect individual bites. Roasting the beets gives great depth of flavor, but canned beets speeds up the process. The flavors improve as it sits, it’s great to make a day ahead. Feel free to substitute bleu cheese for the goat cheese, but either way, make sure to buy a high quality block and crumble it yourself. 

Download Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Endive recipe

1 pound medium beets, trimmed (or one15-ounce can whole beets, drained and chopped fine)

1 cup crumbled goat cheese

¼ cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 small shallot, minced

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or tarragon, or combination

Salt and pepper

2 heads endive, cut in half lengthwise, leaves of each half separated

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Wrap each beet separately in foil and roast until paring knife can be inserted with little resistance, 70 to 80 minutes. Cool until easy to handle, at least 20 minutes. Use paper towels to remove skin and cut beets into small dice. (if using canned beets, just drain and dice)

2. Whisk together vinegar, herbs, orange juice and shallot. Whisking continuously, slowly pour in the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Toss beets with vinegar mixture, cheese, and walnuts. Cover and refrigerate until flavors meld, at least 30 minutes.  Spoon mixture onto each endive, garnish plate with fresh herbs and serve.

Beet Goat Cheese Endive Salad single 

Beet Goat Cheese Endive Salad 1

Best Ever Homemade Blueberry Pie

Blueberry pie slice

A friend of mine from NYC called the other day to ask which pie bakery I preferred. He had guests from Norway stopping by that afternoon for coffee and wanted to offer them a slice of “American pie”. When he told me a whole pie from a bakeshop would cost anywhere from $35-$65, I suggested he take a quick lesson in pie making and bake one himself. He had 3 hours before they arrived and I was convinced I could help him get a pie, prepped, baked, and on a cooling rack before they rang his buzzer. I quickly emailed this recipe for Best Ever Blueberry pie and he raced to his local grocery store to pick up everything we needed, (including a pie plate). With the help of Skype, I coached him through the basic steps (he saved time with a ready-made pie crust) and the pie was in the oven in no time. Nothing warms a home during the winter months like the smell of a freshly baked pie and this one is certain to please any guest.

Download Best Ever Homemade Blueberry Pie recipe

1 Foolproof  Pie Dough, see recipe here http://bit.ly/xXGmvi    (or use your favorite pie crust recipe or Pillsbury Ready-made)

Blueberry Filling

6 cups fresh blueberries (about 30 ounces) or 2 -16 oz. bags frozen Wild Blueberries (or  one 15 oz bag of frozen and 3 cups of fresh)

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated on large holes of box grater

2 teaspoons grated zest and 2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon or orange

3/4 cup sugar (5 1/4 ounces)

2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca, ground in a coffee grinder or mini cuisinart

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Pinch table salt 

2 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 1/4-inch pieces

Egg Wash: 1 large egg , lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon milk

Foolproof recipe

1. Remove 1 disk of dough from refrigerator and roll out on generously floured (up to 1/4 cup) work surface to 12-inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang on each side.

2. Working around circumference, ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Leave dough that overhangs plate in place; refrigerate while preparing filling until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.

For The Filling:

1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position, place rimmed baking sheet on oven rack, and heat oven to 400 degrees. Place 3 cups fresh berries in medium saucepan and set over medium heat. Using potato masher, mash berries several times to release juices. Continue to cook, stirring frequently and mashing occasionally, until about half of berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 8 minutes. If using frozen, place one bag of berries in saucepan and cook over medium to medium high heat for 12-15 minutes. Let cool slightly.

3. Place grated apple in clean kitchen towel and wring dry. Transfer apple to large bowl. Add cooked berries, remaining 3 cups uncooked berries (fresh or frozen),  zest, juice, sugar, tapioca, cinnamon and salt; toss to combine. Transfer mixture to dough-lined pie plate and scatter butter pieces over filling.

4. Roll out second disk of dough on generously floured (up to 1/4 cup) work surface to 11-inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. Using 1 1/4-inch round biscuit cutter, cut round from center of dough. Cut another 6 rounds from dough, 1 1/2 inches from edge of center hole and equally spaced around center hole. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll over pie, leaving at least 1/2-inch overhang on each side.

5. Using kitchen shears, trim bottom layer of overhanging dough, leaving 1/2-inch overhang. Fold dough under itself so that edge of fold is flush with outer rim of pie plate. Flute edges using thumb and forefinger or press with tines of fork to seal. Brush top and edges of pie with egg mixture. If dough is very soft, chill in freezer for 10 minutes.

6. Place pie on heated baking sheet and bake 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake until juices bubble and crust is deep golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes longer. Transfer pie to wire rack; cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.

Blueberry pie prebake

Blueberry pie baking

Homemade Moist and Chewy Date Nut Squares

Date nut brownies2

Moist and Chewy Date Nut Squares

I love recipes that don’t require mixers, beaters and lots of bowls. These squares really should be called Date Nut Brownies because of their soft and chewy texture. The combination of dates, nuts and brown sugar make them reminiscent of Sticky Toffee Pudding. These moist bars will make anyone a fan of dates which are one of the best natural sources of potassium. 

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup brown sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 eggs

1 cup whole wheat flour (4.5 ounces)

1 cup chopped pitted dates

1 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and adjust rack to middle position. Lightly butter a 9x13 pan and set aside.

2. Beat butter, sugar, salt, soda, and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth. Beat in eggs, scraping the bowl and mixing until well combined.

3. Beat in flour, dates, and nuts. Scoop the batter into the prepared pan. Using wet hands, press the dough and smooth batter into an even thin layer.

 4. Bake the squares until golden brown, about 22 minutes.  Remove pan from oven and let cool on wire rack for 30 minutes.  Cut into 2” squares and dust squares with confectioners’ sugar.

Date Nut Brownies baked

Decadent Bittersweet Chocolate Pots De Crème

Chocolate pot de creme 5

Decadent Bittersweet Chocolate Pots De Crème

My friend Pat Loud says that chocolate is ALWAYS the best choice for dessert at a dinner party.  What I love about Pots de Crème is that it can be made ahead (up to 3 days) and it packs a great chocolate punch.  The satiny texture takes “chocolate pudding” to a whole new decadent level. Many recipes require a baking the dishes in a hot water bath, but this recipe is much simpler and uses a cooked custard (crème anglaise) method which is poured over the bittersweet chocolate. You can cut the recipe in half to serve 4 or increase as needed depending on how many you are serving. Small porcelain dishes or espresso cups make great serving dishes and because it’s so rich, a small amount goes a long way. Although I like to serve it with a small butter waffle cookie and my recently discovered Yoku Moku cookies from Japan (http://www.yokumoku.com), a simple dollop of cream and some chocolate shavings will deliver beautiful dessert for any occasion. 

  Download Decadent Bittersweet Chocolate Pots De Crème recipe

10 ounces Ghirardelli or Callebaut bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine

5 large egg yolks

5 tablespoons sugar

¼ teaspoon table salt

1 ½ cups heavy cream

¾ cup half-and-half

1 tablespoon vanilla extract or Kahlua

1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder mixed with 1 tablespoon water (optional)

Whipped Cream Topping

1/2 cup heavy cream (cold)

2 teaspoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


Cocoa powder for dusting

Chocolate shavings for sprinkling




1. Place chocolate in medium heatproof bowl; set fine-mesh strainer over bowl and set aside.


2. Whisk yolks, sugar, and salt in medium bowl until combined; whisk in heavy cream and half-and-half. Transfer mixture to medium saucepan. Cook mixture over medium-low heat, stirring constantly and scraping bottom of pot with wooden spoon, until thickened and silky and custard registers 175 to 180 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 8 to 12 minutes. Do not let custard overcook or simmer.


3. Immediately pour custard through strainer over chocolate. Let mixture stand to melt chocolate, about 5 minutes. Whisk gently until smooth, then whisk in vanilla (or Kahlua) and espresso. Divide mixture evenly among eight small cups. Gently tap against counter to remove air bubbles.

4. Cool pots de crème to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours or up to 72 hours. Before serving, let pots de crème stand at room temperature 20 to 30 minutes.


FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM: Using hand mixer or standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat cream, sugar, and vanilla on low speed until bubbles form, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to medium; continue beating until beaters leave trail, about 30 seconds longer. Increase speed to high; continue beating until nearly doubled in volume and whipped cream forms soft peaks, 30 to 45 seconds longer.

5. Dollop each pot de crème with about 2 tablespoons whipped cream; garnish with cocoa or chocolate shavings, if using. Serve.

Chocolate pot de creme custard

  Chocolate pot de creme cups


Raspberry Oat Squares


Raspberry square long 

Raspberry Oat Squares 


One of my favorite treats - they're great any time of year.



 Download Raspberry Oat Squares Recipe 



1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (7.5 ounces)

1 1/4 cups quick-cooking oats 

1/3 cup granulated sugar (2.3 ounces)

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar 

1/4 teaspoon baking soda 

1/4 teaspoon table salt 

1/2 cup finely chopped pecans or almonds, or a combination

12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into 12 pieces and softened by still cool

3/4 cup raspberry preserves

½ cup fresh raspberries

2 tsp. fresh lemon juice



1.    Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9-inch-square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Fold two 16-inch pieces of foil lengthwise to measure 8 inches wide. Fit one sheet in bottom of greased pan, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan (overhang will help in removal of baked squares). Fit second sheet in pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet. Spray foil with nonstick cooking spray.


2.    In bowl of standing mixer, mix flour, oats, sugars, baking soda, salt, and nuts at low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. With mixer running at low speed, add butter pieces; continue to beat until mixture is well-blended and resembles wet sand, about 2 minutes.


3.    Transfer 2/3 of mixture to prepared pan and use hands to press crumbs evenly into bottom. Bake until starting to brown, about 20 minutes.


4.    Meanwhile, combine preserves, raspberries, and lemon juice in small bowl; mash with fork until combined but some berry pieces remain.


5.    Using rubber spatula, spread raspberry mixture evenly over hot bottom crust; sprinkle remaining oat/nut mixture evenly over preserves. Bake until preserves bubble around edges and top is golden brown, about 30 minutes, rotating pan from front to back halfway through baking time.


6.    Cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 1½ hours, then remove from pan using foil handles. Cut into 1¼- to 1½-inch squares and serve.

Raspberry squares topping

 Raspberry square dough pan