Rainy Day Recipe
September 10, 2008
I made these cupcakes on Monday, which was the kind of rainy day that makes one mopey and quiet and even a little broody. Worse yet, the day had started out sunny—a ruse that lured me in and had me envisioning a nice, long stroll through the neighborhood. But as dark, heavy charcoal-colored clouds rumbled into the sky, those hopes washed away like the persistent streaks of rain that were soon coming down the windows. It was the kind of Chicago fall day that I try my best to forget every year, instead conjuring visions of crisp blue skies and golden leaves floating through the sun-drenched air. That’s the fall I prefer to remember. And, every year, I get reminded.
All this was compounded by the fact that I had contracted a very serious case of the post-vacation blues. Not only was our week in Canada over and done, but my post-bar exam life of leisure was rapidly drawing to a close as well. I wondered: Was it over already? I had a sneaking suspicion that the same stealthy thief who snatched summer away from me had returned to abscond with my vacation too. Suddenly I felt like I must jealously horde my time, doling out the precious seconds to only the most worthy tasks.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
But, then I took a nap. When I woke up, hundreds of precious seconds later, the fat drops of rain were still splotching the windows. Given no other choice, I headed to the kitchen. Really, isn’t this just the kind of day made for baking (and napping)?
I set out to make these black-bottom cupcakes, which have been on my to do list for a few months. I was finally baking up a batch to bring to our friends’ house to watch the Vikings-Packers football game. Not only did they seem a football-friendly treat, but I got to thinking, as I pulled the ingredients out of the pantry, that they were even an apt metaphor for the rivalry between fans of the two teams that would play that night: the two sets of fans are distinct, separate elements but for a worthy cause (such as a Monday Night Football party), they will come together—just as the chocolate cake and cheesecake elements do in these cupcakes. Does this sound like the musings of one who had been cooped up far too long on a rainy day? Hmm, perhaps you’re right.
My cabin fever did not stop with baking metaphors, though. It had me delighted—downright thrilled—to sift the dry ingredients, a step that I often skip (tsk, tsk). But on a damp, dreary day, the methodical motions were just the mindless task I needed. Good thing too, because I came out with quite a sieve full of lumps:
Yikes! (I think the brown sugar was the culprit.) Once I sifted through the dry ingredients and whipped up the luscious cream cheese filling, then came the fun part: dolloping—first the chocolate batter and then a bullseye of the cream cheese filling! (Again: I was in need of some fresh air.) But the really, really fun part (and I’m guessing this would be the case even if I didn’t have cabin-fever-slash-post-vacation-blues) was the taste test.
You see, since I was going to be sharing these with others, I thought it only appropriate to engage in a little quality control. Musn’t serve friends undelicious things, right? Plus, I wanted to halve one for a cross-section photo or five. And halving turned into nibbling. Nibbling turned into eating. Eating turned into gobbling. And I packed up the remaining eleven cupcakes and stashed them out of sight so that none of the others would mysteriously disappear before kickoff.
The cupcakes were loved by all, but the real star of the night was a smoking-hot pot of chili our friend Matt created. Yowza, was it good! (And just what the doctor ordered for my rainy day blues.) I gently prodded about a recipe, but I think it was more of a “little-of-this, little-of-that” type of thing. So, you’ll just have to settle with this recipe for now. Which isn’t really settling at all.
David Lebovitz’s The Great Book of Chocolate via Leite’s Culinaria
Yield: 12 cupcakes
For the filling:
8 ounces cream cheese, regular or reduced fat, at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped*
For the cupcakes:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup unflavored vegetable oil
1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Make the filling:
Beat together the cream cheese, granulated sugar, and egg until smooth. Stir in the chopped chocolate pieces. Set aside.
Make the cupcakes:
1. Adjust the rack to the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F (175°C). Butter a 12-cup muffin tin, or line the tin with paper muffin cups.
2. In a medium bowl sift together the flour, brown sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together the water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla.
3. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the wet ingredients, stirring until just smooth. Stir any longer and you will over mix the batter and end up with less-than-tender cupcakes.
4. Divide the batter among the muffin cups.* Spoon a few tablespoons** of the filling into the center of each cupcake, dividing the filling evenly. This will fill the cups almost completely, which is fine.
5. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the tops are slightly golden brown and the cupcakes feel springy when gently pressed. These moist treats will keep well unrefrigerated for 2 to 3 days if stored in an airtight container.
* Whoops! I plum forgot this step. I had even chopped the chocolate and everything. I just forgot to add it. I think I was too excited about the dolloping.
* I used a small (1-3/8 inch across), spring-loaded ice cream scoop for this and it came out to three scoops per cupcake.
** I used the same scoop for this step and came out to two scoops per cupcake. Next time I might try a little less—perhaps 1.5 scoops (which would leave some left over, yes)—for a more centered, offset white middle.