Cherry Chocolate Cupcakes with Fennel Cream Cheese Frosting22

Posted by chockylit in Cheese,Chocolate,Herbs & Flowers,Other Fruits (Sunday January 29, 2006 at 11:58 am)

I am finding that the recipe development process starts with some ingredient or combination of ingredients entering my subconscious and sitting with me for some time. Eventually the full recipe will evolve after batting around ideas that may or may not translate into something tasty.

I had cherries and chocolate on the brain for a couple of weeks now. At some point fennel entered the picture, but I don’t recall when or why. I work across the street from the San Francisco Ferry Building which is fantastic place for seeking gastronomic inspiration. I purchased some dried, unsulphered, unsweetened cherries from Capay Organic, everything else I had in stock. I got ever so slightly experimental by soaking half the cherries in brandy overnight and left the other half alone.

I took this recipe recently posted on Flickr by MarionQuaggatuggu. I divided the batter in half and folded in drained and chopped brandy-soaked cherries for an adult version and folded in chopped plain cherries and Valrhona chunks for a kid-friendly version. The result was more than I could hope for – rich, moist, dense, but flakey cake with a deep chocolate flavor and the occasional texture variation and kick from the brandy-soaked cherries. I preferred the brandy version personally.

For the fennel cream cheese frosting, I decided to make a syrup to add to my standard cream cheese frosting recipe. I used just a couple tablespoons of sugar and water with a teaspoon of fennel that I crushed slightly with a mortar and pestle. I boiled the mixture down until it was very syrupy and added the whole thing to the frosting. The syrup was delicious and the frosting was fantastic. I loved the overall flavor combination of the cake and frosting and consider this a keeper.

Cherry Chocolate Cupcakes
14 regular cupcakes / 350 degree oven

1-1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup flour
3.6 ounces dark chocolate, 1/2 of a 200 gram bar of Valrhona 61% cocao
15 tablespoons butter
4 eggs
3 tablespoons cocoa powder, unsweetened
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup dried cherries

1. Chop cherries and transfer to a small bowl. Cover in brandy and set aside to plump overnight.
2. Melt chocolate and butter over a water bath
3. add sugar and stir, let mixture cool for 10 minutes
4. Beat in an electric mixer for 3 minutes
5. Add one egg at a time, mixing for 30 seconds between each
6. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and a pinch of salt into the mixture and mix until blended
7. Fold in cherries drained of the brandy
8. Scoop into cupcake cups and bake at 350 F for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean

baked cupcake

Fennel Cream Cheese Frosting

2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
12 ounces or 1-1/2 packages of Philly cream cheese
1/2 stick butter
3 cups sifted powdered sugar

1. Bring cheese and butter to room temperature by letting it sit out for 1 or 2 hours
2. Heat sugar and water in a small pan under medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved
3. Crush fennel seeds slightly with a mortar and pestle or with the back of a heavy pan on a cutting board
4. Add seeds to the sugar and let boil over medium-low heat for 3 to 5 minutes or until the mixture is syrupy. Set aside to cool.
5. Sift powdered sugar into a bowl or onto parchment
6. Beat butter and cheese at medium speed until creamy
7. Add half of the sugar and the fennel syrup. Beat until combined
8. Gradually add remaining sugar (more if you have to) until you get to the consistency and sweetness you like

Note: I had a lot of frosting left over. Recommended uses include serving alongside sliced fruit (I had it with papaya and banana) or french toast. It can also be frozen for future use (use within a month or so). I store it in a freezer bag and when ready, transfer the bag to the refrigerator to thaw.

fennel seeds, cherries, & chocolate

1. Top cooled cupcakes with frosting.
2. Decorate as you wish. I topped the cupcakes with a pastillage star.

I got this basic pastillage recipe from the internet. I was looking for something that didn’t have any special ingredients like gumtex or glucose. I wasn’t up for a ride to the cake supply store. I found this pastillage difficult to work with. I couldn’t get it very thin (I think partly because it was slightly sticky) and a lot of my shapes cracked when I went to remove them. The recipe makes plenty though, so I had enough shapes that worked out alright and still have two balls left over.


1 package gelatin
2 ounces cold water
1 pound powdered sugar
2 ounces cornstarch
0.02 ounce cream of tarter
gel food coloring

1. Stir gelatin into the water. Let stand 5 minutes, then heat until the gelatin is dissolved.
2. Sift together the sugar, starch, and cream of tartar.
3. Place the gelatin and the water mixture in a bowl. Add part of the sugar mixture and stir with a spoon until it is absorbed. Add food coloring and continue stirring.
4. Add remaining sugar in stages, stirring to combine.
5. Hand knead mixture to a smooth, pliable paste. This stage takes a while, can be messy (I kept it in a large bowl), and may require some splashes of cool water to bring the mixture together. Add water slowly or the result may be too sticky. If that happens, add a bit more powdered sugar.
6. Divide paste into three balls. Wrap two of them very well with plastic wrap. Pastillage must be kept covered as it dries quickly.
7. Roll out one ball at a time, using cornstarch to prevent sticking. Cut out shapes with cookies cutters or whatever you have. Dried them on parchment. Delicate designs will likely crack when you go to remove them from the parchment. The simpler, the better.

Cupcake Questions109

Posted by in General (Sunday January 29, 2006 at 11:56 am)

Here are my answers to some frequently asked cupcake questions. Feel free to post general questions/comments that don’t pertain to a particular recipe and I will answer them as soon as I can! More answers coming soon…

Products & Tools

Q. Where can I find those neat baking cups you use?

A. I have purchased them from here, where they are inexpensive, but the shipping is high. I also found this site that has them, they refer to them as ‘Nut & Party’ cups.

I should mention, if a little late, that the first time I saw these types of cups was at Chubby Hubby, where he used them as containers for little banana cakes. I can’t locate the post, though :(

Q. Where do you get your food coloring? Can I use regular, grocery store food coloring if I can’t find the gel food coloring?

A. The gel food coloring is thicker and more potent, so you need less to get the same effect as with the more liquidy stuff you find in the grocery store. This is mostly important with frostings as the liquid food coloring can mess with the consistency especially if you are trying to get a very vibrant color. Gel is better for this purpose.

When adding food coloring to batter, it’s less of an issue. However, if you are adding a lot of coloring, adjust the amount of liquid in the recipe. For example, if you add a tablespoon of liquid food coloring to a red velvet recipe, cut back on a tablespoon of the buttermilk.

I get my gel food coloring at a local cake supply store, Sugar N Spice. I use Americolor brand and there are plenty of online shops that sell it. Here is just one, Kerekes.

Q. How do you get those cool swirls on your cupcakes? My tips seem too small which ones are you using?

A. Using a big, plain or star tip is key to getting a nice looking swirl. I use Kaiser brand tips as they are readily available at a local grocery store, Andronico’s. I have also found some online stores that sell Kaiser tips, but the selection seems limited. Here is a starter set that includes a filling tip, which is something I need…

Cupcake Sizes

Q. Can I make these regular cupcakes mini sized or the mini cupcakes regular sized?

A. Almost all the recipes I have will work in either size. The important thing to note is the baking time. On average, mini cupcakes take 12-15 minutes to bake and regular cupcakes take 22-25 minutes to bake.

Q. How long to jumbo cupcakes take to bake? Where can I get jumbo cupcake papers?

A. I normally don’t bake ‘jumbo’ cupcakes. I am a firm believer that cupcakes should look cute and they are cuter the smaller they are.


Q. Do cupcakes need to be refrigerated? Can they be frozen? How are they best stored?

A. I find that room temperature; air-tight storage retains the most flavor, texture, and moisture. However there are some frostings and fillings that I believe should be refrigerated if cupcakes are stored for more than a few hours – mostly for safety reasons. So, if you are storing cupcakes overnight and they are frosted with cream cheese or filled with whipped cream, then store them in tupperware, in a cake box wrapped in plastic wrap, or in a cupcake container wrapped in plastic wrap.

I have frozen unfrosted cupcakes before when I simply had too much to do too close to an event and needed to get the cupcakes baked off the weekend before. I have had success with cakes, but ultimately I believe that freezing detracts from the texture and flavor of the cupcake. So, I try to not do it. If you must, double wrap unfrosted cupcakes and place in an airtight container or freezer bag and freeze but for not more than a week. To defrost, place the wrapped cupcakes and let defrost wrapped for 6-8 hours, and then unwrap.


Q. How much does a stick of butter weigh?

A. 110 grams give or take a few. Here is a good resource for weights of a cup of various ingredients.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional baker or pastry chef. I have, however, been baking fairly consistently since I was 13. I have taken a week long pastry class at Culinary Institute of America at Greystone (which was awesome, by the way) and some consumer classes at the California Culinary Academy. I went to school for chemical engineering, but am now a software quality engineer. The schooling influences my approach to baking (methodical) and the software experience helped with adding a third column to the blogger template (why no three-column templates, blogger?). The whole digital food photography thing is a new world for me and I am enjoying the challenge immensely.

To sum it up – I speak from experience only. I try not to answer questions that I don’t have answers for, but will do some googling and forward references to folks if I haven’t figured out the problem in the past.

Lemon, Lime & Grapefruit Curd Filled Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting48

Posted by chockylit in Cheese,Citrus (Monday January 9, 2006 at 9:14 pm)

I don’t know about you, but I ate lots of chocolate over the holidays. I felt like a break and decided to make a trio of citrus curds to stuff into some basic vanilla cupcakes. I topped them with a simple cream cheese frosting and a little zest for decoration. Simple, fresh, and delicious.

I used some existing recipes this time around… Magnolia’s Traditional Vanilla Birthday Cake recipe (adjusted to use all-purpose flour only) and Martha Stewart’s lemon curd recipe. I have used both of these, on numerous occasions, with great results. I have reprinted them as I have altered them slightly and I provide some tips along the way.

Cupcakes from The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook
24 regular cupcakes / 350 degree oven

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Beat butter on high until soft, about 30 seconds.
2. Add sugar. Beat on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
3. Add eggs one at a time, beat for 30 seconds between each.
4. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a bowl.
5. Measure out milk and vanilla together.
6. Add about a fourth of the flour to the butter/sugar mixture and beat to combine.
7. Add about one third the milk/vanilla mixture and beat until combined.
8. Repeat above, alternating flour and milk and ending with the flour mixture.
9. Scoop into cupcake papers about half to three-quarters full (depending on whether you want flat or domed cupcakes).
10. Bake for 22-25 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean.

Tip: It is important that the butter is at room temperature and beat well. Otherwise you might get butter chunks which sort of melt into little pools and make the cupcakes come out funny-looking. Not a huge deal, but I thought I’d mention it.

cupcakes ready for baking

Citrus Curd from

4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
5 tablespoons freshly squeezed citrus juice, strained
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
7 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons powdered sugar

1. Whisk together egg yolks, sugar, and citrus juice in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture coats the back of a spoon, about 4 minutes.
2. Transfer to a small bowl. Stir in butter, piece by piece. Cover with plastic wrap, and cool in the refrigerator.
3. Whip together cream and powdered sugar until stiff peaks form.
4. Fold cream into the chilled curd.

Tip: The above recipe makes enough curd for over a teaspoon of filling for 24 cupcakes. I made 6 egg yolks worth so that I could get three batches for the three flavors. I ended up with extra, but those who wandered into the kitchen didn’t mind having something to dip the cupcake guts into.

Cream Cheese Frosting

12 ounces or 1-1/2 packages of Philly cream cheese
1/2 stick butter
4 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Bring cheese and butter to room temperature by letting it sit out for 1 or 2 hours
2. Sift powdered sugar into a bowl or onto parchment
3. Beat butter and cheese at medium speed until creamy
4. Add half of the sugar and the vanilla. Beat until combined
5. Gradually add remaining sugar (more if you have to) until you get to the consistency and sweetness you like

cupcakes ready for filling

1. Using a small pairing knife, cut off the top of the cupcake in the shape of a cone. Flip the top over and cut off the cone.
2. Fill the cavity with a teaspoon or so of curd.
3. Replace top.
4. Frost with frosting.
5. Decorate as you wish. I topped the cupcakes with zest.

Coffee Buttercream Filled Almond Cupcake with Valrhona Ganache13

Posted by chockylit in Chocolate,Coffee & Liqueurs,Nuts (Monday January 2, 2006 at 11:27 am)

I saw an opera cake recipe on the epicurious homepage a couple of weeks ago that inspired the latest cupcake recipe. I took the recipe from the site and made some changes. Overall the cupcake was fine, due to two of the three components being extremely tasty. I was not happy with the almond cupcake recipe though, which I found to be too eggy tasting. I recommend substituting the almond-based recipe with just about any recipe that goes well with coffee and chocolate that you like.

I was visiting my parents in the east coast for the holidays. It’s always tricky working in an unfamiliar kitchen, but they have a great setup so it all went well. Taking pictures proved difficult though as it was an overcast, rainy and dreary day – perfect for cupcake baking but not for available light photography.

12 regular cupcakes / 350 degree oven

2 eggs, room temp
1/2 cup almond meal
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons flour
2 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon cream of tarter
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

1. Beat 2 eggs for 2-3 minutes.
2. Add almond meal and flour. Sift in powdered sugar and flour.
3. Beat until combined.
4. In another bowl, beat egg whites with the whisk attachment until foamy.
5. Add cream of tarter and salt and whisk until soft peaks form.
6. Gradually add sugar and whisk on high until stiff peaks form.
7. Stir in one third of the egg whites into the batter mixture.
8. Fold the batter mixture gently into the egg whites. Then fold in butter.
9. Scoop into cupcake papers about half full (we don’t want the cupcakes to come out over the top as we want to pour ganache into them).
10. Bake for 12-15 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean.

ready for baking

Coffee Buttercream from Epicurious

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder (available at whole foods)
1/4 cup plus one tablespoon water
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 egg yolks
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and softened

1. Stir together espresso powder and 1 tablespoon water until powder is dissolved.
2. Bring sugar and remaining 1/4 cup water to a boil in a very small heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
3. Boil, without stirring, washing down any sugar crystals on side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water, until syrup registers 238°F on thermometer (soft-ball stage)
4. While syrup boils, beat yolks in a large bowl with cleaned beaters at medium speed 1 minute.
5. Add hot syrup to yolks in a slow stream (try to avoid beaters and side of bowl), beating, then add coffee mixture and beat until completely cool, 3 to 5 minutes.
6. Beat in butter, 1 piece at a time, and beat until thickened and smooth.

coffee buttercream

Valrhona Ganache

6 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
2 3.5 ounce packages of 71% cacao valrhona chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Melt the chocolate and half the butter over a double boiler.
2. Remove from heat and stir in remaining butter and vanilla.
3. Allow to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Watch it though, as the ganache will start to thicken and you want to pour it before that point.

1. Fill cooled cupcakes with coffee buttercream.
2. Pour ganache over the cupcake to the top of the paper. If you are using regular cupcake papers, put the cupcakes back in their pans before pouring in the ganache.
3. Decorate as you wish. I had planned to top the cupcakes with a marizpan star (rolled out marzipan cut with star shaped cutter) dusted with silver dust. But I left those things behind in San Francisco.