Spicy Fudge Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

I know. I’ve barely re-appeared and am gracing you with another cake recipe. But this one, I tell you, is different. It’s chocolate, and these are cupcakes, and that frosting is to die for, and they’re so adorably tiny and wee you just want to eat a dozen of them at once.

Which brings me to my next point: we got a puppy.

Not recently (hence my prolonged absence), but 2 months ago we adopted a tiny baby French Bulldog who we promptly christened Holtzmann Pombal Cowan (runner-up name and favourite nickname so far: Anchovy). She was named for our favourite Ghostbuster and a town in Portugal where we spent New Year’s Eve this year, and we couldn’t love her more.


 

Some details about her:

  • Loves: peeing at unexpected times, snorting, her toy badger (same size as her), laying in sunbeams, napping on one or both of us, eating flowers, my makeup brushes, the fringe on the edge of our living room rug, making weird noises, the coat we bought her 2 sizes too big so she could grow into it… even though she just ended up looking like a vampire when she wears it.
  • Dislikes: being ignored, her bed, baths, the neighbour in the next garden over who yelled at me one time while Holtzmann was doing her business, chasing a tennis ball, full rubbish bags, prams, laundry on the line, this one stump in the park across from our flat.

She’s soft and snuggly and a little bit sassy and the smartest pupper I’ve ever met. She gets really embarrassed if she accidentally barks at us and spends the next ten minutes with her tiny ears back, trying to snuggle us into oblivion. Among her tricks so far are sit, stay, come, shake and ‘go home,’ which sends her directly into her crate (which she loves).

And despite the fact that she still whines when we put her to bed and despite the fact that we’ve gone through an entire bottle of ‘puppy stain’ spray and despite the fact that I haven’t slept in on a Saturday since February, I still love that tiny little baby way more than I ever thought possible. Every milestone with her is a treat to watch, and we’re crazy about her even when she’s causing trouble (approximately half the time).

So in honour of the sweetest pupperoni that ever existed, here’s a recipe for cakes practically the same size as she was when she joined our family. (But obviously don’t feed these to your doggo as they are full of dog enemies like chocolate.)

The verdict:

5 spoons out of five. The perfect moist crumb, the softest frosting, and a note of spiciness that permeates all the way through the cupcakes to differentiate it from every other chocolate cupcake you’ve ever had all combine to make these the perfect treat for a lunchbox (or to bribe your coworkers into coming to your department’s monthly meeting… not that I know anything about that).

One year ago: Lemon Pecan Bars

two years ago: Eleanor's Sangria

The recipe:

Spiced Fudge Cupcakes

The directions:
Cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 175C/350F.
Grease or line with paper liners 2 12-cupcake pans (or make in batches).
Combine lemon juice and milk and set aside.
Sift together baking soda, flour, cornstarch, baking powder, cinnamon and salt, then set aside.
Cream shortening, sugar and vanilla until fluffy.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.
Add chocolate and blend.
Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with hot water, curdled milk, black treacle and golden syrup.
Beat until smooth, then fill cupcake tins halfway with batter.
Bake 17-20 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted in a middle cupcake comes out barely sticky.

 


Frosting:

Cream butter until light and fluffy.
Gradually add powdered sugar in batches, mixing until smooth.
Add salt, vanilla, chocolate and cream and beat until smooth and spreadable.
Allow cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.

The ingredients:
The cupcakes:

½ c minus 1 tsp milk
1 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp baking soda
2 c minus 2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
1/3 c shortening or Stork
1 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted & cooled
½ c hot water
1/3 c black treacle
3 tbsp golden syrup

The frosting:

½ c butter, softened
2 c powdered sugar, sifted
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla
3 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted
3 tbsp heavy cream

Strawberry Cake for Celebrating

As of last month, we’ve been married for five years. It may not be much, but it's an impressive feat for us nonetheless: we’ve survived a transatlantic move, grad school (probably harder on the partner than it was on the attendee), combining apartments and moving houses, trips to more countries than I can count, and one really weird raging fever virus that put me down so hard I missed a week and a half of work. Our five years has included an awful lot of costumes, parties, starting new jobs, applying for visas, eating amazing food, doing dumb things to make the other one laugh, and most of all, some insanely delicious meals.

…And also some pretty rough ones. We can’t be perfect all the time, in the kitchen or in life.

So to celebrate, I did what I always do: I made a cake.

This year's anniversary didn't look quite the same as anniversaries of years past: there was the year we escaped to a cabin in the mountains where it started snowing just as soon as we climbed in the hot tub; the year we visited thousand-year-old churches in Durham, England; the year we hung out poolside on a Spanish island off the coast of Africa... and then there was this year, where our passports were stuck at border patrol because we had to renew them because we both filled ours at the same time. We were stuck in Edinburgh, but we made the best of it with a fancy dinner for two and a giant slab of this cake for each of us.

And honestly, it's been a long time since I've been as proud of a thing I baked as I am of this cake. Not only did I not have access to yellow cake mix, but I also didn't have any Jell-O mix of the appropriate flavour- and I can't find a shop that sells it here, so there was a lot of making do on this recipe. A lot of times during the process when I thought 'Now I've definitely ruined it,' but I kept on going and wouldn't you know it? The cake surprised me after all.

So in honour of the last five years, the good, the bad and the wonderful that came along with it, and the most challenging US-UK baking conversion I've had to date, here's the recipe for the moistest, most delicious strawberry cake I've ever tasted. From Mrs. Coderre to Mary Marx to me and now to you, I recommend you make this ASAP while strawberries are still in season and ready to be picked... even without the icing, this cake is worth it.

Some notes:

DSCF0332.jpg

If you're stateside, I recommend following the directions as printed in the photo of the recipe, because I have no idea how to compare the 'jelly'* I used to what you can get in the US.** If you're not into frosting, you can totally leave it off and this cake wouldn't suffer for it- yes, it's that good- but feel free to swap the frosting for barely-sweetened fresh whipped cream instead. After you add the strawberries to the batter, the mixture will look thin and curdled, but don't fret- it will all come together in the end!

*Note that 'jelly' in this recipe refers to the UK form of jelly, which in the US would be gelatin or Jell-O.

**Jell-O brand isn't widely available in the UK- at least in my city- so I used the only brand of gelatin dessert carried by my supermarket- Hartley's. This comes as partially-constituted, very firm gelatin cubes which need to be full rehydrated by adding boiling water and cold water. I don't know what the benefit of this is as opposed to the powdered type you can find stateside as they both seem to be full of preservatives, take up the same space on a shelf, and come in similar-sized packages, but it seems to be the only way it's found here, and this is the first time I've worked with it. It's weird, but not any weirder than the powdered version I'm (marginally) used to.

The verdict:

5 spoons out of five. This cake is both fresh and satisfying, and it tastes like the kind of thing your grandmother would have made if your grandmother was anything like mine. It's the kind of thing you want to dig into a slice of after a light springtime dinner... or maybe for breakfast, I won't tell.

One year ago: Yum Yum Punch

Two years ago: Magic Bars

the recipe:

Strawberry Cake

Cake recipe adapted from smittenkitchen.com, where I found a reliable, from-scratch yellow cake recipe to use as my jumping point.

the directions:
cake:

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Add boiling water to jelly, stir well and set aside.
Grease 2 cake pans, then line bottoms with parchment paper.
Sift together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt, then set aside.
Add lemon juice, vinegar or yogurt to milk and set aside.
Beat butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, then add vanilla and mix to combine.
Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
At low speed, stir in milk mixture, jelly mixture and muddled berries with their juices until just combined (mixture will look curdled).
Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just Incorporated.
Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles.
Bake until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out very slightly sticky, 35 to 45 minutes.
Cool in pan 5 minutes, then remove from pan and allow to cool completely before frosting.

Frosting:

Cream butter and powdered sugar until light coloured and slightly fluffy.
Mixture will be very thick.
Beat in berries and mix until light and fluffy.
Frost between layers and on top cake, using additional strawberries for garnish as desired.

the ingredients:
the cake:

1 c boiling water
1 pkg strawberry jelly (if in the UK)
4 c flour
2 tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp table salt
1 c milk (scant)
1 tbsp lemon juice, vinegar or yogurt
1 c butter, softened
2 c sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 c strawberries, sliced and muddled

 

 

 


the frosting:

½ c butter, room temperature
2 c powdered sugar, sifted
½ c fresh strawberries, sliced and muddled
Additional strawberries for garnish

Mocha Cake with Caramel Frosting

When I was a kid, my grandmother used to make a caramel cake so good that my mom begged for it every year for her birthday. When I was old enough, and we no longer lived in the same town as that grandmother, I got the recipe from her and used to make it every year for my mom's birthday. I can't remember the recipe anymore, but I do remember that the cake took two sticks of butter and the frosting took another two. It wasn't... a diet cake. I liked it, but the star was definitely the caramel frosting, and something about the richness of caramel almost begs to be offset by a lightweight cake with a bitter tang to it- something with coffee and dark chocolate, not unlike this cake.

And this cake, you guys. I've never tasted anything so plush. It's literally the softest cake I've ever tasted, and while I usually equate that with a heavy texture and a lot of moisture, this one is actually really light and fluffy, which is a nice contrast with the heavy frosting. Also, the dark chocolate gives it a deep flavour with a hint of bitterness- perfect to complement the strong coffee (I used espresso) and contrast with the dense frosting topping it all off.

The most difficult part of this recipe is trying to spread incredibly thick icing onto the softest cake imaginable. It's not impossible, but you'll fare better if you plan to go a bit heavy-handed on the icing. I'd also recommend skipping the sides of the cake- the icing is so rich that the sides don't need the frosting, and you'll want the additional amount to help you cover the top of the cake completely.

It's a perfect cake for a celebration- deep, grownup chocolate cake with just enough coffee flavour coming through to persuade even the strongest anti-desserter among you that it's worth it and sweet, rich and buttery frosting to appeal to the sweet tooths in the group... which is why I found myself making it to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of The Recipe Box Project!

While year 2 has been markedly slower paced than year 1 was, I've still radically enjoyed working, reworking and writing up these recipes. There are moments when it feels like Eleanor is in my kitchen cooking along with me and the tiny hints she left behind on her most-used recipes are like little clues to guide me along this project... and then there are other times when it feels like she's sitting next to me yelling at me because I a) used all of the coffee at once instead of splitting it in half or b) measured out white sugar instead of brown or c) forgot to soften my butter or d) screwed up the conversion from imperial to metric before I added the butter to my cake.*

Icing-in-progress. Final version was not so sticky.

Icing-in-progress. Final version was not so sticky.

In two years I've learned that it's easier to keep posting regularly when I hate my job than it is when I actually enjoy my day job and the people I work with. I've learned that my kitchen in Scotland is never, ever going to be warm enough to make bread dough rise and I've learned the exact temperature I need to put the oven at in order to get my dough to rise correctly when I set it in a bowl on top of the oven. I've learned good substitutes for buttermilk, cake flour, instant yeast, Club crackers, zwieback, graham crackers and a host of other things I can't get either in Scotland or, in some instances, in the 21st century. I've also figured out exactly which recipes I can convince Judson to get excited about (anything involving marinades, meat loaf or chili) and which ones he'll whine about enough to make it worth the extra time to cook it when he's away (anything involving canned meat, Jell-O or Spam). I've got a long way to go if I'm going to make it through Eleanor's box, but it took her a lifetime to assemble those recipes, so I figure I've got time on my side.

*All of these, by the way, are mistakes I made on this cake before it was even in the pans, so don't panic next time you're facing a stupid cooking conundrum. Instead, just think of me and know that there is no way I haven't done something stupider.

The verdict:

4 spoons out of five. This cake is awesome. I knocked off a spoon because it's hard to frost and it's so rich that you couldn't have it every week, but it's still perfect for a celebration and I hope you'll give it a try on your next one.

One year ago: Swiss Chocolate Cake (still a favourite!)
NEW! two years ago: Airy, Crustless Cheesecake (not a favourite)

the recipe:

Mocha Cake with Caramel Frosting

the directions:
cake:

Divide coffee in half and put ½ c in freezer to chill.
Melt chocolate and ½ c coffee in double boiler until thick, stirring constantly.
Add ½ c brown sugar and cook 2-3 minutes more, stirring.
Set aside.
Preheat oven to 175C/350F and line two round cake pans (9”) with paper on the bottom.
Cream butter and remaining 1 c sugar.
Add vanilla, then add eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition.
Sift together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Beat cooled chocolate mixture into butter mixture.
Add dry ingredients alternately with remaining ½ c cold coffee.
Beat until smooth, then pour into prepared pans and cook 20-30 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Frosting:

Melt butter on the stove over very low heat.
Add brown sugar and let bubble over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add cream and bring to a gentle boil, continuing to stir.
Remove from heat and, using an electric mixer, beat in powdered sugar and vanilla.
If too thick, add more cream or milk to thin. If too thin, add more powdered sugar until desired consistency.
Allow to cool until lukewarm before frosting cake.

the ingredients:
the cake:

2 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 c very strong coffee, divided
1 ½ c brown sugar, packed and divided
½ c butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 ¾ c cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
 
 

 

the frosting:

½ c butter
1 c brown sugar, packed
¼ c cream
2 c powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla