Love And Anger: Chocolate Cupcakes With Mole Ganache and Cinnamon Buttercream

Moody. Just like you.

Four years and four months after his death in a car accident, I am beginning to only remember the bad things about Dane.

The stages of grief are not stagnant and are generally understood to be fluid and back-and-forth; you don’t reach one stage and then never backslide. I seem to be moving back and forth between anger, depression, and acceptance, settling in mostly to the easiest emotion for me to deal with.

Anger. Which often hides its evil bitch of a twin, depression. So there’s that also.

I think we most of us are very comfortable with anger. Every time I open The Facebook or listen to the news, there’s something else to be angry about. I feel it when I get behind the wheel of my car (this is infrequent lately) and spend most of my time driving talking myself down and taking deep breaths.

The hardest thing these days is moving towards love.

I believe deeply in love and compassion and kindness. This is at war with my general dislike and distrust of strangers, but it dovetails nicely with my deep-seated and long-held belief that love truly is all that matters. Real, deep, abiding love. It’s the one thing that is free and available to anyone. You don’t even have to have a target for that love. Love, in general, can be spread all around, like butter on a hot bagel (and just as delicious).

I think that love is healing and softening and strengthening and is, ultimately, the thing that every single person on this planet actually wants and needs to survive.

But shit, man. Sometimes people are deeply painful and difficult to love. This is our 5th Father’s Day without Dane. Every year Sicily and I mark the day by doing something that Dane might have liked to do, but this year I find myself increasingly angry when I see and hear all these tributes to great dads. I can only see the negatives, chief among them the fact that he did not take care of himself and has left his daughter father-less, for this Father’s Day and an infinite number of other days that will find his child with teary eyes because her father isn’t there.

I did love Dane, deeply. He was funny and clever (see also “Wormaggedon” to describe the surfeit of dead worms in our driveway after a gully-washer). He could fix pretty much anything, and if you wanted to have fun, he was your go-to. He was generous to a fault and took everyone at face value (a trait his daughter has deliberately and conscientiously cultivated in herself). He loved his child, and he loved me – it was obvious in the way he wanted to be with us all the time. No one was happier than he was, puttering around the house and hanging with his girls.

But he sabotaged himself at every turn, his death just another example of that. He was careless with his time and money and he often avoided responsibility, making me the bad cop (but also the person who kept our ship afloat and mopped up his messes). The aftermath of his sudden death is another example of that, and I have been the target of some spectacular grief  outbursts from our child. I have parented very poorly at times these past years (well beyond minor poor parenting. Have you ever told your kid to shut the fuck up? I have. For the record, even though she really, really needed to shut the fuck up, I deeply regret telling her to do so.#ForReal), and I have, at times, found myself thinking about just how long I have to actually keep myself alive, respectably and so that our daughter is stable and set.

These have been rough days of late. No one tells you that grief lasts so long, not the wailing and teeth-gnashing part but the part where you have to figure out actually what the fuck and how to move forward.

Not surprisingly, I am craving comfort food. Chocolate comfort food, specifically. I guess I don’t actually know many people who crave a heaping bowl of kale when they stress eat, but I am also past the days when a simple piece of chocolate will do. If I have my say, my comfort food is cake of some kind, with plenty of frosting.

Just like love, these cupcakes are not just a straightforward chocolate smack in the face. They are complex and have deeply flavored layers of cinnamon and spice. They are warm and comforting  – just like love – and spicy and easy to overdo – just like anger.

Chocolate Cupcakes With Mole Ganache And Cinnamon Buttercream

Ingredients

Chocolate Cupcakes

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar (not packed)

1 1/2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour (regular AP flour works, too)

3/4 cup cocoa powder, sifted

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoons salt

2 eggs + 2 egg yolks at room temperature

3/4 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup hot coffee

 Mole Ganache

2 heaping tablespoons (or to taste) prepared mole negro (see Recipe Notes)

1 cup chocolate chips

1/2 cup + 2 teaspoons heavy cream

Cinnamon Buttercream

2 sticks butter, softened

3 – 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted

2 teaspoon cinnamon (sifted with the powdered sugar)

3 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 (ish) tablespoons heavy cream or whole milk

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place cupcake liners in a muffin tin. Set aside.

For the cupcakes: In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl), mix together both sugars, flour, sifted cocoa flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a medium bowl, combine eggs, sour cream, milk, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract and mix well to combine.

Add wet ingredients to dry and mix until just wet. Add hot coffee and mix until thoroughly combined, about one minute.

Fill cupcake liners 2/3 of the way full and bake for 15 – 17 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely before filling and frosting.

For the ganache: Place mole, chocolate chips, and heavy cream in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat and stir constantly until chocolate and mole are completely melted and mixture is smooth. Let cool slightly, then place in refrigerator.

For the frosting: Place softened butter in a large bowl and sift in powdered sugar and cinnamon. Add vanilla and one table of heavy cream to start. Use a hand mixer to beat until creamy and smooth and the consistency of frosting. If it is too thick, add more heavy cream; add more powdered sugar if it’s too thin.

Assembly: Use a demitasse spoon or sharp knife to remove a divot of chocolate cupcake (set that aside to freeze and then mix into ice cream). Scoop or pipe chocolate mole ganache into that divot, then pipe frosting in a swirl to cover (you can use a star tip and a pastry bag to make rosettes or a fancy swirl.

Eat a million of these. Recipe makes (annoyingly) 32 cupcakes.

Recipe Notes

I used mole negro from Guelaguetza, a specialty food company in California. Their mole is complex and spicy and earthy and delicious; I found it at the Emporiyum in Baltimore back in April. Previously, my go-to mole was Dona Maria’s, which had the bonus of coming in a lovely juice glass and is easily located in the Hispanic food section of most grocery stores. You can use whichever mole you wish.

 

Gratitude, Day 30: This Is The End, Now With Cranberry Cake

NOTE: I am a fan of 30-day challenges, and November is traditionally a time of two: National Novel Writing Month, and 30 Days of Thanks. As I am not a fiction writer, this year I have chosen to publish a daily blog for the entire month, expressing my gratitude. This may not be entirely food-focused, but expect recipes aplenty. Feel free to join me in the comments below. What are you thankful for today?

I won’t lie: this month of blogging about gratitude has been a bit of a slog.

I have learned that combining gratitude, a food blog, and reflection on life is just one thing too many, so I am sticking to food as it relates to life.

It’s not that I am not grateful, and it was never that I couldn’t find something to write about.

Sometimes combining three elements is a little hectic. Next year, maybe it will just be 30 days of cookie recipes, or 30 days of sauces. Gratitude can stay in my journal or shared with those it involves.

Today, the final day of this month-long occasional forced march, I am grateful that I am done.

To celebrate, I made the first of what will certainly be multiple cranberry cakes.

You want this in your face. #Trust
You want this in your face. #Trust

Full disclosure: this could have done with a few more minutes in the oven, but rather than show you a slice that clearly indicates this, I thought I would snap what really matters – the craggy soft interior of a moist, delicious cake that was eaten with fingers before it was barely turned out on the board to take the picture.

This cake is sweet and studded with fresh cranberries that are completely unadulterated. No chopping, no sweetening, no cooking. Nothing.

So what happens is you take a bite and get this luscious, buttery, sweet vanilla cake, followed by a bright/tart burst of fresh cranberry.

So. Freaking. Good.

It’s a bit underdone because this is the first time I made it in a Bundt pan, and I was slightly pressed for time. It takes just 15 minutes to throw together but a solid 75 minutes in the oven.

The other unusual part of this recipe is that it has no leavening agent; eggs and sugar are beaten together until they double in volume and become a ribbony pale yellow.

I would love to claim this recipe as my very own, but it isn’t. I added a touch of orange zest, used my gluten-free flour mix, and didn’t measure the cranberries (just dumped a full bag of frozen cranberries in), but other than that, this recipe is perfection, as is.

Oh, and side note: you could add a ton of sugar and calories by making the pecan topping in the recipe, but that is completely unnecessary.

Today, this last day of November, what are you grateful for?

Gratitude, Day 12: Coconut Cake

NOTE: I am a fan of 30-day challenges, and November is traditionally a time of two: National Novel Writing Month, and 30 Days of Thanks. As I am not a fiction writer, this year I have chosen to publish a daily blog for the entire month, expressing my gratitude. This may not be entirely food-focused, but expect recipes aplenty. Feel free to join me in the comments below. What are you thankful for today?

I have been craving cake for two weeks.

If I was not gluten-free, this would be easy enough.

Gluten-filled cake is like pizza or sex: even when it’s not the best, it’s still pretty good. A cake craving can be easily handled with a quick Suzy-Q from the 7-11 or something from the bakery at Giant. They even hand that shit out for free sometimes, so I could have technically just gotten a couple of samples and have been done with it.

Gluten-free cake, on the other hand, can be a total waste of money and the time it takes to go buy it. Some are gritty, some taste heavily of the bean flours with which they are made, and some forgo things like sugar and butter and try to be healthy.

I am too lazy to go try to acquire a cake that tastes terrible, and I just didn’t feel like baking a cake that feeds 14 for just little old me.

Today, I am grateful that I made a cake.

This cake.

Imma eat the shit out of this cake.
Imma eat the shit out of this cake.

It’s a little bulgy in the middle (like I will be after eating it ALL GONE) because the frosting is a marshmallow creation that isn’t always up to, well, holding up a cake.

No matter. It does the job as long as it needs to, which isn’t very long because I may be sending this out to those lucky folks who ordered food this week. #Surprise

I used the white cake recipe from the piecaken experiment last year, subbing coconut milk for regular milk, and I covered the whole damn thing with coconut.

It’s delicious.

What are you grateful for?

Gratitude, Day 8: Democracy Now, Or How Cake Brings People Together

NOTE: I am a fan of 30-day challenges, and November is traditionally a time of two: National Novel Writing Month, and 30 Days of Thanks. As I am not a fiction writer, this year I have chosen to publish a daily blog for the entire month, expressing my gratitude. This may not be entirely food-focused, but expect recipes aplenty. Feel free to join me in the comments below. What are you thankful for today?

Even though I voted early, I found this sticker a couple days ago and will be wearing it proudly today. #VOTE
Even though I voted early, I found this sticker a couple of days ago and will be wearing it proudly today. #VOTE

I have voted for president in three states in my lifetime: Maryland, Washington, and Georgia.

I vote in primaries.

I vote in mid-term elections.

I donate money on occasion to candidates.

Today, I am grateful that this shitshow of an election is over. #Gratitude

This blog is posting in the morning, so I don’t know how grateful I will be for the result of the election tomorrow, but if things proceed as they should, all campaigning and mudslinging and incivility will be over, at least until the next election.

(okay, that’s a bit naive, but allow me that indulgence for just this one moment)

Every presidential election since I can remember I have stayed up late, watching the election returns on TV. Even when I was a little kid we would huddle around the black and white TV, watching the percentages change. The first election I can actually remember is Jimmy Carter’s.

Ten days ago, in preparation for the ritual election returns watching, I baked an election cake. Election cakes date back to before the Revolutionary War when they were prepared for hundreds of people using nuts, dried fruit, wine, and whiskey.

A cake for many, many voters.
A cake for many, many voters.

Bakeries across the country are reviving the election cake tradition using the hashtag #MakeAmericaCakeAgain. When three people tagged me on an election cake post, I figured I would give it a shot.

Trouble is, I am no fan of yeast as it can be problematic in gluten-free baking, and traditional election cakes use yeast for their raising agent. Election cakes use yeast to create a live sponge, into which fruit, nuts, and additional flour are added.

In all other aspects, though, this shit is just a boozy fruitcake, which I happen to have on lock.

I made this cake ten days ago because it just gets better (and boozier) with age. It’s also very, very forgiving, so if you don’t have the particular dried fruits on hand you can make do with what you have. Just keep the total amount the same and you should be just fine.

Suzannah’s Modern-Day Election Cake

Ingredients

1 cup golden raisins (or regular)

1 cup currants

2 cups of any combination of the following: dried cherries, blueberries, cranberries, chopped apricots

Zest of one orange

Zest of one lemon

1/4 cup crystallized ginger, chopped

1 cup rum, bourbon, or brandy

1 cup sugar

10 tablespoons butter

1 cup apple cider

Teaspoon of each of the following: clove, ginger, cinnamon, allspice

1 1/4 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour (regular works here, too)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup toasted pecans, roughly chopped

Brandy for basting (I used Laird’s Applejack because it’s what I had)

Method

THE NIGHT BEFORE: Combine dried fruits, citrus zest, chopped ginger, and booze in a glass container. Mix thoroughly and place overnight in the ‘fridge. This can be in the ‘fridge for two (or more) days, so if you get distracted, no problem.

It’s also delicious straight off the spoon, but that can be dangerous.

When you are ready to bake, place dried fruit, sugar, apple cider, and spices in a non-reactive saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring often, then turn heat down and simmer for ten minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Add to cooled fruit mixture and mix thoroughly. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well to incorporate each egg. Add chopped pecans.

Grease three disposable loaf pans (you are going to want to share these. Maybe). Divide batter evenly between the tins and bake for one hour. Test for doneness by inserting a paring knife. The knife should come out completely clean. If crumbs are sticking to the knife, bake for another five minutes and test again.

When the election (cake) is (finally) finished (over), remove from oven and baste liberally (yuk, yuk) with brandy. Cool completely in tin before turning out.

You are welcome at this point to try your cake. It will be spicy and fruity and nutty and delicious.

But this cake gets even better with age.

Wrap it tightly in plastic, store on the counter, and baste with brandy every couple days. In two weeks you will be eating a little slice of heaven, like we will be eating on election night.

I have heard that this cake last for a month or more. I may make it again on Thanksgiving and take it to Christmas to see how it goes. The booze and the sugar act as preservatives.

What are you grateful for today?

The Antidote: Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake

(no caption needed, is there?)
(no caption needed, is there?)

You deserve to treat yourself to something sweet.

#TreatYoSelf

Maybe it’s a Wednesday and things are a little crappy. Like maybe your teenager is having a meltdown and so are you because she is leaving for France for a year and hormones.

Or maybe it’s about to be 114 degrees and this might be the last time the oven gets used for the next week. #GlobalWarmingYall

Or maybe the circus that is the Republican National Convention makes you feel like grabbing a little sugar high. Or Rocky Mountain High because, seriously, #WhatTheFuck?

Whatever your issue. Whatever is happening.

Make THIS.

This surely is not legal in some states. There is a pound of butter in the frosting, and more sugar than you probably have in your kitchen right now in the whole cake. It takes a couple hours to make, what with the three layers (which I had to make in two pans and then one because I only have two pans, but that’s what being flexible is all about) and the filling and crumb coat  (which I will always do from now on) and the cooling and then the final frosting.

In the words of my very lucky neighbor: “This is legit.”

#YoureWelcome

Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake

Note: Mad love to Baker By Nature from whom this recipe was adapted. I made changes to the flours, the levening agents, and added some coffee, but other than that, it’s genius all on its own. 

Ingredients

Cake:

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
2  3/4 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
2 teaspoons baking soda
3 teaspoons baking powder
1  1/4 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs + 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1  1/2 cups full-fat sour cream
1/3 cup whole milk
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups hot, strong brewed coffee (essential for deep chocolate flavor)

Salted caramel chocolate frosting:
2 cups unsalted butter (4 sticks, 16 ounces), completely soft
4 and 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons milk, half-n-half, or heavy cream (it seriously does not matter which)
2 tablespoons salted caramel sauce (I bought a jar of Smucker’s salted caramel sauce, but you could DIY)
Assembly:
1 and 1/4 cups salted caramel sauce (please see post for more on this)
Flaky sea salt

Method

Preheat oven to 350°(F).

Grease three 9-inch cakepans (or spray with cooking spray) and line bottom with rounds of parchment paper. Grease the rounds and set pans aside. As noted above, I had to bake two layers then bake the third due to lack of a third cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (I used the whisk attachment), or in a large bowl using a handheld electric mixer, combine both sugars, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt; mix on low until dry ingredients are thoroughly combined (or just whisk well to combine, breaking up large clumps).

In a separate bowl combine the eggs, egg yolks, sour cream, milk, oil, and vanilla extract; mix until completely combined.

Pour wet mixture into the dry ingredients and beat on low until just incorporated. Pour in hot coffee and continue mixing until completely combined (about one minute).

Divide batter evenly among prepared pans.

Baking times:

  • 30 minutes for regular oven
  • 25 for convection (I used convection; more even heat for baking)

Test with a wooden toothpick. Insert toothpick into the center of the cake. It should come out clean or with just a few crumbs attached.

Cool cakes for 10 minutes in the pan before removing from pans and transferring to a cooling rack. Cool cakes completely before frosting.

For the chocolate frosting:
In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment (or again using a hand mixer), cream the softened butter until completely smooth.

Turn the mixer off and sift the powdered sugar and cocoa into the mixing bowl. Use a spatula to gently stir in the chocolate/sugar mixture before turning the mixer back on or you will have a fine layer of chocolate/sugar dust coating all of the surfaces of your kitchen. #LearnFromExperience

Turn the mixer on the lowest speed and mix until the chocolate/sugar has been absorbed by the butter.

Increase mixer speed to medium; add in vanilla extract, salt, whatever dairy you are using, and salted caramel. Beat for three minutes. If your frosting appears a little too thin, add a little more confectioners’ sugar. If your frosting needs to be thinner, add more dairy, one tablespoon at a time.

Assembly:
If your cake does not have a lovely flat surface, you can use a serrated knife to trim whatever is sticking up, OR you can make the top the bottom. Place one layer on a large plate or cake stand. Spread a thin layer of frosting on top, then add a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of caramel and spread over the layer. Top with another cake layer, and thinly spread it with a layer of frosting, then adding 1/4 to 1/2 cup of caramel. Place final cake layer on top.

At this point, if your cake is listing due to the slippery nature of caramel, inserting dowels into the cake can help.

If you are using a crumb coat, do that now.

Chill cake in the ‘fridge for one hour, then remove to finish the frosting. Sprinkle with best-quality sea salt.

Keeps in the ‘fridge for five days. It won’t last that long, but that’s the theory anyway.