It occurred to me earlier this week that, as of late, this baking blog has been seriously lacking in one very important thing: BAKING. I could blame this on my recent love affair with soup (seriouslyhomemadesoupisthebestthingeverrrr), but the fact is I was just plain sugared out after the holidays. I don’t know about you, but I consumed so much cake, candy, and gluhwein in December (okay, and November) that I could hear my teeth screaming for mercy. With the face of my stern and ruthless Persian dentist in mind, I reluctantly placed a moratorium on baked goods.
If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you probably know that’s when I re-discovered soup. We only ate soup on the rarest of occasions in California, because frankly, it’s way too blasted hot there. Much to my delight, however, German winters are ideal for soup making and eating, and I fell in love experimenting with all the recipes I’d collected – but never tried – over the years in San Diego. We enjoyed everything from Broccoli Cheddar to Zuppa Toscana, from Cream of Wild Mushroom to Cheesy Potato Bacon. We ate soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and probably – no joke – a few times for dessert. We lost ourselves in those heady days of cream and broth and bacon. In the meantime, my oven sat neglected, patiently waiting for me to get back to the business of baking.
Oh sweet oven, you know me so well. Late last week, I started getting that all-too-familiar hankering for chocolate. It started off subtle, but by the weekend I was pawing through my recipes looking for something to satisfy my sweet tooth. When I stumbled across these cupcakes – one of my childhood favorites – I knew I was back in the baking game. And thank goodness – I wasn’t keen on starting a Soup Goddess blog!
Black Bottom Cupcakes instantly remind me of my lovely aunt Rebecca, who frequently brought these to family picnics, potlucks and camping trips when I was growing up in the Pacific Northwest. I hadn’t had one in years, but was immediately transported back to the blissfully happy days of my youth as soon as these emerged from the oven. They are a delicious combination of decadent chocolate cake and rich, lightly sweetened cheesecake, studded with semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips. They’re an especially attractive dessert for those that love cake but hate the occasionally cloying sweetness of frosting. Enjoy in moderation!
BLACK BOTTOM CUPCAKES
Yields | 14-16 cupcakes
Inspiration | my aunt Rebecca
1 1/3 cup finely granulated sugar, divided
¼ cup high-quality unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup freshly brewed coffee, cooled
1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature (do not microwave!)
1 large fresh egg
6 ounces dark or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius). Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper cupcake liners and set aside.
Place 1 cup finely granulated sugar, cocoa powder, flour, salt and baking soda in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add coffee and oil and mix on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes. Add vinegar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, then blend on medium speed for an additional 30 seconds.
Fill each paper liner half full with chocolate batter. Set aside.
Clean and wipe dry the mixing bowl. On medium speed, blend cream cheese, 1/3 cup finely granulated sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and egg until smooth and creamy. (Note: DO NOT OVER MIX. Blend just until lumps disappear, no more than 30 seconds.) Add chopped chocolate pieces and stir to incorporate. Top chocolate batter with one heaping teaspoonful of cream cheese mixture.
Bake for 23 to 25 minutes in preheated oven. Remove from muffin tins immediately and cool thoroughly on a wire rack. The insides will be gooey if eaten within the first hour, but will set thereafter. If you prefer the gooey texture, microwave for 10 to 15 seconds before eating.
While the rest of the country goes back to school, bundles up, and prepares for the onslaught of all things pumpkin, it’s still a million (okay, 90+) degrees here in southern California. Ugh. The thought of turning on my oven this week made me cringe, so I opted for a no-fuss, cool treat instead. Behold the glory of Blueberry Cheesecake Ice Cream!
The best part of this recipe – originally featured on Pastry Affair, one of the most beautiful food blogs on the Internet – is that it doesn’t require an ice cream maker, or any fancy tools except a hand or standing mixer. It’s also incredibly easy – a great option for those who’d like to make their own ice cream, but are intimidated by the process of cooking crème anglaise. The result is a rich, creamy dessert bursting with blueberry deliciousness. I ate all three cones in this photo, if that’s any indication of its amazing flavor. Make, enjoy, and bring on the Fall!
In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, cook blueberries and granulated sugar until berries burst and release their juices (approximately 5-10 minutes). Add the cornstarch to thicken and continue cooking for another 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and place blueberries in the freezer to cool quickly (approximately 15 minutes).
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and brown sugar until smooth. Add 1/2 cup cream and whip until the cream cheese mixture becomes incorporated. Scrape the bowl as needed. Add the rest of the cream and the vanilla extract and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. (this step may also be done with a hand mixer and a healthy dollop of patience!)
In a plastic container, spread half the whipped cream. Top with half the blueberries. Spread the remaining cream and top with the remaining blueberries. Using a knife, swirl the ice cream. Cover and place in the freezer for at least 6 hours. Serve in waffle cones, if desired.
This recipe – for Apple Pie Cheesecake Bars with Salted Caramel – is a huge family favorite, shared in honor of my husband’s birthday today. This is one of only two desserts he’s ever requested multiple times, and the only item he specifically asked for this year. Happy Birthday, my love – please save one of these for me!
APPLE PIE CHEESECAKE BARS WITH SALTED CARAMEL
Yields: 16 bars
For the bars:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons, divided
2 large fresh eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored + finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
For the streusel:
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup quick cooking oats
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
For the salted caramel:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sea salt, crushed or kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius).
In a medium bowl, combine flour and brown sugar. Cut in butter with a pastry blender until mixture is crumbly. Press evenly into a 9 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan lined with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Bake 15 minutes or until lightly browned.
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese with 1/2 cup sugar in an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth. Add eggs, 1 at a time, and vanilla. Stir to combine. Pour over warm crust.
In a small bowl, stir together chopped apples, remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Spoon evenly over cream cheese mixture.
In a small bowl, combine streusel ingredients until crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over spiced apple mixture. Bake for 30 minutes, or until filling is set.
While bars are baking, make the salted caramel. In a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan, stir sugar and water over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring to a boil, without stirring. If necessary, use a wet pastry brush to wash down any crystals on the side of the pan. Boil until the syrup is a deep amber color, approximately 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the from heat and carefully whisk in heavy cream. Stir in the unsalted butter and salt. Transfer the caramel to a dish and cool slightly. Drizzle over warm apple pie cheesecake bars. Leftover salted caramel sauce will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.