black bottoms; a family obsession

IMG_7691Obsession is a strong word, but in this case, an accurate one.  When I began making these for our bakery (twenty years ago), everyone in my family got hooked on them.  Moist chocolate cake and a rich chocolate chip cheesecake are baked together in muffin cups and the result is a decadent, obsession worthy treat.

My preference is to bake these in giant muffin pans with a cup volume of about 7 oz or 200ml, the ones that are sometimes referred to as Texas size.  Just try not to eat the whole thing by yourself!  This time, I made them in standard sized muffin cups which have a volume of 3.5 oz or 100ml,  but they can be made in any size pan as long as you use cupcake liners.  Otherwise, it is a lot of work to pry them out of the pans.

There are a few tips I like to share in hopes of guaranteeing success for anyone that makes these.  First of all, use a cream cheese that is dense rather than fat free, whipped or extra creamy.  While that famous brand (named after a Pennsylvania city) is great for spreading on a bagel, it really doesn’t provide the best results for this recipe.  Whatever they do to make the cheese creamy yields a filling that is thin and runny.  During baking,  the chips can sink to the bottom of the cupcake while the cheese floats to the top.  If the filling doesn’t sink in the middle a bit, they just don’t look like they should but more importantly, the two batters bake layered.   The best ones have a cheesecake center with cake on the sides and bottom and just a little of the cheese filling peeking out on top.  Save your pennies and buy the store brand, it will work perfectly!  You can make the filling ahead of time and keep it in the fridge; cold filling is more likely to sink in than room temp filling.

When I make these, I generally use whatever chocolate chips I have handy.  However, if you use mini chips, they will be less likely sink to the bottom like the large ones will.  Keep in mind that either way, the results will be delicious.  Just save the freshly chopped chocolate for a different recipe since the tiny shards will color the filling and make it look more like a chocolate filling.

Want to make these quickly?  Want all of them to be the same size?  Use portion scoops!  Seriously, purchase professional style portion scoops, also called dishers, in a range of sizes and you will not have to worry about the size or whether they will bake evenly.  Depending on what size pan you use, you will need a range of scoops.  For jumbo pans, #12 and #16 will work for the cake and cheesecake, respectively while #16 and #40 will be needed for a standard sized pan.  Purchasing scoops is an investment but if you are regular baker, you will find yourself using these scoops for all sorts of things such as muffins, drop biscuits, cookies and more.  For the best prices and range of sizes, look in a restaurant supply shop or website.

If you do not intend to use the scoops, you will need a 1/3 cup and 1/4 cup measure for the jumbo cupcakes (chocolate cake and cheesecake filling respectively) or 1/4 cup and 1/8 cup measure for the standard sized cupcakes.

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Black Bottom Cupcakes

makes 12 jumbo or 24 standard sized cupcakes

12 ounces cream cheese (see notes above)

1-1/2 cups plus 2/3 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (see notes above)

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2/3 cup unsweetened, natural cocoa powder

1-3/4 teaspoons baking soda

3/4 teaspoons salt

4 teaspoons vinegar-distilled white or cider

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup vegetable oil such as canola or soybean

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line the muffin tins with paper cups and set aside.  In a mixing bowl, cream the cheese with the 2/3 cup sugar to combine, do not whip it because it will warm up (see notes above).  Add the eggs, one at a time, then mix only enough to combine.  Stir the chocolate chips into the filling by hand and set it in the fridge until needed.

Place a large mesh strainer or sifter into a large mixing bowl.  Add the flour, remaining 1-1/2 cups sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt to the strainer and sift the dry ingredients into the bowl. Using a whisk, combine them completely.  In a large liquid measuring cup, pour 1-1/2 cups water, the vinegar and the vanilla and set aside.  Dump the oil into the dry ingredients and add about half of the water.  Using the whisk, mix it well to create a smooth paste.  Scrape the bowl and whisk in the remaining water mixture.  Whisk it well and using the larger portion scoop or measuring cup (see notes above), divide the batter between the cups.  Top each cupcake with a dollop of the cheesecake using the scoop or measuring cup called for in the notes above.

Bake the cupcakes until they have a little golden-brown color around the edges of the cheesecake and they feel firm around the edges of the cake, about 40-45 minutes for the jumbo size, 30-35 minutes for the standard size. To bake them evenly, be sure to turn them halfway through baking.  Once baked, let them cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes then carefully turn them out and place them on a rack to cool completely.  To store these, keep them in the fridge, but let them sit out a bit to warm up to room temp for serving.  Freezing works well for longer storage; wrap them individually and place them in a closed container in the freezer.  Allow them to thaw in the fridge, still wrapped and then serve them at room temp.  They will last in the freezer for a month, maybe two but I doubt they will ever make it there…

This recipe can also be found in my book, Desserts from the Famous Loveless Cafe.  

 

just another sunday in paris…a tuesdays with dorie post

img_7409If only I knew what a Sunday in Paris was like; someday… Actually, in this case, it is a reference to a pastry shop in Paris and that is the name of it; Sunday in Paris.  This cake is a specialty of theirs and a favorite of Dorie Greenspan’s which is why she developed the recipe for her book, Baking Chez Moi.  The Tuesdays with Dorie bakers chose this cake for February and it was a great cake for Valentine’s day, or any day that chocolate and peanut butter are appropriate-otherwise known as everyday in my book!

img_7413Peanut butter is not that popular in Paris where Nutella apparently reigns but here in Tennessee, it flies and fast.  We took this cake to a potluck dinner and I came home with crumbs on a dirty tray.  The dark, rich cake reminded me of Drakes Devil Dogs with a hint of peanut butter.  To have enough for the dinner, I doubled the recipe and baked it in a pullman loaf pan to make a tall, brick shaped cake.  We didn’t have any peanuts in the house but while rummaging through the cupboards, I found a Payday bar and chopped some of it up for the garnish on the top.

img_7417This is a recipe I would make again and if you have the book, do not hesitate to try it!  To see what the other bakers came up with this week, visit the website!  To participate, pick up a copy of the book and bake along with us.

valentine’s share a heart cookies; a two-for-one, cookies and kindness, tuesdays with dorie post

img_7389It is so nice to be back to baking with the Tuesdays with Dorie gang!  Especially when it means baking cookies, lots of cookies!  If you recall my post from earlier this month, Dorie Greenspan recently began a revolution to make the world a sweeter place with Cookies & Kindness.  Each month, she posts a recipe on her website and encourages us to bake and share the cookies.   For February, she chose these easy to make Valentine’s Day Share-A-Heart cookies and this is also the recipe chosen by the Tuesday with Dorie Bakers; a two-for-one recipe!

The recipe calls for making two large hearts that can be decorated and given as gifts.  As soon as I saw the recipe, I knew I would be making them for my daughters but having to ship them to Georgia and California, I chose a smaller size cutter so that the cookies would survive the trip.

img_7391Do not be intimidated by the call for rolling out the cookies with parchment paper.  Over the years, I have rolled out thousands and thousands of cookies and one issue I have always encountered, the added flour from rolling out the cookies can change the consistency of the dough.  If you have read any of my posts on rolling cookies, I have always instructed that you brush off as much of the flour as possible to prevent the dough from changing.  Dorie has a brilliant suggestion in her recipe; place the dough between two sheets of parchment paper and skip the flour!  For small quantities, this is absolutely the way to go and it is definitely a technique I will use again.  The parchment paper takes the place of the flour and the consistency of the dough remains the same from start to finish.  Keep in mind, repeatedly rolling out the dough will toughen it as the gluten becomes developed but for small quantities like this, you won’t have to worry about that happening.

img_7395If you enjoyed this post, think about baking along with us.  Pick up a copy of Dorie’s Cookies and bake cookies to share!  Sweeten the world one cookie recipe at a time!  To see what the rest of the gang did with their cookies, check the website!

homemade milano cookies

IMG_5486When I was a child, a really young child, I would spend weekends with my grandmother and great-grandparents.  They would indulge me in many ways, especially sweets.  My great-grandmother always had a batch of jello in the fridge.  For as long as I could remember, my grandmother took great pleasure in telling the story of my “disappearance”  while I was visiting one weekend.  Apparently, I climbed out of my crib and went on a midnight jello raid and fell asleep on the dining room floor.  The three of them frantically searched for me and in their panicked state, they did not see me in the corner of the room.  Luckily, they found me before they called the police or worse yet, my parents.  Over the years, we shared many laughs with each retelling of this story.

IMG_5497Another story my grandmother loved to tell was how I would sit with my great-grandfather and watch tv with him.  According to my grandmother, he had a favorite show-I think it may have been the Jackie Gleason Show but I was too young to remember.  What I do recall is that I had a little yellow chair with a cane seat and that I would sit along side of him as he watched the program.  He also had a thing for Milano cookies and he would share the with me as we sat together.

My grandmother would have turned 100 on the 26th of March and as I was making cookies to send out to my family for Easter, I decided to make a batch of Milano cookies in honor of the two of them.  Rather than try to duplicate the recipe myself, I turned to a website that I can trust and this time, I went to Leite’s Culinaria where a copycat recipe is posted.  The recipe calls for piping out the cookies and while I didn’t mind that part, I did not have the right sized tip so my cookies were rather small in comparison to the recipe.

If you make these cookies, plan ahead and get the proper tip.  Also keep in mind that it is best not to put the entire batch of dough into the piping bad-your hand will thank you!  Use a ruler as you go to make sure that you get the right length so that your cookies are all the same size.

IMG_5482Now to the filling…While I may know a lot about baking, I am not an expert on everything but I do know this, boiling chocolate is not the best idea.  The filling recipe calls for simmering the ingredients until they “break” and then to blend them back together.  The mixture of cream, sugar, unsweetened chocolate and butter being simmered and it thickened as it cooked.

IMG_5492After 45 minutes or so, it finally got real thick and broke.  The fat separated out and floated on top.  Unfortunately, I do not own an immersion blender and had to rely on a whisk to mix back together.  The whisk did not do the job and the filling was a little grainy.  More importantly, it did not taste anything like what I remember the filling of a Milano cookie tastes like.

IMG_5502If you look closely, you can see the grainy bits of chocolate in the filling that I mentioned.  Despite this, my family members enjoyed them.  While I may make these again, most likely will make these again, I will not make the filling again and I think I will probably just make some dark chocolate ganache to fill the cookies.

IMG_5527Over the years, Darry and I have lived in different cities on the East coast, the West coast and in between and some how, I still have this little chair.  It is showing its age, well, so am I if you must know.

tiger cakes; a tuesdays with dorie post

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It was a tough decision but I had to do it.  Last week, I gave notice to my employer that I would be leaving.  For the last two years, I have wanted to write another book.  A while back, I did co-write a proposal and unfortunately, it flopped.  The publishers that read it ultimately chose to pass on it and after all was said and done, I was done with it too.  The whole process led me on a journey to figure out what I want to do and what I want to write about and after some major soul-searching and more than a couple of pity parties, I finally figured it all out.  Well, most of it anyway, and thanks to a consultation with a literary agent, an even better and more focused plan is beginning to emerge.  This proposal will focus on things I love so you know it will involve baking. But for now, I will leave it at that; you will just have to wait to hear more about it…

While I work on that proposal, I am trying to get back to things I love doing and Tuesdays with Dorie is one of those things that I have truly missed.  If things go as planned, I will get caught up and make all of the recipes I missed over the last 6 months.  This week, we are baking from Baking Chez Moi and our chosen recipe is for Tiger Cakes.  
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Can you say “easy peasy” because that is what this recipe was-easy; crazy easy and quick and topped with ganache.  The batter mixes up quicker than you think, it actually takes longer to measure out the ingredients than it does to whisk them together!  The main ingredient is almond flour and it is whisked into egg whites and sugar with a bit of flour and a generous helping of finely chopped bittersweet chocolate.  These decadent little cakes are moist and chewy and as if that wasn’t enough, they get dressed up with a bittersweet chocolate ganache.

Join us, bake from Dorie Greenspan’s books, Baking Chez Moi and Baking with Julia; to see how the other bakers made out with the recipes, check the website, Tuesdays with Dorie.

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crispy topped brown sugar bars (aka legal crack); a tuesdays with dorie post

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It is no secret that I love cookies and bars, especially when chocolate is involved.  For some time now, I have known that chocolate is and always be my downfall.  But when you add caramel to the mix… Let’s just say that I will be bingeing along with the rest of the addicts.

So far, very few of the recipes that we have prepared since I started baking along with the Tuesdays with Dorie group have been earmarked as “must make again” recipes.  While some may think I am crazy, I am not; I am a professional pastry chef and I spend my days baking sweet stuff.  My palate is well-developed and I love many of the things I bake.  However, if I ate them as frequently as I baked them, I would weigh about 750 pounds.  When you spend as much time working with sugar as a typical pastry chef does, you often find yourself craving things that aren’t sweet.  For me, popcorn and pretzels are generally what I reach for.  Even so, something sweet will make an appearance and ice cream, cookies or even a coffee cake are typical choices in my home.  These bars however, are something that I really would consider making again.


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This.  The reason I would make these again; the crispy topping.  Simple enough, burn sugar, stir in crispy rice cereal and then break it up and press it into a melted chocolate topped brown sugar cookie bar.  They should be called legal crack bars because like potato chips, you will not be able to stop yourself.

Cooking sugar to the caramel stage is trickier than you think.  It is easy to over cook it and before you know it, black smoke is billowing out of the pan and a horrible bitter smell will fill the air.  Never walk away, trust me, you will regret it.  This time around, I stood there and waited and watched and waited and watched.  When I could see the color developing, I gave the pan a few swirls and when it reached a nice light amber color, I stirred in the cereal.  Sure, I could have gone a little darker but I am not liking my glass-topped stove and the way it holds onto heat so I stopped a little sooner than I would have liked to.  Even so, I am glad I made a larger batch than called for; it made up for the half cup I ate as it cooled…
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Look at the sugar hairs.  Now you know how cotton candy is made.  Sugar cooked to the hard crack stage and spun into fine hairs.  Yes, hard crack, the stage before caramel, a fitting name if you ask me.


IMG_3351Now like any other addict, I will have to hide my stash.  Actually, I will do one better and walk away.  Thinking I need to send these away, quickly.  If you are smart, you will make these and if you do, be sure to give them away as fast as you can.  Powerful stuff.  You will find yourself making all sorts of deals and promises for just one more bite.

Join us if you can, we bake and post each Tuesday.  The only requirement, a copy of the book since we do not post recipes out of respect for the author.  This recipe can be found in Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan.  To see how the other bakers fared, visit the website and check out the LYL page.  Be sure to join us as we alternate between this book and Baking with Julia and post about our experiences each Tuesday.

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chocolate chiffon bundt cake with drunken caramel; a tuesdays with dorie post

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Winter is once again showing us just who is in control.  Not only is it laughing at us, winter is flipping us the bird, repeatedly.  While I shouldn’t complain too loudly, it’s not like I live in the Boston area (sorry sis!), but as I sit here typing this, the weather forecast is calling for up to 15″ of snow to fall in the next 24 hours.  My complaint isn’t that it will snow but that 15″ is three times our average annual snowfall of 5 inches!

With the temperatures well below freezing with the wind chill, I was glad to be in my kitchen baking a chocolate cake.  And if there is one thing I am sure we can all agree on, chocolate cake fixes just about everything, especially if you serve it with a generous drizzle of drunken caramel sauce!  The cake, as the recipe is written in Baking with Julia, is supposed to be served with fresh raspberries soaked in liqueur and rich creme anglaise sauce that gets bruleed with a torch.  Well, I did not have raspberries or a torch and I did not want to make the creme anglaise sauce because it is just too rich for me.  But I did think a drizzle of caramel sauce would be nice and then I saw the bottle of Pennington’s and I couldn’t help myself…
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The cake itself is a typical chiffon cake; spongy and light and completely dependent upon the cocoa powder for flavor.  Because the cocoa powder is practically the sole component of the flavor profile, I suggest you use a high quality cocoa powder, I used Valrhona cocoa powder because I wanted that chocolate punch I knew Valrhona would give to the cake.  If I had used a cocoa powder typically found in the grocery store, I might have gotten decent results but the lack of raspberries and the creme anglaise would have been really obvious and I am not sure that a few dollops of my drunken caramel would have worked as well.  That caramel sauce packs a punch especially with the use of Pennington’s.  If you are not familiar with Pennington’s, let me tell you that you should get your hands on a bottle if you can.  It is distilled in Nashville and they use real strawberry flavor-not the fake stuff so it tastes like ripe juicy berries, the perfect companion for a chocolate cake.
IMG_3069Drunken Caramel Sauce

makes about 1 1/4 cups

1/3 cup heavy cream

1 cinnamon stick

1″ piece of a vanilla bean, split open

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/4 cup booze-dark rum, bourbon, or whiskey (I highly recommend Pennington’s Strawberry Rye Whiskey)

Pour the cream into a small pot with the cinnamon stick, vanilla bean (the seeds scraped out and added to the pot) and the butter and place it over very low heat to warm it.  Place the sugar and corn syrup in a deep, heavy bottom pot with 1/4 cup of water.  Bring the pot to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to melt the sugar.  Wash the sides of the pot with a wet brush to prevent crystals from forming.  Allow the sugar to boil until it turns amber in color.  Remove the pot from the heat and carefully pour in the warm cream mixture, stirring to combine.  It will boil up violently so take caution when stirring.  Return the pot to the stove over low heat and stir gently to dissolve the caramelized sugar at the bottom and sides of the pot.  Do not boil the mixture, just stir until the sugar is fully dissolved and the mixture is combined.  Remove from the heat again and carefully stir in the booze.  Pour the caramel through a mesh strainer remove the cinnamon stick and vanilla pod and into a heat proof serving pitcher or a bowl.  Allow it to cool to about 100 degrees before serving, store in the fridge and reheat as needed.

To see how the other Tuesdays with Dorie bakers did with this recipe, check out the “LYL” page on the website.  If you would like to join us as we bake our way through Baking with Julia and Baking Chez Moi, get your hands on the books and get to work-the more the merrier!