Sticky Gingerbread Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

A gingerbread cupcake drizzled with salted caramel

I’m a list keeper. I keep shopping lists, lists of books to read, lists of desserts I want to make, lists of writing topics, and my never-ending to-do list. Of all my lists, my favorite is one I’ve entitled “Things I Love” and it captures some of the things, from the silly to the sublime, that put a smile on my face. If you want to know what makes me happy, you can read my list here.

Looking back, I can’t recall why (or even when) I started this list. Remembering how crazed my work world used to be, I was likely attempting to bring a little contentment into my life. By reminding myself what truly brought me happiness, I could remember to appreciate these simple delights.

Christmas light displays didn’t make the list, but they’re a much-loved part of my holiday season. When I was little, my siblings and I would squeal from the station wagon’s back seat, “Pretty lights! Pretty lights!” whenever we’d drive by a festively lit house. As adults, we road trip to other neighborhoods – and other cities (Portland!?) in search of flamboyantly adorned holiday houses. If Jesus, Santa, Snoopy, AND a giant snow globe all make it into one tableau, our holiday is complete!

I’m thinking about Christmas light displays today because I’ve had a request to bake a few treats for a neighborhood holiday light stroll next month – a request I happily accepted. These sticky, spicy gingerbread cupcakes are my first contibution, adapted from Gramercy Tavern’s Gingerbread. My coworker, John, took a bite and said, “This is dangerous.” He then took a second bite and said, “This is really dangerous.” By his third bite, the cupcake was gone. Others agreed.


Sticky Gingerbread Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

  • Servings: 24 cupcakes
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Dangerously sticky, spicy, not-too-sweet cupcakes topped with lashings of cream cheese frosting, salted caramel and candied walnuts.


Ingredients

    Gingerbread
  • 1 cup Guinness Stout
  • 1 cup dark molasses
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 Tablespoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, chilled
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
  • ⅓ cup good quality salted caramel, plus more for drizzling (It’s worth making your own!)
  • 24 candied walnuts

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 muffin tins. Bring stout and molasses to a boil in a large saucepan and remove from heat. Whisk in baking soda, and then cool to room temperature.
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder, and spices in a large bowl. Whisk together eggs and sugars. Whisk in oil, then molasses mixture. Add to flour mixture and whisk until just combined.
  3. Fill muffin tins ¾ full and rap pan sharply on counter to eliminate air bubbles. Bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs adhering, about 25 minutes. Cool completely.
  4. To make frosting: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the confectioners’ sugar and salted caramel. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes until creamy. If frosting is too soft, refrigerate for 15 minutes before piping.
  5. Frost cupcakes, drizzle with additional salted caramel, and garnish with a candied walnut.

Modern Black Forest Cake

A black forest cake with mirror glaze

It’s Friday and I tuck away my standard, never-ending to-do list and write out a new one for this weekend. It contains a mere three bullets:

  • Write
  • Bake
  • Hike

Simple. It’s all I want to do the next few days. It’s all I need to ensure my happiness. I’m eschewing friends, happy hours, brunches, laundry, and home repairs to focus on these three things. Of course, life can never be whittled down to three bullets. There’s six pieces of writing on my list, four for Tuesday’s creative writing class and two for the blog. There’s three separate recipes I want to test – the one below, the most ambitious, as well as gingerbread cupcakes and banana chocolate muffins. The hiking? I’m shooting for four miles each day.

It’s 9 p.m. on Sunday and I can’t legitimately cross any of these items above off my list – not completely. I finished half the writing and most of the recipes. The Modern Black Forest Cake is completed, tested, updated, and photographed. The gingerbread cupcakes are partially finished – a swirl of cream cheese frosting and drizzle of salted caramel and they’ll be ready for their close up. The banana muffins will need to wait for another day. The hiking? I hiked today – a little over four miles, but found myself trapped at home on Saturday waiting for an answer from an indecisive executive. Working on a weekend – sometimes I must. I didn’t hear back until 4 p.m. – too late to take to the trails.

Even though projects are left undone, I feel…satisfied. I completely turned, if only for 48 hours, towards endeavors significant to me. That accomplishment, by itself, delivers my contentment.

This cake, which has been banging around in my head for a while, is a modern reimagining of that 1970’s classic – and it’s striking enough to make an appearance on the holiday table, should you feel inspired. This was my first attempt at a mirror glaze and I’m pleased with the result.


Modern Black Forest Cake

  • Servings: 12-14 slices
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The darkest, richest Black Forest Cake you’ll ever find.


Ingredients

    Brandied Cherries (make the night before)
  • 1 ½ cups Morello cherries in light syrup, cut in half (I get mine from Trader Joe’s)
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • ⅓ cup Kirsch
  • Chocolate Ganache Frosting
  • 10 ounces semisweet chocolate pieces
  • 1 Tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 Tablespoon Kirsch
  • Cake
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups cold water
  • ⅔ cup canola oil
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • Filling
  • 8 oz. container mascarpone cheese
  • ⅓ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 Tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Kirsch
  • Mirror Glaze (optional)
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 4 Tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 envelope gelatin (¼ ounce)

Directions

  1. Make brandied cherries: Combine cherries, sugar and kirsch in a small saucepan. Heat and stir until sugar dissolves, cover and let set overnight.
  2. Make the chocolate ganache frosting: Place chocolate in a bowl with corn syrup. Heat heavy whipping cream until just beginning to boil. Pour over chocolate, let stand one minute and then stir until smooth. Add Kirsch. Cool to room temperature. Before using, beat for 2-3 minutes to lighten and whip to spreading consistency.
  3. Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Line three 8” cake pans with parchment paper and lightly butter paper.
  4. Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Combine water, oil, vanilla extract and white vinegar. Slowly whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients. The batter will be wet.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 20 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  6. Place the mascarpone cheese in a large bowl and beat until smooth. Gradually beat in the heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar to make a creamy, spreadable frosting. Beat in the kirsch.
  7. To assemble, place the first cake layer on a cake plate. Spread with half the mascarpone filling and cover with brandied cherries. Cover with second cake layer, remaining mascarpone filling and cherries. Finish with top cake layer. Frost the sides and top of the cake with the chocolate ganache and smooth well. Refrigerate.
  8. Make mirror glaze (if using): Place 1 tablespoon cold water in a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over top and let soften 5 minutes. In a saucepan, combine 1/2 cup water, sugar, heavy whipping cream and cocoa powder. Simmer for about 20 minutes until mixture slightly thickens. Remove chocolate mixture from the heat and whisk in gelatin until thoroughly combined. Set over an ice bath and whisk until the glaze thickens and reaches about 80 degrees. Pour over cake and smooth with an offset spatula quickly. Decorate.

A modern take on a clasic black forest cake

Rich German Chocolate Cake

A German Chocolate Cake

“Her Velcro heart unwittingly snags those, frayed and tattered, who happen to brush past.”

I wrote that almost two years ago, believing it was happenstance – this bad luck of mine that snares the ragged and unraveled hearts of the world, my misfortune of drawing unhealthy relationships to me. I’ve come to realize it’s a talent, a finely honed skill. There’s no chance involved. I possess a preternatural ability to home in on the damaged. Like a parlor trick, I’ll enter a room with 1000 men and I’m drawn to the solitary marred soul like a magnet. Shit, I don’t even require a room…let me peruse an array of dating site photos and, like an eyewitness, I’m pulled towards the one incapable of connection – “Officer, that’s your man right there!” It would be a neat talent, if it weren’t my heart on the line.

Which leads me to another quote…this one is not from me, but she could easily be speaking to me.

“You’re not a woman of convention or you wouldn’t be here, but you like to pretend you are so people don’t notice you. But you sometimes like that as well, and can dress to draw the eye. But then you think the men who look at you are fools, or worse, to be taken in by such an obvious outward show. So, instead you’re drawn to dark, complicated, impossible men, assuring your own unhappiness and isolation because, after all, you’re happiest alone.”

“…dark, complicated, impossible men” – check, check, double-check.

By this time, you must be wondering, “Damn Julie, how in the hell are you going to tie this into a recipe?” Well, since we’re talking about hearts today, nothing speaks of affection like chocolate and, since today’s theme focuses on the heart’s darker edges, this post calls for a dark, bittersweet version of a typically conventional confection. Enjoy!


Rich German Chocolate Cake

  • Servings: 12-14 slices
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The darkest, richest German Chocolate Cake you’ll ever find.


Ingredients

    Filling
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ cups pecans, toasted and finely chopped
  • 2 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut, toasted
  • Chocolate Frosting
  • 10 ounces semisweet chocolate pieces
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 Tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • Cake
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups cold water
  • ⅔ cup canola oil
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar

Directions

  1. Make the Coconut-Pecan Filling: In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, sugar, and yolks. In a large bowl, combine the butter salt, toasted pecans and toasted coconut.
  2. Heat the cream mixture, stirring constantly, until it begins to thicken and reaches 170 degrees F. Immediately pour over the pecan-coconut mixture and stir until butter melts. Cool to room temperature (mixture will thicken).
  3. Make the Chocolate Frosting: Place chocolate in a bowl with corn syrup. Heat heavy whipping cream until just beginning to boil. Pour over chocolate, let stand one minute and then stir until smooth. Cool to room temperature. Beat for 2-3 minutes to lighten and whip to spreading consistency.
  4. Make the Cake: Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Line three 8” cake pans with parchment paper and lightly butter paper.
  5. Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Combine water, oil, vanilla extract and white vinegar. Slowly whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients. The batter will be wet.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 20 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  7. To assemble, place the first layer on a cake plate. Spread with one-third of the pecan-coconut mixture. Continue layering the cake finishing with a layer of the pecan-coconut mixture on top. Frost the sides of the cake with the chocolate frosting and pipe a decorative border around the pecan-coconut mixture on top.

German Chocolate & Me

Chocolate Almond Tiramisu Cake

Layers of dark chocolate cake soaked with almond liqueur and fluffy mascarpone frosting result in a richly satisfying cake.

Tiramisu Cake dotted with Amaretti cookies

“Piano, piano,” Chef John cautioned me. This was my first Italian term I learned that did not come from my Rosetta Stone education. The English translation of the reproach “Piano, piano” would be “slowly.” How appropriate that I would encounter this first! It was during gelato school and I’m certain I wanted to know something that Chef John wasn’t ready to reveal. I wanted to push ahead, I wanted to understand. Label me impatient – you wouldn’t be incorrect. I always need to move forward, never happy with the in-between, never satisfied in the moment. STOP: That’s not true – I am often contented just being. CORRECTION: I’m not satisfied in the undefined moment – I’m not comfortable with vagueness. I want to know, I want to understand, I want mastery of my situation. It’s difficult for me to thrive in uncertainty. I’ve recently been reminded once again that others don’t always want to play along at my pace – and I need to learn to be comfortable with that. “Piano, piano,” I tell myself over and over again.

I’m thinking of Italy today because this cake was inspired by Beth’s upcoming tour of the booted country. She hosted an Italian “festa” for her birthday in preparation for her travels and I supplied the desserts, this cake being one of them. The idea was to combine pillowy tiramisu with a proper birthday cake. I chose my favorite chocolate cake for her husband, who claims he loves everything chocolate, soaked the sponge in Disaronno Italian liquor instead of the requisite tiramisu soaking liquid of marsala and espresso, generously layered it with a fluffy whipped mascarpone frosting and finished it with Amaretti cookies. The result is a rich, impressive, not overly sweet 4-layer cake that’s an ideal send off for anyone traveling on a trip of a lifetime.


Chocolate Almond Tiramisu Cake

  • Servings: 12-14 slices
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Layers of dark chocolate cake soaked with almond liqueur and fluffy mascarpone frosting result in a richly satisfying cake.


Ingredients

    Cake
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups cold water
  • ⅔ cup canola oil
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • Filling
  • ⅓ cup almond liqueur such as Disaronno
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 8 oz. containers mascarpone cheese
  • 1 ⅓ cup heavy whipping cream
  • ⅔ cup powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • Amaretti Cookies (optional)
  • 1 ½ cups almond flour
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons powdered sugar, plus ½ cup for coating
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg white, beaten
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Line two 8” cake pans with parchment paper and lightly butter paper.
  2. Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Combine water, oil, vanilla extract and white vinegar. Slowly whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients. The batter will be wet.
  3. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 30 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely. Slice each cake in half horizontally to make 4 even layers.
  4. Combine the liqueur and extract in a shallow dish. Set aside.
  5. Place the mascarpone cheese in a large bowl and beat until smooth. Gradually beat in the heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar to make a creamy, spreadable frosting. Beat in the almond extract.
  6. Brush the bottom layer of cake with almond liqueur mixture, spread with frosting and top with another layer. Keep layering the cake and frosting and then frost the top and sides of cake. Decorate with Amaretti cookies (optional).
  7. If you are making the amaretti cookies, combine the almond flour, sugars, and salt. Add the egg white and almond extract until the dough holds together. Shape into a thin disk and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 325⁰ F. and line a baking sheet with parchment.
  8. Roll the dough into 9-11 gram balls. Roll the balls in powdered sugar and place on the baking sheet. Gently press down each ball to flatten slightly. Bake for about 20 minutes until they’ve cracked slightly, are golden under the sugar, but are still slightly soft when pressed in the middle. Decorate cake with cookies.

Raspberry Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Ambiguity. His clever, well-crafted emails arrive in her mailbox daily, sounding a bit flirty, yet remaining maddeningly ambiguous. Until she sees him again — wrapped in a young, blowsy blonde, replete with pert, up-turned nose and sparkly cell phone case.

Now she knows. Ambiguous no more.

Ambiguity. She’s discussing red velvet cake with a coworker. Or, more precisely, red velvet cake doughnuts. She’s never understood the passion for the insipid flavor of red velvet anything. “Close your eyes,” she says, “and what do you really taste? It’s not chocolate; the cocoa powder is too minimal. It’s perhaps uniquely tart – but is that necessarily a good thing? What flavor makes it so adored?” Her coworker thinks it contains raspberries – no, the luxurious red comes from food coloring these days or beets, non-Dutched cocoa in the past. Not a berry to be found.

‘But couldn’t you,” he asked, “remake it in your style? With chocolate and raspberries and cream cheese frosting?”

Yes, she could. It wouldn’t be red velvet cake anymore, but something different, richer, more flavorful, and utterly her.

Her Red Velvet – ambiguous no more.


Raspberry Red Velvet Cake

  • Servings: One 8-inch Cake
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Whether this a truly a red velvet cake depends on what defines red velvet for you. This one contains rich, dark, moist chocolate cake with a hint of raspberry and lashings of cream cheese frosting and is anything but ambiguous with flavor.


Ingredients

    Cake
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1.2 oz. package freeze-dried raspberries, crushed to a powder (I buy mine at Trader Joe’s)
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 2/3 cup canola oil
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ teaspoons red food coloring
  • Raspberry Jam
  • 4 oz. package frozen raspberries
  • ½ cup sugar
  • Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, chilled
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment, butter the parchment and dust with flour.
  2. Sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, coffee, and salt. Stir in the dried raspberries (reserving a bit for decoration, if desired).
  3. Combine together water, oil, vinegar, vanilla, and food coloring. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients (the mixture will be very wet).
  4. Working quickly, divide batter between pans and bake for 30 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, invert onto cooling racks and cool completely.
  5. Meanwhile, make raspberry jam. Combine the frozen raspberries and sugar in a deep-sided saucepan and bring to boil over a medium heat. When the sugar is melted, boil for another 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool and set.
  6. To make frosting: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla extract. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes until creamy.
  7. Sandwich cake with plenty of cream cheese frosting and raspberry jam. Cover top and sides with remaining frosting. Chill until ready to serve.