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

Coconut Cherry Breakfast Buns

A pile of Coconut Cherry Breakfast Buns sprinkled with toasted coconut
“Can you FEEL that?!” he asked – his breath in my ear. He wasn’t asking about the sex. Yes, I could feel the pleasure of him inside of me, but this was something…electric. I was astonished to discover he could feel it as well – a tingling running through both of us like an unbroken current of charged energy. We fit together in a way that transcended the physicality of the act. I wasn’t new to good sex, yet this was the first time I understood the power of true chemistry – a shared, tangible connection, separate and unique from emotions like love.

I’m older wiser now and understand there are a rare few whose chemistry mixes so profoundly with mine – men who, at the careless brush of their hand along my skin, cause my blood to shimmer. Unbelieving that I am the only one transfigured by this rush of sensation, I want to grab them, look them square in the face, and ask, “Can you FEEL that?!”

Moving outside my bedroom and into the safer confines of my kitchen now, my second favorite chemical reaction is the combining of yeast and sugar (or, in the recipe below, honey). Officially called enthanol fermentation, it’s the delicious result when yeast and sugar get their boogie on. I’m pretty sure, when it happens, yeast rubs up against sugar and asks, “Can you FEEL that?!” Their chemistry results in yeasty breads, rolls and buns – transforming a few simple ingredients into something transcendent, like these Coconut Cherry Breakfast Buns.


Coconut Cherry Breakfast Buns

Mildly sweet breakfast buns stuffed with toasted coconut, Morello cherries and spices.


Ingredients

  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup Morello cherries or other canned/jarred cherries, drained well and chopped
  • ½ cup toasted coconut, plus more for decorating
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon water

Directions

  1. In the microwave, heat the milk and honey until warm (105⁰ – 110⁰ F). Sprinkle the yeast over the milk and let rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, combine flour, salt, cinnamon and cardamom in a large bowl.
  2. Add the butter and vanilla to the milk mixture (it should be foamy by now) and then stir into the flour to create a shaggy dough. Cover and let dough rest for 15 minutes.
  3. Transfer the dough to your work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 12-15 minutes. Pat the dough into a disk, sprinkle with cherries and coconut and press into dough. Roll the dough up like a sausage encasing the fruit and then lightly knead to distribute the fruit well. Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave to proof in a warm spot until doubled in size, about one hour.
  4. Divide the dough into 8 even pieces, roll into round balls, picking off any fruit on the outside that is exposed, and place each bun on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and proof again until risen, about 45 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bake for 17-22 minutes until buns are dark golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly. For glaze, combine sugar and water and microwave until sugar dissolves. Brush warm buns with glaze and sprinkle with toasted coconut. Buns are best served slightly warm.

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

Best Coffee Cake Muffins

These muffins have the ideal 50/50 ratio of streusel to cake that every proper coffee cake should have – and the muffin portion is so light, rather than eat the streusel and throw away the muffin– it begs you to eat the whole thing…and perhaps even go for another. No health–redeeming qualities – this is pure morning indulgence.

coffe cake muffins with streusel topping

“Good morning, Sunshine,” the dawn nudges me through my bedroom window. I roll to my left, away from the light, and burrow deeper under the duvet, hoping the patiently waiting kitties outside my bedroom door haven’t heard me stir. I’ve made this bed too much of a sanctuary to leave these sweet dreams and warm warren of covers so easily. I sleep in a freezing-cold room, a habit I learned from my mother. Each evening, I throw my window wide open to the night air, and if the eve isn’t cold enough, I supplement with A/C as well. Sixty-seven degrees – ideal sleeping conditions for coveting a deeper snuggle, but not a temperature that beckons throwing the covers off each morning. I wear nothing but a tank top and panties, ensuring the need for my well-insulated nest. I surround myself with no less than four pillows – two under my head, one that I drape myself over, like a lover, and a fourth on standby, in case one escapes to the floor during the night. My blanket is “microplush,” my duvet, goose down. I arrange myself beneath the warmth and weight of these friends, creating a womb for dreaming, and dread the morning that always seems to come too soon.

A steaming cup of coffee brought to me in bed, with just the right amount of milk – my favorite morning treat, but not a pleasure I’ve experienced lately. If I want coffee, it’s up to me to leave this nest and brew it. Caffeine alone will not tempt me from my lair, but coffee and one of these muffins does the trick.


Best Coffee Cake Muffins

  • Servings: 12 muffins
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These muffins have the ideal 50/50 ratio of streusel to cake that every proper coffee cake should have – and the muffin portion is so light, rather than eat the streusel and throw away the muffin– it begs you to eat the whole thing.


Ingredients

    Crumb topping
  • ½ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • Batter
  • 1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 large eggs
  • ⅔ cups full-fat plain yogurt
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Make crumb topping: Mix both sugars, cinnamon, and salt in medium bowl. Add melted butter and stir to blend. Add flour and toss until clumps form. Set aside.
  2. Make Muffins: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 12 muffin tins with papers or grease with butter. Sift flour, baking soda, and salt into medium bowl and set aside. In the bowl of a mixer, beat butter until smooth. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat until well combined. Add yogurt, lemon zest and vanilla and beat until blended. Add flour mixture in 2 additions, beating just until incorporated.
  3. Fill each muffin tin ¼ full of batter. Sprinkle ½ of crumb topping over. Cover topping with remaining batter, smoothing as evenly as possible. Cover with a thick layer of remaining topping. Do not overfill.
  4. Bake muffins until tester inserted into center comes out clean and topping is deep golden brown and slightly crisp, about 25 minutes. Cool and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.