birthday chocolate cupcakes for ann

Sometimes all you need is a wee taste of chocolate. Suzanne Lenzer wrote a great post for Mark Bittman’s blog back in June in which she featured the legendary Maida Heatter‘s recipe for chocolate cupcakes with chocolate ganache frosting (adapted from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts). I was so charmed by the accompanying photo that I filed the recipe away for later use.

Yesterday we belatedly celebrated my dear mother-in-law’s birthday and I wanted to bake something chocolate for the occasion. Cupcakes were perfect because they are portion-sized, sophisticated-looking and easy to share (and transport). While the recipe was simple to make, I found the cake itself to be a little dry and not quite as rich as I had hoped — thankfully the ganache picked up some of the slack. I decorated the cupcakes with more flowers (daisies, purple pansies and yellow rosebuds) from my stash.

Happy Birthday, Ann!

garlic grilled bread and eggplant caponata

More grilled bread, more caponata! I made this to take along on our trip west to see James Taylor at Tanglewood (the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), although we ended up eating much of it at home the next day since it poured the evening of the concert and it was difficult to handle a large golf umbrella and a glass of wine and bread and caponata all at once.

Like the earlier grilled bread and caponata, these recipes were from King Arthur Flour’s Bakers’ Banter. This dough was made with garlic-infused olive oil and contained no cheese. It also had a higher ratio of semolina to flour which gave it more of a pita bread (without the pocket) texture — chewier and less soft than the Asiago bread. Sadly, the garlic flavor was so subtle as to be barely discernible. I wasn’t crazy about this bread and found myself wishing for the Grilled Asiago Rounds.

The eggplant caponata was very like the zucchini caponata I made before, just with eggplant instead of zucchini. The chunks were a little less defined (mushier) than in the zucchini caponata — just a little different but still very tasty.

grilled asiago rounds and zucchini caponata

I made these grilled flatbreads outside yesterday during one of the drizzliest days we’ve experienced this summer. Not really how I planned it, but whaddya gonna do?

The recipe is from King Arthur Flour’s excellent blog, Bakers’ Banter. It’s not my first try at grilled bread, but it’s definitely my most successful. What’s better than moist cheesy bread, hot off the grill? Everyone raved about it! And it was so simple to make — definitely going to make this one again this weekend. Alongside the bread, I served this Zucchini Caponata. The basil was from our garden — it was fragrant and fresh tasting and we were happy to get to enjoy some of it before the bugs ate all of our basil plants to the ground.

david lebovitz’s roasted banana ice cream

This is another of David Lebovitz‘s recipes from The Perfect Scoop. The Traveler’s Lunchbox posted a terrific interview with David a couple of years ago and included this recipe. It is sooooooo good — I was standing over the sink scraping the dregs out of the ice cream maker bowl with a spatula because I just couldn’t stand any going to waste. It’s so simple to make — you roast cut-up bananas with a smidge of butter and some brown sugar, then puree the resulting gooey goodness with whole milk, a skosh more sugar, vanilla, fresh lemon juice and a little coarse salt. Chill and then freeze in an ice cream maker (The Traveler’s Lunchbox provides an alternate method using an immersion blender for those who don’t own an ice cream maker). The ice cream is rich and creamy, surprising when you remember that there’s no cream in the mix. There are endless possibilities for different variations — looking at other blogs I see that people have added chocolate chunks, nuts, rum, raisins, even peanut butter. I love it as it’s written — it’s summertime comfort food!

oatmeal cinnamon chips cookies

I have a real weakness for oatmeal cookies. Maybe it’s because I can tell myself that they aren’t really naughty to eat, but are actually very healthy, like teeny disc-shaped bowls of oatmeal. I found this recipe on a bag of Hershey’s Cinnamon Chips.

Texturewise, they resemble Oatmeal Scotchies — thin, delicate and chewy. I don’t love how fragile they are — not great for gift giving or even storing for that matter. They are fairly light tasting, particularly when you take into consideration what I consider an almost ungodly amount of butter. And I love the caramel-tinged cinnamon chips. But all in all, they’re really just an average tasting batch of oatmeal raisin cookies. It won’t stop us from polishing them off lightning fast, but I don’t think I will be making them again.

birthday pupcakes

For as long as we can remember, our son C. has been crazy about dogs. At first we attributed it to a longing for a pet we couldn’t have, as L. is allergic to dogs and cats. But two years ago, we found a breed that didn’t trigger L.’s sneezes and headaches – miniature schnauzers – and we got one of our own. I thought that perhaps C.’s enthusiasm might lessen just a tad, but no – if anything, having Daisy in our lives has only intensified his zeal. For his birthday this year, two of C. and my common interests came together – we made dog cupcakes.

We consulted Karen Tack and Alan Richardson’s wonderful Hello, Cupcake! Irresistibly Playful Creations Anyone Can Make for instructions. Initially we planned to make cupcakes representing each of the breeds featured in the book – dalmatian, collie, beagle, bulldog and (of course) the schnauzer among them – but forces conspired against us and in the end, we decided just to make the West Highland terriers that are shown on the book’s cover.

The Westies are made using a standard-size cupcake for the body/base and a mini cupcake (on its side) for the head. With the addition of some cleverly cut mini marshmallows and artfully applied frosting – voilà! You have yourself a cute little pupcake.

Tack and Richardson make it easy for the newbie decorator to master. They encourage the use of cake mixes and canned frosting, and give instructions on how to use ziplock bags instead of pastry bags to apply the frosting. C. found a recipe in the book that explained how to enhance the boxed cake mix by substituting buttermilk for water and adding an additional egg. He was eager to try it, so try it we did. Although the authors suggest using canned frosting in the book, I read on their website that recently there have been reader complaints about changes in the consistency of the store-bought frosting. Tack and Richardson now recommend that readers use the Almost Homemade Buttercream Frosting recipe in the book instead of the canned stuff. It’s made with Marshmallow Fluff, butter (a lot of it!), vanilla and confectioners’ sugar, and seemed simple to make so we tried that as well.
Although we made the cake using the modifications suggested by the authors, I really didn’t feel like it tasted much different than if we had simply followed the directions on the box. Admittedly, it’s been a very long time since I’ve eaten a boxed mix cake so I could be wrong. The Almost Homemade Buttercream Frosting tasted to me like sweetened whipped cream – buttery, but not excessively sweet. It held up OK, but (predictably) became runnier as it warmed from the heat of our hands. Next time, I will try adding a little meringue powder to stabilize it.

C. was a natural at decorating the cupcakes using the ziplock baggies, but I just couldn’t get the hang of it. I ended up using a parchment bag and a small star tip for my frosting, which C. proclaimed was “cheating.” However, by the end I think he had to concede that the baggie method had its share of problems – the baggies would stretch or split from the pressure and it was often difficult and frustrating trying to gently squeeze frosting through the small cuts in the baggie (the cuts were to mimic the use of a tip). I really love the designs in Hello, Cupcake! but I think I would prefer to execute them using conventional decorating equipment.

The finished pupcakes were very cute – almost too cute to eat. C. ate the body of one last night but still hasn’t brought himself to eat the head. I really hope that I don’t end up with a container full of little Westie heads in my kitchen by week’s end!

(Happy 12th Birthday, C.!)