Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Irish Cream Buttercream Frosting

St. Patrick’s Day is a particularly special day in our house, not just because of my darling husband’s Irish heritage but also because 50% of the people in our household are named Patrick. So come mid-March, the Irish tunes go into heavy rotation, the Irish-style brews and corned beef fill our fridge, and my mind turns to chocolate stout (cup)cakes.

This recipe by TrialAndErin is fantastic: the cake is incredibly tender and moist, and the frosting couldn’t be easier to make. For the greatest enjoyment, turn a blind eye to the amount of butter you’re using. Then again, it does make 2 dozen cupcakes so (amount) of butter divided by 24 is… never mind.

I made a few adaptations to the recipe. First off, I have yet to make this recipe with Young’s Double Chocolate Stout as suggested (though it is a terrific beer — my gateway chocolate stout, in fact, twenty-some years ago). I have used Guinness Foreign Extra Stout and O’Hara’s Irish Stout in the recipe — both with great success.

Secondly, I have underage folk devouring these cupcakes so I substitute Baileys (non-alcoholic) Creamer (I call it “Faileys” for Fake Baileys) for the Irish Cream called for. Remember that unlike the beer in the batter, the frosting doesn’t get cooked. It doesn’t taste exactly like proper Baileys, but it approximates the flavor and is still pretty dang good. (I like to pour some in my midday coffee and pretend that I’m a bad girl.)

I have a little tweak for mixing the cocoa powder with the beer and butter that I think works a bit better at avoiding lumps than the original instruction. First off, it’s imperative that you sift the cocoa powder. Next, rather than adding the cocoa powder to the simmering beer and butter, I very slowly whisk the beer and butter mixture into the cocoa powder. It will be very thick and paste-like when you start, but doing it this way minimizes any cocoa lumps. I also let the resulting mixture cool for 10 minutes (it’s quite hot) before adding it to the egg mixture and proceeding with the rest of the batter, as I don’t want to cook the eggs or activate the baking soda prematurely.

Lastly, I recommend that when you check the cupcakes for doneness, pull the cupcakes from the oven when there are a few crumbs remaining on the toothpick. If you wait until the toothpick is completely clean, the cupcakes with be overbaked and on the dry side. And remember to rotate your pans halfway through the bake time and check multiple cupcakes (in different areas of the pan) for doneness. If your oven is anything like mine, the heat (and cooking time) can vary in different spots.

Making green fondant shamrocks with a tiny heart cutter.
Cut a heart in half down the center and voilà! A stem.

In summary: the whole clan LOVED these cupcakes! The stout lends a (predictably) yeastiness to the cake that’s really pleasing and the frosting is sublime. I don’t consider myself a cake person and yet even I was a wee bit weepy when they were all eaten. Confession time: there was a little extra frosting left after icing the cupcakes so a few days later I baked up a single-layer chocolate snack cake and slathered on the leftover frosting. When you’re Irish, St. Patrick’s Day never has to end. Erin Go Bragh!

Dorie Greenspan’s Chocolate-Chocolate Chunk Muffins

These were for my darling husband’s turn at hosting his office breakfast. I selected the recipe with his chocolate fanatic boss in mind, but alas, he was traveling that day and didn’t get to partake. It’s from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My House to Yours, and is one I’ve made before. However, I think that in the past I may have adapted the recipe but forgotten to write down my tweaks. I remember the muffins as being super dense with loads of chocolate-y goodness, but this time I felt that the chopped-up chunks were not plentiful enough. Next go round, I think I’ll double up on the chocolate chunks and throw in a handful or two of mini chocolate chips to ensure that no bite is without ooze. You can find the recipe here, at Epicurious.

Homemade Granola

A couple Christmases ago, my crafty sister-in-law made granola to give as family gifts. I had never really thought about making my own granola, but hers was so tasty we quickly gobbled it all up. Since then, I’ve been on the prowl for a great granola recipe, but with some specific criteria, chief among them being that I didn’t want to use refined sugar in my granola. Shockingly, this is not a simple task. Although one might think of granola as being a healthy, earthy-crunchy type snack, many of the recipes I found contained either white or brown sugar, or a surprising amount of added fat.

Cooling in the pan

Eventually, I found this simple recipe from the Joy of Baking site. It’s sweetened with maple syrup and contains just 2 tablespoons of canola oil. And it’s really easy to make. The most laborious part was gathering and scaling out all the ingredients! You just mix all the dry ingredients (except for the fruit) together, and mix the wet ingredients together and pour that over the dries. Mix well, spread out on a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake at 325 degrees, stirring once every 15 minutes or so, for 45 minutes. Let cool, add the fruit, and eat (or if you’re me, eat, let cool, eat some more, add the fruit, and eat even more). I used slivered almonds in mine and wheat bran, not germ, because that’s what I already had. And I learned that pepitas are the same thing as pumpkin seeds (smartphones and Wikipedia are super useful when you’re standing in Trader Joe’s wondering why there are no raw shelled pumpkin seeds, and what are these pepitas anyway?)!

Speaking of Trader Joe’s they have this nifty packaged mixture of golden raisins, dried cranberries, cherries and blueberries that I added to my granola  a no-brainer for me!
With fruit added!
The granola is scrumptious; I particularly love the contrast between the toasty, crunchy oats and nuts and the tender bits of fruit. I also love that it’s lightly sweetened, which really allows the natural flavor of the ingredients to shine through. This recipe can be endlessly adapted and I’m looking forward to trying other combinations of flavors.

Happy 5th Birthday, MWMOTH!

A significant milestone for me – 5 years ago today I wrote my very first post for this blog. It has sometimes been (a writing) feast or famine, but I am still happily baking and blogging. A big and boisterous thank you goes out to all my readers, but particularly my darling husband and my wonderful mom, two people who have been reading since that very first post. I would also like to acknowledge my late mother-in-law, Ann, who was always unfailingly supportive and enthusiastic about this project (and any other I ever chose to attempt). Thank you for reading.

We ♥ (Margherita) Pizza Night!

My stand mixer recently decided to take an extended holiday, so I’ve been feeling like I’ve been forced to bake with one hand tied behind my back, particularly when it comes to breads and other dough creations. Fortunately, I remembered that I had this gem from the King Arthur Flour folks in my repertoire.

This also happens to be my hands-down favorite pizza dough recipe, mixer or no mixer. It’s soooo very easy to make – all you need is a little advance planning, because the dough needs to be mixed the night before.

Often I try to customize pizzas for everyone with different toppings and sometimes sauces, but usually this means I don’t get to sit down and eat with everyone because by the time I’m done baking, everyone else is full. I suppose I could ask peeps to wait for me before eating, but then the pizza would be cold. While I love cold pizza for breakfast, I think that if it’s freshly made, it should be eaten right away.

This time I had a light bulb moment and made just one simple variety of pizza – margherita pizza! Margherita pizza is basically a fancy pants cheese pizza – tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil leaves.

I tripled the recipe for the 4 of us (two adults and two teenaged boys – one of whom is technically an adult), which made 6 medium pizzas. I used a pound of fresh mozzarella which I cut into large cubes – 2.65 ounces per pizza. Yes, I actually scaled out the cheese for each pizza to make sure they were equal. And I topped each pizza with my favorite homemade pizza sauce – I just love its simplicity.

Gemelli Pizza Margherita Sauce
from Artisan Baking by Maggie Glezer

1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt to taste

Mix ingredients together and set aside until ready to use.

Bakers’ Banter has a very helpful (and detailed) blog post with step by step instructions here, but here are some of my pictures.

The dough, divided and dusted heavily with bread flour.
Pizza dough… patted out on parchment and ready to go in the oven.
After the first trip into the oven — now topped with sauce and cheese.
(I sprinkled on the oregano belatedly because I forgot
to add it to the sauce!)
The finished product! I miscounted and only had 4 basil leaves
left for the last batch of pizzas.

Cook’s Country’s Red Velvet Cake

This was a fun and festive treat I made for my family on Valentine’s Day.
I am still trying to figure out how I feel about Red Velvet Cake as a concept. (Is it chocolate? No? Why is there cocoa powder in it? Why is it so red? So many questions. ) However, I do have to love anything whose primary purpose appears to be to serve as a vehicle for delivering Cream Cheese Frosting to my belly.
Cook’s Country was kind enough to post the cake recipe on their site. I originally discovered found this recipe in The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book (ATK is Cook’s Country’s mothership, if you will) and actually made it once before, almost 4 years ago. However, I was not a fan of the book’s Cream Cheese Frosting, which is thin and soupy, and quite impossible to work with (I remember this particularly well because I scrawled “NO” all over the recipe).
This time, I used the icing recipe from the Cook’s Country site, which is quite different from the one in the book. The new recipe is perfection itself, unless you’re on a diet.  It’s easy to work with, but has much more butter and double the cream cheese of my regular go-to recipe from Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Oh, and it’s really, really tasty. We licked the bowl and beaters clean.
A simple heart for Valentine’s Day

A Tale Of Two Breads

Crunchy Cornmeal and Semolina Bread
As with many home bakers who experiment with artisan bread baking, I usually have some unusual odds and ends in my kitchen. You know – you buy some of this whole grain or some of that, then you have a little leftover, so you stick it in the freezer to keep it fresh until the next time, and before you know it, three-quarters of the freezer has been overtaken by Ziploc bags of whole wheat flour, flax seed meal, wheat bran, pumpernickel flour, semolina… you get the picture. As someone who has precious little freezer space to begin with (that side-by-side refrigerator with the slender doors for my cramped little kitchen seemed like such a sound idea at the time), I thought it was time to find ways to use up some of the stockpile.
My husband is a big fan of toast. (I am not so much, but I can appreciate a nice lightly browned crunchy-chewy slice of bread schmeared with some nice salty Irish butter.) With his love of toast (and an empty bread shelf) in mind, I decided it was the perfect time to mix up some bread.
Now, confession time. I have a lot of difficulty making sandwich breads. I use the wrong size pans sometimes and often I overproof the loaves. Whatever one can do wrong when making sandwich bread, I apparently do it. I’m a pretty skilled freeform artisan bread baker, but just give me a bread pan and rest assured, it’ll turn out flat, no matter how promising it looks when it goes in (or comes out of) the oven. In spite of this, I gamely attempted a couple of sandwich loaves from the King Arthur Flour site.
The first one I baked was the Crunchy Cornmeal and Semolina Bread. I tried mixing it using the manual method as described because my stand mixer is currently out of commission, and the dough was waaaaaaay too sticky to mix by hand, even with heavily oiled hands. So no, I did not knead it for the full 6 to 8 minutes, but settled for manhandling it until it came together as best as I could, using a bowl scraper and trying not to lose too much dough between my fingers. I omitted the sesame seeds as those were something from my freezer I actually had managed to already use up. The finished loaf was tasty even if it wasn’t as tall as I had envisioned. It toasted up very nicely too!
Crunchy Cornmeal and Semolina toast, buttered with peanut butter
The second loaf was the PDQ Onion and Rye Bread. This one was not a yeast bread, but was leavened with chemical leaveners instead – baking soda and baking powder. As you might imagine, the texture was more like a quick bread. The version I used was from The King Arthur Flour’s Baker’s Companion and differs from the recipe on their site slightly. Instead of the Rye Flour Blend and Deli Rye Flavor listed on the site, I used 1 ¾ cups (7 ¾ ounces) of rye flour (from Arrowhead Farms) and ¾ cup (3 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour. My book calls for 1 ½ teaspoons of salt (rather than 1 teaspoon). I used a slightly smaller amount (2.8 ounces, not 3 ½ ounces as listed in the book) of “Golden Baking Onions” (actually French’s French Fried Onions) because that was the size of the container of onions. The book version has an additional ingredient not listed on the website, which I included: 1 tablespoon of vinegar or dill pickle juice; I used pickle juice. Lastly, the website version instructs you to sprinkle Artisan Bread Topping on top of the loaf. In the book version, you reserve ¼ cup of the French fried onions to sprinkle on top instead. One caveat – the onions don’t adhere very well and end up coming off the loaf when you depan the loaf and when you slice the bread. They also fall down to the bottom of the toaster oven (and burn) when you toast the slices, which is kind of a drag. I would recommend just adding the full amount of onions to the batter. Or if you are really attached to the look of having some of the onions on top (it makes for a pretty loaf, I’ll admit), you can try pushing the onions down into the batter slightly to better embed them and hope for the best.
I thought the onion rye bread was quite tasty, but my darling husband felt it lacked much oniony-ness. If I were to make it again I might add some dried onion flakes to bump up the flavor a bit.
PDQ Onion Rye Bread