I did it again ................ yup, despite all my earnest efforts at sophistication, there I was again ...............
................. grinning from ear to ear like a little kid, more precisely like the proverbial Cheshire cat in the Alice in Wonderland story. The last time this happened was this past October, when I had the amazing opportunity to study French cooking for a week at the Culinary Institute of America.
Although this was an entirely different circumstance, I felt the same can't-wipe-it-off grin plastered on my face as I stood at the airport eagerly scanning the weary travelers emerging through the customs/immigration gate. In fact, had you been there, you would have seen two "cats" sporting classic Cheshire smiles. My husband Scott and I were both as happy as two little pigs in mud!
Why, all the excitement? We were waiting for our daughter Cait and her two youngest children who had just spent the previous eight hours winging their way from the UK, where they've lived for the past three years. Cait was arriving with Lilly, who's almost three and baby Luke, born this past September. They're visiting for the holidays and Daddy will be arriving in a few days with the two older girls.
Suddenly a blond, curly-haired, blue-eyed little imp came bounding through the immigration doorway, eyes darting everywhere 'til she spotted the two of us and promptly jumped into our waiting arms. ............ All of a sudden it just didn't matter that two grown adults had been sporting goofy "cat" grins for the past thirty minutes, it was totally worth the wait ................. and the embarrassment.
A festive party was in order that evening, not only to commemorate the happy reunion, but to celebrate our daughter's recent birthday. We had a lovely dinner and time catching up with Cait, our son Nick and his wife Lindsay.
I love celebrating special occasions with cupcakes as they can be made ahead, they freeze well and they can be dressed up in a zillion different ways. Earlier this week, a friend reminded me of this cupcake recipe I had given her several years ago. I had forgot all about them until she told me they were one of her very favorites. "Really?", I said. "Oh yes, I make them all the time and everyone goes crazy over them!" "Really?" "Yes, really!" That sealed the deal, I had to see what all the fuss was about ................ and guess what? She was right - not only are they delicious, but amazingly simple to make! How in the world had I forgotten about them? :)
My daughter loves peppermint bark, so I changed up the recipe just a bit by adding crushed peppermint along with tiny chocolate chips to the cream cheese filling. I topped the cupcakes with my favorite buttercream icing (it has just a touch of cream cheese) and showered them with more crushed peppermint. Please don't tell anyone that the little star-like adornments atop the cupcakes were supposed to be snowflakes. Mine didn't quite turn out looking like snowflakes, but I still thought they were quite fun. Check out the simple technique* below to make decorations like these!
These Chocolate Cream Cheese Cupcakes would be perfect for a holiday or any other festive occasion. I have a feeling that, like my sweet friend has, you'll find these special cupcakes will become an all-time favorite. Be sure to expect rave reviews!
P.S. I was just wondering. Is there anything that makes you grin like a Cheshire cat or are we the only ones suffering from this strange disorder?
Chocolate Cupcakes with Peppermint-Cream Cheese filling and Buttercream Icing
Ingredients for the cream cheese filing:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened (I usually use the lower fat, NOT the fat-free)
1 egg, slightly beaten
⅓ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pinch salt
½ cup mini chocolate chips
½ cup crushed peppermint candies or candy canes
Ingredients for the cupcakes:
1 cup sugar
1 ½ cups flour
¼ cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup water
½ cup oil
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line cupcake pans with 18 paper liners.
2. In a small bowl, combine first five ingredients and mix well. Add chocolate chips and crushed peppermint and stir to combine. Set aside.
3. Mix sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt and stir to combine. In a separate bowl, combine water, oil, vinegar and vanilla . Add wet ingredients to the bowl of dry ingredients and stir until well combined.
4. Fill prepared muffin tins 1/2 full with this mixture.
5. Drop a rounded tablespoon of cheese mixture on top, dividing mixture evenly. Bake for 23 to 25 minutes. Cover for last 8-10 minutes if getting too brown. Don't under bake or your cupcakes will sink in the center.
6. Allow to cool in the pan for five minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Cool completely before icing.
Adapted from Recipzaar
1 ½ cups (12 ounces) butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese (I use the low fat, NOT the fat-free) softened
1 2-pound bag of powdered sugar (approximately 8 cups)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
6-8 tablespoons milk or half and half
1. Using the wire whisk attachment of your stand mixer, whip the butter and cream cheese on medium-high speed for 5 minutes, stopping to scrape the bowl once or twice.
2. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the powdered sugar. Once all of the powdered sugar is incorporated, add milk slowly till soft fluffy consistency and then increase the speed to medium-high and add the vanilla, mixing until incorporated. Whip at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, at least 5 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed.
3. Place icing in a decorator bag and swirl onto cupcakes. I use a 1M Wilton tip. If you haven't done much cupcake icing swirling, here is a great but simple tutorial.
This recipe wil probably make more icing than you'll need for 18 cupcakes. It just depends on how big your swirls are. If you end up with extra, it will keep in the refrigerator for a week or more and for several months in the freezer. If you're storing the icing in the refrigerator be sure to use an airtight container; let it come to room temperature and then give it a quick whip in the mixer before using.
* ~ To make decorative toppers for cupcakes:
~ Draw desired design on a sheet of paper.
~ Place paper underneath a sheet of waxed paper.
~ With a permanent marker, trace design onto waxed paper, repeating to make as many toppers as desired.
~ Melt candy melts (you can also use almond bark) in a double boiler or in the microwave. (Check out this article for the melting process)
~ Place melted candies in a disposable decorating bag. Cut a tiny snip in the tip. You can also use a small heavy-duty zippered bag and cut a tiny snip off one corner. Another option is to use a small squirt bottle with a tiny pointed tip.
~ Trace prepared designs on wax paper with melted mixture. Allow to dry completely, then gently peel designs off of waxed paper.