Cakes, Cupcakes & Brownies

PPQ: Peanut Butter Cupcakes

by Shawnda on April 15, 2012

in Cakes, Cupcakes & Brownies,Chocolate,Project Pastry Queen

Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Jen of selected this week’s Project Pastry Queen Challenge was selected by Jen of Sweet Morris: Peanut Butter Cups with Peanut-Penuche Icing.

The cake portion of the challenge is one of the better peanut butter cakes I’ve baked. The crumb is tender, without being too dense and there’s plenty of peanut butter flavor. Other peanut butter cakes I’ve tried have either been too heavy or lacking in flavor.

I was a little surprised the cake turned out so well because it calls for dark brown sugar – I was certain it was going to be heavy.

I made a few changes to the recipe:
– I only used a scant 1 cup dark brown sugar (that’s all I had on-hand; it has been my experience that most PPQ recipes do just fine with reduced sugar anyway)
– The mixing directions in the original recipe are a little less standard than most cake recipes, so I rearranged the mixing method to cream the butter, peanut butter, brown sugar, and salt for several minutes while gathering the rest of the ingredients. I then added the remainder of ingredients based on normal mixing methods.
– Because I only had enough brown sugar for the cake, I opted to use a different frosting recipe (The World’s Best Chocolate Buttercream Frosting is below; it absolutely lives up to its name).
– Only fill the muffin cups ~2/3 full – otherwise you’ll get spill-over.
– I only added chocolate squares to half of the cupcakes because I knew that once the cupcakes completely cooled, the chocolate would return to it’s original hard state. Personally, I don’t find biting into something hard in the center of a cupcake very enjoyable – this would be better if filled with either a truffle (softer) or additional frosting using the cone method.

The peanut butter cake recipe is definitely a keeper! Jen will be posting the full cake & original frosting recipes on her blog. You can check out how the other PPQ members fare this week here.

The chocolate buttercream frosting is currently my very favorite chocolate frosting. It calls for the unusual addition of Ovaltine (yep, that Ovaltine) for more concentrated chocolate flavor. It’s light, fluffy, and not at all overly sweet.

The World's Best Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

A rich, smooth, and fluffy chocolate frosting that lives up to it's name: The Best Chocolate Buttercream Frosting


  • 12 Tbsp butter, at room temp
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa (I used half Special Dark blend)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 - 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Scant 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup Rich Chocolate Ovaltine powder


  1. On medium high, cream the butter, cocoa, and salt for ~3 minutes.
  2. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla.
  3. Mix on low just until incorporated and then beat on medium-high for ~2 minutes, until smooth.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the cream and ovaltine.
  5. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and stream in the mixture with the mixer running on low.
  6. After most of the liquid has mixed in, slowly increase the speed of the mixer to medium high and beat for ~2-3 minutes, until light and fluffy.
  7. If your frosting looks grainy, it's either a little too warm in your kitchen or it wasn't mixed on a high enough speed, for long enough. I had the first problem so I put the bowl in the fridge for 15 minutes and then remixed it until smooth.
  8. Beat in additional powdered sugar, if desired.
  9. Pipe or spread onto your cakes, as desired.
  10. Additional frosting will keep well-covered for ~1 week in the fridge.


Yields: Enough frosting for 1 8- or 9-inch cake or 24 cupcakes (18 liberally frosted cupcakes)

Adapted from Joy the Baker Cookbook

Estimated time: 15 minutes



Tropical Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

Emily of A Gilt Nutmeg selected this week’s Project Pastry Queen challenge: Tropical Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting. And like just about every other cake in The Pastry Queen, it’s a gigantic, impressive, and fabulous dessert.

Tropical Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

I absolutely love this carrot cake – it’s my second favorite recipe. It has the unusual addition of macadamia nuts, crushed pineapple, and cream of coconut in the batter and frosting for a tropical twist.

And with all that moisture, it stays fresh for days. And days. We’re actually not so big fans of coconut but the shredded coconut disappears into the cake and the cream of coconut added to the frosting was barely detectable.

Tropical Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

I stayed true to the original recipe (which you can find over at Emily’s blog), making half of it, using coconut oil instead of vegetable oil, reducing the sugar by 1/3, and using neufchatel for the frosting. And then I dropped the mixer bowl on the kitchen floor and batter went everywhere. Everywhere.

I recommend against doing that. Cleaning carrot cake batter out of kitchen tile grout is actually pretty tough. But I do recommend scooping up the “top layer” of the batter and still getting 6 cupcakes out of the deal!

PPQ desserts just don’t stand a chance in this house :)

Tropical Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting



Tin Roof Cupcakes

by Shawnda on March 15, 2012

in Cakes, Cupcakes & Brownies,Chocolate

Tin Roof Cupcakes

I started out the new year on a high note, running over 20 miles during that first week and almost 100 miles in the first two months. I also made a lot cupcakes and margaritas. I might not have done them in that order, but I feel like one made the others a little better :)

So let’s talk about those cupcakes.

I adore Tin Roof ice cream – if you’ve never had it, it’s a vanilla ice cream with a rich, fudgey swirl and chocolate covered peanuts. It’s not available year-round in my favorite store brand, but when it is, we usually grab a few 1/2 gallons for the freezer, determined to make them last.

It’s a delicious failure. Every single time.

So we turned that ice cream into cupcakes: a fluffy vanilla bean cupcake (based on the 1-2-3-4 method) with a chocolate swirl, topped with swirled vanilla & chocolate buttercream frosting, and a wedge of peanut chocolate bark. Multiple components, one ridiculously indulgent cupcake.

Tin Roof Cupcakes

Fluffy vanilla bean cupcakes, swirled with chocolate, and topped with vanilla & chocolate frosting, and chocolate covered peanuts. A tip: Chop your chocolate before getting started, the recipe will flow *much* easier and quicker if you do.


  • For the cupcakes:
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 vanilla bean pod, split and scraped
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • For the chocolate swirl:
  • 3 oz dark or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp heavy cream
  • For the frostings:
  • 2 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 stick butter
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 vanilla pod, split and scraped
  • For the peanut chocolate bark:
  • 3 oz dark or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry roasted unsalted peanuts


  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners.
  3. To make the cake, add butter and sugar to the bowl of your mixer and beat on high until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. While this is mixing, jump down and make the chocolate swirl.
  4. Microwave chocolate and cream together for 1 minute.
  5. Stir, let sit for another minute, and stir again. Microwave for an additional 15-20 seconds if the mixture isn't completely melted and smooth.
  6. Add the eggs to the mixer bowl, one at a time, followed by the vanilla extract and the scrapings of half the vanilla bean pod.
  7. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together and add half of the mixture to the bowl, mixing on low until just incorporated.
  8. Add the milk, mixing until just incorporated, followed by the rest of the dry ingredients. Mix just until all of the dry ingredients are incorporated.
  9. Remove the bowl from the mixer and drizzle the chocolate over the cake batter. Using a rubber spatula or knife, swirl and fold the chocolate down into the batter a few.
  10. Scoop the batter itno the liners, ~3/4 full.
  11. Bake for 16-18 minutes, until a skewer comes out with moist crumbs attached.
  12. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then transfer to a rack to cool completely, at least 30 minutes.
  13. To make the frosting, microwave the chocolate for 1 minute, and stir until completely melted and smooth (heat for an additional 15-20 seconds if necessary). Set aside to let cool slightly.
  14. Mix butter, powdered sugar, and salt on low until mostly incorporated and then switch to high and beat for 3-4 minutes, stopping once or twice to scrape down the bowl.
  15. Add vanilla and the scrapings from the remaining vanilla pod, mixing until completely incorporated.
  16. Scoop out half of the frosting into another small bowl and set aside.
  17. With mixer on low, slowly add the melted chocolate to the mixer bowl. The chocolate should not be hot - only warm.
  18. Turn to high speed and mix for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy.
  19. Transfer frosting to a piping bag by alternating spoonfuls of vanilla and chocolate frosting.
  20. Frost completely cooled cupcakes.
  21. To make the chocolate-covered peanuts, melt remaining chocolate in the microwave for 1 minute, stirring until completely melted and smooth (heat for an additional 15-20 seconds if necessary).
  22. Stir in peanuts until completely coated.
  23. Turn mixture out onto a plate covered with plastic wrap or wax paper.
  24. Lightly spread out so that the peanuts are in a single layer.
  25. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  26. Cut or break the bark into 12 pieces and garnish the cupcakes.
  27. Leftovers will keep in a covered cake plate for ~3 days.


Yields: 12 servings

Source: Confections of a Foodie Bride

Estimated time: 2 hours



Individual Tiramisu


I’m playing catchup with last week’s Project Pastry Queen challenge: Tiramisu with Homemade Ladyfingers, chosen by Sarah of 20 Something Cupcakes.

Homemade ladyfingers are one of those things that deserve to be on everyone’s Baking Bucket List. They’re softer, more tender, and much more flavorful with a healthy dose of vanilla. They would really make a dessert like a Charlotte shine. But when making tiramisu, their job really is “just” to absorb the flavors of the espresso and mascarpone fillings. Here, the store-bought, nearly flavorless cookies do just fine.

But make them one, cross them off your list, and feel super, super accomplished. And then sweep up the half bag of powdered sugar you dropped on the kitchen floor.

And the console yourself with a glass full of tiramisu.

Individual Tiramisu

The recipe got “it’s good, but…” reviews from some of the other PPQ members last week. Having the advantage of listening to those reviews, I mostly abandoned the recipe for the soaking syrup and filling, opting to strip them down for a minimalist approach instead. The full recipe, in all it’s gigantic, boozy (Kahlua! Rum! More Kahlua!), 9×13 glory is over at 20 Something Cupcakes. It’s a doozy!

I stayed true to the recipe for the lady fingers and ended up with 5 dozen cookies (enough for 10 individual servings; I only used ~2 dozen for 4 servings and then froze the rest). The cookies are much softer than their store-bought counterparts so you have to be quick when dunking the cookies. Because I was assembling the cookies vertically, I found it better to only dunk the top half of the cookie, and then let the espresso slowly work its way down the entire cookie while the dessert is chilling in the fridge. This worked better than dunking the entire cookie because most of the espresso from the cookies that line the edge of the glasses ended up at the bottom after day 2 in the fridge while the half-dunked cookies were perfect.

The presentation with of the individual servings, while more work, is much nicer than family-style – you can see the striated layers of mascarpone and espresso-mascarpone through the sides of the cup. And the “individual” servings are actually quite generous – and amazingly, wonderfully rich. Consider sharing them with a friend.

Or not. I won’t judge.

Individual Tiramisu

Individual servings of tiramisu with alternating espresso and mascarpone fillings. And if you want - homemade ladyfingers!


  • For the soaking syrup:
  • 1/2 cup strongly-brewed coffee or espresso
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • For the filling:
  • 8 oz reduced-fat cream cheese
  • 8 oz mascarpone
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp strongly-brewed coffee or espresso
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • For assembly:
  • 4 8-oz clear plastic cups or ramekins
  • 24 ladyfingers, purchased or homemade
  • 1 oz semisweet chocolate, grated


  1. In a small bowl, mix espresso and sugar, stirring until the sugar has disolved.
  2. Set aside to cool.
  3. With your mixer, cream the mascaropone, cream cheese, vanilla, and sugar on medium-high for 3-5 minutes, until light and fluffy. The mixture should feel smooth (not gritty) when rubbed between your fingers.
  4. Remove half of the mascarpone mixture and transfer it to a smaller bowl.
  5. Add 2 Tbsp of espresso and mix well.
  6. Add 2 Tbsp milk to the remaining filling and mix (this is just to thin the filling, the type of milk - whole, skim, etc - does not matter) well.
  7. Trim the ladyfingers so that they come just below the top rim of the cups. Reserve the excess pieces. (The trimmed ends of the cookie are "the bottoms," the rounded uncut ends are "the top.")
  8. Working with one ladyfinger and one serving at a time, quickly dunk the top half of the cookie into the soaking syrup and place in the plastic cup coffee-end (top) up.
  9. Repeat with 3 more lady fingers, arranging them around the cup (if your ladyfingers are thin, you might need to use more than 4).
  10. Place one of the reserved trimmed ends of the cookies into the bottom, followed by a spoonful of the espresso filling, the plain filling, and top with more ladyfinger pieces (when you run out of trimmed pieces, tear additional ladyfingers into small pieces to fit the next layer). Repeat 2 more times to fill the cup.
  11. Sprinkle grated chocolate over the top.
  12. Repeat the process for the remaining servings.
  13. Loosely cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving.


Yields: 4 servings

Adapted from The Pastry Queen