Cakes, Cupcakes & Brownies

Individual Tiramisu

Tiramisus?

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!

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  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.

Notes

Yields: 4 servings

Adapted from The Pastry Queen

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I chose this week’s Project Pastry Queen recipe, Totally Rummy Pound Cake. It was cake + booze. Surely it would be a winner.

But if I could do it all over again, I’d go back and choose a different recipe. Because it turns out that I’m not as big a fan of rum as you’d think. Or as I’d think… Captain & Diets excluded :) And this cake has a lot – A LOT – of rum in it.

I made half a recipe (thank goodness) and baked it in a small loaf pan. It didn’t really rise much but while it baked, my kitchen smelled a whole lot like Spring Break 1998. I couldn’t bring myself to make the glaze for the cake, which called for even more rum, so I macerated some chopped strawberries with a little sugar and served it on top.

My husband graded it with a half-hearted “It’s okay I guess.” There aren’t many recipes in the book that I haven’t cared for but I guess they can’t all be winners. So now that I’ve totally sold you on the cake…

Totally Rummy Pound Cake

A dense, rummy pound cake studded with Texas pecans.

Ingredients

  • For the cake:
  • 1/2 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup dark rum
  • For the glaze:
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp dark rum

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Spray a 9-inch loaf pan with baking spray.
  3. Spread pecans on a baking sheet and bake 5-7 minutes, until browned and fragrant.
  4. Cream butter and sugar on high for 2-3 minutes, until light and fluffy.
  5. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the eggs one at a time.
  6. Add the vanilla and rum, mixing until completely combined.
  7. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl.
  8. Reduce the speed of the mixer to low and add the dry ingredients to the bowl in three additions, alternating with two additions of the sour cream.
  9. Add half of the pecans to the batter and mix well.
  10. Pour batter into the prepared loaf pan and sprinkle with remaining pecans.
  11. Bake ~40 minutes, until browned and a skewer in the center of the cake comes out with moist crumbs attached.
  12. Let cool in pan 10 minutes and then turn out onto a rack to cool.
  13. To make the glaze, heat the butter, water, lemon juice, and rum in a small pan over medium heat.
  14. Bring mixture to boil and cook for ~1 minute.
  15. Pierce the cake many times with a skewer and brush/pour the glaze of the cake. Let rest 1 hour before serving, overnight preferred.

Notes

Yields: 8 servings

Adapted from The Pastry Queen

Estimated time: 1 hour 15 minutes

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Mexican Chocolate Cake with Cinnamon Vanilla Bean Buttercream

This week’s Project Pastry Queen challenge was selected by Jen of Sweet Morris: Mexican Chocolate Fudge-Pecan Cake.

And I’ll be honest. It nearly killed me. Or at least started a day that nearly killed me.

If you learn nothing from today, make sure that you always keep your kitchen countertops clean. Especially the area surrounding your freshly frosted cake. Because you never know when a stray elbow into the side of a cake plate will send your beautiful cake flying and crashing into it.

It was an appropriate start to the day which included a pricey dessert dish shattering on the floor (totally unrelated to the cake), running out of gas on I10, and finding water dripping from the kitchen ceiling.

But at the end of the day, there was cake served out of a bowl by the scoop and grapefruit margaritas. And that made it mostly better. Until it came to the part where I had to clean up drywall dust.

I wasn’t actually going to post a picture of my sad, crumbled little cake but let’s be honest, everyone sends a cake flying at some point or the other. The cake itself is killer whether you serve it by the sad, crumbled scoop or a perfect slice. It reminds me a lot of the best chocolate cake recipe ever, Martha Stewart’s Devil’s Food Cake. It gets its deep chocolatey flavor from Dutch process cocoa and a spicy warmth from a generous dose of ground cinnamon. And it stays insanely (my apologies to those who hate the word) moist for days.

The original recipe is written for a bundt pan (or 18 cupcakes, served inverted), topped with a fudge-pecan glaze. I made half the cake recipe in 6-inch pans, reducing the sugar by 33% and replacing the buttermilk with fat free Greek yogurt. I also skipped over the glaze because I had half a batch of buttercream frosting in the freezer that I wanted to use – to which I added a well-rounded 1/4 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste to the frosting. Magical, I tell you. Completely magical.

My husband debated which was better – the cake or the frosting. My vote was cake… but it was made exponentially better with the magical frosting.

You can find the full recipe for the cake and glaze over at Sweet Morris. Next week, I’m hosting a rummy pound cake. The recipe had me at “Rum” :)

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King Cake Cupcakes

Let the good times roll, huh?

I feel like it wasn’t all that long ago, my girlfriends and I were sitting around at lunch, deciding how we were going to squeeze 8 girls into a hotel room barely big enough for 1… but cost like it should hold 39. Discussions of grabbing odds on who’d be the first Hand Grenade victim, who’d be the first back to the hotel (I wanted the bed!), and who wouldn’t stumble back ’til day break because she couldn’t remember the name of the hotel (ahem, yeah… I’m so sure that’s why she was out all night).

Only it really was that long ago. And I’ll be honest. I’m totally okay with that. Most of the time :P

King Cake Cupcakes

So I took my friend Erica’s King Cake recipe and made just a few changes to end up with King Cake Cupcakes. The dough in this recipe is on the lighter side and that made it ideal to form into individual king cakes. You get a sweet, light pastry dough that rises and domes beautifully as a cupcake. (They’re “cupcakes” in name only, they definitely have a more pastry/cinnamon roll-like texture than cake-like).

Filled with a cinnamon-cream cheese mixture and topped with a light glaze, they’re a far safer and much cheaper way to celebrate Mardi Gras.

At home.

Where there are no Hand Grenades.

King Cake Cupcakes

Cupcakes inspired by the Mardi Gras favorite: sweet pastry dough filled with cream cheese and cinnamon.

Ingredients

  • For the dough:
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 pkg (2 1/4 tsp) yeast
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 4 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 3 1/2 cups flour, plus more for dusting work surface
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Oil or cooking spray, for coating bowl
  • For the cream cheese filling:
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened (I used reduced-fat)
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 rounded tsp cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter
  • For the glaze:
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 3-4 tsp water
  • Decorating sugar in yellow, purple and green

Instructions

  1. Add water and 1 Tbsp sugar to the bowl of your stand mixer. Sprinkle yeast over top and let stand for 10 minutes. (If your yeast doesn't get puffy, don't keep going - buy new yeast.)
  2. Add melted butter, egg, egg yolk, remaining sugar, 3 cups flour, and salt, and then turn the mixer to low.
  3. Add only enough extra flour to get the dough to clean the sides of the bowl but not come completely off the bottom - it should be only slightly sticky when you touch it.
  4. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled (45 minutes-1 hour in my 100-degree oven). While dough is rising, make the filling.
  5. Place filling ingredients into the mixer bowl (minus the melted butter) and mix on medium-high until completely smooth, 1-2 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 375 and line 2 cupcake pans with 18 liners.
  7. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times.
  8. Stretch to a rectangle about 18x12 and brush with 2 Tbsp melted butter, leaving the top 1-inch dry.
  9. Spread cream cheese filling over the dough evenly, leaving the top 1-inch dry.
  10. Starting with the long side of the dough closest to you, roll jelly-roll style, pinching the last inch of the dough onto the roll and placing seam-down on the counter.
  11. Lightly pat/pull so that the roll is even diameter down its length.
  12. Trim the scraggly ends and then slice into rounds that are ~3/4-1 inch thick. Take care that they don't get any thicker than that, the rolls should sit level/just below level of the cupcake pan. Any taller and they'll grow too tall in the oven and fall over.
  13. Transfer the rounds to the cupcake pans and let rest while the oven preheats to 375.
  14. Bake ~25 minutes, until lightly browned and nicely domed.
  15. Remove from the oven and let cool ~10 minutes in the pan.
  16. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.
  17. To make the glaze, whisk powdered sugar, vanilla, and gradually add the water until you get a smooth and thick but scoopable glaze.
  18. Dip the tops of the cupcakes in the glaze (or spoon over top) and then sprinkle with decorating sugar. Like cinnamon rolls, they're best in the first 2 days. If you're bringing them to a party, ice/sugar them the night before. When stored in an airtight container for much longer than that, the sugar and glaze will begin to melt from the pastry moisture. Delicious still, just not as cute.

Notes

Yields: 18 cupcakes

Adapted from Erica's King Cake

Estimated time: 2 hours

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