After twenty-nine years of living with myself, I have come to realize that I’m a girl who likes a plan. I make plans and I keep them, if possible, and I get upset if anyone messes with my plans. For example, if my Mom invites us to dinner at 5, I, rather foolishly at this point, plan to be eating dinner at 5. Usually we eat 1-2 hours later than the appointed time because Mom is only halfway through her five-hour bath and my sisters and I have to do the cooking. Thus, I’m often upset when attending a dinner at my parents’ house.
Well, a couple weeks ago I learned that an old friend from high-school was coming to town for spring break and I invited her to come over to dinner on the 15th. She agreed and also put in an order for a chocolate peanut butter cake for her brother-in-law’s birthday. So I planned to get the house clean over the next couple weeks (including things like dusting and cleaning the mirrors, which gets done less than monthly if I’m being honest), make our dinner the night before so that I could pop it in the oven right after I got off work on Monday and it would be ready exactly when she showed up. I had a plan, and it was good.
Then another friend asked me if I could keep her dog over the same weekend that I had planned to be cleaning, making a cake and making a dinner. This messed with my plan but it wasn’t a big deal so I readily agreed.
Then my little sister asked me if I could keep my 4-year-old nephew, Owen, on Saturday because she had to work and her husband would be busy moving their stuff into their new house. OK, this was a bigger deal but if I got the grocery shopping done on Friday night after work and managed to get the house clean by the weekend, I could probably get the cake & dinner made on Sunday before the morning and evening Church services, which would leave my Saturday free to frolic with my nephew. I could handle it but was starting to get edgy.
Then, on Thursday, another friend asked if she could leave her dog with me on Saturday since she was unexpectedly scheduled for overtime. This dog is a digger and our house would be harder to keep clean with him and his muddy paws around, but she always keeps our dog when we need her to so I couldn’t refuse. Besides, I was already keeping one dog, so why not two?
Then things got serious. And bad. One of my dearest friends called me to let me know she was coming to town because her mother was brain-dead, on life-support, and they were going to have to pull the plug. She was coming home to say good-bye to her Mother. This made all my stress over getting the house clean seem petty and my heart just broke for her. But still, the part of me that likes plans was unnerved. I wanted to see my friend and comfort her but how could I fit it all in?
I found out through an update on her sister’s Facebook page that they were in need of food and immediately responded, letting her know I could make at least one meal for them. I would just double the enchilada recipe I was going to make for the other friend. Then Jaci called me and made a tearful request for me to supply the desserts for the dinner after her mother’s funeral. I said yes, of course. I would have done anything I could to help and if cupcakes eased her burden or lifted her spirits in the slightest, I was willing to make enough of them for all the guests, which she estimated wouldn’t be more than 100.
Just one problem. Due to the timing of everything, I would have to make the cupcakes Saturday. And Saturday was the day I would have two dogs (three, counting my own) and a small boy running through the house, commanding most of my attention.
Like I said, I like a plan, and changing my plan five times over the course of several days very close to the span of time it was going to play out…stressed me out. I hate to admit that since it makes me sound small and petty & ridiculous in light of the enormity of my friend’s trauma and grief, but it’s the truth, even if I don’t like it. I also really don’t like cramming that many things into a weekend but it couldn’t be helped so I sucked it up and asked my husband to help because I knew I wouldn’t be able to do everything by myself. And, Godsend that he is, he did.
On Saturday, I took my nephew shopping for a few baking supplies (we also somehow ended up with a puzzle and some plastic chicks filled with Play-Doh) and he “helped” me with the first batch of cupcakes. Helped as in poured batter all over the floor.
Although he was absolutely delightful and adorable, I couldn’t take the pressure of trying to bake and watch/entertain him at the same time. Dennis swooped in like an angel and played games with him indoors and out and then took him to a McDonald’s PlayPlace for TWO WHOLE HOURS and I not only got 120+ cupcakes made, I also had time to bake and freeze the cake layers for the chocolate peanut butter cake.
I was able to get the cake & copious amounts of enchiladas made on Sunday afternoon, almost in time to meet Jaci for dinner at 7:00. Yes, I was late, which usually would have upset me, but I let myself get away with it this time. It was so good to see her, even under the circumstances, and I think the hugs and chatting face-to-face did us both some good since we’ve only seen each other twice since her family moved several years ago. There were wet eyes but no shed tears–we were too happy to be with our friends. Since the bulk of my to-do list was checked off and I could enjoy my time there with her, it turned out to be a therapeutic evening for both of us.
Needless to say, I didn’t get to the dusting or window-washing like I had planned,but by the time Heather came over for dinner on Monday, I was too relieved and happy to see her, too happy to eat my favorite enchiladas with green rice, to care. I love it when a plan comes together.
OK, so how about those recipes for the the cupcakes? If you made it this far into the blog, I’m sure you’ve worked up an appetite and you deserve a treat!
For starters, feast your eyes on this:
The first two dozen were banana cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, sprinkled with black walnuts. I’ve posted that recipe before and you can find it here.
The third dozen was Turtle Brownie Cups, which I pretty much made up on the spot out of desperation. Come to think of it, these are all my own recipes (some inspired by forgotten recipes found online & in mags during the past several years) except for the Brownie Cakes. I hardly ever post any of my own recipes, and never so many at once. I hope you like them!
TURTLE BROWNIE CUPS
1 fudge brownie mix
1 stick melted butter
1/4 cup water
1 cup dulce de leche
heavy cream, as needed
24 pecan halves
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and put paper liners in a 12-cup muffin pan. Now this part is important: Spray lightly with oil. I forgot to, maybe I was distracted (you think?), and the brownies got really stuck to the liners. Yup, for future reference, brownie batter sticks to paper liners if you don’t lightly spray them with cooking spray first. I knew this but my brain was operating on a reduced number of brain cells at that point (I think some of them were rocking back and forth in straight jackets inside the padded cell of my skull).
OK, whip up the brownie mix with the melted butter and water until well mixed. Scoop the batter into the muffin cups, filling them about half full. Put a teaspoon or two of cold or room temp dulce de leche on top of each brownie cup. Bake for 20 minutes or until they’re as done as you like ’em. I like ’em fudgy but my brain cells weren’t working right, as we’ve already established, and I baked them for half an hour so they were little overdone. Dang it, I hate it when I do that!
Take them out and let them cool completely, then use some dulce de leche to glue on two pecan halves to each top. You can either warm the remaining dulce de leche and drizzle it on over the tops of the brownie cups, or mix in a little cream to keep it from drying out if you won’t be serving them for over 24 hours. I did some crazy concoction with dulce de leche, a little caramel frosting, and a little cream.
*Veronica’s notes: You could also make these using wrapped caramels (but you’d want to unwrap them of course), placing one on top of the batter before baking and then melting some more to drizzle over the top. I just happened to have dulce de leche and used that.
The next dozen is a recipe I adapted from my friend, Kim D., and it’s a glorious combination of brownie and cheesecake in a cupcake liner. I did forget to spray these liners with oil as well, and I also overbaked them. But I have made them properly before and can attest that they are stupendous. I always use dark chocolate brownie mix with this recipe.
1 box brownie mix
1/4 cup water
1 stick (1/2 cup) melted butter
1 cup (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
ganache (optional–see note)
Preheat oven to 350 and line 16 muffin cups with liners. Spray them lightly with oil (!). In medium bowl, stir together brownie mix, water, oil and egg until well mixed. Spoon batter into cups, filling 1/2 – 2/3 full. Using mixer, beat cream cheese, sugar, egg and vanilla on medium for 1 minute. For each cupcake, place rounded tablespoon of mixture on top of brownie batter on one side (don’t spread or you will get an earthquake surface where the brownie makes the cheesecake layer crack when it rises). Bake 28-32 minutes. Makes 16 cupcakes.
*Veronica’s notes: If you want, you can make a ganache to drizzle over the tops. It isn’t necessary since the brownies add enough chocolate flavor, but it makes them pretty. Just follow the recipe for ganache in the “Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes” below.
The next two dozen I decided to use up the leftover whipped caramel ganache I had used on a birthday cake (frosting freezes well in an airtight container–I’ve kept it this way up to a year with no bad effects). That birthday cake, ironically enough, was for Jaci’s sister, so although Jaci couldn’t be here for Liz’s birthday to enjoy the cake she ordered for her, she was able to taste the frosting on cupcakes at her Mom’s funeral dinner. It sounds very bittersweet, but I hope that the cupcakes brought her a moment of small happiness on such a grief-stricken day in her life. I know just looking at a cupcake makes me happy–doesn’t it make you happy?
CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES WITH WHIPPED CARAMEL GANACHE
Easy Sour Cream Chocolate Cake:
1 dark chocolate fudge cake mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup water
1/2 recipe Whipped Caramel Ganache
1/2 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 and line 24 muffin cups with paper liners. Mix the cake ingredients on medium for two minutes, scraping sides of bowl. Fill muffin cups 1/2 – 2/3 full (I prefer half full so that the tops just barely dome above the liner but fill fuller for bigger cupcakes. If you have extra batter, you can just set it aside and use it to make more cupcakes once the first batch comes out. It works–I promise–I did it with two of my cupcake batters that day). Bake for 17-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of largest cupcake comes out clean. Let cool in pans for five minutes, then remove to cooling racks. Cool completely, then pipe or spread the whipped ganache over the tops and sprinkle some mini chocolate chips over the ganache, if desired.
Next I made my favorite cupcakes in terms of prettiness. My favorite as far as taste goes is the lemon one that will come last, but only because I have a fondness for this particular lemon frosting and because I’ve been yearning for spring and those seem to herald it. These cupcakes are based on my dark chocolate raspberry cake, but the recipe for the cake part is new–I just kind of threw it together and it I’m really proud of the result. These muffins weren’t just dark, they were BLACK but weren’t bitter in the slightest and hand a crumb so moist and tender, I couldn’t believe I was responsible for creating it. Forgive me my moment of self-pride, but I don’t often come up with my own recipes and when I do and they are this good, I get excited!
DARK CHOCOLATE RASPBERRY CUPCAKES
1 dark chocolate fudge cake mix
½ c dutch process cocoa powder (Hershey’s Special Dark works)
¼ c granulated sugar
½ c oil
1 c sour cream
1 c water
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
2 lbs powdered sugar
¼ c seedless raspberry preserves
2 T raspberry liqueur OR 3 t raspberry extract
¼ c heavy cream
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate
30-40 fresh raspberries (a half-pint will suffice)
Preheat oven to 350. Put paper liners in two 12-cup muffin tins & set aside.
Beat cake ingredients on low until moistened, then on medium speed for two minutes, scraping sides of bowl. Fill lined muffin tins almost to the top, or 2/3 full and save extra batter to make 3-4 more cupcakes once the first batch comes out of the oven. If you want smaller cupcakes and more of them, fill them 1/2 full and you can get 6-10 more cupcakes out of the second baking cycle. There will be enough frosting for all. Bake for 17-20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of largest cupcake comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs.
Remove from oven and cool in tins for 5 minutes, then remove onto cooling rack to cool completely. If you have extra batter, put liners in another pan, fill, and bake them while the first batch is cooling.
Meanwhile, make the frosting. Cream the butter and cream cheese, then beat in the remaining ingredients. Pipe or spread over COOLED cupcakes.
Prepare the ganache: place the cream and chocolate in a double boiler over medium heat and stir until melted, shiny & smooth. Allow to cool to room temperature, I think it only took a few minutes b/c it won’t be very hot to begin with, then drizzle over cupcakes with a pastry bag or a spoon or fork. Place a fresh raspberry on top and refrigerate until ready to serve.
OK, now for my favorite! I actually prefer to put this frosting on white cupcakes but this time I put it on lemon cupcakes since I had a lemon cake mix in the cupboard. Just bake up your choice of cupcakes and top them with this frosting. If you want to get a little fancy, you can pipe a teaspoon or two of raspberry or strawberry preserves (or even lemon curd if you don’t mind a double or triple lemon shot-depending on what kind of cupcake you used) into the tops of the cooled cupcakes so they are filled!
ZESTY LEMON FROSTING
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 lb powdered sugar
milk as needed
Yellow food coloring (optional)
From lemons, grate the peel and squeeze ¼ cup juice. Cream the butter until smooth, then add the grated peel, lemon juice, sugar, and 2 tablespoons of milk. Beat until smooth & creamy, adding additional milk as necessary to reach your desired consistency. Increase speed to medium-high; beat until light and fluffy. If desired, beat in enough yellow food coloring or icing paste color to tint a pale yellow. As you can see from the picture, I didn’t tint the frosting b/c I wanted a contrast between the color of the cupcakes and the color of the frosting. When I use white cupcakes, I tint the frosting. I guess I think all one color is boring.
OK, that’s it, folks! Let me know if you try any of the cupcakes–I love feeback.