Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Black Bottom Cupcakes

Dear People Who Make the Rules Regarding Use of the Trash Compactor:

You don't know me, but I think you would like me if you did. I'm very considerate. I read all those notes you post on the trash compactor about the do's and don'ts of throwing away garbage. And I do what they say.

I don't leave my bags of garbage on the ground., even though touching the handle on the door of the compactor makes me want to go take a bath in acid.

Not to mention that the door closes automatically, forcing me to choose between awkwardly holding the door open with one hand while I try to hoist my bags of trash into the compactor with the other hand, or allowing the door to rest against my shoulder so I can use two hands, which isn't really an option because I don't know what that brown stuff on the door is, but I do know I don't want it touching my shirt.

Also, I never attempt to put things that aren't considered "household garbage" in or around the compactor, even though this means I have to go out of my way to dispose of my sectional couches, old rusty swing sets, broken treadmills, and construction materials elsewhere.

But I had to draw the line somewhere. Yesterday there was a new note on the compactor. I don't remember the exact wording, but basically it said:
You can't use the compactor. We don't have to explain why. Also, you still aren't allowed to leave your trash next to the compactor. Yeah, we know that several people already did. But we also know that you have a conscience, so you're going to do the right thing. What we'd like you to do is take your three heavy bags of garbage to the dumpster on the other side of buildings 14 and 15. Oh, you don't know which buildings those are? Sorry. It was too much trouble for us to label them. When you finally find the dumpster, you might be a bit confused as to how you're supposed to put your trash inside it, considering that it's about 12 feet tall. If you look closely, you'll see there are ladders on the side of the dumpster. We're not sure how you're going to climb a ladder while holding a (did we mention heavy?) bag of garbage, but we're sure you'll figure it out.
Unfortunately, People Who Make the Rules Regarding Use of the Trash Compactor, you didn't realize that one of my garbage bags was full of used cat litter, and you therefore overestimated the influence of my conscience on my decision making in this situation. You might want to hold your breath when you dispose of that bag, along with the fifty other bags left by people without consciences.

Person Who Does the Right Thing, But Only Within Reason

You may be wondering what this has to do with Black Bottom Cupcakes. And the answer is... nothing.

Black Bottom Cupcakes have nothing to do with dumpsters or bags of used cat litter and everything to do with chocolate and cream cheese. Moist chocolate cake with rich cream cheese filling baked in the middle, and a few chocolate chips thrown in for good measure. You could certainly frost these, but I think they are delicious on their own, and they taste even better slightly chilled.

Black Bottom Cupcakes
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

For the cream cheese filling:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 ounces chocolate chips (about 1/3 cup)

For the cupcakes:

1 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar, packed
5 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin or line with paper liners.

2. Prepare the filling. Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, granulated sugar, and egg until smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips.

3. Sift together the flour, brown sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. I don't usually sift dry ingredients, but in this case it's necessary because the brown sugar will form lumps with the cocoa powder and flour.

4. In a separate bowl, combine the water, vegetable oil, vinegar, and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir just until the batter is smooth. Do not overmix.

5. Divide the batter among the muffin cups, filling each about 2/3 of the way. Add 1-2 tablespoons of the cream cheese filling to each cup. This will fill the cups almost completely.

6. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the filling turns slightly golden and the tops of the cupcakes spring back when pressed gently.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

S'more Brownies

I know. I made a huge deal about breaking up with summer last week, and this week I'm bandying about pictures of s'more brownies. I may be a hypocrite, but I'm a hypocrite with brownies... so I think I'm still coming out ahead.

The best thing about s'more brownies is that they're almost as easy as making regular s'mores. Especially if you use a boxed brownie mix. Which I'm not saying I did... but I'm also not saying I didn't. So, I guess I'm a noncommittal hypocrite. But if you have the time, I recommend using my favorite brownie recipe. Once you have the brownies taken care of, the rest will take care of itself. As long as you can open a bag of marshmallows and operate a broiler. If you can't... then I guess that makes me a judgmental, noncomittal hypocrite.

Before you make these brownies, you should be aware that there are at least two rules for eating them:
  1. You must wait until they are completely cool before you cut them. As a strong proponent of eating brownies while they're still warm, I hate asking you to do this. But if you don't, you're going to end up with a sticky marshmallow-y mess. Nobody wants that. I think a good compromise here would be to cut a small, innocuous piece out of the corner for yourself while they're still warm. No one has to know.
  2. After you cut them, you must reheat the one (or two?) you're going to eat in the microwave, or preferably the toaster oven. In order for these to taste like actual s'mores, the marshmallow has to have a crispy shell and a gooey inside. Obviously.
Those are the facts of life, s'more brownie edition. I think you can handle it.

S'more Brownies
Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

For the graham cracker crust:

3 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 24 graham crackers)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

For the brownies:

Your favorite brownie recipe, or mine

For the topping:

1 bag mini marshmallows
Additional graham crackers, broken into pieces


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9x13-inch baking pan with nonstick spray. Line the pan with two pieces of aluminum foil placed perpendicularly, one on top of the other. Allow the foil to hang over the pan about two inches on each side. Coat the foil with nonstick spray.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the graham crackers crumbs, granulated sugar, and salt. Stir in the melted butter with a spatula, making sure that all of the crumbs are moistened. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, and use a spatula to press the crumbs into an even layer. Bake the crust for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

3. While the crust is baking, prepare your chosen brownie recipe. Once the crust is finished baking, pour the brownie batter over the crust, and spread it into an even layer. Bake according to your brownie recipe's directions.

4. As soon as the brownies are finished baking, switch the oven to broil. Pour the mini marshmallows on top of the brownies and spread them into an even layer. Place the pan back in the oven for one to two minutes. Do not walk away from the oven; the marshmallows will go from toasted to burnt in a matter of seconds, so make sure you pull the pan back out as soon as the marshmallows are slightly charred.

5. Immediately after removing the pan from the oven, gently press the additional graham cracker pieces into the marshmallow layer. Cool the brownies completely before cutting into squares.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Almond Joy Bars

Dear Summer,

I'm giving up on you.

Don't feign surprise... you knew this was coming. How many times did you think you could get away with being partly cloudy? How many days of scattered showers did you think I was going to put up with?

I tried to be understanding. I didn't give you a hard time when June felt suspiciously like March. I was optimistic all through July, waiting for the day that you would finally be there for me. I even let myself start to believe in you again last week when I caught a small glimpse of the Summer I've been waiting nine months for.

But now I realize that all this time you've just been leading me on. Well, guess what? I'm not waiting around for you anymore--I'm moving on. Don't bother trying to stop me. I've already started daydreaming about The Puyallup Fair and Pumpkin Spice Lattés. I'm planning what I'm going to bake for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I'm even shopping for rainboots. I'm sorry, Summer, but it's over between us.


P.S. Don't think you can talk your way out of this. I have proof.

P.P.S. Please accept these Almond Joy Bars as a parting gift. I'd been waiting to make them until you finally came around, but I couldn't wait forever.

Almond Joy Bars
Adapted from And Now for Something Completely Delicious and Betty Crocker

For the bars:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar (13.5 ounces)
4 eggs
2 teaspoons almond extract
5 cups flour (21.2 ounces)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flaked coconut (8 ounces) + additional for topping

For the frosting:

2 cups sugar (13.5 ounces)
1 cup baking cocoa (2.8 ounces)
1 cup milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups powdered sugar (12.7 ounces)


1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour a 12x17 inch sheet pan.

2. Combine the flour, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, cream the butter with an electric mixer for about one minute. Gradually add the sugar, and continue creaming until light and fluffy, about two minutes more. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Add the almond extract and mix to combine. Gradually add the dry ingredients, and continue mixing just until incorporated. Stir in the coconut.

3. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan. Spray a piece of wax paper with nonstick spray, and use it to spread the dough evenly to the edges of the pan. You may need to re-spray the paper a few times. Use a toothpick to poke holes all over the surface of the dough; this will prevent air bubbles from forming.

4. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the bars just begin to brown. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

5. To make the frosting: In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, cocoa, milk, butter, corn syrup, and salt. Heat the mixture until it begins to boil, stirring frequently. Boil for three minutes, then remove the pan from the heat and cool for 45 minutes. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the powdered sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Once all the powdered sugar is incorporated, add the vanilla and mix for two minutes at medium speed.

6. Spread the frosting evenly over the cooled bars, and sprinkle with the additional coconut. Allow the frosting to set for about 10 minutes before slicing into bars.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever


Remember that time I said my life was complete because I had found the perfect guy, the perfect brownie recipe, and the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe? Well, it turns out I was wrong about one of those things.

But don't worry... It's the chocolate chip cookies. Stephen's still pretty perfect.

After I made what will now be referred to as the second best chocolate chip cookies ever, I didn't feel the need to try any other chocolate chip cookie recipes. I was letting sleeping dogs lie... because I know that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. And any other cliché that applies.

But lately, since I haven't had as many bricks of cash lying around as usual, I've only been able to bake things for which I already have all the ingredients. And that pretty much limits me to chocolate chip cookies.

Last week, I tried to adapt a recipe from King Arthur Flour, which I was going to share with you... but it didn't go exactly as planned:

So this week, I turned to the always trustworthy Alton Brown. And as usual, he did not disappoint. His recipe gave me everything I've ever wanted in a chocolate chip cookie but never thought I could produce at home. They're perfectly crispy on the outside, perfectly chewy on the inside, and they have the perfect ratio of white to brown sugar.

They are the best chocolate chip cookies ever... for real this time.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Alton Brown

2 & 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 egg yolks, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugars, butter, egg yolks, and vanilla extract. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and mix together just until completely combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

3. For large cookies, scoop the dough into 1/4 cup portions and space about two inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. For smaller cookies, scoop the dough into portions of about two tablespoons.

4. Bake for 15-17 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheets for about two minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

After the cookies are cool, you might also want to do this: