Grandma's Chocolate Cupcakes

My grandmother recently passed away. After a two and a half year long battle with cancer, it was expected, but it was still difficult for my family to say goodbye. Can you truly prepare yourself for losing someone you love? My grandmother was such a strong figure in our family, both humble and hardworking. She will be greatly missed.

During my childhood, my sister and I would spend our winter breaks on my grandparent's farm. Our early mornings were occupied by painting ceramic figurines, using leftover paints from my grandmother's days of painting alongside The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross. Our afternoons were spent building snow caves in the large snow drifts in the yard. When we could no longer feel the tips of our noses, we ran inside to be greeted by my grandmother's handmade quilts, hot from the dryer. In the evenings, we would cuddle up in the same bed and she would read us books. Even when we grew too old for bedtime stories, we would insist anyway, enjoying the familiar tales of Rabbit and Skunk, and the silly voices my grandmother gave the characters.

Most significantly, my grandmother passed down her love of baking to me. Since I was very young, I watched her create complex German meals from scratch: kneading bread dough to make buns, rolling out dough for strudels, whipping the filling for her chocolate pudding pies. As I grew, she taught what she knew about food. As a dedicated home cook, she opened her kitchen to me, letting me work alongside her. She was a no-fuss kind of woman, never minding when I accidentally ripped holes in the strudel dough or flip the frying "shoop" noodles too soon. Instead, she would guide me to do better on the next batch. In many ways, she laid down a foundation of knowledge on food, helping me discover my love and passion for baking.

When I learned of my grandmother's passing, I pulled my personal cookbook off the shelf, filled with her handwritten recipes. I paged through the book, pausing on each recipe, remembering the moments we shared making and eating those dishes together. The last recipe in the book was her recipe for chocolate cupcakes, the memories of which made me laugh. 

My grandmother was known in our family for her chocolate cupcakes, which appeared at every holiday and family gathering. It was general knowledge that her cupcakes had a secret ingredient. My sister and I would constantly beg and plead her to tell us the secret, but her response was always the same: when you grow older. Finally, when I reached my fourteenth birthday, I was deemed old enough. She took me aside and whispered the name of the mystery ingredient—a good cup of strong coffee—and told me I wasn't to tell a soul. I happily lorded this secret over my younger sister for years

I made her chocolate cupcakes on that sad morning, hoping to keep the memories of my grandmother close, baking them to share with my grieving family. I'm sharing her recipe—and secret ingredient—with you today. Above all, my grandmother believed food creates community; food is what brings us and binds us together. Food is love. Our recipes tell the stories of our love.

When you find a moment, bake and share these cupcakes with your loved ones. Create moments to remember and hold dear long after the cupcakes have disappeared. 

My grandmother's chocolate cupcakes have a chocolate base reminiscent of a moist, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth devil's food cake. The frosting is cooked down on the stove, made with butter, sugar, marshmallows, and chocolate chips. After the frosting cools down and is whisked for a lighter texture, it's spread onto the cupcakes. My family prefers to eat the cupcakes straight from the refrigerator, where the frosting is firm and chilled, but feel free to serve them at room temperature based on your own preference (though my father will disagree with your decision on this). 

One Year Ago: Blueberry Crumble Bread
Two Years Ago: S'mores Tarts & Raspberry Rhubarb Sorbet
Three Years Ago: Chocolate Espresso Custard, Mixed Berry Quinoa Crumble, & Cookies & Cream Ice Cream
Four Years Ago:  Boozy Margarita Cake, Double Chocolate Muffins, Rhubarb Ginger Bars, & Dill Dinner Rolls
Five Years Ago: Lavender Lemonade, Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes, Cherry Almond Granola, & Vegan Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Six Years Ago: Cinnamon Raisin Baked French Toast, Chocolate Almond Oat Bars, Bizcochitos, & Quinoa Pudding
Seven Years Ago: Chocolate Chip Raisin Oatmeal Cookies

Grandma's Chocolate Cupcakes

Yields 2 dozen

Chocolate Cupcakes
2/3 cup (155 mL) vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
1 cup (250 mL) buttermilk
2 cups (240 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (43 grams) cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (250 mL) strong coffee

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line a cupcake pan with liners.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together vegetable oil, egg, granulated sugar, and buttermilk until uniform. Whisk in flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt alternatively with the strong coffee until smooth.

Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full and bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

Chocolate Frosting
1/4 cup (56 grams) butter
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
6 standard or 60 mini (42 grams) marshmallows
1/4 cup (60 mL) water
1/2 cup (85 grams) semi-sweet chocolate chips

In a large saucepan over medium heat, whisk together butter, sugar, marshmallows, and water. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and remove from heat. Whisk in chocolate chips until melted. Cool the frosting in the refrigerator, whisking energetically every few minutes until it reaches a spreadable texture (approximately 15-20 minutes).

Frost cooled cupcakes and serve. Store in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator, depending on preference. 

Banana Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes

There are a dozen or so recipes that are regarded as family recipes in my home, passed down from earlier generations. Among those held most dear are our honey cookies, which grace the dessert table when the holidays arrive, and my Grandmother Irene's orange rolls, which are made when the snow melts and stand for the hallmark beginning of spring. As I've grown older, I've quietly added a few of my mother's recipes to this coveted list, the recipes that I remember most from childhood. 

And that is what brings me to this banana cake.

My mother originally found her recipe in an old church cookbook. Written by a friend of my grandmother, the cake had just six ingredients—sugar, sour cream, eggs, flour, baking soda, and bananas. My mother played around with the basic recipe, adding an unavoidable chocolate glaze (or chocolate chips in a pinch). Eventually shortening was added to give the cake a source of fat, which produced less of a bread-like texture and more like the feel of a cake. 

After I took hold of the recipe, I couldn't help myself from giving it my own twist and took it through a few more iterations before reaching this point. The spirit of the original, however, is just the same. 

The cake is made with shortening, which may be an unusual choice in the age of "butter is best," but I can assure you that it is the right choice. Shortening gives the cake a bit of heft, the feel of a peanut butter sandwich against the roof of your mouth, without weighing the cake down. Butter is just not capable of this texture in the same situation. The addition of sour cream and buttermilk ensure the cake has a tender crumb. It is the banana cake I remember, in its purest form.

As you know by now, I can never leave anything alone for long. I filled the cupcakes with homemade chocolate hazelnut spread (though the brand name alternative would also suit). For the pièce de résistance, the cupcake is topped with a banana buttercream. A fresh banana is beat into the frosting with a little lemon juice to prevent browning. The subsequent flavor is so true and vibrant I wondered why I haven't been doing this from the beginning.

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Banana Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes is one of the evolutions of my mother's banana cake. The cake itself is rich in crumb and flavor, but the sweetness does not overwhelm. Filled with chocolate hazelnut spread, the chocolate complements, but does not overpower the subtle flavor of the banana. Topped with a banana buttercream, the banana flavor is confirmed once more, providing a light texture contrast to the cake. 

One Year Ago:  Coconut Macaroons and Honey Almond Quinoa Granola
Two Years Ago: Coconut Whipped Cream, Chocolate Candied Ginger Biscotti,  Banana Cinnamon Pancakes, and Raspberry Cream Cheese Lemon Cupcakes
Three Years Ago: Chocolate Toffee Scones, Rosemary Sea Salt Crackers, Grapefruit Cake, and Chocolate Caramel Crispy Bars
Four Years Ago: Coconut Cream Cupcakes, Yeasted Waffles, Italian Breadstick Popcorn, and Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

 

Banana Cupcakes with Chocolate Hazelnut Filling and Banana Frosting

Yields 2 dozen cupcakes

Banana Cupcakes with Chocolate Hazelnut Filling
1/2 cup (100 grams) shortening, room temperature
1/2 cup (100 grams) white sugar
3/4 cup (150 grams) brown sugar
2 large eggs
3 medium to large overripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup (115 grams) sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups (315 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (120 ml) buttermilk
1 cup (280 grams) chocolate hazelnut spread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line cupcake pan with liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the shortening and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the mashed bananas, sour cream, and vanilla extract. 

Alternatively add and beat in the flour mixture and buttermilk in 3 additions, starting and ending with the flour. Fill baking liners 3/4 full with batter. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before filling and frosting.

To fill, use a sharp knife (or cupcake corer) to cut out a small cavity in the center of the cupcake. I run the knife in a circular motion, while always pointing the knife towards the center of the cupcake. Aim for the cavity to be cone shaped. Using a pastry bag filled with chocolate hazelnut spread, fill the cupcake with the spread until nearly to the top. Cut the top off the cupcake piece you removed and press it back on the cupcake to seal the filling.

Banana Frosting
1 large ripe banana, mashed (about 1/2 cup)*
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup (113 grams) butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 1/4 to 4 cups (400-500 grams) powdered sugar
Banana chips (for garnish)

In a small bowl, mash the banana with the lemon juice until very smooth. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter until smooth. Add the mashed banana, vanilla, and salt and continue beating until uniform. Gradually add the powdered sugar, stopping once a spreadable texture has been reached. Fill a pastry bag and pipe or spread frosting on the cupcakes. Garnish with a banana chip and crushed banana chip pieces.

* The banana should be ripe enough to eat, but contain no brown spots (it will stain the buttercream). If you do encounter a brown spot, cut it fully out of the banana before mashing.

Raspberry Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes

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The first signs of spring are arriving—slowly, ever so slowly, but surely. Living in the Upper Midwest, you might guess it to be the middle of winter if you took a peek outside my living room window. With twelve foot snow piles dotted around the buildings and snow drifts so tall it is difficult to see around intersections when driving a car, it certainly does not feel like the first day of spring has already come and gone. Just a few days ago, Mother Nature dropped the temperatures into negative digits once more; I have become so accustomed to the cold that I don't even wrap a scarf around my neck or reach for a hat before walking out the door.

It is hard for me to imagine that April is right around the corner.

There is a ray of hope in all this snow, however, and it comes in the form of sunshine. Growing ever stronger, the rays are bright and warm in the sky, melting the snow and brightening the early morning hours even when the air is cold. When the light begins to fade at eight o'clock in the evening, I can scarcely believe my eyes (eight o'clock!). These small signs assure me that spring is near, even if it feels so far away right now.

When I was perusing the shelves of my local supermarket last weekend, I noticed that raspberries were on sale. While I know winter berries are not as vibrant in color or in flavor, I could not help but add a couple pints into my cart. After surviving on citrus fruits and apples since the advent of fall, I needed a little sweetness in my life in the form of a red, ripe berry.

Inspired by one of my favorite cupcake recipes, I swapped out the blueberries for red raspberries and a hint of lemon. A simple cream cheese frosting ties the flavors together. As with most of the sweets I bake in my kitchen, I feel they should be shared with others who may find a bit of happiness in a big bite. I took them to a gathering of friends and watched them disappear over the course of the evening. As I saw people reach for seconds (and thirds), I felt certain you would fall in love with them just as effortlessly.

In many ways, I feel as if this cupcake represents the transition between two places, between winter and spring. While the seasonal lemon is bright and fresh, ripe raspberries will be here sooner than I dare to believe—the merging of two seasons.

Raspberry Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes are vibrant, fresh, and perfect for the arrival of spring. A vanilla cupcake batter is infused with lemon zest, lemon juice, and few handfuls of red raspberries. The sweetness of the cupcake is countered by the tart fruits and the bold tang of the cream cheese frosting. Decorated with a few fresh raspberries, these simple cupcakes become a sophisticated dessert destined to be shared.

One Year Ago: Arborio Rice Pudding
Two Years Ago: Orange Scones

Raspberry Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes

Yields about 18 cupcakes

Raspberry Lemon Cupcakes
3/4 cup (169 grams) granulated sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick or 57 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
1/3 cup (76 grams) sour cream (or plain, non-fat yogurt)
1/4 cup (59 ml) vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups (175 grams) cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice from 1/2 lemon
2/3 cup milk
1 1/2 cups (9 ounces or 255 grams) fresh raspberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line a cupcake pan with baking cups.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the sugar and lemon zest with your fingers until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes). Add the butter and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the sour cream, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract. Gradually add in the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix in the milk and lemon juice, stirring until batter is uniform and smooth. Gently stir in the raspberries.

Fill baking cups about 2/3 full and bake for 16-18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven, transfer cupcakes to a cooling rack, and allow to cool to room temperature before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces (227 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup (1/2 stick or 57 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups (500 grams) powdered sugar

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Beat in the salt and vanilla. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar. If frosting is too soft, add more powdered sugar until it reaches a spreadable consistency. Likewise, if the frosting is too stiff, add milk until it reaches a spreadable consistency.

Before serving, pipe or spread frosting on top of cooled cupcakes and decorate with a few fresh raspberries, if desired. If cupcakes will sit out more than a day, keep refrigerated in an airtight container to help preserve them. Serve at room temperature.