Chocolate Espresso Cupcakes

I am thrilled to announce that my longtime boyfriend, Chris, and I are finally getting married! After eight years together, this milestone may appear to be a bit overdue, but I'm excited all the same.

We have survived two years long distance, two separate career changes (both my own),  five moves in three cities and two states,  a masters and a doctorate degree, my first years as a high school teacher (when I rarely emerged from my work), buying our first home together, and all of the small and big moments in-between.

There are two types of marriages: cornerstone and capstone. A cornerstone marriage is one in which the marriage is the starting point, and together a life is created from that point on. A capstone marriage is one in which the marriage is the "capstone," or icing on top, to celebrate a life that has already been built together.

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Our engagement story differs from most—less romance, more practicality. We have both felt married for so long already that the actual ceremony feels more like a formality. I suppose you could say we fall firmly into the "capstone" marriage model. 

Sitting on the couch after dinner on a weeknight, the topic of marriage arose.

We should probably get married, shouldn't we?

Yeah, I think we should. But when?

From there, a wedding date was set for two months later, and the rest of the planning very quickly fell into place.

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We are having a private outdoor ceremony in our favorite arboretum with family, followed by a nice dinner at a local restaurant. I'm still not sure how we were able to find a ceremony and reception venue, photographer, officiant, and wedding dress within a week for one of the busiest wedding weekends of the year, but I am grateful. A week later we will celebrate in my hometown with friends and extended family.

With everything falling neatly into place, it feels like it was meant to be.

With nearly three weeks left until the big day, there are still dozens of small details to sort out. Instead of letting myself get overwhelmed with the planning, I'm trying to tackle one detail at a time. For the reception, I'm ambitiously planning to bake my own cupcakes to share.

While I baked hundreds of cupcakes for my sister's wedding reception a couple years ago—vanilla beanchocolate, coconut, and dulce de leche—it's a different feat to do it for my own. However, with my own dairy intolerance to manage, I find the dairy-free options from local bakeries lacking both in flavor and texture. So, into the kitchen I must go.

These chocolate espresso cupcakes are a flavor I wanted to give a spin before the big day. Chris and I adore the flavors of chocolate and coffee, so it feels natural to bring them together in this cake.

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The cupcakes are infused with chocolate by adding espresso powder and strong coffee to the batter. The frosting is made by mixing strong coffee into semisweet chocolate. The cupcakes are not overly sweet, instead focusing on the deep chocolate and coffee flavors. I topped the finished cupcakes with toffee pieces, but any type of sprinkles will work here (or feel free to keep them plain). Enjoy alongside a cup of coffee or tall glass of milk!

One Year Ago: Grandma's Chocolate Cupcakes
Two Years Ago: Blueberry Crumble Bread & Chocolate Chunk Coconut Oil Cookies (my favorite!)
Three Years Ago: S'mores Tarts, Raspberry Rhubarb Sorbet, & Banana Peanut Butter Green Smoothie
Four Years Ago: Mixed Berry Quinoa Crumble, Cookies & Cream Ice Cream, & Lavender Vanilla Bean Cake
Five Years Ago: Rhubarb Ginger Bars, Berry Cheesecake Tarts, Frozen Strawberry Bars, & Coconut Sorbet
Six Years Ago: Cherry Almond Granola, Vegan Chocolate Chunk Cookies, Cherry Cream Cheese MuffinsBlueberry Breakfast Quinoa, & Vegan Brownies
Seven Years Ago: Bizcochitos, Blueberry Hand Pies, Harry Potter Treats, Cauldron Cakes, Butterbeer, & Butterbeer Cupcakes
Eight Years Ago: Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, Mocha Frappuccino, & Roasted Cherry Coconut Ice Cream

Chocolate Espresso Cupcakes

Yield 1 dozen

1 1/2 cups (190 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (60 grams) cocoa powder
2 teaspoons espresso powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup (78 mL) vegetable oil
1 cup (240 mL) strong coffee, divided
1/2 cup (120 mL) milk of choice
6 ounces (170 grams) semi-sweet chocolate, chopped finely

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

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, espresso powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the vanilla extract, oil, 1/2 cup strong coffee, and milk. Using a spatula, mix the batter until smooth. 

Divide batter evenly between 12 baking cups (about 3/4 full). Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from baking pan and allow to cool to room temperature.

To make the chocolate espresso frosting, place chopped chocolate into a mixing bowl. Warm the remaining 1/2 cup strong coffee to boiling and pour over the chocolate. Allow it to set for 5 minutes then stir until smooth. Allow frosting to rest in the refrigerator, stirring occasionally, until it cools and thickens into a spreadable consistency (anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes).

Place frosting in a pastry bag (or plastic bag with the corner cut out) and pipe frosting onto the cooled cupcakes or spread frosting with an offset spatula. 

Cold Brew with Vanilla Almond Milk Creamer

 
This post is sponsored through a partnership with    The J.M. Smucker Company © 2017. DD IP Holder LLC  . A ll thoughts and opinions are my own.

This post is sponsored through a partnership with The J.M. Smucker Company © 2017. DD IP Holder LLC. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

 

With warmer days approaching (and the end of the school year), my mind drifts towards the slower days of summer.  I've stuffed the sweaters into the back of the closet, bringing the t-shirts front and center.

A defining line between the cold and warm months, however, is my switch from hot coffee to cold brew. 

As a teacher, I drink my fair share of coffee. My favorite moments to enjoy a cup is relaxing after a long day at work, with my feet up on the couch, or on a slow-moving weekend morning.

Lately, I've been drinking Dunkin' Donuts Cold Brew. It's easy to prepare and has a smooth finish, with no acidity or bitter taste.

On Sunday nights, I prep the cold brew by placing two coffee pouches into a two-quart pitcher with four cups of water and leave it to steep in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, I remove the pouches, add a few cups of water to dilute it to my taste, and it is ready to enjoy. Best of all, the pitcher lasts the rest of the week so the work is complete in two simple steps.

One of my favorite cold brew tricks is to freeze some of the cold brew into ice cubes after it has finished brewing. Then, when it's time to enjoy the coffee, I add a few cold brew cubes. The drink stays cold longer, and the coffee cubes prevent the drink from becoming watered down as the ice melts. 

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I prefer my cold brew with creamer to add a hint of flavor and sweetness. After finding disappointment with dairy-free brands, I set out to create my own. As I often do for a dairy-free alternative, I reached for the can of full-fat coconut milk. While homemade coconut milk creamer works well in hot beverages, the fat separates to the top when it hits a cold beverage, rendering it undrinkable.

Almonds, however, do the job and do it well.

This homemade almond milk creamer holds together well in a cold drink and lends itself to customization. To give the creamer its creaminess, I follow a similar approach as I do with my recipe for homemade almond milk. The difference is that I add less water when blending so the almond milk is concentrated. 

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With pure vanilla extract for flavor and maple syrup to sweeten to taste, this homemade almond milk creamer is complete. I adore this creamer because it mimics the coffee house experience with simple, wholesome ingredients.

The coffee creamer may appear to separate if it is left to rest, but a quick swirl of the glass will bring it back to a uniform appearance. Use as much or as little as you like in your next glass of cold brew.

 
 

This cold brew with homemade vanilla almond milk creamer works as a great afternoon pick-me-up. Brewed with Dunkin' Donuts Cold Brew Coffee Packs, the coffee has a smooth, rich finish. I prefer to enjoy it with homemade creamer flavored with vanilla and sweetened with maple syrup, but you can customize the drink to your taste. Enjoy!

One Year Ago: Strawberry Scones
Two Years Ago: Chocolate Hazelnut Rolls
Three Years Ago: Blueberry Oat Bars (GF)  & Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies (GF)
Four Years Ago: Chocolate Blackberry Cupcakes
Five Years Ago:  Sunflower Seed Bread, Blackberry Fool, Lime Curd Tart, & Honey Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Six Years Ago: Tiramisu Cake, Peanut Butter Cornmeal Cookies, Honey Wheat Cake, & Chocolate Almond Ice Cream
Seven Years Ago:  Chocolate-Filled Buns, Malted Chocolate Chip Cookies, & Parmesan Poppy Seed Crackers

Cold Brew with Vanilla Almond Milk Creamer

Yields 6 servings

1 pouch Dunkin’ Donuts Cold Brew Coffee Packs
1 cup (120 grams) raw almonds
3 1/2 cups (830 mL) filtered water, divided
3-5 tablespoons maple syrup, to taste
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

The cold brew and almond milk creamer need to be started the evening before serving.

To prepare the cold brew coffee, follow the directions according to the package.

To prepare the almond milk creamer, place almonds in a container and cover with 2 cups filtered water. Seal container and allow to soak overnight, for at least 8 hours or up to 2 days.

Strain almonds and rinse with fresh water. (The almonds release phytic acid while soaking, which prevents the body from absorbing nutrients; rinsing the almonds removes this acid.) Place almonds and 1 1/2 cups filtered water in a blender. Blend on high for 2-3 minutes. Using a nut bag, layered cheesecloth, or fine mesh strainer, strain the almond milk to remove the pulp. If using the fine mesh strainer, run the milk through several times to eliminate pulp. The leftover pulp can be used in smoothies, muffins, or bread, or it can be dehydrated and used in the same manner as almond flour. Add maple syrup and vanilla extract to the almond milk.

Keep the almond milk creamer refrigerated. It should stay fresh for 5 to 7 days. The creamer may undergo separation in the refrigerator. Give the creamer a good shake and it will come back together quickly.

To prepare the cold brew coffee drink, place prepared cold brew in a glass with ice and add almond milk creamer to taste. For best results, freeze some of the cold brew into ice cubes in advance. This method keeps the cold brew chilled and prevents it from getting watered down as the ice melts.


©The J.M. Smucker Company © 2017. DD IP Holder LLC

Coffee Eclairs

Pastries are my first love. When I lived in Montreal, the scents of butter and yeast swirled out onto the sidewalks, luring me into the small pâtisseries. I could rarely resist. Naturally, baking became my second love, which developed from a desire to create that which I first loved.

In partnership with King Arthur Flour, each month I want to challenge you with a new recipe to help you grow and develop as a baker. This month we're taking on coffee éclairsa classic French pastry merged with the American love of caffeine.  Eclairs feature a pastry shell filled with custard and glazed with chocolate. The name éclair comes from the French for "flash of lightning," an apt name because the pastries are often eaten "in a flash."

The pastry shell of an éclair is pâte à choux or choux pastry. Choux pastry forms the base of many popular desserts, including cream puffs, profiteroles, crullers, and gougères. The pastry consists of butter, water, flour, salt, sugar, and eggs, but the technique in which they are combined makes all the difference.

Unlike most pastries, choux is cooked on the stove before it is baked. Choux starts by bringing the butter and water to a boil. The flour is added and stirred until uniform, as shown in the top left photo. It has a resemblance to dry mashed potatoes. The choux is placed back on the stove and stirred constantly for 2-3 minutes. As the pastry loses moisture, it will begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and form a ball. The dough will also form a film on the bottom of the pan, a starchy layer from the flourthis is a good sign. When the dough looks like the image in the top right, it is done.

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The batter should cool for several minutes before the eggs are mixed in to prevent scrambling them. When the eggs are added one at a time, the dough and egg will look like they will never combine, but after enough mixing, the batter will become smooth. While you can use a mixer to do this step, I prefer to do it by hand. Using the same pot creates fewer dirty dishes and a little elbow grease never hurt anyone.

The batter is the correct consistency when it forms a V-shape on the end of a spatula. It should drip off very slowly. If the batter is not dripping, add water, a tablespoon at a time, until it reaches the right consistency.

Place the choux in a piping bag with a large tip. The éclairs can be piped with a star or round tip (I used a 1 M). I prefer the star tip because the ridges make the éclairs easier to hold when filling and glazing. Eclairs are typically piped so they are 4 inches long and 1 inch wide. In order to make the eclairs uniform, I create a guide by using a ruler to draw 4-inch lines on parchment paper. Keep the lines at least 2 inches apart and make sure to flip the parchment upside down so the ink does not bleed onto the pastry.

When piping, keep the bag at a 45 degree angle to the surface, but do not touch the surface. When you reach the end, stop the pressure and bring the tip back over the pastry, folding the remainder over onto itself (as shown above). Don't worry about having a perfect shape here. The choux loses much of its shape when it puffs in the oven.

You will know the choux has finished baking when it has a uniform dark brown color. This is often a shade darker than you think it should be. If it’s too light in color, the pastry will have a gummy interior, which you definitely do not want. When finished, the oven is turned off, the door is cracked, and the choux is left for another 15 minutes to dry.

Pastry cream is made in a similar method to pudding (in fact, pastry cream is actually just a rich pudding). Sugar plays an interesting role in the creation. Whole milk and half of the sugar are brought to a boil over medium-high heat. The sugar increases the boiling point of the milk which makes it less likely to burn when heating. In a separate bowl, the remaining ingredients are whisked together. The remaining sugar helps prevent the flour from clumping  when mixed with the milk.

Once the milk has boiled, pour a small amount into the egg mixture and whisk to bring up the temperature of the egg mixture. This process tempers the eggs and prevents them from scrambling when added back to the hot milk. The pastry cream should be cooked at a full boil for at least one minute in order to thicken. When it is the consistency of pudding, it should be removed from the heat and run through a fine mesh strainer to remove any lumps. The pastry cream should be refrigerated before using. While this pastry cream is coffee flavored, you can leave out the espresso powder for a vanilla flavor.

The pastry cream can be made several days in advance as long as it is kept airtight in the refrigerator.

The éclairs are coated in a glaze of chocolate ganache. The ganache is made by pouring near boiling cream over chopped chocolate. The mixture is allowed to set for at least 5 minutes before stirring to encourage even melting. Espresso powder is added to enhance the flavor of the chocolate. This recipe makes more than you'll need for the eclairs, but I prefer to have extra when dipping to make the process easier. The leftover ganache can be rolled into truffles, drizzled over baked goods, or eaten by the spoonful.

The chocolate ganache can also be made several days in advance. Warm the chocolate before using.

To assemble the éclairs, use a sharp knife to poke a hole into both ends of the pastry shell. With a pastry bag filled with the chilled pastry cream, pipe the filling into both ends. You'll be tempted to overfill the pastries, but you don't want to do it. When overfilled, the pastry cream will leak out every time the pastry is handled, causing a mess everywhere (I speak from experience). If you hold the pastry up to the light while filling, you can see the cream fill the pastry and it makes it easier to get the right amount.

The tops of the éclairs are then dipped into the melted chocolate. Make sure you use a bowl that's at least 5-6 inches in diameter to make dipping easier. Let the chocolate set before serving; it happens faster in the refrigerator.

These éclairs are a classic French pastry with a coffee twist. The pastry shell is made from choux pastry, which puffs and hollows in the oven. The interior is filled with a rich coffee pastry cream and glazed with dark chocolate. Most of the work for the éclairs can be done several days in advance, making the assembly a quick maneuver. Serve to friends and family and celebrate your own love of pastry.

One Year Ago: Chocolate Raspberry Tarts
Two Years Ago: Chocolate Almond Biscotti
Three Years Ago: Pomegranate White Wine Panna Cotta, Toasted Almond Cookies, and Coconut Raisin Granola
Four Years Ago: Beer Bread, Baked Tortilla Chips, Roasted Pepper Feta Scones, and Chocolate Rum Cake (GF)
Five Years Ago: Banana Bread Oatmeal and Chocolate Blueberry Ice Cream

Coffee Eclairs

Yields 2 dozen

Dough
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter
1 cup (250 mL) water
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (120 grams) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
4 large eggs

Filling
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar, divided
1/4 cup (40 grams)
King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 tablespoon espresso powder
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups (415 mL) whole milk

Glaze
8 ounces (225 grams) Valrhona dark chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup (250 mL) heavy cream
1 teaspoon
espresso powder

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).

For the dough, combine the butter, water, sugar, and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove pan from heat, add the flour, and stir until uniform. Return to heat and continue stirring. In 2-3 minutes, when the dough visibly pulls away from the sides of the pan, forms into a ball, and forms a film on the bottom of the pan, remove from heat. Let dough cool in pan for 4-5 minutes.

Add the eggs one at a time, using a spatula to beat them in, making sure the first egg is completely incorporated before continuing. Once all the eggs have been incorporated and the mixture is smooth, put the dough into a piping bag fitted with a large star or round tip. Pipe the dough into 4-inch long, 1-inch wide tubular shapes on parchment-lined sheet pans. Bake for 25 minutes, or until uniformly brown in color. Turn oven off and crack open the door, drying out the shells for an additional 15 minutes.

For the filling, whisk together 1/4 cup sugar, flour, espresso powder, eggs, egg yolks, vanilla extract, and salt. Set aside.

Place the milk and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Immediately remove from heat. Temper the egg mixture with the milk and return back to the saucepan. Bring back to a boil, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens into a pudding consistency. Remove from heat and refrigerate until needed.

For the glaze, bring the heavy cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Immediately remove from heat and pour over chopped chocolate, allowing the chocolate to melt for 5 minutes before stirring until smooth and uniform. Stir in espresso powder. Set aside.

To assemble, place pastry cream in a pastry bag with a small round tip. Using a sharp knife, puncture a small hole at both ends of the eclairs. Pipe pastry cream into both ends; take care not to overfill. Dip tops of éclairs in chocolate glaze and allow to set until chocolate firms. Keep refrigerated.

This post is sponsored through a partnership with King Arthur Flour. All thoughts and opinions are my own.