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These are some very serious cupcakes. You’re almost certainly going to have to go to the store before you can make them. They require you to make your own caramel. You’re going to have to wash a small mountain of dishes. But they are mighty. I used them to bribe people to help me move (it worked); I gave a couple of leftovers to my new mama friend, the one whose baby brought you those tasty, tasty cookies.

chocolate cupcake with salted caramel frosting.jpg

The mightiness of these cupcakes comes in many forms. First, there’s the one-two punch of melted chocolate plus cocoa powder. There’s the knock-you-upside-the-head richness created by over a pound of butter and the better part of a dozen eggs. But the richness somehow manages to mesh perfectly with a lightly-textured cake, and if you can stop eating the caramel with your fingers…well, you’re a better person than I am.

By the way, this recipe is being posted just a few days after I cooked it (not my usual MO) because my Dad specifically wrote to me to ask where it was. And also so that after you eat six of them, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.

Chocolate cupcakes with salted caramel frosting
Adapted from Cupcake Blog. The original is well worth checking out: it has a sneaky method for making a batch that’s half regular and half gluten-free cupcakes, as well as much snappier styling than what I’ve got.

For the cupcakes:
7 oz. bittersweet chocolate
3 sticks butter (that’s 1 1/2 c.)
2 1/4 c. sugar
8 eggs
1 1/4 c. flour
4 T. cocoa powder
1 1/2 t. baking powder
pinch salt

For the salted caramel
4 T. water
1 c. sugar*
2 T. Lyle’s Golden Syrup**
1/2 c. heavy cream
2 T. butter
1/2 t. lemon juice***
1/2 t. fine-grain sea salt

For the frosting:
2 sticks butter (1 c.)
8 oz. cream cheese (regular or reduced-fat; not fat-free!)
3-4 c. powdered sugar

Before you start:
Put the butter and cream cheese for the frosting on the counter to soften.

Make the cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 350.

Break the chocolate into pieces, either by hand or with a knife if necessary.

chopped chocolate.jpg

Put it and the butter in a large bowl and microwave in thirty-second increments, stirring in between, until nearly smooth. Then remove and stir until completely smooth. Stir in the sugar.

Check with a fingertip to make sure the mixture is not still hot. If it is, let it cool for a few minutes. When it’s not too hot to touch, stir in the eggs. I recommend doing this one or two at a time (eight is a lot of eggs) and stirring vigorously until they’re thoroughly incorporated.

Stir in the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the cocoa powder as well, sifting if there are any lumps. Mix until combined.

Scoop into lined or greased cupcake tins. Fill the cups only about 2/3 full so they don’t overflow. Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the pans (at least back-to-front; switch racks if you have them on two) and bake for about ten more minutes, until the tops appear just dry and a toothpick comes out clean. You can make the caramel while they bake!

baked cupcakes.jpg

[Note: for me, this made 26 cupcakes. For the extra two, you can use foil or silicone baking cups, both of which are strong enough to stand up on a cookie sheet. Put one of your pans of cupcakes on the sheet too and just tuck the extras in at the edge to save space.]

Make the caramel:
[A word to the wise: this would be a good time to make sure chaos-prone members of your household are not underfoot. Sugar syrup burns aren’t so fun, and you’re going to want to give this part your undivided attention.]

Combine water, sugar, and syrup in a deep saucepan and stir to combine. (I like to use a nonstick pan for easy cleanup, but it does make it a bit harder to judge when the caramel is done because of the dark interior. The “deep” part is the most important one, though!) Put the saucepan over medium heat. Cover and cook for two minutes.

Then remove the cover and turn the heat up to medium-high. If the mixture isn’t already boiling, it will start. Cook it without stirring from now on. (This helps keep the sugar from crystallizing.) Instead, you can shake or swirl the pan.

You’re just going to cook it until it turns a nice, dark amber. The syrup is already a bit dark, so it can be tricky to tell exactly how this is going. It will boil for some minutes — I’d guess three to five — and then start darkening in color. (What’s happening is that the water is boiling off before the sugar starts to caramelize.) So look for the color to start changing towards darker. But also, don’t worry too much: I under-caramelized mine slightly, and it’s still excellent.

When it’s dark amber, remove it from the heat and wait a few seconds, then carefully pour in the cream and stir to combine. The mixture will bubble and steam, so keep your face away from the pot.

Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, lemon juice, and salt.

Measure out one cup using a metal cup or by pouring it into a Pyrex measure.

You’ll probably have a few tablespoons left over; you can pour these on to foil to cool. I just ate mine, but you could use yours for cupcake decoration, too. You’ll need to throw it in the freezer if you want to do this in some way other than drizzling!

salted caramel

Make the frosting:
You’ll need to wait until your caramel goes from burning hot to merely warm for this part.

If your butter and cream cheese aren’t soft, soften them with a brief stint in the microwave on 50% power. (Use fifteen-second increments; you don’t want them melty.)

Using a hand or stand mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese together until they’re uniform in texture.

Sift in 2 cups of powdered sugar and mix to combine. (Start on a low speed if you don’t like your kitchen covered in sugar, yes? You can also throw a towel over the top of a stand mixer.)

Beat in the reserved cup of caramel. Then sift in more powdered sugar until you reach the desired taste and texture. The frosting will get stiffer as you add more sugar, but I found that three cups was about enough for me. It made for a relaxed kind of frosting — it’s spreadable even straight from the fridge — but it was as much sweet as I could take, even balanced with the cream cheese.

And Bob’s your uncle!****
Frost the cupcakes and try not to eat them all.

*This is a time when regular old granulated white sugar, or the closest thing you use to it, is your friend.
**Ok, so you could actually use corn syrup here — go for the light stuff — in a pinch. It gives me a belly ache though. Lyle’s is cane syrup and can often be found in the international foods aisle (along with other imports from the strange lands of England or Ireland). If not, there’s always the internet
***I wildly prefer Santa Cruz Organics lemon juice, which I can also get at my local natural food store, to regular bottled lemon juice.
****I learned this phrase when I was in Britain and I have an unreasonable love for it.

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Butternut squash soup

First apology: I’m sorry! I posted two recipes on Tuesday, in a fit of post-scheduling failure, and then topped it off by posting nothing yesterday!

Second apology:

squash soup.jpg

I make a lot of soup, and I like a lot of it, but this is a serious contender for being the most universally acclaimed. The kick of the ginger is the perfect counterpoint to the sweetness of the roasted squash, and you can create your ideal soup texture by putting in more or less broth at the end. It’s a staple of my family’s holiday tables, but if you keep roasted butternut squash in your freezer (and you should!), it’s also a quick weeknight supper option. Beats the heck out of Chinese takeout!

Butternut squash soup
Inspired by a recipe from a previous edition of The Joy of Cooking

1 butternut squash
Canola oil
1 onion or 2-3 leeks
3 T. grated fresh ginger*
About 1 quart of vegetable broth
Salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 400 F.

Cut the butternut squash in half and scoop out the seeds and strings. Rub the cut sides with canola oil, including inside the hollows. Line a rimmed baking sheet or 9×13 inch pan with aluminum foil (which will make your cleanup life much, much better) and place the squash on it, cut side down. Roast for about 45 minutes, until you can easily poke a toothpick or fork all the way the flesh of the squash.

About five minutes before it’s done, peel and chop the onion or the white and lightest green parts of the leeks, and start a stock pot warming over medium heat with a splash of canola oil in the bottom.

Remove the squash from the oven and flip the halves over. Wait a few minutes until they’re cool enough to handle and then scrape the flesh out of the skin. (This is the point at which you would freeze the squash if you were saving it for later.)

squash remains.jpg

Saute the onion until it begins to soften. Then add the ginger, and cook until the onion is very soft and the ginger is fragrant, 3-5 minutes. I know it sounds like a lot of ginger, but trust me, you want to add it all now. Ginger added later in the cooking time with have a much stronger bite!

Add the squash and about 2 cups of broth. (If you’re using frozen squash, just stick it in at this point; no need to defrost.) Bring the whole mixture to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, using your spoon to break up big chunks of squash. Then stir in the rest of the broth. You can add even more than the recommended four cups if you like your soup thinner; if you like it thick, you might not want to add any additional broth at this point.

Puree the soup in a blender or food processor (being careful not to overfill the container with hot liquid!) or with an immersion blender. Salt and pepper to taste.

*Two important notes here. First, you can keep fresh ginger in the freezer. It lasts a long time in the fridge too, but this way you never have to worry. Second, you can grate it without peeling.

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Normally I’m opposed to adding anything sweet to orange vegetables. They start off pretty sweet as is, so savory preparations usually seem like the way to go. Also, I somehow managed to grow up sheltered from the travesty that is sweet potato-marshmallow casserole. But I digress.

maple-glazed sweet potatoes.jpg

My point is that this recipe, despite the fact that it involves maple syrup, is not too sweet. The syrup’s taste is nearly undetectable, but the sugar helps the potatoes caramelize to a nice crust. As a bonus, these are cooked at a high temperature, which means they don’t need hours in the oven to cook through.

Maple-glazed sweet potatoes
Adapted from Vegetable Love by Barbara Kafka, via Serious Eats

3 medium sweet potatoes
3 T. melted butter
3 T. maple syrup
Salt

Preheat your oven to 500 F. (That is not a typo.)

Peel the sweet potatoes and chop them in half the long way. Slice again the long way, and then cut any really tall pieces in half (still the long way!) to make shapes like fries. You can cut them in half to make matchsticks if they’re unreasonably long. (You can also use other shapes, of course, but you may need to adjust the cooking time; keeping the size of chunks uniform is the part that’s key here.) If it takes you as long as it took me to do all that chopping, keep the chopped pieces in a bowl of cold water so they don’t turn funky colors.

Melt the butter in the microwave or a saucepan.

Spread the pieces out in a single layer on a baking pan. If you aren’t morally opposed to non-stick cookware, it will make your cleanup a lot easier in this case. I used two 9×13 pans for my potatoes, mostly because I made long sticks. Pour the butter over the potatoes and stir to coat, then stick them in the oven for ten minutes.

After ten minutes, the potatoes should be mostly cooked. Take them out of the oven and carefully pour the maple syrup over them, avoiding opportunities to burn yourself on the pan. (Do as I say, not as I do.) Use a spatula to turn and stir them, distributing the syrup as evenly as reasonably possible.

maple sweet potatoes - baking.jpg

Return them to the oven for another five or seven minutes, until they’re getting a bit crispy and are tender all the way through. (You can check this last with a toothpick.) Transfer to a serving dish and salt to taste.

Makes 2-3 servings; doubles easily

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How to eat locally

I can’t believe I forgot to post this earlier this week, but I did! I wrote a beginner’s guide to eating locally that was posted over at EarthSpirit Voices. I’ll be posting there roughly once a month on topics related to sustainable food, gardening, and earth-centered spiritual practices; feel free to check it out if that’s your kind of thing.

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