“When I get… (the mean reds)… the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany’s. Calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there.”
How Holly Golightly (or should I say Audrey Hepburn, since in my private opinion she has become more synonymous with Breakfast at Tiffany’s than Holly) felt about Tiffany’s is how I feel about the kitchen. It is a safe haven, a refuge from the sometimes mean, bad world out there. Nothing calms me down more than cooking (unless it’s cooking for a crowd on a deadline, in which case everyone knows to stay out of my way). I can get mesmerized by the sight of onions turning translucent, then golden, or the bright jewel-like redness of raspberries. And don’t even get me started on the magical transformation of liquid egg-whites into a shiny cloud by the simple process of whipping them – my guess is that this sight was one of the first things that triggered my love affair with cooking.
When it comes to a choice between cooking and baking, like all good parents I’ll tell you that I love them both equally. But I secretly know in my heart that I’m partial to the latter. The sight of a cake rising in the oven, the aroma of freshly baked bread, the flakiness of a perfectly golden crust – I don’t think diamonds, girl’s best friend though they may be (personally, I prefer sapphires), could make me smile as much as these.
And is there anything to come out of the oven that can be (forgive me for using the word) cuter than a cupcake? How can anyone not smile when offered the delicious gift of one? They are the perfect treat – big enough to satisfy your sweet tooth and small enough that you don’t have to share if you don’t want to (and I usually never do).
The inspiration for these cupcakes came from that delightfully wonderful book Hello, Cupcake! which is one of the most fabulously playful and inventive cookbooks I have on my bookshelf. They are called Black and White Party Cupcakes in the book, but a recent acquisition of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (the book* not the movie) inspired me to make and rename them. Not only are these cupcakes a joy to eat, they manage to cross over from the usual confines of cute, and are chic and elegant enough to serve at a dinner party. (Oh, just for the record, there was no party; I just really wanted cupcakes.)
For the actual cupcakes, I used the recipe for Devil’s Food Cupcakes from Martha Stewart’s site, a delicious almond cream cheese frosting from Epicurious and a chocolate ganache I’ve been making for so long I don’t need a written recipe for it. The cakes are not difficult to make, and come out with a domed, cracked top (I happen to like this, but this might also be because I used regular cocoa instead of the Dutch-process the recipe called for) and a wonderfully moist and dark interior. The frosting would be a snap, unless like me you forget to take the cream cheese out of the refrigerator until the very last minute. Microwaving it for a few short seconds is an easy solution to this problem. And the ganache – well, let me just say that if you can put on the stove and chop chocolate, you can make ganache.
The variations on the icing designs for these are only as limited as your imagination. Feel free to let that inner artist I know you have inside you to run amok. Sprinkles, candy, chocolate, marshmallows – use what you have or what you fancy. If there is any advice I could give you, it would be to remember that less is more. You can’t go wrong – and even if you do, you’re offering people chocolate cupcakes with chocolate ganache and cream cheese frosting – what do they have to complain about?
As I iced and decorated these cupcakes, I could feel that familiar calm descend upon me. They looked fabulous all lined on a tray, as if they were all ready and dressed to go to some fancy party. I’m sure Audrey – and Holly – would have approved.
*I bought the book from a used bookstore and found the following inscription within. Everyone who reads it has the same response “Aww! She sold it.” I think it is because we all secretly hope for happy endings, even if it is clichéd. The inscription makes me sad. And curious. What was their story? Did he give her the book because she loved the movie? Did they part mutually or was it heartbreak on one side? Or are they still together and she accidentally gave the book away? Is she still looking for it? Whatever their story is, together or apart, I hope they are happy, wherever they are. And eating cupcakes…
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart’s Devil Food Cupcakes
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder (I didn’t have Dutch-process, so I used regular)
1/2 cup hot water
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup sour cream, room temperature
1. Preheat the oven to 350⁰F (175⁰C). Line a standard muffin tin with paper liners. (I got 12 large cupcakes with this recipe.)
2. Whisk together the cocoa and hot water in a bowl. In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
3. Melt the butter and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat until combined. Remove from heat and whisk for 4-5 mins with an electric mixer on medium-low speed until cool to touch.
4.Whisk in the eggs, one by one, beating until incorporated before adding another.
5. Add vanilla, then cocoa mixture, beating only till combined.
6. Switch the mixer to low speed and add half the flour followed by half the sour cream, beating only till combined. Fold in the remaining flour and sour cream.
7. Divide batter evenly among the lined cups, and baked until a cake tester comes out clean, about 20 mins.
8. Cool the cupcakes completely on a wire rack before frosting.
Almond Cream Cheese Frosting
Recipe adapted from Epicurious
2 cups confectioners sugar (add another 1/2 cup if you would like it sweeter)
4 oz (120 gm) cream cheese, softened and cut into cubes
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional; you can also use vanilla)
1 tablespoon whole milk
1. Make sure the cream cheese is softened before starting. If like me, you have forgotten to take it out of the refrigerator until the very last minute, cut it into cubes and microwave it for 10 seconds.)
2. Sift the sugar over the cream cheese in a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy (about 2-3 mins). Beat in the almond extract and milk just until incorporated.
(Recipe in my head as equal parts chocolate and cream; corn/table syrup if frosting and if on hand)
5 oz (150 gm) dark (not unsweetened) chocolate
5 oz (150 ml) heavy cream
1 tablespoon corn syrup or table syrup (I skip this if I don’t have it)
1. Chop and place chocolate in a bowl.
2. Heat the cream with the syrup in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until it just comes to a simmer.
3. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let sit for a few minutes.
4. Stir the chocolate into the cream until smooth and shiny (I can never resist licking off the spoon after this part).
5. The ganache will thicken as it cools. Refrigerate it, stirring after every 10 mins until it has a soft spreading consistency.
(If ganache is too thick, reheat over a double boiler. If too thin, cool further.)
Adapted from Black and White Party Cupcakes in Hello, Cupcake!
(Use your imagination and whatever you have on hand or whatever catches your fancy in the store)
White and dark sprinkles
White and dark chocolate buttons/candy/mini chocolate chips
Chocolate-covered coffee beans
1. Frost half the cupcakes with the chocolate ganache and the remaining with the cream cheese frosting. 2. Use a small offset spatula, if you have one (I just used a spoon), to spread the frosting, starting from the middle and working your way towards the edges.
3. Place the white and dark sprinkles in two separate bowls. Holding the cupcakes sideways by the paper-lined bottoms, roll the edges of some of the chocolate frosted cupcakes in the white sprinkles and those of the cream cheese cupcakes in the dark sprinkles.
4. Heat (or microwave) the ganache till it melts a little. Using an icing bag (or Ziploc) with a small round tip, trace concentric circles on the cream cheese cupcakes. Use a toothpick (or one prong of a fork) to drag out lines like the spokes of a wheel in the icing.
5. Decorate the cupcakes with the sprinkles or candy/buttons/choc chips with patterns of your choice.
6. Use the marshmallows and chocolate-covered coffee beans to top the dark and white cupcakes respectively.
P.S. These cupcakes are delicious even if you don’t want to go for the whole decorative icing effect. I wouldn’t say no to good ol’ cupcakes with plain ol’ frosting. Who am I kidding? I wouldn’t say no to cupcakes even without any frosting.