Double Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

We spent spring break at home last week, and I have to admit I dreaded it a tiny bit. My kids usually have a gang of friends in our neighborhood to hang with, but it seemed like they all flew south for a taste of warm sun, leaving my brood in a state of social withdrawal. I imagined long rainy days stuck inside while their boredom escalated to deafening levels.

Fortunately, my sister-in-law L flew in from Portland to entertain and play with us – happiness all around!

I came home one afternoon to find her in the kitchen with the kids, applying lashings of creamy frosting to the tops of just-baked little chocolate cupcakes, something I know an attentive Mrs. Cleaver might attempt with her family, but I never seem to. That must be what aunts are for, I think.

The cupcake recipe is from Dorie Greenspan’s fantastic book Baking: From My Home to Yours. Dorie is a perfectionist, and her recipes are crafted to a precise “T”. Perfect recipe instructions are especially important in baking recipes; those chemical reactions that happen in the oven rely on exact measurements of ingredients, time and temperature.

These cupcakes are no exception; they turned out just as promised – dark, moist, not too sweet – glazed with a shiny, bakery-like chocolate frosting. L sprinkled some colored candy sprinkles on the cupcakes, reserving a few with a sprinkle of sea salt, a just reward for the adults in need of a chocolate fix.

Muhammarra – Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Spread

Among my arsenal of “secret” ingredients is pomegranate molasses, a Middle Eastern condiment that’s made by boiling pomegranate juice until it becomes thick and syrupy. It has an intriguing, sweet-tart taste and deep, dark treacly consistency.

I saw this recipe for muhammara in the very first issue of Saveur magazine, 16 years ago (!). It’s hard to believe it’s been that long since I first made it but I guess that makes the recipe a true classic in my file.

The premiere issue of Saveur – Summer 1994

The recipe that oringinally appeared in the magazine came from Paula Wolfert’s The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean. I’ve tweaked it a bit over the years, and it’s turned into something I make instead of the ubiquitous hummus when I want to serve a snack or appetizer.

Muhammarra – Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Spread

Yield: makes about 2 cups

Ingredients

2 red bell peppers, roasted and peeled

2 slices rustic bread, torn into pieces

2 garlic cloves

1/2 cup walnuts, toasted

1 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses (found in ethnic, specialty & some grocery stores)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  1. Place peppers, bread, garlic and walnuts in a food processor workbowl and process for about 1 minute, scraping down sides once.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and process until completely smooth, another minute or two. Taste and season with additional salt and lemon juice if needed.
http://familystylefood.com/2010/03/muhammarra-roasted-red-pepper-and-walnut-spread/

Char-Siu Pork Buns

I flagged a recipe for these Chinese barbecue pork sandwiches in Sunset magazine months ago. I finally got around to making them and they’re totally delicious.

I especially like the unusual addition of vanilla in the brine for the pork tenderloin – the flavor comes through in each bite of the sandwich, and works really well with the sweet tropical notes of the pineapple and sticky, addictive char siu sauce.

Check out MyRecipes.com to get the recipe – enjoy.