In the quiet of my house, the words for what I want to share come naturally. They wait, ever so patiently, at the threshold between my mind and reality, the moment when they can spill from my fingertips to the keyboard. But I’m not in the quiet of my house at the moment. I’m in a half-crowded cafe in D.C., and while the noise isn’t unbearable, it’s the background chitter chatter that makes writing feel too disjointed. Oh, and the fact the the top of my tea pot just dropped into my mug, splashing dots of chai all over the table, well, yeah, that didn’t help. Speaking of the chai, the one they serve at Tryst is a good substitute when I’m not making it at home (recipe is in the new issue of City Girl. Country Kitchen).
See what I’m talking about…such lack of focus when I work in cafes or coffeeshops. I applaud people who do this on a daily basis. I much prefer the peace of my house upstate. I felt more productive this past weekend than I’ve felt in a while. Last fall, a renter from Airbnb left me the kindest note, and commented that my house had wonderful energy. He and his girlfriend felt it from the moment they walked in. I knew exactly what he meant. I feel it every time I’m there. Even in the loneliest of moments, usually at night, when darkness falls all around, leaving you feeling isolated from the world, I know what joy daybreak brings.
I’m sorry, I got lost in my own thoughts, as usual. You’re all a very patient bunch to stick with me these last seven years. Did my mind always wander like this, or have my words just become stray cats, seeking shelter the last few years? Well, the reason I’m here today is to say a thanks, and share a very special recipe.
Last Sunday was Michael’s birthday. He would’ve been 56 years old. Few people believed his age, his youthfulness manifesting itself in a face free of wrinkles, his rich brown, bordering on black, head of hair, and a physique that stumped even the doctor who performed his autopsy—”most fit body he’d ever seen, that didn’t match the cause of death stated at the scene”. Some words just live with you, forever.
Back to the cupcakes. It all began with lunch at The Roost. The girls and I used to stop in every weekend for breakfast or lunch when we lived upstate. The service is always friendly, they strive to source good quality ingredients, and the food is generally solid. I loved that they switched to using sun-dried tomatoes for their BLT’s during the winter, since tomatoes are not in season. It was crowded when we popped in for a late lunch on Sunday, so the only option was to snag a few seats at the counter. There was a cake plate with a lone football shaped whoopee pie, and I asked the waitress if she could put it on the side for us. She assured me there were plenty more in the fridge, and not to worry.
During lunch, Virginia and I talked about it being daddy’s birthday. She wanted to sing happy birthday to him around his tree in the front yard. I told her I thought about making a cake, but wasn’t sure how her and Isabella felt about that idea. In her lispy little voice, she told me we could just buy the whoopee pies. I thought to myself, “It’s okay. You don’t have to be wonder woman; a homemade treat from someone else’s kitchen could be a suitable substitute”. The other thought that creeped into my mind was that he’s not alive anymore, so what did it matter if it was homemade or not?
Now, I should take a few steps back before going further. I promised to be kind to myself on his birthday, and let the day unfurl as it needed. I never really know how I’m going to feel on these bigger occasions, and wanted to bounce around like a balloon a bit, perhaps letting his energy blow me in the direction I needed to be in that day. So, that explains why I felt a little wishy washy about baking a cake. I felt I needed to do it, but wasn’t sure it was I wanted to do, so I held back.
The kids tore into their whoopee pies before buckling their seatbelts. While lunch was delicious, the cakes didn’t live up to their appearance, or assumption of what a great, or even good, whoopee pie should taste like. At that moment, it hit me. I knew that I did indeed want to bake something for my Mikey. I wanted to bake for him because I needed to feel connected to him in some small way.
We got home, and I immediately preheated the oven. The girls cozied up in our sun-filled front porch with boxes of arts and crafts supplies, while I looked up my Devil’s Food Cake recipe. I knew I’d need to scale it down a bit from the 36 cupcakes it usually yields. I also was feeling too lazy to dig the dark cocoa powder from the trunk of the car (don’t ask; doesn’t every travel with cocoa powder in their car?), so I reached for the container of Rapunzel cocoa powder in the cupboard above my counter.
There was the issue of milk. If I used it to make the cake, then breakfast would be in jeopardy the next morning, with only a scant 1/2 cup left in the container. I did, however, have a whole bottle of buttermilk. And so, that is how baking on the fly goes around here. As the batter came together, so did a smile in my heart. It just felt so right being there, in that kitchen, making these cupcakes. I didn’t end up there nudged by guilt, or even sadness. It was pure joy, and happiness…and a feeling of gratitude that I was gentle with myself, but so was the universe. It delivered to us a sunny day, one warm enough to crowd onto the bench swing, and get lost in the sound of nothing, occasionally interrupted with giggles, the sounds of girls grasping the notion of how to balance thankfulness for ever knowing him, amidst the sadness of having lost him.
Seven Years Ago: Seriously Delicious Ribs
Six Years Ago: Lentil-Ricotta Meatballs
Five Years Ago: Oat Ricotta Pancakes
Four Years Ago: Six Months, and a Birthday
Three Years Ago: A Match Made in Heaven
Two Years Ago: A Simple Roast Chicken
One Year Ago: Waffle-Pressed Pizza Pockets
Devil Dog Cupcakes
Makes 8 cupcakes
So, why are these called Devil Dog Cupcakes, and not plain old chocolate cupcakes? Well, funny enough, the cake I made for Mikey’s 50th birthday was a ring ding inspired on. In making these cupcakes, I realized the taste of the final baked ones reminded me of a the old Drake’s treat called Devil Dogs (do they even make them anymore?). These cupcakes are much lighter in texture, but they chocolate stands out, whereas there’s just enough sugar in the cake to add balance without it being sweet. That’s what I remember Devil Dogs’ cake tasting like; I’m sure it’s changed if they still exist.
I thought about piping some frosting into the centers, but knew my cupcakes were cool enough to frost, but definitely not to fill (we wanted to sing happy birthday before the sun went down). If you leave the cupcakes simply frosted without toasting, and close your eyes, you’ll float back to your Devil Dog childhood, eating days.
A few notes: I used my vintage pan, and apparently 8-cup tins were quite common at one time. A modern 6-cup muffin tin should work fine, or perhaps a 6-cup jumbo muffin pan. This recipe should, in theory, also work for a single 8-inch layer cake, or two-layer 6-inch cake. Keep in mind that I haven’t baked it that way myself, though, so experiment at your own risk (translate: no nasty comments). And please share with us if you do try baking it in a different size pan—crowd sourcing at it’s best (and tastiest!).
Also, I opted for maple sugar in this recipe, even though the frosting uses regular cane sugar. I wanted them to stand alone as separate recipes, even if they’re a contradiction in terms of sweetening agents once put together. If you prefer to use cane sugar (or that’s all you have on hand), then swap in 1/2 cup (50 grams) of granulated cane sugar.
Regarding the buttermilk, you could omit the baking soda and swap in regular milk, but the resulting cake will not be as light and airy (it’ll still be great!). You can also make your own soured milk to use by adding 1 1/2 teaspoons of cider vinegar to a measuring cup. Fill it with enough milk to reach the 1/2 cup line, and you’re good to go.
3/4 cups (110 grams) whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup (25 grams) cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoons (3 grams) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) sea salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick / 56 grams) butter, softened
7 tablespoons (66 grams) granulated maple sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 cup (120 m) buttermilk
3 tablespoons (45 ml) brewed coffee
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
7-Minute Marshmallow Frosting
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line an 8-cup muffin tin with parchment paper cups.
Add the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt to a small bowl. Whisk to blend.
Add the butter and sugar to a separate, clean bowl. Using a hand mixer, beat until creamy and well combined, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg, and beat until well blended, about 1 minute. Add the buttermilk, coffee, vanilla, and flour mixture to the bowl. Starting with the mixer on the lowest speed, mix just until combined, and the batter comes together. Stop the mixer, and use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Turn the mixer onto medium-high, and beat the batter for 30 seconds more.
Fill the cupcake tins 2/3 full. Bake cupcakes for 15 minutes, or until a metal skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let rest on a cooling rack for 5 minutes. Remove cupcakes from the tin, and let them finish cooling completely on a wire rack.
Swirl dollops of marshmallow frosting on top of the cooled cupcakes. Serve as-is, or for an extra special treat, run them under the broiler for about 60 seconds, until the frosting is golden to your desired doneness (you may need to rotate the pan halfway through to ensure even browning).
Some more chocolate ideas from my friends at Food Network for this week’s #ComfortFoodFeast.
Feed Me Phoebe: Dark Chocolate Vegan Truffles with Matcha Green Tea
Creative Culinary: Chocolate Pecan Tart from Chef François Payard
The Hungry Traveler: French Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart
Dishing with Divya: Rock Truffles
Elephants and the Coconut Trees: Easy Chocolate Fudge – 2 Minute Microwave Recipe
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Homemade Chocolate Sauce
Red or Green: Chocolate Spice Bark With Sea Salt
The Mom 100: Chocolate Banana Cake
Taste with the Eyes: Chocolate Pots de Creme with Passion Fruit
Healthy Eats: 5 Chocolatey Reasons to Stay in This Valentine’s Day
Swing Eats: Nutella Panna Cotta
FN Dish: 5 Chocolatey Treats Better Than a Box of Store-Bought Truffles