Cupcakes of Love (Sugar High Friday 23)

September 18th, 2006

edited on 9/19/06: added the SHF links.

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I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer. As a child, I was the one with her head buried in books, lost in faraway countries and fantastical adventures, or scribbling in her notebook, making up her own stories of imaginary places. It wasn’t that I was unhappy with real life; it was that I always thought it would get more interesting over the horizon, in some hazily imagined future where I was grown up and smart and knew the answers and everything would be happily ever after.

As I grew older, I kept looking to that ever-elusive horizon, waiting for that future to arrive . When would my happily ever after get here? It certainly couldn’t be now, when I was still so naive and confused and making mistakes. I couldn’t be when I wasn’t able to answer questions as seemingly simple as "what do I want to do with my life?" or "where in the world do I want to live?" or even that most awful of questions, "why can’t I find a decent guy?" Surely, when I had everything figured out, life would be as it should be: After bringing about world peace, I would be living in a fabulous house with a fabulous guy, traveling the world eating great food, and always have perfect hair.

Flash forward to two weeks ago, and I’m standing in the kitchen cooking dinner with my boyfriend on a lazy late Sunday afternoon. The San Francisco fog hasn’t quite reached his apartment yet, so it’s still warm and sunny. From his window you can see past Coit Tower all the way to the bay, spread with its usual lacework of slim white sails. We are talking about the American dream of the house in the suburbs, the children in the yard, and why this represents the ultimate goal for so many.

And then I said, it’s not that it’s wrong to want such a goal, it’s just that what would happen once you reached it? What if we were in that house one day, with the kids and the dog and the multiple cars in the garage? Don’t you think that once we were there, we would look back on the days when we were young and poor and could only afford tiny apartments in the city, and we would try to budget out how many restaurants we could go to every month, and then argue about which ones to go to, and how we’d stay up really late watching TV even though we knew we’d pay for it the next morning, or how I really hated the hills around your place, but grew to begrudgingly accept them because they gave me a really good workout, especially when I could only find a parking spot at the very top of the hill, or how you had your totally rockin’ band and I would go to your gigs and then try to think up lame names for your next songs, or how we would stand on your balcony after dinner, drinking wine and looking at the sunset over the bay?

But all this is now, I said, this is us, and I can’t think of anything better than knowing how wonderful your life is at this moment, there’s no need to wait for the future to arrive, and how horrible is it when you can’t take a moment to realize and appreciate that?

And he smiled and said he was glad I felt the same way.

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These cupcakes were born of serendipity in my pastry school days, when I would go through my refrigerator and find containers full of leftover pastry cream, tart dough, and other things from class that I was sure I could find a use for. I had some hazelnut mousseline left over from a cake, some coffee buttercream from an opera cake, and decided on the spur of the moment to combine the two into a decadent cupcake. The result has become a favorite of my boyfriend, which is why they are called Cupcakes of Love, and a reminder of the unexpected happiness you can find when you appreciate the good things you’ve already got.

edited to add: This is also, of course, my entry for Sugar High Friday #23, hosted by the fantastic Alanna at A Veggie Venture. The crown of coffee buttercream hides a creamy center of hazelnut mousseline inside the chocolate cupcake. I love the mousseline – it’s smooth, creamy, richly nutty, and makes a nice counterpoint to the rich, dense chocolate cake. It also complements the coffee notes in the buttercream surprisingly well, creating medley of very adult flavors in a decadent little package.

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Cupcakes of Love

Chocolate Cupcakes

Makes 12 regular cupcakes

1 stick butter, room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with muffin papers, or you can also butter and flour them.

Melt chocolate in a double boiler. Meanwhile, sift flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.

Beat butter and sugar together in a mixture until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add in the vanilla. Add in the melted chocolate and mix until combined.

Add in the sifted dry ingredients and buttermilk, alternating in 3 additions, ending with the dry ingredients. Mix just until combined.

Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes, until a tester inserted into the cupcake comes out clean and the tops feel firm. Place on a wire rack to cool.

Hazelnut Mousseline

makes about 1 1/2 cups

4 1/2 ounces butter, room temperature

3 ounces hazelnuts, finely ground

3 ounces confectioner’s sugar

1 tablespoon Frangelico

1 cup pastry cream

Pastry cream:

makes 1 cup

1 cup milk

5 tablespoons sugar

3 large egg yolks

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make the pastry cream, heat 3/4 cup of the milk and 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat until small bubbles appear along the edge of the pan.

Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks and remaining sugar in a bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the remaining milk and cornstarch, then add to the egg yolks.

Pour the hot milk mixture into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Return the entire mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens. Whisk in the vanilla.

Pour through a strainer into a bowl. Let it cool to room temperature for the mousseline recipe, or you can cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

To make the mousseline, cream the butter in a mixer until very soft and creamy. It is important the the butter is at room temperature for this recipe.

Add in the hazelnuts and confectioner’s sugar and combine, scraping down the bowl as necessary.

Add the Frangelico.

Add the pastry cream and combine at medium speed until light and creamy.

Coffee Buttercream

makes about 3 cups

1 1/2 cups butter, room temperature

1/2 cup milk

3/4 cup sugar

5 egg y olks

1 tablespoon granulated coffee flavoring

The butter should be very soft but not melting for this recipe.

Heat the milk and coffee flavoring and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, until small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan.

Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks and remaining sugar in the mixer bowl with the whisk attachment until pale and thick (ribbon stage). Reduce speed to low and pour in the hot milk mixture. Return the entire mixture to the saucepan.

Cook the mixture in the saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it registers 170 degrees on a thermometer. Pour the mixture into a clean mixer bowl and beat with the whisk on medium until cool, about 5 -10 minutes. Add in the butter in 4 additions, allowing each addition to incorporate before adding another.

The buttercream can be used immediately, or stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If you store it in the refrigerator, let it soften first and whisk by hand or in the mixer to bring back to proper consistency.

To assemble: cut the centers out of the cupcakes and fill with the hazelnut mousseline. Using a pastry bag and a star tip, pipe the coffee buttercream over the tops of the cupcakes.

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28 Comments so far ↓

  • Mary #1

    I’ve also felt the same way as you have mentioned. From the hills to the budgeting for dining out to parking. Thanks for the reminder to take a moment and appreciate what we have right now. And those cupcakes are lovely.

  • Michele #2

    I just absolutely love your blog! Mmmm… and CUPCAKES! :)

  • peabody #3

    Super! I love the little heart…so very cute.
    I made cupcakes today too….something in the air perhaps?
    Always good to appreciate what you’ve got…makes life so much more enjoyable.

  • Fei #4

    woooww!
    I looovveee cupcakes!! The one with the heart in the centre is soooo sweet! Thanks for the post, definitely gonna try it :)

  • Kat #5

    lovely cupcakes and such a warm and fuzzy post :)

  • sam #6

    Beautiful cupcakes for a lovely post. I heart serendipity.

  • Jennifer #7

    Cupcakes AND philosophy? Two for the price of one this Monday!

  • Christine #8

    They’re so pretty! And your words are pretty too. :)

  • daniela #9

    very very very romantic!!

  • Bea at La Tartine Gourmande #10

    These look so cute Anita. And your frostring is just a la perfection. But I would have expected that from your talented hands! I am so tempted to try them! ;-)

  • Julia #11

    o yum! those cupcakes look absolutely divine…
    And I loved your post and thoughts…
    I’m as well a dreamer/worrier – can’t wait to finish high school and my ultimate dream is living in a place like Paris and open my own patisserie-slash-tearoom…*sigh*
    but I have heard a million times high school is the best time of your life…hmmm have to wait and see, right?…=)
    Beautiful pictures…those pink ribbons are so cute! =)

  • ParisBreakfasts #12

    HEART-warming story.
    Delightful pictures.
    And if I knew how to bake…
    That’s the prettiest cupcake I’ve ever seen
    MERCI

  • Jacelyn #13

    Aww..so sweet~ I’m a dreamer myself. I could see myself when you describe yourself as the child and person you in the beginning of your post. I guess I’m a hopeless romantic when it comes down to it. lol, maybe that’s why I enjoy romance novels so much.

    Anyway, I love your cupcakes of love.

    p/s: They’re an inspiration for an up-coming impt event of my special one and me. =)

  • Alanna #14

    Lovely, just lovely, a “perfect pair”, the essay and the cupcakes, you and the BF too, it seems!

    Thank you for the entry to Sugar High Friday. Look for the round-up over the weekend.

  • Helene #15

    Gorgeous cupcakes. Being content with what we have righ now is one’s greatest victory. Each step of life has its beauty, the trick is never to lose sight of it.

  • Ivonne #16

    Anita,

    What a beautiful post! This is why I just love visiting your blog and reading your words. You are so right. There is never a better moment than the ones we find ourselves in. It’s a good reminder to stop putting off those dreams for some far-off day when we should be living them every day.

    And now for the cupcakes … could you send me one? Just one? Pleeeeeeeeeeease???

  • jenjen #17

    You have inspired some serious cupcake envy over here at my end. Those are so beauitful Anita. And considering the work you have put into them, they is no reason why they wouldn’t be fanatastic.

  • James #18

    Aww my mouth is watering i am definitely going to make the coffee buttercream and chocolate ones. Great post.

  • J #19

    hi anita, these sophisticated beauties look like they stepped right off the pages of donna hay ;) couture cupcakes indeed; i like, very much ;)

  • Nicky #20

    Coffeeshops here in Germany sell tons of muffins, yet no one takes the time to prepare beautiful and tasty frostings. I wonder why? Your creation looks so divine, love the little pink ribbons!

  • SqPixels #21

    Romantic and sweet! Your desserts are gorgeous!

  • Zaneta #22

    I just came back from the supermarket with all the ingredients necessary to make a delicious Hazelnut Mousseline myself.

    With my husband we own a bakery here in Greece and I am always happy to try out new flavours. The picture made my mouth watery, I can’t wait.

    Thanks for the post

  • gattina #23

    wow, what a nice surprise! No wonder why it’s your bf favorite! Both the mousse and coffee cream sound so delicious; I’ll try it out!

  • Mae #24

    They look so good! I wish i had a steady hand for icing…

  • lori #25

    Awesome, Anita! To eat with a loved one is one of life’s (and pastry’s) greatest gifts.

  • carol #26

    what a sweet reflection on enjoying the moment…and your cupcakes sound (and look) scrumptious. i just discovered your blog via cream puffs in venice…yay for dessert! (and san francisco!)

  • Bush #27

    I have been looking for sites like this for a long time. Thank you!

  • Stef #28

    What a lovely looking cupcake! Sounds delish too!