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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Cherry Chocolate Cupcakes with Fennel Cream Cheese Frosting

I am finding that the recipe development process starts with some ingredient or combination of ingredients entering my subconscious and sitting with me for some time. Eventually the full recipe will evolve after batting around ideas that may or may not translate into something tasty.

I had cherries and chocolate on the brain for a couple of weeks now. At some point fennel entered the picture, but I don't recall when or why. I work across the street from the San Francisco Ferry Building which is fantastic place for seeking gastronomic inspiration. I purchased some dried, unsulphered, unsweetened cherries from Capay Organic, everything else I had in stock. I got ever so slightly experimental by soaking half the cherries in brandy overnight and left the other half alone.

I took this recipe recently posted on Flickr by MarionQuaggatuggu. I divided the batter in half and folded in drained and chopped brandy-soaked cherries for an adult version and folded in chopped plain cherries and Valrhona chunks for a kid-friendly version. The result was more than I could hope for - rich, moist, dense, but flakey cake with a deep chocolate flavor and the occasional texture variation and kick from the brandy-soaked cherries. I preferred the brandy version personally.

For the fennel cream cheese frosting, I decided to make a syrup to add to my standard cream cheese frosting recipe. I used just a couple tablespoons of sugar and water with a teaspoon of fennel that I crushed slightly with a mortar and pestle. I boiled the mixture down until it was very syrupy and added the whole thing to the frosting. The syrup was delicious and the frosting was fantastic. I loved the overall flavor combination of the cake and frosting and consider this a keeper.

Cherry Chocolate Cupcakes
14 regular cupcakes / 350 degree oven

1-1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup flour
3.6 ounces dark chocolate, 1/2 of a 200 gram bar of Valrhona 61% cocao
15 tablespoons butter
4 eggs
3 tablespoons cocoa powder, unsweetened
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup dried cherries

1. Chop cherries and transfer to a small bowl. Cover in brandy and set aside to plump overnight.
2. Melt chocolate and butter over a water bath
3. add sugar and stir, let mixture cool for 10 minutes
4. Beat in an electric mixer for 3 minutes
5. Add one egg at a time, mixing for 30 seconds between each
6. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and a pinch of salt into the mixture and mix until blended
7. Fold in cherries drained of the brandy
8. Scoop into cupcake cups and bake at 350 F for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean

baked cupcake

Fennel Cream Cheese Frosting

2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
12 ounces or 1-1/2 packages of Philly cream cheese
1/2 stick butter
3 cups sifted powdered sugar

1. Bring cheese and butter to room temperature by letting it sit out for 1 or 2 hours
2. Heat sugar and water in a small pan under medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved
3. Crush fennel seeds slightly with a mortar and pestle or with the back of a heavy pan on a cutting board
4. Add seeds to the sugar and let boil over medium-low heat for 3 to 5 minutes or until the mixture is syrupy. Set aside to cool.
5. Sift powdered sugar into a bowl or onto parchment
6. Beat butter and cheese at medium speed until creamy
7. Add half of the sugar and the fennel syrup. Beat until combined
8. Gradually add remaining sugar (more if you have to) until you get to the consistency and sweetness you like

Note: I had a lot of frosting left over. Recommended uses include serving alongside sliced fruit (I had it with papaya and banana) or french toast. It can also be frozen for future use (use within a month or so). I store it in a freezer bag and when ready, transfer the bag to the refrigerator to thaw.

fennel seeds, cherries, & chocolate

1. Top cooled cupcakes with frosting.
2. Decorate as you wish. I topped the cupcakes with a pastillage star.

I got this basic pastillage recipe from the internet. I was looking for something that didn't have any special ingredients like gumtex or glucose. I wasn't up for a ride to the cake supply store. I found this pastillage difficult to work with. I couldn't get it very thin (I think partly because it was slightly sticky) and a lot of my shapes cracked when I went to remove them. The recipe makes plenty though, so I had enough shapes that worked out alright and still have two balls left over.


1 package gelatin
2 ounces cold water
1 pound powdered sugar
2 ounces cornstarch
0.02 ounce cream of tarter
gel food coloring

1. Stir gelatin into the water. Let stand 5 minutes, then heat until the gelatin is dissolved.
2. Sift together the sugar, starch, and cream of tartar.
3. Place the gelatin and the water mixture in a bowl. Add part of the sugar mixture and stir with a spoon until it is absorbed. Add food coloring and continue stirring.
4. Add remaining sugar in stages, stirring to combine.
5. Hand knead mixture to a smooth, pliable paste. This stage takes a while, can be messy (I kept it in a large bowl), and may require some splashes of cool water to bring the mixture together. Add water slowly or the result may be too sticky. If that happens, add a bit more powdered sugar.
6. Divide paste into three balls. Wrap two of them very well with plastic wrap. Pastillage must be kept covered as it dries quickly.
7. Roll out one ball at a time, using cornstarch to prevent sticking. Cut out shapes with cookies cutters or whatever you have. Dried them on parchment. Delicate designs will likely crack when you go to remove them from the parchment. The simpler, the better.


Blogger With Love, Fat Girl said...

This is one of the best blogs I've seen in a long time. Can I link you up to my blog?

Feel free to stop by anytime, http://memoirsofafatgirl.blogspot.com

Thanks again!

1/29/2006 12:12 PM  
Blogger Valentina said...

Cupcake, you always surprise me. You have inspired me to be more adventurous. I have started to crawl now in the cupcake world.

1/29/2006 6:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I made these last night with several mods. I didn't have dried cherries so I used Trader Joe's cherry preserves--scooping out the whole cherries and leaving behind the jelly. I used 82% scharfenberger cacao. And, I made a homemade chocolate ganache frosting. I topped these with a maraschino cherry--I know, BAD! But, they were going to my husband's work this morning. They sure looked cute and the taster cupcake was amazing. Thanks for the recipe.

1/30/2006 6:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What kind of cupcake pants / tins do you use?
I can only ever find muffin tins, not cupcake ones, and the muffin tins are far too large

1/30/2006 11:48 AM  
Blogger Altaf said...

i have always been inspired by your cupcake arts. You gave me a motive to learn & buy cupcake books. can't wait to join the cupcake world.

Do you own a bakery?

1/31/2006 1:41 AM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

I adore your cupcakes as they are always visually and culinarily fabulous! Thanks for another wonderful recipe!

1/31/2006 7:56 PM  
Blogger chockylit said...

fat girl, of course you can link to my blog!

valentina, i am oh so glad that my recipes are inspiring you. i made the potatos this weekend, they were delicious. served them with grilled flank steak and garlic and parsley aoili. yum.

nicole, i am not adverse to the maraschino cherry myself. i especially like them in mahattans :)

i use regular muffin tins when using regular cupcake papers. but when i use the 'nut & party' cup, i use a baking sheet. i don't find the muffin tins too large, so long as they are not jumbo muffin tins...

hi, latifa. i am happy that you are inspired by cupcakes. they are wonderful things. i don't own a bakery, i do this purely for fun. ok, sometimes i trade cupcakes for money, but rarely.

MM, you are welcome! Thanks for the compliment :)

2/01/2006 9:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Chockylit! As another cupcake baker and San Francisco resident, I find your blog charming and so inspiring! I was planning to ask you where your cake supply store it, as I cannot find any around here and am stuck buying my cupcake supplies at Michael's (which actually does carry your nut & party cups, although I haven't tried baking in them yet) - but, perfect timing with your questions, now I know to go to Sugar N Spice. I am looking forward to it and thanks for all of the great ideas! I've been thinking of doing a chocolate and strawberry combo, so I think I will borrow your latest recipe and change the fruit. Yum!

2/02/2006 5:06 PM  
Blogger Johanna said...

What a wonderful blog! I´m delighted to the point where my toes curl!

2/08/2006 3:32 AM  
Blogger Alanna Kellogg said...

Okay, yes, well it was the fennel that got my attention since I'm cooking/collecting fennel recipes at Fennel Round-up and would love to add this link! (Okay the seeds aren't fennel the vegetable but still ...) Sorry to ask in such a public forum, couldn't find an e-mail. Please let me know! Alanna

2/09/2006 7:06 PM  
Blogger chockylit said...

Alanna, of course you are welcome to link to this recipe! Perhaps the first dessert of the bunch?

2/09/2006 10:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi chockylit! i just sent you an email yesterday on flickr and wasn't sure if you had received it, since it's my first time using that site. so, i am posting my comments and questions here, just in case.

i just discovered your blog and love it! i too am an avid dessert and cupcake baker, and also use somewhat unusual ingredients to make some of my own cupcakes. i use to do it professionally, then took some time off (it was very stressful). but now, i have friends and clients wanting me to bake for them. it's hard to refuse friends, especially. anyway, i stumbled on some photos of your kitchen remodel and thought i would ask you your advice and opinion, from one baker to another. i'm getting ready to start my own kitchen remodel and wanted a good quality kitchen suited for a baker. can you send me your opinions, comments, suggestions, and references on good countertops (marble or granite?), kitchen cabinetmakers, etc.? i'm in oakland, by the way. so your opinion would be greatly appreciated. by the way, i love your kitchen remodel. fantastic colors! for your help, i would love to bring you some of my experimental cupcakes that i am going to test out soon - vanilla cupcakes with kaffir lime mousse and tamarind-scented frosting (my homage to Thai food and desserts).

thanks much in advance for your help!

2/10/2006 10:18 AM  
Blogger Ruby Khan said...

My boyfriend and I made and served these today--they were a HUGE hit, and I sent everyone home with post-it notes of your URL.

The cupcakes had a brownie-ish texture, which is absolutely fine with me. Topped them with some leftover dried cherries and iced a few with chocolate ganache from when we made your/Martha Stewart's ginger chocolate cupcakes.

2/25/2006 8:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, how many grams is the package of gelatin you used for the pastillage? How many pounds of pastillage would the recipe yield? Thanks.


2/28/2006 8:39 AM  
Blogger chockylit said...

Nic, The pastillage weighed approximately 600 grams and the packet of gelatin 8 grams.

2/28/2006 10:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do you mean by melting chocolate over a water bath? I want to make one of your recipes but I have no clue what that means :)

3/10/2006 7:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh, and where can I buy premade pastillage???

3/10/2006 7:08 PM  
Blogger chockylit said...

A water bath is when you take a pot, put a couple of inchs of water in it, heat it until boiling, then remove from heat or put on low simmer, place a heat proof bowl over the top of the pan (preferably metal and large enough so it doesn't fall in the pan). This allows you to gently melt the chocolate with heat from the seam as opposed to the too hot flame which can scorch the chocolate.

I have't purchased premade pastillage, but I know my local baking supply store has it. You could try googling it, I am sure there are online stores that carry it as well as fondant.

3/12/2006 11:36 AM  

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