Joanie’s Favorite Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

I can honestly say that these are the best chocolate cupcakes I’ve ever had.  No exaggeration.  I’m a big chocoholic and, in my opinion, the darker the better!  Sure there’s a time and a place for milk chocolate (and even white chocolate, though that’s not really chocolate) but dark chocolate takes the cake.  Or rather, MAKES the cake!

I came across this recipe from Life, Love & Sugar in the news feed of our Facebook page.  The chocolate cake was layered with a decadent pumpkin cheesecake and frosted with pumpkin icing.  The photos were so beautiful and enticing that I was more than happy to test it out for a friend.  While the original layer cake was delicious, the chocolate cake really stood out to me.  Since then, it has been my go-to for chocolate cake.

This recipe is rather quick and easy, and you don’t need a mixer.  So far, it has been absolutely fool proof.  The best part is, they are so rich and delightful that you really don’t even need icing…that’s just a bonus.  =)  However, if you do want something sweet to spread on top, try our Basic Buttercream or Coconut Pecan Spread.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup Hershey’s Special Dark baking chocolate powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup boiling water water
2 tsp real vanilla extractIMG_5447

Directions:
Prepare your pans ahead of time.  Line cupcake pans, OR thoroughly grease and flour 2 9-inch cake pans.  You may consider adding parchment paper rounds to the bottom of the pan to ensure an easy release.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients and whisk together thoroughly.
Dry Ingredients

Add eggs, buttermilk & oil and mix until combined and glossy.
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In a measuring cup, combine the boiling water and vanilla and add it to the chocolate mixture.  Give the batter a final stir until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.  The consistency will be a little runny, but, trust me, it’s perfect.
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Pour the batter into prepared pans.  For cupcakes, leave about 3/8 inch to the top of the liner to avoid ugly muffin tops.  =)
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For cupcakes: bake 25-30 minutes.  (My stone pan takes 30 minutes on the dot, every time.  Metal pans may need a little less time.)
For round cakes: bake for about 35-40 minutes.

You know your cake is done with you can insert a toothpick into the middle and it comes out clean.  However, DON’T disturb the cake until the final minutes of baking.  You don’t want to cause it to collapse.  Collapsed cake is not pretty, I’ve seen it.
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Allow the cakes to cool for about 10 minutes in the pan, then transfer to cooling racks and let them come to room temperature before you frost them.

Makes 24 cupcakes (25 if you’re lucky!) or one decadent, layered round cake.
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Orange Essence Zucchini Bread

Zucchini is one of the most abundant fall vegetables here in the US.  And zucchini bread is one of the most popular ways to use it up, especially when your garden produces an abundance of overgrown, deep green squash.  While I don’t have a garden (just a few tomato plants on my patio), one of my associates at work has generously shared this years zucchini crop.

Quick breads often seem more like cake than bread, and I’m ok with that.  Classic zucchini bread is so comforting and delicious!  However, I wanted my zucchini bread to really stand apart, so I started baking.  And baking.  And baking.  I don’t know how many loaves and muffins I’ve given away in my quest for the perfect bread, but it’s been a lot!  However, it has been well worth it because I really do believe that this is the best zucchini bread I’ve ever had.  It’s subtly sweet with just a hint of orange while still maintaining that classic zucchini bread flavor.  If you like to drizzle yours with a sweet glaze, I’ve included directions for a quick orange glaze that perfectly compliments it.  I hope it’s your new favorite!

Ingredients:

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons cinnamon
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
zest from 1 large orange
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chopped walnuts or unsalted pistachios (optional)

Orange Glaze (optional):
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon fresh squeezed orange juice
¼ teaspooon orange zest

Makes about 2 full-sized loaves, 4 mini-loaves, or about 24 muffins.
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Directions:

Prepare your loaf pan or muffin tins.  I highly recommend using parchment if you’re making loaves because, for some reason, this bread seems to stick to my stoneware EVERY time if I don’t.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 C)

Using a vegetable peeler, peel the zest off the orange being careful to get as little white pith as possible.  Toss the orange peel and the granulated sugar into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulverize until the peel is very finely minced into the sugar.  Set aside.Orange Sugar 1.jpg

Sift flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon together in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs, oil, vanilla, brown sugar and orange sugar together.  Add sifted ingredients to the wet mixture and beat will.
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Stir in the zucchini and nuts until well combined.  Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake for 40-60 for a loaf pan.
Bake approx 30 minutes for muffins.

Test doneness by inserting a toothpick or small tester into the middle.  When it comes out clean, it’s done!

Allow bread to cool in pans for about 20 minutes (not necessary for muffins using liners), then turn them out and let it cool completely.

To prepare optional glaze: whisk sugar, orange juice and zest in a bowl until smooth.  Drizzle over bread.

Enjoy!
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America’s Test Kitchen Banana Bread

I have been baking banana bread as far back as I can remember.  It was one of the first things I learned how to make by myself when I was a kid.  I remember pulling the steaming loaves out of the oven and being so proud of my creation!  They never lasted long, and to this day, banana bread is one of my favorite comfort foods.

This recipe is not the same recipe I used growing up.  It is a creation of America’s Test Kitchen and was introduced to me through a foodie friend at work who generously shared the banana bread she had made with the rest of the office.  Although I wasn’t fast enough to snag a piece out of her bread from the break room, she did provide me with the recipe.  After hearing the comments around the office, I knew I had to make it for myself. Seriously, this is the most banana-y banana bread I’ve ever had and it is so incredibly moist!  Don’t scoff at the little bit of extra work with the bananas because THAT is what makes it so incredible.  Just do it, you will be rewarded!

When selecting bananas, be sure to use those that are heavily speckled, or even black.  If you are one of those people who freezes bananas, this is YOUR recipe!! The darker the banana, the sweeter and more developed the banana taste will be.  A lot of grocery stores will even sell these “overripe” bananas at a deeply discounted price.  Yes, those mushy, black banana’s seem really gross, but trust me, you’ll be hoarding them in your freezer like they are gold once you’ve seen (and tasted) what they can do.

Ingredients:

1 ¾ Cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp table salt
5 large very ripe bananas, peeled
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 Large eggs
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
2 tsp granulated sugar

**Note:  The photo below shows baking powder, which is NOT in the recipe…my mistake!

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray an 8 ½  by 4 ½ inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl.

Place bananas in a microwave safe bowl.  I used a round casserole dish with a lid.  You can use plastic wrap with a few cut steam vents to cover if you don’t have a lid, but personally I avoid putting plastic in the microwave.  

Microwave on high power until bananas are soft and have released most of their liquid, about 5 minutes.Transfer bananas to a fine mesh strainer placed over a bowl and allow them to drain, turning the bananas occasionally for about 15 minutes.  You should end up with ½ – ¾ cup of liquid.  

Transfer liquid to a small saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until reduced to about ¼ cup.  Liquid should be light caramel color and thick, almost as thick as syrup.  I stirred mine pretty vigorously and ended up with some bubbles, but you get the idea.

Remove from the heat and stir this reduced liquid back into your mashed bananas and mash everything together with a potato masher.  The original recipe says “mash until fairly smooth” but mine never made it to that point…it stayed semi-lumpy.  I’m sure whatever stage of lumpiness your bananas end up is just fine.

Whisk in melted butter, eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla.


Pour banana mixture into your flour mixture and stir until just combined.  Do not over stir. Some flour streaks are okay.  Gently fold in walnuts if you’re using them.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and sprinkle granulated sugar evenly over the surface.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, approx 55-75 minutes.  Cool bread in the pan on a wire rack for about 15 minutes, then remove loaf from pan and continue to cool on a wire rack.

**Note:  I used a mini loaf pan and a muffin pan instead of the larger, single loaf pan.  I started checking them at 30 minutes.  The muffins were slightly drier than the loaf and I would probably turn the oven down a few degrees the next time.

***Variation:  I added ½ cup of flaked coconut to the muffins and they were SO good!

Slice loaf and serve slightly warm or room temperature.  Enjoy!