Chocolate and Fig Preserve Cupcakes

Just about four months ago my best friend K and her husband J brought a lovely new human into this world. Their new baby is happy, laughing, and good natured...seemingly content with everything going around her and pleased with the attentions of her family (including her big sister, my awesomely terrific godchild!).

How wonderful it must be to be a child...napping and drinking milk, having people bathe you and comb your hair. I sometimes wish I could go back to that time, if only to relish this life of being absolutely care-free. I would store this feeling for stormier times to come, when I can then take it out and rub it against my cheek like a blankie.

Then again, I don’t know how long I could be on a diet consisting of milk and milk.

I suppose there is a lot to be said about every stage in life, and the important thing is to make sure we don’t forget to savor each one – embracing all the good that comes with the moment you are in. Like being a child (Kids, don’t try to grow up too fast! You will miss those carefree days when you have rent to pay!). Like being an adult (Yay! My own kitchen...all the raw cake batter I can eat!).

And for all ages, except the strictly milk-drinking set, there’s chocolate cupcakes...

Chocolate and Fig Preserve Cupcakes
(adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate-Cherry Cupcakes in How to Be A Domestic Goddess)

For the cupcakes:
  • 125 grams unsalted butter, softened
  • 100 grams dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 300 grams fig preserves
  • 150 grams caster sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 150 grams all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

    For the icing:
  • 100 grams dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 100 ml double cream
  • Candied nuts for garnish

    - Place butter in a saucepan and put over low heat to melt. When it is almost completely melted, add chocolate. Once the chocolate has softened a bit, remove the pan from heat and stir until chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth.
    - Add the fig preserves, sugar, salt, and eggs to the chocolate mixture, then mix until everything is well incorporated. Stir in the flour, to which you’ve added the baking powder (do not overmix!).
    - Pour into a 12-bun muffin tin lined with papers and bake in an 180C oven for 25-30 minutes, or until toothpick comes out fairly clean.
    - Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes before turning out. Wait to cool completely before icing.
    - For the icing, melt chocolate and cream in a saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat and whisk until it’s smooth and thick. Ice the cupcakes, smoothing it out with the back of a spoon or a spatula. Garnish with a candied nut on each – I used candied pili nuts.

    The changes I made to the recipe were substituting the original cherry jam with fig preserves, and using a mixture of all purpose flour and baking powder instead of self-raising flour (which I didn’t have)...and using candied nuts instead of glace cherries for garnish. If you own this book you will notice that the recipe is pretty much the same as her Chocolate Orange Cake a few pages earlier (which I adapted for Yummy Magazine last march), using the cherry jam instead of the orange marmalade. I love both the orange cake and this fig preserve cupcake version – adding the jam/marmalade/preserves to the batter does two things: it yields a moist and rich cake as opposed to a light and spongy one, and it gives another dimension of flavour...the fruit underlying the chocolate. It also makes for a supremely satisfying raw cake batter to lick off everything! I will be experimenting with other fruit preserves soon...

    I made these to take to K’s house for a small tea party. We sat outdoors and enjoyed K’s lovely spread of tea sandwiches (in a proper multi-tiered, afternoon-tea-type tray) and buttermilk scones with cream cheese icing. We chatted and played with the baby and whiled the afternoon away together...enjoying the moment :)

    One day we will introduce K’s little one to chocolate...and I hope to be present on that special occasion. Until then, she’s happy chugging away at her milky sustenance and we are happy just to watch (while having tea and scones and cupcakes) :)
  • Dessert Blast from The Past: Confetti Cake

    This used to be my favorite cake when I was a kid. Yum! Unfortunately, I won't eat the Pillsbury version because, like most boxed desserts, it's filled with lots and lots of bad stuff. I really wanted to find a recipe for this cake, so I could make it with real live ingredients, but I kept running into recipes that required a boxed mix. At first, I was thinking that I could just make a yellow or white cake and add sprinkles, but I quickly realized that I couldn't use any old cake. It had to be traditional birthday cake, a moist, dense cake with just the right amount of sweetness. After spending way too much time searching the net for recipes, I think I found just the right cake! It's called The Birthday Cake and it's supposedly really yummy! I can't wait to try this one! It's so sweet! How can you not love it?

    The Birthday Cake can be found on the menu of Restaurant Eve in Virginia or you can click here for the complete recipe via The Washington Post. Just don't forget to add the sprinkles (1/4 cup)!

    Oh, and if you're short on time, Naturally Nora offers a boxed version, with ingredients that are more natural than those in traditional cake mixes (i.e. no trans fats or artificial preservatives).

    To Dry For: Tea Towels

    I love these fun tea towels from To Dry For! Based in Oxford, England, Sally and Dave created this site as a way to bring designers and tea towels together and to make the buying of such towels easy for the tea towel loving public. Each towel was created by a specific designer and the product description contains a link to that designer's Web site, making it easy to check out more of their work. Personally, I love the "Right On" design by Stuart Kolakovic, but the Mr. T towel is pretty hard to resist! Check out the full collection right here.

    More Munggo

    Decisions, decisions. Some of them are easy to make, some of them will keep me up at nights, splitting hairs and weighing a mountainous list of pros and cons. Some I actually enjoy deliberating on, some I enjoyed in the beginning but am now losing steam. Some make my forehead pound. Decisions – not a personal strength but something, as an adult I have to make every day. And these days there seems to be more of that than ever!

    I’m a Libra you see, and decision-making is not something that comes easily to me. I’m not a huge believer in things zodiac but I can say this, what they claim about Librans being indecisive, and being able to see all sides of a story or question (some sides even purely hypothetical and not very likely), is 100% on the ball when it comes to me. I need to dissect every single possibility and permutation before making a decision...a long and sometimes painful process. This goes for everything from life-changing choices to what I want from a menu!

    Thank goodness there are some decisions that I actually enjoy pouring over. Not that I totally abhor decision-making, I understand it comes with that thing called “being a grown up”, but it’s nice to know that there are some that give me less wrinkled-forehead moments than others.

    Like what kind of beans to buy.

    These may seem like regular munggo beans (mung beans) to most but they’re not. They are actually lighter in color and slightly longer than the common munggo. The reason I know this is because when I saw them at the market they sat side by side with a bag of the usual green, roundish munggo, so the difference was apparent. Plus I eat my weight in munggo every month, so I should have learned something about these beans by now. I found them at the stall of my favourite organic veggie & herb grower at our neighbourhood Saturday market (Gil Carandang at the Salcedo Market – such a treasure trove!). He was busy with another customer so I discussed the merits of the beans with his son. He knew they were a different type but wasn’t quite sure of the name – he did mention that he liked them better and they had been having it for dinner. After a few back and forths I decided to buy a small bag full and went away quite pleased with my purchase.

    These are the kinds of simple choices that help me de-stress from the bigger more “grown-up” choices we all have to deal with. It may sound trifling but let me tell you, therapy does not get any cheaper than a 250-gram bag of beans.

    No recipe for today – I used up various leftover bits for this batch of munggo. I prepared it the same way as I always do, using garlic, onions, tomato, and a combination of smoked and dried-salted fish as the flavorings. Filipino dried-salted fish (daing) is wickedly potent and does wonders in flavouring munggo – you can use dried shrimp (hibe) as well. I added malunggay (moringa) leaves at the last moment.

    Happy weekend everyone! I hope you have something nice and relaxing planned :) Me, I will be heading to the market to unwind over some produce related shopping :)

    UPDATE 7/26: Thanks to a nice commenter, Bea, I now know what the beans are! They are called tapilan or rice bean and although a relation to munggo, they are not the same. To Manila residents: Bea also sells a wonderful selection of natural, eco-friendly products (lovely soaps and more!) at the Sunday Legazpi can also check out her stuff here.

    Black Pearl Cake (Wasabi & Ginger)

    During my recent trip into the wonderful world of Wasabi ice cream, I stumbled upon this recipe for chocolate cake with ginger, wasabi, and black sesame! I'm a sucker for desserts with unusual flavors, so this cake, which was created by Katrina Markoff, CEO of Vosges Haut-Chocolat, is right up my alley. I can't wait to try it! Click here for the recipe, which originally appeared in Bon Appetit.

    [top photo: Noel Barnhurst/Bon Appetit; bottom photo: catsun)

    High Fashion Dessert - Erin Fetherston

    I've been sitting her thinking about how I'm dying to see the new movie (500) Days of Summer, staring the super awesome Zooey Deschanel, so I thought that I'd post this cute picture of Zooey pushing an ice cream cart from Erin Fetherston's Fall/Winter 08/09 collection. Erin's work has always sort of reminded me of cake, what with the tiers and the ruffles and all, so I thought this was a good opportunity to post some of her work! Have a great weekend everybody!

    Breakfast #29: Creamy Mushroom & Onion Omelette

    Our family doctor believes that the egg is still the golden standard when it comes to protein. I have to agree – not that I know anything about protein, or much about nutrition, but eggs, in my book, are a wondrous food. They can be a complete meal unto themselves or used in a myriad of different ways from breakfast to dessert. They come in their own container, are simple to find and use, and you can dress them up or down as you see fit. Plus they are delicious. And yes, golden.

    So in keeping with the doctor’s advice, I’ve prepared eggs for I’ve done, in one way or another, many times before. I must confess, I am not the healthiest person, nor am I a star patient, and the reason I eat eggs (or anything else I love for that matter) is because I love them, not quite because they were given someone’s seal of approval. But it’s still nice to know that sometimes, my opinion does coincide with that of someone of the medical profession – it’s not often the case so when it does happen I feel it cause for a little celebration.

    The “making an omelette with earthy mushrooms and softly caramelized onions bathed in cream for breakfast” kind of celebration.

    Creamy Mushroom & Onion Omelette
    • Olive oil or butter
    • 1 clove garlic, minced
    • 1 large white onion or 2 medium ones
    • 200 grams Swiss brown mushrooms
    • 1/4 cup cream
    • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
    • 4 eggs

    - Heat a glug of olive oil or a pat of butter in a non-stick pan (olive oil if you want to be healthier, butter if you want it to be richer – you can also use a combination).
    - Add garlic and onions and sauté until the onions are soft and slightly caramelized.
    - Add the mushrooms and sauté until cooked. Add the cream, stirring continuously (don’t let that cream burn!). The cream should reduce slightly and get into all the nooks and crannies, picking up mushroom flavour and taking on its nutty brown color as it goes.
    - Season to taste with salt and pepper, and set aside.
    - Clean pan and return to heat with another small glug of oil.
    - Beat 2 eggs gently in a separate bowl, then pour into the pan. When the bottom sets but the top is still moist and jiggly, add half the mushroom mixture to one side of the egg. Flip the other side over the mushrooms to enclose. Slide onto a plate. Repeat with the remaining 2 eggs and mushroom mixture.
    - Serves two.

    This is no fluffy omelette – I can’t seem to master that particular artform. This is more a flat picnic blanket of egg made for the purpose of enfolding some luscious filling. Don’t discount the egg for its flatness though – I love the taste of egg, flat or not! I am, however, very much open to the secrets of the fluffy omelette if anyone out there is inclined to share :)

    You can make this breakfast for two, or, just use 2 eggs and half the mushroom mixture for a breakfast for one. In which case you can then toss the other half of the mushroom mixture with pasta, or serve on toast, for a nice lunch for one. You can also add 2 slices of camembert or gruyere to each omelette if you are feeling particularly decadent, or are in need of cheering up, or the morning is grey and gloomy. I don’t know how your family doctors would feel about that though...

    Wasabi Ice Cream and Other Asian Ice Cream Diversions

    Recently, at a housewarming party that I attended, a discussion about wacky ice cream flavors arose. I quickly mentioned the Curry ice cream from Vosges, while someone else told the tale of eating wasabi ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery. Wasabi ice cream? At Cold Stone? I couldn't find any mention of it on Cold Stone's Web site, although I did find evidence of it's existence at one time, but it did start me wondering . . . is Wasabi ice cream available elsewhere?? I thought I'd do some Web surfing to find out!

    Apparently, Wasabi ice cream is quite common in Japan, where, according to this Web site, you can also buy ice creams flavored with lots of yummy ingrdients, like chicken wings, eel, and octopus! The "yummy" part was sarcasm, in case you didn't catch that. I also discovered photographic evidence for Japanese snake, garlic, and salt ice cream. (I'd pass on the snake, but the garlic and salt flavors might actually be pretty good!)

    Next stop on my Wasabi hunt was the Web site for il Laboratorio del Gelato in New York. They do indeed carry Wasabi gelato, along with LOTS of other new and unexpected flavors like Guinness and cheddar cheese. You can also find curry and wasabi flavors at the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, which is in NY as well.

    For those of you who prefer making things yourself, check out Anthony Bombaci's recipe for wasabi ice cream, right here.

    I'll stop at this point, but I found lots of other interesting asian ice cream treats during my search! More to come . . . soon!

    [wasabi ice cream image: Katherine Moon; wasabi sign: Andrew Martin; salt ice cream: piki hiki biki; snake ice cream: kaige]

    Superman Ice Cream Fans Unite!

    I'm loving this video by Quinn Strassel (The Mitten) about Superman ice cream. Inspired by the Serious Eats post on this colorful treat, Quinn took to the streets to try to find out more about this mysterious flavor. Apparently, Superman ice cream is only a Michigan thing or, at the most, a Midwest thing. Who knew?? Click here for the full post.

    photo by Laura Roberts

    Weekend Escape: Moon Garden, Tagaytay

    So much is happening right now...some thrilling, and some extremely stressful! Each not related to the other and some may have a wee bit to do with this blog :) I’ll post about it soon but for now here are some photos from another weekend getaway, this one much closer to home.

    I’ve mentioned Tagaytay before, just a drive away from the city and fairly easy to get to...although anything south of the city can be quite a headache right now as they are doing works on the highway. In any case, mum-in-law gifted us with a night’s stay in a hidden gem of a place she discovered.

    Appropriately enough, in these frenetic times, the place is a pocket of absolute tranquillity. It’s filled to bursting with brilliant foliage that seems to tuck themselves into every nook and cranny. Secret corners are hidden about where old wooden benches share the space with wild flowers and creeping vines. Kick-knacks like ceramic moons and elephants pop up in unexpected place, peeking out in between the plants. Huts with big comfy sofas lie as if floating in the middle of ponds lined with lily pads.

    This is exactly the place to be if you need some time to exhale and listen to the crickets – which I think we all do once in a while, even the most boisterous and crowd-loving of us!

    Our casita seemed almost overgrown with vigorous vines with big shiny green leaves and unidentified fruit. A wrought iron table and chair sat beside it, right next to a small field of pineapple. I had no troubles settling in immediately for a deep, worry-free nap, lulled by the comforting swish of the ceiling fan.

    They grow their own organic vegetables on the grounds (plants thrive they do all over Tagaytay) and, predictably because of this, they serve an awesome house salad. With something like four kinds of lettuce and seven kinds of vegetables, and two kinds of dressing, it was delicious and fresh and a perfect example of how fantastic salads can be when well-cared-for ingredients are used and a little thought is put into it.

    Because C and my jobs don’t allow us any long vacations at present (no weeks-long, cross continent holidays for us right now!), I like to make sure we still take these short little jaunts “away from it all” to relax and recharge. With the right outlook even the shortest hops can seem like a holiday, and a night in a new place can be an adventure :)

    More food (in particular breakfast!) soon...I promise!

    The Mixing Bowl: Strawberry and Pear Croustade by Hang Tight Studio

    I am so sooo excited to present this guest post from Heather Dutton of Hang Tight Studio. I have been a fan of Heather's work for many years now and I'm thrilled that she agreed to put together this cooking project for Dessert Girl! It's so inspiring to see people make food that they love and Heather's post for strawberry and pear croustade with vanilla bean glaze does not disappoint!

    Heather, who runs a freelance textile and surface design business, and has worked with big name companies like Pottery Barn and Tupperware, creates wonderful and incredibly cute designs! I'm particularly fond of her playful animal prints, like the ones below, but she also has a lot of gorgeous floral and geometric patterns as well. I love her work so much that I have been known to use her designs as desktop wallpaper and, whenever I do, I always get tons of compliments from passersby!

    I hope you’ll enjoy Heather’s recipe as much as I did. It looks like the perfect summer treat, for the eyes and the belly! (To see the recipe in a readable, large-print format, just click on each image.)

    Thanks Heather!

    To see more of Heather’s work click here to visit her Web site and, to shop online, visit her brand new Etsy site, right here. While you're there, check out the paint chip etchings, which combine both cuteness and recycling! Yay!

    (p.s. This post officially starts my new guest baker series, which I'm calling The Mixing Bowl, for now. Or is that title too cheesy? Stay tuned for more mystery pastry chefs in the future!)

    Dessert in the Bath

    I'm a big fan of anything you use in the shower, especially soap and bubble bath, so I was excited to see that sweets shop Dylan's Candy Bar has extended their product line to bath products. I especially like the look of their shower gel line, which comes in cute retro-inspired soda bottles. All products are free of parabens and synthetic preservatives, among other things, so woo hoo, no potential cancer risk! Well, until some future date when it's discovered that "safe ingredients" kill you as well. Click here to view the complete, paraben-free, collection.

    While visiting Dylan's Web site, I also stumbled upon these great candy building blocks. I'm not sure how they taste, but they look like Legos, so I'd have to give 'em a try!

    Momofuku Milk Bar: My Latest Bakery Obsession

    It started innocently enough, a coworker of mine recently had dinner at Momofuku Ko in NYC and sent me the link to their site. Of course, one of the first things I did was to click on the site for their bakery and what did I see?? Arnold Palmer cake! Cornflake-marshmallow-chocolate chip cookies!! Crack pie!!! Crack pie??

    I want to go there.

    I quickly searched Google, desperate for a recipe for Arnold Palmer cake (iced tea jelly, lemon mascarpone cream, almond tea crunch), but came up with nothing. Has no one tried to copy this yet?? Happily, my crack pie search yielded better results, leading me to a demonstration from Martha Stewart's show, along with recipes for Momofuku's cereal milk and blueberry-and-cream cookies!! Woo hoo!

    I am now officially obsessed. I wish more bakeries thought this creatively! I haven't made the crack pie yet, but it's on top of my baking list. I also can't wait until the day that I actually get to step foot inside the Milk Bar, although there are so many choices that in the process of making a decision, I may completely freak out. Oh, and don't tell me their desserts suck or I'll punch you in the arm! Okay, if it sucks, I would like to hear your opinion, but I'll still be mentally punching you in the arm. :-)

    To watch Martha's visit to the Momofuku Milk Bar, click here. (The link takes you to the beginning of the show, so you'll have to scroll over to the video titled Momofuku Milk Bar.)

    Did I mention the Lucky Charms soft serve???

    (Arnold Palmer cake photo by Kathy Chan.)