Sunday, March 20, 2011

CHOCOLATE ESPRESSO CUPCAKES WITH MOCHA MASCARPONE FROSTING

The rest is silence.
- William Shakespeare, Hamlet


While the world out there gets smaller and smaller, the world we live in gets wider, larger, farther away.


With the click of a button we bring everything into our livingrooms and offices, the world at our fingertips. Television and internet bring natural catastrophe, man-made disaster and human drama, love and violence, astounding beauty and grisly horror up close and personal. Via the means of in-your-face news, we never need miss anything ever again and we feel as if we are there. Reach out and touch the screen, turn up the volume and listen to the wailing of voices, the rumbling of the earth, the rushing of water and the deafening noise of the bombs. Miners are trapped deep in the bowels of the earth and we are down there with them, a tsunami strikes on the other side of the world and there we are, watching the raging waters with those perched, terrified and awed, on a hilltop just out of reach. Explosions, bombs, hurricanes and there we are in the center of the action. Sitting warm and safe in our own homes far away, we become, nonetheless, a part of the action. No longer must we wait days or even weeks for the news to reach us in impersonal musty black and white. No more whispers in town squares or behind church stalls nor gossip and speculation over the dinner table or at the corner bar once the news has traveled over road and ocean to reach us, filtered, diluted and hazy. No longer do we need to use our imaginations to fill in the gaps or feel the emotions felt by those immediately affected, the survivors or the rare reporter who dares inch his way towards whatever he needs to bring to the rest of the world. Distance is now an illusion and within minutes, nay seconds can we, too, see and feel, experience and share what happens anywhere, absolutely anywhere on this now tiny, tiny planet of ours.


We travel, we move from one country to another with ease, comfort and convenience and experience strange, exotic cultures without needing weeks and months to return home again. We step onto an airplane and within the day, one rotation of the earth we now know by heart, we are back in the arms of those whom we hold most dear. When we have the means the ways are surely there.

Through the magic of telephones, Skype and e-mail we can now visit loved ones in the
farthest corners of the globe as if they were at the other end of the apartment. Voices are strong, loud and clear, their faces smile at us out of the screen bringing back memories of old Jetsons cartoons and the fascination those futuristic videophones in their extremely cool Skypad apartment hovering far above the earth created in our young, naïve minds. We get the news of joy, celebration and birth or illness and death, share it all as it happens and be there, flying faster than the wind, before the warm bundle of joy is brought home or the body laid to rest.


Thanks to modern technology, what just a generation ago was only experienced through science fiction and the imagination of writers, directors and special effect artists, we now communicate with dozens of people at a time, family, friends and strangers, with the mere click of a switch, the ping of a button. We announce our news and pour out our souls to virtual strangers and the sympathy spills in from the four corners of the world from people whom we’ve never met nor seen. Tragedy strikes and we can give money, donate food and clothing in the place of a warm hug or comforting words.

This past week, we have seen destruction, tragedy and war. We watched as the earth trembled, homes were washed away, the sky lit up with the fire of bombs and filled with radioactive plumes of smoke and although we see it all as it happens, breath held, eyes wide with horror and dismay, yet how far do we feel at the same time? Far in our helplessness and inability to act, to help, to comfort, to truly understand. I have also, once again, realized how difficult is the life of an expat in all of the excitement and discovery; no one can understand as an expat just how far away far is. A dear, dear friend lost her father and we cried together at the loss, her own stirring up mine. We cried together at the helplessness we feel as expats living so very far from our families, at how fast and easy it is these days to travel over land and sea yet how difficult and complicated. No, we cannot drop everything at a moment’s notice, leave husband and job behind to rush to the bedside of loved ones who may need us. Questions nag at us, do we go, do we wait, is it really necessary or will it be more important next week, because traveling for a day or longer one cannot jump over there then back again and repeat the following week. We live with the burden, the guilt of not being there haunts us every single day until it burns into our heart and eats away at our soul, but our two distant lives, separated by miles and miles, pull us back and forth, back and forth in a never-ending question mark.


And now, at times like these, we realize just how huge this planet is, how great is the world, how small we are.

Laughter is the closest distance between two people.
- Victor Borge


And at times like these, we switch off the television set, turn off the computer and go into the kitchen and bake. What we need is a little comfort and I find it in little handfuls of chocolate cake topped with something rich and creamy and slightly bitter, the better to wash away bittersweet tears. These delicate, moist, light cupcakes are full of heavenly, comforting chocolate flavor with a dash of the warmth of espresso. Each is topped with a dollop, just enough, of a bittersweet Mocha Frosting, improvised, made with about half a cup leftover Bittersweet Mocha Sauce whipped with half a cup fresh mascarpone until just fluffy enough, just creamy enough, just chocolatey enough. Just perfect. Now take one or two of these little cupcakes, set the plate on a tray with a mug of hot café au lait or milky tea and curl up in your favorite armchair and sit and listen to the silence as you think of only the wonderful times you’ve had with people you love.


CHOCOLATE ESPRESSO CUPCAKES
With Bittersweet Mocha Mascarpone Frosting

6 ounces (175 grams) flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
5 ounces (150 grams) sugar
1 tsp fine espresso powder
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup (150 ml) warm milk
2/3 cup (150 ml) vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325°F (170°C). Line 12 regular-size muffin cups with pretty paper liners. There should also be enough batter left over for 4 or 5 mini cupcakes as well.

Put the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder, sugar and espresso powder in a large mixing bowl and whisk to blend. In a separate mixing bowl or a large liquid measuring cup, whisk together the warm milk (heat cool milk for about 30 seconds in the microwave), the oil, eggs and vanilla.

Now it is simply a question of pouring the wet ingredients into the dry and blending well either with a whisk, a wooden spoon or a hand mixer, although I prefer using a whisk here. The best method for doing this so you don’t end up with stuff splattered all over your countertop and so you end up with perfectly smooth, lump-free batter is to first make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour about a quarter of the liquid ingredients into the well and, with small, brisk circular movements, whisk with just enough of the dry until you have a thick, smooth, lump-free batter in the center. Add some more of the liquid, pull in a bit more of the dry, and briskly whisk again until aha! your batter is perfectly smooth. Continue until all the dry ingredients have been incorporated into your (now) lump-free batter, add any remaining liquid and give it a go. Pour the batter carefully into your cupcake cups (transferring the batter into a large measuring cup with a spout makes this an easy, clean process), filling about ¾ full.

Bake until the center of your cupcakes are risen, slightly cracked and just firm to the touch, set but still moist in the center, About 25 minutes more or less depending on your oven.


Remove the cupcake tin to racks, let cool for about a minute then very carefully lift each cupcake out onto a rack to cool completely before frosting. They are, I might add, just scrumptious without frosting as well.


These cupcakes are also perfect frosted with my Simple Chocolate Buttercream Frosting or a Chocolate Ganache chilled just until thick enough to spread.


35 comments:

Priya said...

Pretty looking cupcakes, wonderful frosting..

thepickyeater said...

great blog !!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

What happened in Japan is terrible and the news we get everyday are quite depressing... We need to switch off and meditate while baking soul-uplifting treats.

Those cupcakes are wonderful! I really love that droolworthy combination of heavenly flavors.

Cheers,

Rosa

Jennifurla said...

I am so very thankful to have a little taste of everything these days. Very thankful for what can bring two people together...although sometimes is works in the opposite direction.

What a great bake here, grea components and flavors

lisaiscooking said...

So true that the world is small and still big at the same time. We want to help with every disaster we see on tv but can only be in one place at one time. Also true that baking is what we do to celebrate or to mourn. Your cupcakes look delicious! Mocha mascarpone frosting is perfect for them.

Elra's cooking and baking said...

It is hard to not feel sad with what happened in Japan, also in country like Libya. I try to distract my self with being in the kitchen. Hope the world around you is fine and that you are and your family are healthy.

Nisrine M. said...

Another killer combination: mascarpone and espresso. Certainly sounds worth a try.

Heavenly Housewife said...

... and sometimes the process of baking is just as comforting as eating (... well, almost). These little babies could help me forget my problems for a while.
*kisses* HH

Deeba PAB said...

It's sometimes surreal when you see the fury that nature can unleash...scary and very unnerving. At times like this, kitchen therapy is very calming. These are gorgeous cupcakes Jamie, and I love the perfect little topping they strut. P R E T T Y!! {Sorry I've been missing. The net is still playing hide & seek with me}

5 Star Foodie said...

Scrumptious cupcakes, the frosting with mocha mascarpone sounds terrific!

Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen said...

I'm not an expat but my parents are and I saw how hard it was on them to be so far from their parents when they were sick. It's a terrible situation to be in and my heart was breaking for Jeanne when I found out. I hope she's able to be with her family very soon.

Meeta K. Wolff said...

Your post is very reminiscent of the post I wrote last week, jamie. I simply wonder what effects all this has on the little children who carry the burden of the technology age we live in.
Finding comfort in food always seems like the right thing to do especially if it's got chocolate in it!

Jamie said...

@Meeta - I think we are all finding it hard to think about anything else these days, isn't it? And I read your post with a lot of pondering and reflection. Since my boys are older than Soeren I don't really think as much about how things like this will affect them as much anymore but you are right. I hope we have been able to keep our boys down to earth, to feel both joy and horror and sadness when the occasion calls for it rather than be dulled by the constant onslaught of these images day in and day out. And we learned the hard way the importance of really talking it all through with them. xo

Junglefrog said...

Such a beautiful post again Jamie. I can only imagine how hard it must be to live so far away from family and friends. And with the current turmoil in the world that will only be harder then ever before.
Your wonderful little cupcakes would definitely be the perfect comfort in times like these!

Anh said...

ohhh, your words. They have such an emotional power. Thank you!

Love the cupcakes by the way!

Heather Davis said...

Lovely post Jamie. As a fellow expat, I really get your "large world" scenario. It scares me sometimes as I get older how far away I am. I'd really hate it if my children moved as far away from me as I did but from my family know its a real possibility.Anyway, the cupcakes look amazing! Baking is good.

Nisa Homey said...

Hi there...first time here...such pretty cupcakes...nice and thoughtful post.

Les rêves d'une boulangère (Brittany) said...

You are spot on about the way baking makes us feel and the way it can connect us. These cupcakes sound like a perfect way to nourish, calm and comfort us all during the tough times..

Nuts about food said...

It is so true what you write. I especially felt what you wrote about being an expat, far from family. My father is sick and whenever he gets worse I torture myself and feel guilty because I feel I should be there and I want to be there and then he gets better and it is forgotten for a while. I have a job, I have young children, flying back and forth is not easy for reasons that go beyond expenses, but theyalso have a weight in decision making. Travelling these days is so easy, but not quite as it would seem...

Debugcooking said...

Such a beautiful post Jamie...you create magic with yr writing..
And these cupcakes are just what I need ;-)

Jenn @leftoverqueen said...

What pretty little cupcakes! Yes, the news seems to be all horrible these days.

A Thought For Food said...

I love the little tuft of frosting on top of the cupcake. Just beautiful, Jamie!

I have shied away from talking about Japan on the blog (though that will change) because I am just speechless when it comes to that. I care very much and want to help, but I have found it impossible to come up with the right words to express how I feel.

Lora said...

I know that expat guilt well. Lovely post Jamie. Many of us are retreating to our kitchens, an oasis in some very trying times now. Lovely cupcakes as well.

Lael Hazan @educatedpalate said...

What a moving and most "unfluffy" post. The world does seem beyond our control at this time; however, it is made smaller by the ability for us to "connect". Your recipe reminds me to take, "manageable" bites. Thank you

Mary said...

These sweet morsels are appropriately adorned with a bittersweet icing. It has been a difficult week for those of us who watch and a horrendous one for those whose lives have been touched are forever changed by this unfolding tragedy. We all take comfort where we can. Hugs and blessings...Mary

Carolyn Jung said...

Mocha mascarpone frosting? I could eat a tub of that just straight. Seriously! ;)

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Absolutely gorgeous Jamie and as I was reading your prose just before the recipe where you suggest having it with a cup of tea I felt myself nodding yes yes yes! :D :P

Barbara said...

Lovely cupcakes Jamie.

Thanks to social media I was able to locate friends in Japan and know they were alright within half an hour of hearing about the earthquake.

Kulsum@JourneyKitchen said...

I recently wrote a post on Japan and I tell you it was so difficult to write it the right way. My emotions were over taking me at all times. Baking is therapeutic and I vouch for that. Lovely little treats Jamie

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

Sorry I've not been able to drop by for a week or two, everyone in the family has been poorly (including myself) and I've been playing catch up ever since.

The situation in Japan is horrific and I despair of what is happening in Libya. I can't believe we've got a war brewing within days of Japan's disaster, it just doesn't make any sense to me at all.

You should have made these espresso cakes from the Nigella recipe - you could have entered to them to "Ciao Italia" for "Forever Nigella 3"!

Cake Duchess said...

What a great post Jamie...I totally feel that back and forth in a never ending ? mark. I experience that often with dear friends and family in Italy. Gorgeous cupcakes! xx

A Canadian Foodie said...

Beautiful reflective writing. Beautiful photos. Beautiful cake. "And at times like these, we switch off the television set, turn off the computer and go into the kitchen and bake." ...and we realize that one person can indeed make a difference. The difference a loving mother in a warm kitchen makes offering her family that soft place to fall, and the difference that same loving person makes purchasing groceries for the home from local and regional sources to protect and enable the local economy to thrive, and the future generations to continue to find solace and delicious dishes in their kitchens at home.
:)
valerie

paula MARIANA said...

This looks so good and delicious, congratulations for your blog,

kisses and blessings from Portugal!!

mandel said...

Your cupcakes looks so delicious! :-)
Like your blog - many inspirations. Go on!

http://www.mandel-blog.blogspot.com

asiangrrl said...

These look yummy, Jamie. Pure comfort food in times of sadness and trouble.

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