chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting

Happy Halloween! Here in Italy, Halloween is not really celebrated at all, which is very sad for those of us who view Halloween as an excuse to consume a horrific amount of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in the name of “celebrating a holiday.” To make matters worse, my extensive searches all over this city have yielded exactly zero peanut butter cups, so I can’t even sit in my room and eat them by myself while watching Halloweeny movies (read: Harry Potter movies).

There is really only one solution to a problem like this. Step 1: get together with American friends here in Rome. Step 2: Order pizza, eat popcorn, watch movies, and have your own Halloween, Italian indifference be damned. Step 3: find something to replace the peanut butter cups.

Enter chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting. It’s not quite the same as the Reese’s cups from home, but since I definitely consumed all the ones I brought back with me within about 72 hours, it was the best I could do.

The chocolate cake part of these cupcakes was amazing. Since there were no cupcake liners to be found here, I had to bake the cupcakes in little tin foil cups, but then remove them before frosting them. Because the cake was so moist, this resulted in a little bit of stickiness when handling the cakes, but again, cupcake liners would solve that problem. The cake itself was chocolatey without being overly sweet, and was even *marginally* healthier than the Contessa intended, because I substituted Greek yogurt for the buttermilk.

The frosting recipe is one that I’ve used a couple of times before, and so far I haven’t had any complaints. It starts like a cream cheese frosting, with peanut butter being the final addition. Because peanut butter can get so dense and rich (and delicious!), I think the cream cheese is the perfect way to introduce a little lightness and tang into the flavor, while still letting it stay plenty peanutbuttery.

This time (as the pictures show), the frosting didn’t come out perfectly smooth and creamy when I piped it, probably due to the fact that I had to mix it by hand, and I was doing so while simultaneously watching the Friends halloween party episode. Despite appearances, I didn’t notice much of a difference in the texture, so it all worked out! Overall, the cupcakes were a success, and I succeeded in eating too many of them. The Halloween tradition lives on.

Chocolate Cake recipe (adapted from The Barefoot Contessa)

  • 1 3/4 cup AP flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup good cocoa powder (I used Lindt)
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease cupcake pan/prepare cupcake liners.

Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, combine yogurt, oil, eggs and vanilla.

While mixing (or while using an electric mixer), slowly add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.  Once combined, slowly add the coffee and stir to combine.

Pour batter into prepared pan/liners. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (Note: because this cake is very moist even when fully cooked, the toothpick may have some crumbs on it, but as long as there is no uncooked batter on it, the cake should be done). Cool cupcakes completely (I cooled them overnight, but this is not necessary) before frosting.

Peanut Butter Frosting recipe (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

  • 10 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter (preferably a commercial brand, so that the oil doesn’t separate out)
  • 1 – 1.5 cups powdered sugar (according to taste)

Combine cream cheese and butter and mix until light and fluffy. Gradually add the powdered sugar and mix until thoroughly combined. Add peanut butter and continue to mix until combined. Spread/pipe onto fully-cooled cupcakes and enjoy!

home sweet rome

It has been a while since I’ve posted anything new, I know. I have a good excuse. I was home for a whirlwind ten days that, in reality, felt like 10 seconds. I got to see my family, whom I had not seen in 3 months, including my little sister, who I had not seen in 4 months, since she spent part of the summer in Oxford being brainy and fabulous, rather than staying home, being bored and helping me pack for Italy.  She is growing up entirely too quickly for my taste, and it has gotten to the point where I can no longer help her with her math homework, because I barely understood that stuff when I had to do it. It feels like only yesterday she was learning about binomials and I was screeching terms like “FOIL” at her constantly, throwing crumpled pieces of paper at her when she messed up (please note, my tutoring services are available for hire).

I took advantage of my brief time at home to hit up as many of Ithaca’s Greatest Gastronomic Hits as I could, excluding all the Italian joints (with one notable exception*). I made it to Wegmans, Boatyard Grill, hibachi at Kyushu, multiple pizza bagels at CTB/Ithaca Bakery, Tamarind, arancini at Ciao*, and, of course, the heavenly deep fried potato wedges at my favorite restaurant:

I didn’t bring my camera home with me, and what we have here is a picture hastily taken with my phone. It had been three months since I’d had those potato wedges, and I wasn’t about to waste time taking a decent picture of them. Sorry I’m not sorry.

I did do some baking at home, taking advantage of long-forgotten luxuries like counter space and convection ovens and food processors and measuring cups. I made three (yep, three) key lime pies using this recipe that has never failed me. I made homemade poptarts filled with Nutella (post coming soon), and chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting for my sister’s bake sale.

Even though I couldn’t pack up my friends and family and bring them back with me, I was able to smuggle a little bit of home into Rome, in the form of a few comfort foods:

The cast of characters includes Annie’s mac&cheese (because everyone keeps saying it’s so much better than Kraft, but so far I just don’t see it), Kraft Easy Mac (in case I still don’t see it), Reese’s peanut butter cups, Lipton cream of chicken cup-a-soups (in case Rome ever does remember that it is almost November, and starts cooling down accordingly), Heath toffee bits for baking (and snacking while baking), apple pie spice, and real cheddar cheese so that I can make my own mac&cheese once I run out of the offending Annie’s and conciliatory Kraft.

I also brought back a measuring cup, measuring spoons, a zester, a mini cake pan, and my pastry bags and tips. Oh, and my old electric hand mixer that will be ready to retire soon, because I’m sure it (much like myself) would rather retire in Italy than in Ithaca anyways.

Ciao!

chocolate-covered shortbread

It’s not socially acceptable to just eat sticks of butter, and that is why the Scots invented shortbread. They could have just called it butterbread, but the use of the word “short” is due to the fact that the old meaning of “short” is actually “crumbly”. And the reason shortbread is crumbly is because of ALL THE BUTTER.

Traditional shortbread is composed of sugar, butter and flour in a 1:2:3 ratio. Traditionally, oat flour is used, but nowadays it is often substituted with regular AP flour.

Though they really need no topping, I decided to add a layer of melted chocolate and some sprinkles to these shortbread bars. The easiest way to do this is just to dump chocolate chips on top of the shortbread the minute that it comes out of the oven. Usually, the heat from the pan alone should be enough to melt the chips, but in case it isn’t (or you are getting impatient because Say Yes to the Dress already started and you are missing it), just stick the pan back in the oven for about 20 seconds.

Once the chocolate chips got that shiny, melty look, I pulled the pan out of the oven, smoothed the chocolate with a knife, threw some sprinkles on top, and then went to the back patio to take pictures.

Sometimes taking good pictures means lying flat on your stomach and getting up close and personal with a stack of cookies. This can cause people (such as the guy mowing the lawn) to look at you with a mixture of amusement and concern, prompting you to try and relieve the awkwardness by greeting him with what can really only be described as a salute. The best thing to do in these situations is grab the cookies, run inside, and drown the embarrassment by shame-eating 3 or 4 of those chocolate-covered butterbombs.

Once the shame-eating is complete, I advise burning off this massive caloric intake is with a nice, long walk. I recommend starting at Il Vittoriano on Piazza Venezia and working your way down the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II until you get to Ponte Sant’Angelo, and find yourself face to face with this:

The Castel Sant’Angelo, also known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian. Originally commissioned as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian and his family, the castle was later used as a papal fortress, occasional papal residence, and prison. Nowadays it is home to Il Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo.

It could also be a wedding cake covered in mocha buttercream, thus making it a perfect way to book-end the walk from Piazza Venezia.

I submitted this recipe to the My Baking Addiction and GoodLife Eats Holiday Recipe Swap sponsored by Scharffen Berger!

Shortbread bars recipe (adapted from Joy of Baking)

  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • rainbow sprinkles for decorating (can also use toffee bits, chopped walnuts, etc.)

Preheat oven to 350° and line a 9×9″ baking pan with parchment paper (or grease with baking spray).

Using hand mixer (or stand mixer), beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract, then flour and salt and mix until dough comes together.

Press dough into pan, forming an even layer. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until shortbread becomes light golden-brown.

Remove pan from oven and evenly distribute chocolate chips on top of shortbread. If desired, place pan back in oven for 20 seconds to speed up the melting process. Once chips begin to look melted, use a butter knife or offset spatula to spread chocolate in an even layer. Immediately top with sprinkles (or topping of choice), and allow chocolate to harden before cutting.