Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache Filling & Salted Caramel Buttercream

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Oh man, I’m a little ashamed of how long it has been since my last post. But I brought a show-stopping cupcake recipe with me, so hopefully you will forgive me 😉 What can I say, the last semester of grad school is anything but slow.

2 weeks ago, I had the honor of making a dessert contribution for Sarah and Andy’s wedding. I wanted it to be something truly special that I knew they (and all the guests) would enjoy, so I came up with these decadent beauties.

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Sarah is one of the few people who understands chocolate on the level that I do. She may be my sister’s best friend, but she knows who to consult when she needs a chocolate fix! When she asked me to make a dessert for her wedding, I knew it had to be something sinful and chocolatey. Last year, I went through a stuffed cupcake phase. Well… Not as much of a phase as a permanent way of life. Once you stuff your cupcakes, you won’t go back. Case in point:

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I mean, COME ON. That chocolate ganache is basically a whole extra layer of love that moistens the cupcake and makes it feel like you’re eating a volcano cupcake. With homemade salted caramel buttercream. This is what dreams are made of, people.

Stuffing the cupcakes takes a little extra time, but it’s so worth it. All you have to do is take a sharp knife and, holding it at an angle, cut a small circle out of the center:

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Fill it with roughly 1-2 teaspoons of your filling:

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And then put the circle back on top to keep it a sweet surprise!

img_0045I made a small batch of these the night before the wedding and had the bride and my family do some quality control, just to make sure they tasted fine. The funniest reaction came from my Dad, who was basically losing his mind and swearing like a sailor because they tasted *that* good. As I was photographing them the next day before the wedding, he was lurking behind me: So, uh, Alex… We, uh, we gonna get any more of those or do they ALL have to go to the wedding? 

I haven’t even mentioned the frosting yet. Basically, it’s super rich and it has the perfect sweetness from the caramel to contrast the intensity of the dark chocolate cupcakes. A word of caution: I make my frosting with DRASTICALLY less sugar than most recipes. Most frosting recipes have 4+ cups of powdered sugar in them, and I think that makes them way too sweet. That being said, this frosting is best consumed the day of. Since there is less sugar, the frosting isn’t super stiff and it won’t last as long as most other buttercream recipes will. But good luck even making it to day 2 after you make these.

I’m so sorry the blog has been relatively quiet. I will try my  hardest to bring you thoughtful recipes and posts when I can. For now, enjoy these luscious cupcakes full of love, made for an occasion that was nothing but love! Congratulations Sarah and Andy!

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Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache Filling and Salted Caramel Buttercream

Makes 24 cupcakes

Ingredients:

For the cupcakes*: 

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups dark chocolate cocoa powder (I use Hershey’s Special Dark)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup canola oil vegetable oil would also be fine
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 eggs lightly beaten (preferably room temperature)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup hot water (or hot coffee or 1 tsp instant coffee dissolved into 1 cup hot water)

For the ganache filling: 

  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream

For the salted caramel buttercream: 

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1.5 Tablespoons salted caramel sauce (I use Trader Joe’s caramel sauce with Fleur de Sel)
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon heavy cream

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and line muffin tin with cupcake liners (or lightly grease and flour).
  2. In large bowl, whisk together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Stir in canola oil and milk, stirring until combined.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, stirring after each addition.
  5. Stir in vanilla extract.
  6. Add hot water and stir until the mixture is evenly combined; it’s going to be a thin batter so don’t worry if you feel like it looks too runny.

  7. Fill prepared cupcake liners just over 2/3 of the way full and bake at 350F for 18-22 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean.
  8. Allow cupcakes to cool on a wire rack before filling and frosting them.
  9. While the cupcakes are cooling, make the ganache: Place the chocolate chips in a medium heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream over medium-high heat, just before it boils (do not let it boil). Pour the hot cream over the chocolate chips and allow it to sit for 60 seconds. Stir the cream and chocolate mixture until it is silky and smooth. Set aside.
  10. Fill the cooled cupcakes by cutting a small circle out of the center (see above for picture tutorial) and placing 1-2 teaspoons of ganache in the center. Place the circle of cake you cut out back on top of the cupcake to close it off.
  11. Make your frosting: In a large bowl, beat the butter, caramel, powdered sugar, vanilla, salt, and cream until the ingredients are evenly combined and the mixture is light and fluffy.
  12. Place the frosting into a pastry bag and pipe onto the stuffed cupcakes.
  13. ENJOY!

*Note that the cupcake recipe is an adaptation on Sugar Spun Run’s Easy Chocolate Cupcakes. 

Papa’s Fried Potatoes- Westfälische Bratkartoffeln

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Today I’m sharing a recipe that has been in my life since I was a small child. In all the German-style potatoes I’ve had in my life, none of the Bratkartoffeln (fried potatoes) compare to my Dad’s. These are the potatoes he taught himself to make in college. They are the ultimate student food: cheap, easy, and comforting. Whenever he had to stay up late studying and needed a midnight snack, this was his go-to dish. According to him, these potatoes guaranteed a few knocks on his door at 2 AM when other hungry college students smelled the mouth-watering aroma of fried potatoes drifting through the halls late at night. Make these, and I guarantee you will get people wandering into your kitchen to see what smells so good!

The trick to making perfectly crispy potatoes is to LEAVE THEM ALONE. I mean this! When Papa instructed me as a young child how to cook these potatoes, not over-stirring the potatoes was rule number 1. They will never develop a nice crust if you keep turning them with a spatula (much like what I discussed in my last post about cooking mushrooms). In the 30 minutes it takes to prepare these, you probably only need to stir the potatoes 3-4 times. For best results, make sure you’re using a stainless steel or cast iron pan.

If you have a little more time on your hands, you don’t need to pre-boil the potatoes. Sometimes I just peel and dice the potatoes and fry them in oil, and you get the same crispiness but you have to wait longer for them to cook through. If you pre-boil your potatoes, you can fry them in butter and they will cook more quickly but still get a nice crust on them. Also, butter=flavor, so I’m a fan of the pre-boil method to get that extra layer of flavor in there.

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And on a sweet little side note: To this day, whenever my Mom is sick, my Dad immediately cooks these fried potatoes for her. Fried potatoes may not be your first thought for food you want when you’re sick, but trust me—they have healing powers! They’re so savory and warm and comforting and honestly soup just doesn’t hold a candle to them. (Well, my Dad also makes a killer chicken soup… but that’s for another post!)

Serve these with fried eggs to complete the meal. Who doesn’t love a good egg yolk running around and gettin’ all nice and comfortable with crispy potatoes!?

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Papa’s Fried Potatoes

Serves 4-5

Ingredients

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

2.5 pounds potatoes (I used Yukon Gold), peeled

1 large yellow onion, finely diced

3 slices bacon, finely diced (optional—I usually make mine without to keep it vegetarian and they are delicious either way!)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

Very fat pinch of salt & pepper

Eggs, for frying

Directions

  1. In a large pot, cover the potatoes with water. Over medium heat, allow the potatoes to softly boil for around 15-20 minutes. You want the potatoes to still have some firmness to them; you’re not looking to cook them completely through.
  2. Drain the potatoes and allow them to cool slightly.
  3. When the potatoes have cooled, cut them in half and dice them into bite-size pieces.
  4. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons of butter. Add the diced potatoes and once they are distributed throughout the pan, let them sit. Let them sit a good 5 minutes before you even think about picking up that spatula again.
  5. Stir the potatoes and add in the diced bacon. Let everything sit in the pan for another 5 minutes.
  6. While you’re waiting on the potatoes, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat and add the diced onion. Allow these to soften, about 5 minutes.
  7. Add the onion to the pan with the potatoes and stir. By this point you should be seeing a nice golden brown crust on your potatoes. Season the whole pan generously with salt and pepper. Top the potatoes with the fresh chopped chives.
  8. Fry desired amount of eggs in butter and serve alongside potatoes.

Strawberry Rhubarb Stuffed French Toast with Orange Whipped Cream Cheese

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My favorite things in the world right now are South Carolina strawberries. I don’t know what it is, but this season they are exceptionally good. When I was at the farmer’s market last weekend, I felt like the strawberries were calling out to me from every booth. I couldn’t resist. So a few days ago, I bought some and made this cake:

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Ohhh my. I first made this cake a few years ago, and I don’t know why it took me until now to make it again, because it is seriously delicious. It’s one of those cakes that you’re tempted to eat for breakfast because the next morning you see it sitting in the fridge and you have to question if it’s okay to eat cake at 9 AM. But you don’t have to! I have the solution:

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I wanted the flavors of this cake in a more breakfast-friendly format, and it came to me: Stuffed. French. Toast. Have there ever been three more beautiful words in the English language? Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you I have a thing for stuffed desserts. There’s nothing like the look of wonder when someone is surprised by a sweet filling. It’s basically like a present inside of a present; am I right?! I used the same filling from the cake recipe, but instead of topping the French toast with boring old whipped cream, I combined whipped cream with cream cheese and added orange zest and vanilla.

These pieces of French toast are like little clouds. The brioche is the perfect, pillowy vessel for the tangy strawberry-rhubarb filling.  The rubarb gives you a nice balance to offset the sweetness of the strawberries. The whipped cream/cream cheese combination gives you an exceptionally light topping for the French toast with a burst of orange flavor.

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Just look at that beautiful filling! Strawberries and rhubarb are not in season for much longer, so you need to make this dish ASAP. It would make for a perfect Mother’s Day Brunch.

Strawberry Rhubarb Stuffed French Toast with Whipped Orange Cream Cheese

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 loaf brioche bread

3 eggs

1/3 cup half and half

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp vanilla extract

4 tablespoons butter

Extra sliced strawberries and powdered sugar, for garnish

For the strawberry-rhubarb filling:

2 stalks rhubarb, cut into 1 inch pieces

¼ cup plus ½ tablespoon granulated sugar

½ cup thinly sliced strawberries

For the whipped orange cream cheese:

½ cup cold heavy cream

4 oz softened cream cheese

1 tsp orange zest

½ tsp vanilla extract

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Instructions:

  1. Combine the rhubarb, ¼ cup sugar, and 2 tablespoons of water in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and continue to cook until it becomes a thick puree, around 15-20 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  2. Once the rhubarb puree has cooled, fold in the sliced strawberries and the ½ tablespoon of sugar. Set aside.
  3. Whip the heavy cream in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until soft peaks form, around 6 minutes.
  4. In a separate bowl, whip the cream cheese until light and fluffy, about 20 seconds.
  5. Add the cream cheese to the bowl with the whipped cream. Add the orange zest, vanilla, and powdered sugar. Beat until well combined, about 1 minute. Set aside.
  6. Combine the eggs, half and half, cinnamon, and vanilla in a shallow bowl.
  7. Slice the brioche bread into 1.5 inch slices. You don’t have to break out the ruler here, but you want the bread to be thick enough to form a pocket for the stuffing.
  8. Using a knife, make a slit in the bottom of each slice. This is the pocket where your filling will go. Stuff each slice with around 2 tablespoons of filling.
  9. Dunk each slice of stuffed brioche in the egg mixture. Make sure that each slice has a nice coating.
  10. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet. Fry the brioche, 2 slices at a time, in the skillet until golden brown. Repeat with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the remaining 2 slices of brioche.
  11. Top each slice of French toast with a healthy dollop of the whipped orange cream cheese. Garnish with additional sliced strawberries and powdered sugar, if desired.

Garlic Pasta

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In all the years I thought about making a food blog, I always knew this would be the first recipe I would post. My love of food and passion for cooking go all the way back to childhood, but this was one of the first simple dishes I learned to master and perfect in high school.

I’m convinced that some of the best dishes in life have minimal ingredients but loads of flavor. When I was in Italy last year, the best thing I ate the whole trip was a bowl of risotto that was served out of a giant wheel of parmesan. All it was: risotto, butter, white wine, and parmesan cheese. Seriously! Now, there are times when I love to work with a long list of ingredients and see how many different textures and flavors I can work into one dish. But those kinds of meals are for Saturday experiments and are not practical for a weeknight. This pasta dish is a bi-weekly staple in my life. It’s SUPER easy, comforting, and delicious!

It all started when my sister Erika studied abroad in Germany during my freshman year of high school. When she came home for Christmas Break after the first four months of being away, I was ecstatic to spend every moment with her for a few weeks, soaking up all the details from her adventures abroad. We had sleepovers every night that December and usually stayed up until 2-3 AM just laughing and talking about life. We always snuck into my parents’ kitchen for a late night snack—but in my house, late night snacks usually aren’t something simple like a bag of chips. Strombergs always have to go and make a mess; we have to get out pots, pans, and cutting boards to whip up something to suit our late night cravings. Just ask Eric—we have a deal that I do all the cooking and he does all the cleaning. That poor man is always cleaning up the hurricane I leave behind in the kitchen!

Erika had a friend from Albania who taught her how to make this garlic pasta while she was abroad, and when she came home she shared it with me. It has since become a staple in our household. It is essentially pasta aglio e olio, but with a twist (the secret ingredient that makes this pasta a little different: paprika!). This pasta is simple, garlicky, and will easily fix a late-night hankering for carbs. I have added my own flares to the original recipe, and I have a few variations of the recipe depending on what I’m in the mood for or who I’m cooking for (stay tuned for my post on what I call Eric’s pasta—coming soon).

This is the pasta you make when you only have 15 minutes to whip up a quick dinner. This is the pasta you make when you want a warm, comforting bowl of carbs on a cold night. This is the pasta you make at 3 AM when your sister is in town and you both need a late night snack. This is the pasta you make for your 6-year anniversary dinner on a school night so you’re short on time but you really want pasta and you love each other enough to eat something loaded with garlic for a romantic dinner. Have I mentioned how often I make this pasta?

It’s very simple, and it doesn’t have many ingredients. So I cannot stress enough that the ingredients you use have to be top notch quality!

A quick word about cheese: if possible, you should ALWAYS use freshly grated cheese. I have not purchased pre-shredded cheese of any kind in 2 years and I have never looked back. It only takes an extra minute to grate cheese by hand but it makes a world of a difference, trust me!

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Garlic Pasta

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 lb linguine, spaghetti, or other long noodle of your choice

2/3 cup good quality olive oil

5-6 garlic cloves, finely minced

1 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

½ bunch fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped

½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus extra for serving, if desired

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil & season generously with salt. Cook the pasta until al dente.
  2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add garlic, paprika, and pepper flakes and cook for 3-5 minutes.
  3. Drain pasta and immediately toss back into the pot. Pour olive oil mixture over the pasta and toss to coat all the noodles.
  4. Top the pasta with the fresh Parmesan and parsley & serve.