November 14, 2011

Chocolate land

We are entering chocolate land.  And when I’m saying chocolate land, I’m not kidding, I’m getting down to serious business.  I’m not a chocoholic, I’m more of a vanillaholic (is that even a word…well…it should be), but who doesn’t like chocolate?  I definitely have to have some chocolate from time to time.  And the holidays are the time to have it.  Dark, milk, white, you name it; this will be a chocolate adventure!  Chocolate is and always will be paramount when it comes to desserts.  One might even say that anything tastes better with chocolate.  Chocolate is rich, luscious, bold, decadent, and an eternal aphrodisiac.  If you want to impress a girl, bring her chocolate.  All right…maybe some flowers, too. 

Chocolate is everywhere and has a positive impact on everyone.  In the movie Chocolat, the main character, Vianne Rocher, moves to a small French village with her daughter, Anouk, and opens a chocolate shop.  At first, Vianne is met with skepticism and resistance. But little by little, her friendly personality and mouth-watering chocolate confections win the locals over.  I guess that chocolate can work its magic on anyone.        

Chocolate is so important in the sweet world that famous pastry chef Ron Ben-Israel, the so called Sweet Genius on the Food Network’s newest show, dedicates an entire challenge to chocolate on his show.  In this competition, the contestants, who are all premier pastry chefs by the way, have to create whimsical and delightful desserts using the surprise ingredients and inspirations provided by Ron Ben-Israel, the host of the show.  Did I mention that they have to come up with these sweet creations in a finite amount of time, and that chef Ron critiques their work?  And he’s not holding back a thing.

The three challenges are: frozen, baked and chocolate.  In the first challenge, the competitors have to create something frozen, in the second one something baked, while in the third one something chocolaty.  The show is so intense and keeps you on the edge of your seat for a whole hour.  You cheer and suffer together with the contestants, and wish to be able to taste their desserts alongside chef Ron.  Some of the combinations that the chefs put together makes you think that would never work.  But when you see chef Ron mesmerized by the taste of some of the creations, it makes you curious, you want to try them, and, ultimately, invent a delicious and whimsical sweet treat, too.  

I’m no sweet genius… yet, but these chocolate chip and mascarpone cupcakes might just well be!  In addition, they incorporate a bit of all the three challenges on the Sweet Genius show (not that I was looking to do that) – frozen, baked and chocolate.  Most importantly, they are rich, luscious, moist, crunchy and oh, so chocolaty.  If you didn’t have an affinity for rich, chocolaty, indulgent sweets, you will now. 

Chocolate Chip and Mascarpone Cupcakes
Adapted slightly from Chocolate Chip and Mascarpone Cupcakes by Giada De Laurentiis

Serves: 22-24 cupcakes
Special Equipment: 2 (12-count) muffin pans with paper liners

Ingredients for the cupcakes:

·         5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
·         1 cup water
·         1/3 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
·         2 ¼ cups sugar
·         1 cup vegetable oil
·         3 large eggs, at room temperature
·         1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
·         3 cups all-purpose flour
·         1 teaspoon baking soda
·         1 teaspoon salt
·         ½ teaspoon baking powder
·         6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (recommended: Nestle morsels)

Ingredients for the ganache:

·         6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (recommended: Nestle morsels)
·         2/3 cup heavy cream
·         ½ teaspoon vanilla extract


For the cupcakes:

Place an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325°F.

Combine the unsweetened chocolate and water in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir constantly until the chocolate is melted, about 2 minutes.  Cool for 2 minutes.  Off the heat, whisk in the mascarpone cheese until the mixture is smooth. 

Using a hand mixer, beat the sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla extract in a large bowl for 30 seconds.  Using a rubber spatula, stir in the mascarpone and chocolate mixture.  In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, and chocolate chips.  In 3-5 batches, add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture.  Stir until just blended. 

Using an ice cream scoop, divide the batter among the prepared muffin pans filling them three quarters of the way up.  For puffier cupcakes, allow the batter to rest in the muffin pans for 20 minutes before baking.  Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until a tester inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out with no crumbs attached.  Cool the cupcakes completely before dipping, about 1 hour.  

For the ganache:

Place the chocolate chips in a small bowl.  Combine the heavy cream and vanilla extract in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.  Cook until small bubbles appear on the outside edge of the cream.  Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate chips.  Using a fork, gently stir until all the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.

Dip the tops of each cupcake in the ganache and transfer to a baking sheet.  Place the dipped cupcakes in the refrigerator to set, about 15-20 minutes.  Allow cupcakes to return to room temperature before serving.  

When I first made these chocolate cupcakes, I thought that the vanilla side in me would not be able to handle this much chocolate.  I was wrong.  Once I ate one, I wanted more.  Now, I make these cupcakes almost all the time.  They are pure chocolate goodness.  I can say that our chocolate therapy has already begun!


  1. I am not a huge chocolate fan, however, I am a big fan of crème brulee and have started to perfect the dish at home to the point of incorporate new flavors. For a vanillaholic and chocolate fan please see my take on white chocolate crème brulee (p.s. For those out to impress a significant other, this one’s for you):

    1 quart heavy cream
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    1 cup sugar
    6 large egg yolks
    2 quarts hot water
    4 ounces Ghirardelli White Chocolate bar, broken pieces

    Melt the chocolate.

    Place the cream, melted chocolate, and vanilla in a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.

    Remove from the heat, cover and allow to sit for 15 minutes.

    In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar and the egg yolks until well blended. Slowly add the cream a little at a time, stirring continually.

    Pour the liquid into 6 (7 to 8-ounce) ramekins.

    Place a hand towel on the bottom of a baking pan and place the ramekins on top of the towel (this stops them from moving around)

    Pour hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. (ensures the crème brulee is cooked evenly)

    Bake just until the crème brulee is set, but still trembling in the center, approximately 40 to 45 minutes.

    Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days. The longer it sits the better the texture and flavor will be when served.

    Remove the crème brulee from the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes prior to browning the sugar on top.

    Use the remaining sugar to spread evenly on the tops of the 6 ramekins.

    Using a torch (FUN), melt the sugar and form a crispy top.


  2. Hi Mark! The white chocolate crème brulee recipe looks amazing. I’ll give it a try and let you know how it turns out.... Thank you for sharing the recipe! Dana