31 December 2008

Happy 2009 (and don't forget to vote in IC:E)!!!

At least once a day, I like to log on to flickr and check out what other cupcake bakers are making. Some of the designs and detail that goes into these things are amazing; there are some truly talented bakers out there. You can see some of my favorites and where I often find inspiration here.

So being inspired, I recently tried a marshmallow fondant recipe as an attempt to jazz up my cupcakes a bit. While I was very pleased with this first-trial outcome, DH was not. A true foodie and cupcake snob, he turned up his nose at this marshmallow and icing sugar concoction, stating that most people would peel it off and push it aside. I agreed that yes, this is often the case with fondant, so he argued, why bother?

Well, with the countdown to New Year's Eve right here and several cupcake orders in my book, I wanted to add a little extra something special to my cupcakes for an added punch. I like drizzled chocolate designs but wanted them to be colorful and fun. I devised some cupcake toppers that use drizzled chocolate as a first step and then a traditional cake decorating transfer process as the second.

I think these came out looking kind of retro funky. They remind of those Shrinky Dinks "stained glass" sets we use to do as kids. And best of all, they taste good! Here's how to make them yourself at home.

(Oh, and before I forget, if you haven't already done so, please go and vote for LMC in the Iron Cupcake Challenge for December. Last I checked, my entries were in a distant 4th and 5th place. Read more about it here.) Wishing you all a sinfully rich New Year!

Chocolate and Icing Transfers/Cupcake Toppers
1 bar chocolate (I used dark but this can work with white, milk, etc.).
1 cup icing sugar/sucre glace
2 tsps. milk
2 tsps. light corn syrup
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
Food coloring gels

1) Select designs, words, etc. that you want to make. Drawings with a black outline such as a cartoon drawing or illustration work best. Print out on a sheet of paper, lay out a sheet of wax paper on top of this and trace the drawing with black felt pen. Flip the paper over so that you see the mirror image and tape this to a cutting board or other flat surface. You will use this as a stencil or pattern for the chocolate. Moisten a paper towel with vegetable oil or cooking spray and lightly coat surface of wax paper.

2) Break up chocolate and place in a ziploc bag - do not seal. Microwave on medium power for 5 minutes, stopping and stirring the chocolate every minute or so until it is melted. You may not need the full 5 minutes.

3) Cut one corner of the ziploc bag very close to the edge so you can pipe a thin stream of chocolate out. Now, pipe chocolate onto the stencils you have made on the wax paper. Allow to set for a few hours or overnight in a cool dry place.

4) Make icing sugar. Combine sugar, milk, corn syrup and vanilla in a bowl until smooth. icing should be thick enough to coat a spoon and slowly drizzle back into bowl when dropped. If icing is too thick, add a little milk. If too runny, add some sugar. Divide into smaller bowls and add desired food colorings to color. using a small spoon, fill in chocolate outlines of designs. Now I am not a very patient person normally, but trust me on this -- you have to allow these to set overnight in a cool, dry place so that they will completely harden. Once set, you can peel the designs off the wax paper and decorate cupcakes. Enjoy!

29 December 2008

I Just Got Baked!

The cookbook. What else did you think I was talking about? This was on my list for Christmas and I am so glad that Santa delivered. The photos and recipes look so good, there is actual drool on some of the pages. From me, not Santa, of course! I just want to eat everything in this book.

But first some housekeeping....if my mom sent you here cause she couldn't explain how to vote for me in the Iron Cupcake contest, please read this for all the nitty gritty.

Okay, now where was I? I seem to be having a hard time concentrating...Ah yes, Baked! I invited some of my son's friends and their moms over tomorrow with the explicit purpose of having a legitimate excuse to whip up some of these goodies (sick, isn't it?). So, one of the first things I wanted to try was the Peanut Butter Cookies with Milk Chocolate Chunks cause I know my husband won't touch these with a ten-foot pole (You know how the French feel about peanut butter? Kind of like how most Americans feel about escargots or goose liver or 'insert internal organ of your choice' they cut out and serve up as a delicacy.)

I halved the recipe and still ended up with the 24 cookie yield they promise. And for those of you know who me (and know my weakness for white chocolate -- I know, I know, it's *not really* chocolate), well, you'll understand that I just had to add in some chopped up white chocolate. These were divine! Crunchy at first bite and then so creamy and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The peanut butter is a subtle taste and the sugar sprinkled on at the moment before baking adds a nice touch. I'm linking to another site's recipe page as I don't want to get involved in a whole copyright infringement issue here. Design * Sponge not only posts the recipe but also has a two-part interview with the Baked boys from Brooklyn themselves in which they make these cookies. Let me know what you think of this recipe if you try it out. Trust me, there will be no denying that you inhaled! Okay, gotta go past the kitchen for another cookie.

28 December 2008

Yes We Can! Iron Cupcake Voting Now Open.

Six Degrees of Chocolate Celebration (left) & Sundae is My Favorite Dae (right).

Well, Saint Nick has done his rounds and we're setting out to recycle the last remnants of the wrapping paper. We've had 3 days of turkey, foie gras and champagne left-overs. Yum! The kids are already looking forward to their next toy purchases (how is it possible they tire so quickly of their gifts?) And Iron Cupcake just opened up for voting!

If you are a fan of my cupcakes, or just want to get on my good side, please go and vote for Little Miss Cupcake at No One Puts Cupcake in a Corner. You'll have to scroll down to see my entries as they are in alphabetical order by baker. In the right hand column of the page there will be a button to vote for your 3 favorite cupcakes, based on appearance and summary of each recipe. My Iron Cupcake entries for this month's challenge: Chocolate with a Twist are:

Entry 1: Six Degrees of Chocolate Celebration. As the name implies, this cupcake boasts 6 degrees/layers of chocolate celebration. The cake is made from layers of white chocolate, milk chocolate and dark chocolate. It is then drizzled with a dark chocolate glaze, topped with a milk chocolate buttercream and white chocolate stars or white chocolate sprinkles and a semi-sweet chocolate heart. Served with two marshmallows on a pick, one dipped in milk chocolate; the other in white chocolate and covered with chocolate jimmies.

Entry 2: Sundae is My Favorite Dae. Vanilla cupcake with swirls of milk chocolate and coffee; topped with whipped cream; drizzled with caramel sauce and milk chocolate; sprinkled with crushed peanuts and milk, white and dark chocolate pearls; and lastly, the proverbial cherry on top! Serve with vanilla or your favorite flavor ice cream. Inspired by childhood Sundays spent with my Mom and suggested by my husband.

Voting will be open through Friday, January 2 at 12 noon. So please get over there and vote for me. I'll be baking up a few pans of the winning cupcake if chosen so you're all invited over for a little celebratory fete chez moi when (if!) that happens..... ;0

26 December 2008

Une Bouchée de la Buche Dans la Bouche

Try saying that ten times fast. One of the biggest problems I encounter here in France is wrapping my mouth around all those unfamiliar sounds that we Americans were never intended to pronounce. For me, the "ou" and "ue" are the hardest and the subtle differences between the two are impossible for me to articulate. Suffice it to say, words that contain these "ooo" sounds are the ones that I hear my husband, my mother-in-law and any other native French speaker correcting me on to no end.

In any case, I digress from the real subject at hand which is to post a photo of our Buche de Noël (many of you asked to see), which I had been raving about and unfortunately, didn't live up to our expectations.
I don't want to name names cause it comes from a very well-regarded bakery and normally, their pastries are delicious; I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt as I'm sure the holiday rush meant normal care to attention got thrown out the window -- though I really shouldn't given the price I paid. This was billed as a "biscuit Sacher, mousse au chocolat caramel vanillé, mousse légère Gianduja noisette lait, croustillant praliné fruité." They promised that we would "discover the sweetness of Orizaba chocolate with subtle notes of caramel and vanilla." Sounds delicious, no? In fact, it was a thick, heavy mess of what can be best described as nut-flavored buttercream; there were even crushed nuts scattered inside which we were not expecting. Oh, where was the light mousse promised? And the chocolate? The best part was the caramel that had been drizzled on top -- unfortunately there wasn't enough of this to go around. Thankfully someone had thought to bring us a box of Godiva which saved the dessert course! Hope you all enjoyed your Christmas festivities!

23 December 2008

Merry Christmas & Joyeux Noel

Well, my oven is going on hiatus for the next 48 hours...at least as far as baking cupcakes go. Sure we'll do the bird with all the dressing for Christmas Day but I have decided to take the day off and have ordered a Noisettine Buche de Noel from the baker downstairs.

I imagine ol' St Nick is starting to check his list one last time for who has been naughty and who has been nice.

My son is hoping for some Gormiti and Ben Ten in his stocking Xmas morning so we'll see....just to be safe, he's leaving this drawing and yummy cupcakes for Santa. Who could resist?

My daughter, on the other hand, will likely be satisfied with an extra serving of the Buche. Who cares about gifts when there are delicious foods to be eaten?

Peace to you all and best wishes for a very Merry Christmas...hope Santa brings what's on your wish list!

21 December 2008

Just Call Me "Cuhp-cake, Leetull Meess"

On Friday, I delivered some cupcakes to a gal who is leaving her full-time gig to dedicate herself 100% to her blog. I say bravo! And what a blog it is! My Little Paris where you can "discover the hidden side of Paris," is filled with all sorts of tips, insider advice and reviews of the best Paris has to offer in deco, culture, food, "little luxuries," shopping, etc. (though it is in French).

The delivery started off poorly when I couldn't get a sitter to watch my 15 month-old. So I packed her up...and my cupcakes in boxes...and away we went. Having done the corporate world for over a decade, I had to laugh at myself entering an office building in my usual casual baking attire: jeans, UGGs and tattered sweater, with baby and stroller in tow. But she is a charmer, always smiling and babbling at everyone (she kills them with "bye bye"), and soon we had everyone we encountered cooing and calling after us. I arrive at the company reception, where I am immediately struck by the overwhelming heat in the office. My thoughts run to buttercream going bad and my cupcakes ending up in puddles at the bottom of their boxes.

Me: Yes, we are here to drop off some cupcakes for the going-away party.
Receptionist: Some what?
(BTW, I should add here that this conversation is taking place in French. Though there is no translation for the word "cupcake." And this is the abbreviated exchange; in all we spent about 20 minutes on the back and forth!)
Me: Cupcakes...for the going-away party.
Receptionist: And, you are?
Me: Little Miss Cupcake. Monsieur Q. ordered cupcakes.
Receptionist: Who are you? What company? Monsieur Q. is not here today...
Me: Yes, I know, he told me he would be out. Little Miss Cupcake. He asked I just drop off the cupcakes for the going-away party.
Receptionist: Well, maybe I should call Monsieur S. Do you know that name?
Me: No. Monsieur Q just said to drop them off.
Receptionist calling Monsieur S.:
Yes there is a....(turning to me)what did you say your name is again?
Me: Little Miss Cupcake.
Receptionist to Monsieur S: Well, she is dropping something off. You are expecting her? No, no, they are small boxes. Not at all what you are expecting. (Hangs up).
Receptionist to me again: Maybe I should call F. and tell her she has a delivery? Oh no, but what if it is a surprise and I ruin it. I know, I will call her assistant. What is the name of your company again?

(At this point in the exchange, my daughter is getting restless and whiny, I am nearly sweating to death in all the layers I had bundled on for the cold outside, and who knows what shape the cupcakes are in).

Me: Little Miss Cupcake.
Receptionist on phone again: Yes, I have a girl here. She is with her baby. She has something for the going-away party. Can you come up?....I don't know. Monsieur Q was in contact with her but he is not here. Monsieur S. is expecting something but not her....Okay, just come up. I'll ask her the name again. (Turns to me and before she can get the words out of her mouth....)
Me: My name is "Leetull Meess Cuhp-cake." (This is said in my best 'French person talking in English' accent).
Receptionist: Ah, zee cuhp-cakes! Why didn't you say so? Yes, yes, you can just leave them here and we will take them to the conference room!
Me: Great, oh and can you make sure they are put somewhere cool? It's a bit hot in here..
Receptionist: Yes, like 30 degrees today in here (equivalent of almost 90 degrees F!). Now I wonder, should we take them directly to the kitchen where they could go in the refrigerator or should we ask Mr. Q's assistant to come get them????

And with that, my daughter and I bid a final adieu to the frenetic corporate world to once again seek refuge, calm and quiet in our cozy Parisian "workplace" : my kitchen. :)

PS -- these cupcakes feature my first time working with marshmallow fondant (the stars) which was not as hard as I thought, just messy, especially since you can't find Crisco here which facilitates the kneeding process. Many thanks to Flickr user rsvpscakes who instructed me on how to make it.

17 December 2008

IC:E Entry #2 - Sundae is my Favorite Dae

Like many kids of my generation, I was raised in a single-parent household. My mom worked long hours to keep us fed and clothed, me in school and to make sure all our needs were cared for. She wasn't around a lot after-school so when the weekend rolled around, Sunday was my day to spend with her. We used to do all sorts of "neat" things as we said in the '70's, but my very favorite of all was our trips to the ice cream shop at one of the local hotels where we would indulge in Coke Floats (remember those?) and Chocolate Fudge Ice Cream Sundaes!

The chocolate fudge sundae is one of my personal favorite desserts (and boy, did they make those red-eye flights -- the only time we were allowed to travel business -- I used to take when working in advertising a lot more tolerable. Does American still do those?) It's been a long time since I've had one -- the French are more preferential to Peach Melba and Café Liégois on their ice cream menus -- and it was actually my French husband who suggested this idea for the IC:E Chocolate with a Twist Challenge. He's getting the cupcake earrings listed as one of the prizes if we win this one! See my previous post for more details on the challenge. And don't forget to vote for me during the 5-days following the baking period (5 days starting December 24), at No One Puts Cupcake in a Corner.

Here my friends is the recipe for this tempting beauty above: a vanilla cake with swirls of coffee and milk chocolate; topped with whipped cream; drizzled with melted chocolate and caramel sauce, and topped with crushed peanuts, milk, white and dark chocolate pearls and the proverbial cherry!

Sundae is My Favorite Dae Cupcakes

For 16 cupcakes:
4 ozs. unsalted butter/beurre doux, softened
1 cup sugar/sucre en poudre
1 large egg
1 tsp. baking soda/bicarbonate alimentaire
1 tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. salt
1 ½ cups flour
1 cup buttermilk /lait fermente
¼ cup hot water

1 tablespoon instant coffee
1/3 cup cocoa powder/chocolat en poudre

For the Whipped Cream/Crème Chantilly
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar

Caramel Sauce
Chocolate Sauce or Melted Chocolate
Crushed Peanuts
Chocolate Pearls or Sprinkles
Maraschino Cherries

• Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C. Grease or place cupcake liners into cupcake tins.
• To make cupcakes, cream together sugar and butter until smooth. Add egg, vanilla, baking soda, salt and mix until well-combined. Alternate adding flour and buttermilk in 3 batches, mix well until smooth. Add about 1/8 cup of hot water last and mix to combine
• In small bowl, mix instant coffee with half of the remaining hot water until dissolved. In a separate bowl, do the same with cocoa powder. Allow to cool a few minutes and then add a few tbsp. of batter into each bowl, mix until combined.
• Carefully, add the cocoa powder mixture and coffee mixture into main batter. Do not fully combine; instead you want to leave swirls of this visible in the batter. Fill cupcake pans.
• Bake for 17-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from tin and let cool on wire rack.
• To make whipped cream, pour cream into bowl and whip with electric mixer for 1 minute. Add sugar and keep whipping until it holds its form/peaks start to form. Spoon or pipe whipped cream on top of cooled cupcakes.
• Drizzle cupcakes with melted chocolate and caramel sauce (I make my own, click here for the recipe). Top with crushed peanuts, sprinkles, chocolate pearls or whatever else tickles your fancy. Top with Maraschino cherries. Serve with vanilla or your favorite flavor ice cream!

16 December 2008

Attention Shoppers: Only 9 More Days til Xmas!

I don't know about you but I have barely made a dent in my Christmas shopping this year. Sure, I've had a pow wow with Santa and he knows what the kiddies have asked for. And thanks to the internet, I've done some relatively painless shopping for assorted nieces and in-laws. But I've been so busy in recent weeks, I haven't given much thought to what darling husband will find in his stocking Christmas morning. Not to mention how to answer his standard question any time a big day rolls around, "What do you want for Christmas/your birthday/our anniversary/insert other festive event here?"

So, here friends and readers (and DH who occasionally reads this space), I am dropping some big hints for Christmas and also offering some help for those of you who have a special baker in your life with my first annual top ten list of gift ideas for the cupcake afficionado:

10) Cupcake themed artwork Etsy store: Everyday is a Holiday at Jennysbakeshop! offers whimsical, vintage-bakery inspired original artwork in the form of ornaments, wood plaques, paintings and other materials. Brighten up your kitchen, Christmas tree, bakery, or other space with these delightful creations made from scratch on the Jersey Shore. As store-owner Jenny says, "Fill your walls and your life with cupcakes!"

9) Gear for Your Little Cupcake

Let your kids promote your love of cupcakes with these adorable hand-made items from Daisy Roots and Wonder Threads. We've already got a pair of these cute cupcake booties from my friend, Tania, who imports Daisy Roots to Paris. Now if my girl would just get off her duff and start walking, but that's another story....I think I am going to have to splurge for the matching onesie! I figure that that way after she has finished eating her trillionth cupcake of the day, I can explain away the frosting and crumbs that inevitably wind up all over her clothing as "part of the design!" ;)

8) Baking Threads

Speaking of cupcake-themed clothing, why not get your older tots in on the action with these adorable Mother and Daughter aprons from Jessie Steele. So cute, I could just eat them up! Too bad my daughter is too young to wear the child version, much less help me cook...though she loves eating the results. My son, on the other hand, LOVES to lend a hand (and lick the bowl). We'd make such a sweet pair in these, don't you think? Okay, just checking to see if DH REALLY reads this! ;0

7) My Girl Gourmet Cupcake Maker

My friend's sister told us about My Girl Gourmet and their fabulous products. At first I wasn't sure if this was for real. Their ad and music is a bit corny, but check out that frosting twirler! What I wouldn't do for one of those. Promising to bake up cupcakes in just 30 SECONDS! this is destined to be the Easy-Bake Oven for a whole new generation of cupcake bakers.

6) Cupcake Dress-Up

If this stuff wasn't impossible to find in France, it would be much higher on my list. But for now, I can only daydream as I peruse the online catalogues, and hope that someday soon, Fancy Flours, Country Kitchen Sweetart and others of their ilk will start shipping overseas. Cake Jewels, Disco Dust, Edible Gold Leaf and Glitter, Filigree Cupcake Wrappers and dozens of themed sprinkles, quins, toppers and sugar pearls. Oh man, is my mom going to kill me when I send her a box of this stuff to bring on her next visit over! Hope she's up to playing Santa one more time.....

5) Cookbooks A-Plenty
Now my husband would say, "Do you really need another cookbook?" And my answer is "YES!" Browsing through cookbooks is one of my favorite past-times. It doesn't mean that I am going to make every dish in the book, but I like the pictures and the different ingredient combinations, etc. Nothing is more beautiful than a cookbook about cakes and cupcakes and here are just a sampling of a few I have on my to-buy list (sorry for the NYC cupcake slant y'all but you know I gotta stay true to my roots!). The Cupcake Cafe Cookbook from Hell's Kitchen's finest; The Confetti Cakes Cookbook: Spectacular Cookies, Cakes, and Cupcakes from New York City's Famed Bakery; Baked: New Frontiers in Baking from the folks over in Red Hook, Brooklyn; and Hello, Cupcake!: Irresistibly Playful Creations Anyone Can Make (okay not NY but their stuff just looks so gosh darn cute).

4) Pastry Tips

I am pretty much self-taught when it comes to decorating cupcakes (you can probably tell by my lop-sided buttercream swirls) but I am fascinated by all the tools of the trade. And for some reason, I just always want more! I have been using the same 5-6 tips and tired old pastry bags for the past few years and nothing matches -- I've got plastic and silicone and metal, etc. What I'd really like is a professional set, one with lots of variety that I can play around with. Or better yet, have someone come over and show me just how to pipe those buttercream begonias and leaves. So, I figure the first trick in mastering this stuff is to have the tools. 'Nough said.

3) Chuck's All Star Cupcakes

These are simply awesome! Anyone who likes cupcakes should own a pair (they also come in pink). About 3 years ago, the Converse craze really caught on here in Paris and just about everyone from the age of 15 - 45 adopted them as part of their de rigeur "cool" uniform. We've always been partial to Puma's in our family but for these...let's just say I wear a size 7 1/2! Available at PiperLime and Journeys Shoes.

2) The Cupcake Courier
I already own one of these but the Cupcake Courier is quite simply the best thing to happen to cupcakes since, well, cupcakes! If you know someone who bakes and enjoys bringing their baked goods anywhere outside the home, you gotta get them one of these...pronto! it has quite literally changed my life. No more worry about how many cupcakes you can fit in a box without smushing them, no more worry about losing a cupcake en route. It's a fantastic product and (of course) not yet available in France. But a lovely woman at the Cupcake Garden in the UK, who I believe is the only current distributor on this side of the pond, made sure mine was shipped out promptly for its voyage on the Eurostar to my eager waiting little hands.

1) Cupcake Bling
Yup, that's right, you heard me. Bling, as in Bling! Studies show that bakers who wear bling while making and baking cupcakes turn out faster, richer, moister, more palate-pleasing desserts than those who don't. I'm sorry? You've never heard that before? It's a fact! I swear it! Scout's Honor! So, whatever tempts your sweetie be it Cartier, Tiffany's, Bulgari or in my case, Van Cleef & Arpel's Magic Alhambra collection (BIG hint here), why not go and show them who is the Sugar Daddy in your family!

Hope you enjoyed this list and that it helps make your holiday shopping a little sweeter. Wishing you all a sinfully rich holiday season!

13 December 2008

Iron Cupcake : 6 Degrees of Chocolate Celebration

This cupcake was inspired by my love of Chocolate! As the name implies, this cupcake boasts 6 degrees/layers of chocolate celebration. The cake is made from layers of white chocolate, milk chocolate and dark chocolate.

It is then drizzled with a dark chocolate glaze, topped with a milk chocolate buttercream and white chocolate stars or white chocolate sprinkles. Served with two marshmallows on a pick, one dipped in milk chocolate; the other in white chocolate and covered with chocolate jimmies. This is my first entry ever in the Iron Cupcake : Earth challenge. This month, the challenge is chocolate with a twist.

You can read more about this challenge by visiting: No One Puts Cupcake in Corner (love the Dirty Dancing reference!) Here's the call for entries....

The IronCupcake:Earth challenge for December is CHOCOLATE, with a twist! Everyone loves chocolate. But what can you add to yours to make it unique? crazy? amazing?! White, Milk, Dark, whatever wets your whistle, put on your thinking cap and figure out a flavor partner that will knock everyone's socks off. Flavor Pairings are the Key!

All challengers will be competing to win the ETSY Prize-Pack from artists:

* as well as a pair of cupcake earrings from LOTS OF SPRINKLES
* PLUS, IronCupcake:Earth can not forget our good friend, CAKESPY, who is now going to be doing a piece for our winner each month until further notice - sweet!

As an added bonus for December we have adorable cupcake pincushions complements of SWEET CUPPIN CAKES BAKERY AND CUPCAKERY SUPPLY.
Last and certainly not least, don’t forget our corporate prize providers: HEAD CHEFS by FIESTA PRODUCTS, HELLO CUPCAKE by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson, JESSIE STEELE APRONS; the CUPCAKE COURIER; TASTE OF HOME books. Iron Cupcake:Earth is sponsored in part by 1-800-FLOWERS.

For those of you who admire my work, I'd much appreciate it if you took the time to vote for me and my cupcakes. During the 5-days following the baking period (5 days starting December 24), a summary of all cupcakes, their photo, and links to their blog post will be live on No One Puts Cupcake in a Corner. In the right hand column of the page there will be a button to vote for the 5 favorite cupcakes, based on appearance and summary of each recipe.

I'm still trying to find the time to whip up a few more entries for this contest so as Ah-nold says: I'll Be Back!

6 Degrees of Chocolate Celebration

For 16 cupcakes:
4 ozs. unsalted butter/beurre doux, softened
1 cup sugar/sucre en poudre
1 large egg
1 tsp. baking soda/bicarbonate alimentaire
1 tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. salt
1 ½ cups flour
1 cup buttermilk /lait fermente
¼ cup hot water
3 tbsp. cocoa powder/chocolat en poudre
2 ozs. white chocolate/chocolat blanc, melted
2 ozs. dark chocolate/chocolat noir, melted

For the chocolate glaze:
½ -1 cup icing sugar/sucre glace
2 ozs. dark chocolate/chocolat noir, melted
3-5 tbsp. water

For the chocolate buttercream :
1/4 c. butter, softened
1/4 c. plus 2 tbsp. cocoa/chocolat en poudre
1/4 c. plus 3 tbsp. warm milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 (16 oz.) pkg. powdered sugar, sifted

• Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C. Grease or place cupcake liners into cupcake tins.
• To make cupcakes, cream together sugar and butter until smooth. Add egg, vanilla, baking soda, salt and mix until well-combined. Alternate adding flour and buttermilk in 3 batches, mix well until smooth. Add hot water last and mix to combine. Divide batter into 3 bowls. Into one bowl, add the cocoa powder and mix to combine. Into one bowl, add melted white chocolate and mix to combine. Into last bowl, add dark chocolate and mix to combine.

• Starting with the white chocolate mixture, fill tins one-third full. Do the same with cocoa powder mixture. Finish with dark chocolate mixture so that each cupcake has 3 layers.
• Bake for 17-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from tin and let cool on wire rack.
• At the same time, mix all ingredients for the chocolate glaze adding sugar and water bit by bit until the consistency resembles a thick chocolate syrup. Drizzle over cupcakes once they have cooled.

• To make buttercream, mash together softened butter and cocoa until well-combined. Add in vanilla and mix. Add the sugar and milk in batches until the consistency is not too liquidy but just thick enough to hold its shape or make peaks.
• Frost cupcakes once the glaze has hardened. Add milk chocolate or white chocolate jimmies, chocolate dragées or any other chocolate goodies that tickle your fancy. For these, I made white chocolate hearts in molds and drizzled semi-sweet chocolate shaped as hearts. Enjoy!

12 December 2008

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

It did...the other day....here in Paris! This is one of the things that I miss most about no longer living in New York. We rarely get snow here and so when it does, I'm like a kid in the candy store. Nothing can be more beautiful than the charming French streets in a little snowfall. Luckily it doesn't stick to the ground here so you're not trekking around in that wet sludge.

Christmas in Paris is a magical time of the year. There are Christmas markets all over the city selling hand-made, artisanal goods and seeing your favorite monuments decked out in Christmas lights is a real treasure. Some of my favorites are the Place Vendome, L'Hotel de Ville, the Champs Elysees and of course, the department stores windows are not to be missed. Last year, there was an igloo made entirely of ice on the roof of Printemps. The ice rinks that are installed seasonally are a big hit with my son too. In years past, they have even created one on one of the levels of the Eiffel Tower!

Of course, Christmas time also means that every baker and specialty patissier in-town will be unveiling their 2008 editions of the Buche de Noel. This is a classic holiday dessert that terminates the French Christmas dinner. It is typically a rolled cake made with genoise or sponge and buttercream and decorated to look, like the name suggests, a buche or log. There is a funny story about the origin of the Buche on Wikipedia. (I just learned something new!). In recent years, many of the gourmet food shops have associated with famous names to create limited edition, top-of-the line buches such as these made by Pierre Hermé and Swarovski; Lenotre and Philippe Starck (which has a wood flavor); and again Lenotre and Givenchy (covered with a 22-carat gold powder, if you please, and on sale in limited quantities for 115 Euro each!). Bon Appetit!

10 December 2008

Iron Cupcake: Earth

There is a cupcake contest I have been following called Iron Cupcake: Earth. The premise is simple - every month they put out the call to cupcake lovers to come up with a special cupcake creation using a specific ingredient. If you ever have watched the Food Network show Iron Chef, you know the drill.

This month the challenge is for cupcakes with a "chocolate twist." I've been thinking about doing something with cherries and cream, or several different chocolate varieties in one, or chocolate mousse. So I am curious, what are your favorite chocolate combinations? What are some of the outrageous chocolate flavor pairings you'd be interested in tasting? I'll share the loot with any of you who suggest a winning cupcake combo. :) And, I urge all of you cupcake bakers out there to submit your own entries. Please post here and tell us if you do -- I always love to see what fellow bakers are whipping up.

Fields of Cake already submitted some peppermint twist beauties that I think look sinfully good! She'll be a hard challenger to beat!

As for the photo above, I am getting ready to go to a tasting this afternoon to see if there isn't a better, easier way to get Little Miss Cupcake cupcakes into your hands (and mouths). I am thinking World Domination. Ha ha! These are some of my classics: Berry Berry Good, Caramel Dolce, Chocolate Squared and Mixed Up Vanilla Lover's (decorated as a Sapin de Noel -- one of my big requests this month)! Wish me luck!

08 December 2008

Love in a Box 2008

At the risk of sounding like Bob Geldof and friends, I'm taking a pause during the pre-holiday madness to think about about those who are less fortunate than my family and I. This week, my kids and I will be participating in a charity drive called Love in a Box. Assembling a box is quite easy, and I personally think it's important that we teach the young about the spirit of giving (and not just receiving) during these end-of-the-year festivities. For anyone else who follows this blog and is here in France over the holidays here is some more information:

For 19 years the LOVE IN A BOX and LOVE IN A BOX PARIS programs have provided holiday gifts to thousands of needy children. This year we will distribute presents to children in Paris, Strasbourg, Mulhouse, and Bulgaria. The charities include:

Paris Tout-Petits, a charity for underprivileged children in Paris.
Salvation Army Paris who warms the hearts of about 400 people on Christmas Eve.
Les Restos du Coeur a Paris soup kitchen.
Salvation Army Strasbourg and Mulhouse whose 'Action Quartier' programs target children/youth in marginalized areas with academic help, musical fellowship and other activities aimed at social integration
Centre Flora Tristan a refuge for families from homes plagued by domestic violence.
Avec Elles in Vincennes, fellowship group for women and children (aged 6 months to 18 years).
Bonne Mine a charity that supports 12 orphanages in Bulgaria.

1. Take an empty shoebox.
2. Wrap your shoebox in colourful paper. Wrap the lid and box separately.
3. Pack your box. Use this list to decide what to put in.
4. Use an elastic band or ribbon to keep the lid on. Do not tape it closed.
5. Place a label on the end of the box, marked girl or boy, and the age.

1. YOUR BOX MUST INCLUDE: (Everything should be new with the exception of used toys, books in very good condition, please.)


2. YOU MAY ALSO INCLUDE SOME OF THE FOLLOWING: (Please no battery-operated toys)



LIQUIDS, PERISHABLE FOODS (gosh darn, I guess that means no cupcakes!), TOY GUNS, KNIVES OR SHARP ITEMS, MEDICINE

Jill Cameron: jillnchris@hotmail.com, Francie Seder: frp@noos.fr and
Betsi Dwyer: ecdwyer@aol.com

Please bring your gift boxes to American Cathedral, 23 ave George V, 75008 before December 14th, 2008.

05 December 2008


Yes, I am a sucker for chocolate. But given the choice, 9 times out of 10, I'm going for the caramel. Kraft Caramel Chews, Twix bars, Haagen Dazs Dulce de Leche, Caramelized apples...oh yes! As Julie Andrews is fond of saying: These Are a Few of My Favorite Things!

My husband's family has been vacationing in La Baule for the past 40+ years. We have been lucky enough to call this beachside resort on the West Coast of France home for the last 6 summers. One of the local specialties is caramel made with Fleur de Sel de Guerande, a sea salt harvested in the nearby town of Guerande. You find it in many food items, both savory and sweet, including candies, ice cream and in the form of a soft spreadable caramel sauce which is served in crepes and on gaufres (Belgian waffles). I eat my fair share of these every summer! The salt taste is very subtle and adds real richness and depth to the caramel flavor most of us know from our favorite foods.

One of my favorite Little Miss Cupcake cupcakes is the Caramel Dolce. I just baked up a batch for a customer and the reserves I make to taste-test are never around for long in my house. It's very easy to make a caramel buttercream by adding caramel sauce to your regular cupcake frosting recipe.

Here is a very simple recipe for caramel sauce; if you are daring enough to do it "à la Bauloise," use salted butter. A note of caution: boiled sugar gets VERY hot. Make sure to protect your hands when handling and it's a good idea to make this after the kids have gone to bed. Here are a few more tips on Making the Perfect Caramel from David Lebovitz.

Caramel Sauce Recipe

* 1 cup of sugar
* 6 Tbsp butter
* 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1. Heat sugar in a heavy-bottomed 2 or 3 quart saucepan over a medium flame. As the sugar starts to melt, stir with a whisk or wooden spoon. As soon as the sugar has liquified and starts boiling, stop stirring.

2. When the sugar is completed melted and amber in color. Add butter and stir in to combine. Remove from heat.

3.Slowly add the cream (this is important as the cream will foam up) and continue stirring until smooth.

4. Let cool. Use immediately or store in a glass bottle or covered dish for up to two weeks in the fridge. Let warm to room temperature before using.

02 December 2008

Just Because

I got a call last week from a gal who wanted to order some cupcakes. When I asked her "What's the occasion?," she replied, "Oh, they are just for me. I want some cause they are yummy!" Clearly this is a woman after my own heart.* And she is right! You really don't need a special occasion to eat a cupcake -- they are quite literally the perfect, individual-sized, anytime snack food!

*I have to add that based on her order, she must be a thorough reader of this blog. The request included some 16H Gouter and Orange Buttercream/White Chocolate Cupcakes which I recently blogged about. As I said, a woman after my own heart! ;)

26 November 2008

Thanksgiving Day Pecan Pie

Growing up, Thanksgiving was a holiday usually hosted at our house. I have wonderful memories of waking up early to help my mom prepare and stuff the bird, make the sweet potato pudding and set the table with a festive decor. Friends and family would come from far and wide to feast at our table and it was always a joyous occasion.

This is a tradition that I have carried on since we have arrived in France, even though it is obviously not a widely celebrated holiday here. In fact, my son brought home a colorfully decorated turkey collage yesterday; he was complimented on it by a woman in the street and our pharmacist on the way home, one of whom said "ah, what a lovely duck you have there," the other mistook it for an owl!

We will be dining this weekend at a friend's house -- this is the first time in I don't know how long that I haven't prepared the meal myself. Even last year when my daughter was only two months old, we hosted 8 adults and 8 kids for Thanksgiving lunch. I will be bringing the sweet potato pudding this year -- which is an old family recipe: a delicious purée topped with toasted marshmallows. And of course, a pecan pie...primarily for my husband who isn't too big on Thanksgiving to begin with and this is usually the only way I can coax him into joining in the festivities.

For those of you who are still looking for a dessert for your Thanksgiving celebration, here is a recipe for the BEST pecan pie you will ever taste (I will upload a photo of mine once I have made it on Friday). I have it from Peter Kump's Cooking School in Manhattan and it is wonderfully easy (only problem is that it calls for dark corn syrup, which I will be trekking halfway across Paris to buy tomorrow for the insane amount of 7+ euros at the only place I know of that stocks it: Thanksgiving - an aptly named store). Enjoy and Happy Turkey Day to all!

Thanksgiving Day Pecan Pie:
One batch Sweet Pastry Dough for a 1 crust pie (see below)

1 cup dark brown corn syrup
3/4 cup sugar
6 tbsp. butter
3 large eggs
pinch salt
2 tbsp. Bourbon
2 cups pecan halves or pieces, or a combination

1. Prepare and chill the dough

2. For the filling. combine corn syrup and sugar in saucepan and stir to mix. Place over low heat and bring to a boil, without stirring. Remove from heat, add butter and allow to melt. In a mixing bowl, whisk eggs to break up and whisk in salt and Bourbon. Whisk in syrup and butter mixture, being careful not to over mix. Allow to cool while preparing bottom crust.

3. Preheat oven to 350F/180C and set a rack in the lowest level. For the crust, lightly flour the work surface and the dough and roll it to a 12-inch disk. Fold the dough in half and place it in the pan; unfold the dough and press it firmly in the pan. Trim away all but 1/2-inch excess dough at edge of pan. Fold dough under and flute edge.

4. Arrange pecans in crust. Skim foam from top of filling (or the top will have an unattractive mottled surface) and pour over pecans. With the back of a fork, press the pecans down into the filling so they are immersed.

5. Bake the pie for about 45 minutes, until the crust is baked through and the filling is set and well puffed in the center. Cool the pie on a rack, and serve warm or at room temperature. Delicious accompanied with vanilla ice cream!

Sweet Pastry Dough or Pate Sucrée (for a 1 crust pie):
1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
3 tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. (1/2 stick)cold unsalted butter
1 large egg

To mix the dough by hand, combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a medium mixing bowl and stir well to mix. Cut butter into 1-tbsp. pieces and add to dry ingredients. Toss to coat pieces of butter. Using your hands or a pastry blender, rub the butter into the dry ingredients by breaking into tiny pieces, continuously pinching and squeezing it into the dry ingredients. Keep the mixture uniform by reaching down to the bottom of the bowl and mixing all ingredients evenly together. Continue rubbing until mixture resembles coarse-ground cornmeal and no large pieces of butter remain visible. Beat the egg in a small bowl and pour over the flour/butter mixture. Stir in with a fork, continuing to stir until the dough begins to hold together, but still appears somewhat dry. Scatter flour on a work surface and scrape the dough onto it. Press and knead the dough quickly 3-4 times until it is smooth.

Both recipes copyright (c) Nick Malgieri 1996, all rights reserved.

24 November 2008

Hear Those Sleigh Bells Jingling...

In the States, you can track the Fall/Winter calendar fairly accurately by the selection of goods on offer at your local Walmart or 7-11. A few weeks following the back-to-school rush, you see the shelves filling with all sorts of Halloween candies, costumes and other spooky fare. Once the shelves are cleared of that lot, it's time to get ready for Turkey! And then while you are recovering from all that pumpkin pie, stuffing, cranberry sauce and tryptophan-laden turkey, you have in quick succession: Black Friday, Christmas, & New Year's.

Here in France, it's quite a different story. Following "la rentrée" (which can only be explained as a cross between back-to-school and New Year's) in early September, there's a big black hole until St Nick makes his rounds, which explains why you can find Advent calendars and other Christmas chocolates on sale at the end of October! And Christmas decorations in the stores, on the streets, and hanging from lamp-posts and buildings everywhere appear not long after. I even saw Christmas trees at my local florist this week!

We had a bit of snow yesterday so I have to admit I am starting to feel the jingle bell vibe! (Or maybe it's just the lack of heat in our apartment as the building's radiator is on its last leg -- perfect timing!). I hosted a pre-Xmas sale at my house today for the parents' association I belong to, MESSAGE.

There was quite an excellent selection of vendors -- all entrepreneurial MESSAGE members -- if I don't say so myself. Exquisite hand-made cards made by Bonne Fete.* Adorable leather shoes for babies, kids and adults from Daisy Roots. (Can you guess which pretty pink booties my little cupcake will be wearing this Winter? Hint: they look good enough to eat!) Educational books by Usborne, cupcakes from yours truly, and stylish hand-made barrettes and the Pockaboo by the gals at lu & roo.
I happily was able to cross some holiday gifts off my list! Thanks to everyone who participated and attended!

* Bonne Fete cards can be purchased by writing to: bonnefete@orange.fr

22 November 2008

Feeling my 15 Minutes

Okay, maybe more like 15 seconds but Little Miss Cupcake got blogged about twice yesterday!

Check it out on:
J-Two-O, a blog about "life, sports, cats and dogs, politics, sex, the joys and frustrations of working at home, and whatever else I feel like writing about." (Okay, full disclosure, the author of this blog is a longtime friend of the family, and has been a very vocal supporter!). Thanks, J, for giving me a plug in your blog!
And, I was also mentioned on Cupcakes Take the Cake, "the #1 blog about cupcakes." This is THE place for those of us in the "industry." Smirk, smirk!

I also was interviewed by French channel, TF1, but that was about the flu vaccine. Don't ask, suffice it to say that my sleep-deprived brain and post-delivery stress after losing a cupcake to a scuffle in the street lead me to say, "No, I am not vaccinated against the flu because I am scared of getting sick from it. I mean, aren't there live 'germs' in those things?" I am sure I will be popping up all over France in a segment about how stupid people can be when it comes to misconceptions surrounding the flu vaccine. :( I was definitely not ready for my close-up!

21 November 2008

On Martha Stewart....

I've never been a huge fan of Martha Stewart though she often has great ideas and I know she has done wonders for the DIY home decor industry. She's definitely more likeable since her prison stint. I've maybe seen her show 4-5 times; there is one in particular that sticks in my mind where she was preparing the traditional French wedding cake, la Pièce Montée, or Croquembouche (disclaimer: I did not make this!), and broke out a blow-torch (!) to finish the caramel glaze that covers the puff pastry. As if her average viewer keeps a blow torch in their kitchen for just this very reason!

I had recently read about her One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes and thought I'd give them a whirl. While the ingredient list is quite similar to the recipe I use in my cupcakes, hers calls for vegetable oil whereas I normally use butter. I was curious to see how these would bake up. When cooled after removing from the oven, my testers (myself, husband and 2 kids) found these to be filled with chocolatey goodness. The oil makes them moist and springy, more like a sponge than a cake. Martha recommends storing them one day in the fridge or up to a week in the freezer (Quel Sacrilège!). After 2 days, they did seem a little too greasy though the chocolate was definitely more gooey and rich. We topped them with a raspberry buttercream (see above) and the flavor combination was unbelievably yummy!

Martha Stewart's One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes

Makes 2 dozen
* 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
* 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 1/2 cups sugar
* 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
* 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
* 3/4 teaspoon salt
* 2 large eggs
* 3/4 cup warm water
* 3/4 cup buttermilk
* 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with liners; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, sift together cocoa, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the eggs, warm water, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla; mix batter until smooth, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl to assure batter is well mixed.

2. Divide batter evenly among liners, filling each about one-third full. Bake until tops spring back when touched, about 20 minutes, rotating pan once if needed. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.
Copyright 2001-2008 Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

19 November 2008

My Endless Love

I used to love this movie growing up. It's a classic Romeo & Juliet tale of young love and tragedy. Brooke Shields was so beautiful in it and I used to cry at the end when she leaves David pining after her, after all he has been through in his quest to be with her. And don't get me started on the great theme song sung by Mr. Lionel Ritchie and disco diva, Diana Ross. One of my all-time favorites!

I had an order come in for a 10th year wedding anniversary. May we all be so lucky to make it that far! And was really touched by my Client, Vicky's, request to add some sort of writing to the cakes saying things like "Crazy for You" and "10 Years & Still Madly in Love." What a romantic! I immediately had thoughts of rose colored icing and red hearts. Vicky's husband is a chocolate fanatic and I gotta warn ya', these are chocolate on SPEED! 12 Devil's Food: 1/2 filled with chocolate cream, frosted with chocolate buttercream and topped with home-made red-tinted white chocolate hearts, 1/2 loaded with white chocolate chunks and frosted with white chocolate buttercream. To accommodate Vicky's message requests, I topped these with little flags proclaiming her declarations of love.

As someone wished me at my wedding, "May the best of your past be the worst of the future," I say the same in turn..... V & G, I am honored that my cupcakes will be part of such a special celebration and I wish you a very Happy Anniversary.

18 November 2008

Little Miss Cupcake is Humbled (& Aks for Your Understanding)

I just wanted to thank all of you who have taken the time to write and call me with words of encouragement and support, and who have offered wonderful advice. Embarking on a new business venture is scary and yet so exciting! I am working on some fabulous projects this week: A 10 Yr. Wedding Anniversary, a birthday order from someone who tracked me down from England (!) and my very first potential "Corporate" Client. This business that I have been talking about for YEARS is off and running. I even had to turn down an order today 'cause I just didn't have the time (and from a friend no less! Sorry, Peg).

So, for those of you who are thinking of placing orders for the busy holiday season, please try to get them in as soon as possible. As a small home-based business, I am practicing a "first come, first serve" policy.

Check back tomorrow for new photos of what I've been cooking up! And next week, I'll have some holiday-themed samples posted!

Ciao for now,

16 November 2008

Little Miss Cupcake Parle Aussi Français

Evidemment! I am married to a Frenchman after all....
Though it's doubtful I'll ever blog "à la Française" as my written French is so bad it would likely get me thrown out of the country faster than you can say "freedom fries," I am happy to announce that now the Frenchies can discover all about Little Miss Cupcake's delicacies on the Version Française of the site. So spread the love (and the word)!

For Every Occasion, A Cupcake.

14 November 2008

Joyeux Anniversaire Mlle. P!

Today is my niece's 6th birthday. I cannot believe how the time flies! She was born just 6 weeks before my son and we shared a lot of firsts together as both my SIL and her family, and my husband, myself and my son all decided to move back to France at the same time in 2003. Of course, my in-laws were more than happy to take us all in (really, they were!)while we found permanent housing solutions. It was a crazy time and probably affected my initial adjustment to my new "hometown" in both good ways and bad, but nonetheless, it was fantastic to see the kids growing up together, taking their first steps, saying their first words, etc.

So here I raise my glass** to you and say: Joyeux Anniversaire Mademoiselle P! May fortune smile down upon you in the year ahead. You asked for green and yellow cupcakes and here is a preview of what I will be bringing tomorrow. I promise they taste even better than they look! Bisous, Tata Cat

A note to customers: These are Vanilla Lovers' Cupcakes off the Old School Menu, tinted green and yellow per my niece's request and decorated with confetti sprinkles, gummy bears and marshmallow accents.

** For those of you here in Paris, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Flûte Paris last night, a satellite of the champagne bar in NYC, with a group of girlfriends. While the drinks are pricey and there is only about 8 tables in the joint, it's a charming place for a pre-dinner coupe or an after-theater night cap! All this talk of birthdays just makes me want to go open a bottle of bubbly...there's nothing better for washing down a cupcake. Cheers!

12 November 2008

Oursons Guimauve & Mikado Cupcakes

In the mid '90's, self-serve candy bars (like Glups on the Champs-Elysées) sprung up all over Manhattan. There was one close to my office at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza that I swear I hit almost every lunch hour. I had nursed a life-long obsession for break-up white chocolate and I never thought anything could replace that until the day I tasted my first chocolate-coated gummy bear. Pure heaven in a bite-sized morsel.

One day after we had moved to France, I found myself face-to-face with a blue and white plastic bag in the supermarket labeled "Oursons Guimauve." "What's this?" I thought, spying the chocolate covered palm-sized teddy bears hidden within. Giving in to my curiosity, I bought a bag and threw it in with my other purchases where it was quickly forgotten as I made my way home. It wasn't until later that evening after my son had gone to bed that I had a moment to relish the delicious treat inside. WOW! thought my brain as my mouth closed over the crackly milk chocolate and my teeth sunk into the tender, fluffy marshmallow at its center. Suffice it to say, I've eaten a lot (too many) of these little guys in the 5 years that we have been here. Alas, I have not been too kind to my friends, les Oursons Guimauve, in recent months as I know that once the pack is open, there is no stopping me (and nothing ruins a diet faster than ploughing through a bag of twenty).

Just the other day, I happened upon David Lebovitz's ode to the sweet Oursons Guimauve and I thought that hey, it's been a while, maybe I should call some up and see how things are going. So, here is my humble homage to les Oursons Guimauve. My fellow chocolate and marshmallow fans, I give you the devil's food cupcake, topped with a mocha marshmallow frosting and decorated with an Ourson and some Mikado (cause I just liked how those looked but truth be told I had a few boxes lying around the house as the Mikado are my daughter's current obsession!) Calorie counters: Beware!

10 November 2008

Les 16H Gouter Cupcakes

About 7 years ago, Ferrero Rocher ran a series of ads in the US for its Nutella chocolate hazelnut spread. They featured Kobe Bryant and billed the product as an energy food. Chocolate as an energy food? True, but a bit of an outlandish and unusual advertising claim. Now that we have been living in the country where Nutella originated for several years, I am starting to understand a bit why they chose to use this platform to promote their brand.

Here in France, the 16H "gouter" is an institution. Considered an official 4th meal of the day, wherever you are when 4PM rolls around, you'll see children (and even some adults too) snacking on cookies, fruit, pastries and other sweet treats destined to give energy and get over the hurdle to dinner. I once read an article that said the most energy rich, filling and "healthy" gouter choice consists of a baguette and a few squares of dark chocolate. This is meant to be eaten like a sandwich, and I presume it is from this logic that the pain au chocolat was created.

This may also explain the Nutella phenomenon. For those of you who haven't sampled it, it's akin to how us Americans consume peanut butter or those from down under think of vegemite. My husband spreads it on his daily morning toast and most households in France have a jar stocked away somewhere in the pantry.

Since said husband is home today enjoying a 4-day weekend (which has nothing to do with Nutella incidentally!), I thought I would bake him something special. Voila a batch of cupcakes that are perfectly suited for the 16H gouter, though he could barely keep from eating them while taking the lovely photo above at 11 AM this morning. These are vanilla cupcakes filled with a cream of Nutella and frosted with a cocoa-hazelnut ganache. These got a big thumbs up from my husband, who by the way is my biggest critic. While scarfing them down, he asked, "I think you're on to something here....can you make more?"