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Going steady

Every kitchen has its strong, silent staples. I’ve certainly got my stockpile of oils and vinegars, condiments, rice, pasta, beans, butter, eggs, milk, flours, salts, and sugars, some dusty, some fusty, and all standing as ready proof of my fine Depression-era homemaker instincts. But if tomorrow brings a shortage in my stock of champagne vinegar or vermicelli, my kitchen won’t suffer. I can feel plenty satisfied without, say, Dijon mustard or basmati rice. The same cannot be said, however, for another subset of pantry regulars—the standbys that aren’t really staples, but rather steadies, those with whom I set a daily date. Without my cheese and chocolate, I’d be facing a Great Depression indeed.

As of this writing, my refrigerator contains a block of Grafton two-year cheddar, a hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano, another of Sini Fulvi Pecorino, the dregs of a piece of five-year Gouda, a half-eaten wedge of Point Reyes Original Blue, and a small tub of fresh, hand-dipped ricotta. You won’t find me eating them all at once—greediness is very unbecoming, or so I’m told—but I find that a sliver, or two, or three, is necessary for proper functioning. I was converted to the ways of cheese by a stern but well-meaning French host mother, and you know the word on the street: French women don’t get fat,* and by god, dear reader, I too will have my daily cheese. By the same token, my cupboard’s current chocolate lineup includes Chocolove 77% “extra strong” dark, Dolfin 88% dark, Dolfin milk chocolate with “hot masala,”** a blocky bar of Valrhona for baking, and Vosges Haut-Chocolat’s Creole and Barcelona bars,*** the sexiest of my steady sweets. We end every day together, chocolate and I, and though I harbor no illusions, I think this relationship is really headed somewhere.

But where the magic really happens is in the unlikely meeting of my two pet pantry items. While I can’t recommend a joint mouthful, chocolate and blue cheeses, for example, could be united by a shared affinity for port, and I’d venture to guess that, given the right setting, a chunk of caramelly aged Gouda might welcome a chaser of dark chocolate. And certainly, cream cheese and chocolate are no strangers. But the holy union I’m really after, dear patient reader, is a double chocolate cupcake with ricotta, bourbon, and orange zest.

Deep brown with cocoa, rich and tender, each fist-sized cake holds a well of creamy ricotta sexed up with bourbon and bitter orange, with a few chocolate chips for good measure. Swirled together, the ricotta and chocolate each make the other something better: the soft dairy richness of the fresh cheese gains depth from dark chocolate, and the chocolate’s sincere, not-too-sweetness borrows intrigue from the boozy ricotta.

With a dozen of these on the counter, the kitchen fills with a complex, almost spicy warmth, enough to make the most well-endowed cabinet of rice and pasta look downright sad. Every kitchen needs its strong, silent staples, yes, but things are so much more interesting when you’re going steady.

*Thank you, très chère collègue et confidante, for wisdom and girl-talk.
**Thank you,
Michele, mille fois!
***This stuff is dangerously dreamy,
mav. Thank you!

Double Chocolate Cupcakes with Ricotta, Bourbon, and Orange Zest
Adapted from Gourmet

In addition to the chocolate and ricotta, it doesn’t hurt that this recipe features a hit of booze, which—judging by the contents of this blog—seems to be a staple on its way to steadydom. And with chilly weather settling over the land, the orange zest is a nod to winter’s promised citrus. These cupcakes are at their melty, moist, aromatic best when still slightly warm from the oven, although they are more than passable up to three days after baking, sealed in an airtight container or heavy plastic bag. I took a half-dozen day-old cupcakes to work one day, and they had all disappeared by 10 am, with plenty of swoony gratitude from my coworkers.

For ricotta mixture:
1 cup fresh whole-milk ricotta
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg white
1 Tbs good-quality bourbon
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
½ cup good-quality semisweet chocolate chips
A pinch of salt

For cupcake batter:
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup canola oil
½ cup milk (any fat content is fine)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 Tbs distilled white vinegar
1 Tbs pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp orange-flower water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 12-well muffin tin with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together all ricotta mixture ingredients. Place the mixture in the refrigerator to chill.

Place a good-sized sieve over a large bowl, and put the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, and sugar into the sieve. Shake the sieve to filter the dry ingredients through into the bowl. Whisk to combine them thoroughly.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the oil, milk, egg, vinegar, vanilla, and orange-flower water; then add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients in the large bowl, stirring to just combine. Do not overmix.

Spoon a generous heaping tablespoon of the chocolate batter into each muffin cup. Top the chocolate batter with a rounded tablespoon of the ricotta mixture, followed by another rounded tablespoon of the chocolate batter. You should have just enough chocolate batter for 12 cupcakes, although you will likely have leftover ricotta. [Sorry about that.] Holding a paring knife point-down, swirl the tip of the knife through the batter in each cup in a figure-eight pattern to marble the batter.

Bake the cupcakes in the middle of the oven until a toothpick or thin knife inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes. Cool them in the pan on a rack; then gently unmold and serve.

Yield: 12 cupcakes


Blogger Shauna said...

I'm first? Really? Not Clare?

I have to say, in all honesty, that while I read this, I was munching on a slender sliver of artisan-made Gruyere and sipping from my cup of Mariebelle hot chocolate. Clearly, I don't know what you mean.

9:21 PM, October 20, 2005  
Blogger McAuliflower said...

Oh heavens.

Cheese and chocolate, my my. This makes me want to go back to my lunch spot today where I had a great chocolate stout on nitro, and tempt my next one with some great cheese.

I'm trying to decide if adding coconut to these cupcakes would just be too much... and I probably shouldn't be asking about frosting suggestions either...

9:37 PM, October 20, 2005  
Blogger Nic said...

Too delicious, Molly. I bet that the booze makes it. ;)

9:46 PM, October 20, 2005  
Blogger annieD said...

Oh. Oh, my. These are going to have to get made. Like right now.

8:24 AM, October 21, 2005  
Blogger foodiechickie said...

Oooh lord. Thing I just died and gone to heaven. Again must say I LOOOOOOOOOOOOVE Cheese. Sorry I knew you that:)

8:51 AM, October 21, 2005  
Anonymous Julie said...

Oh oh oh Molly. The spirits (tee hee) must be with us, since I'm featuring chocolate and booze as well (although no cheese at the moment). These gorgeous cakelets are crying out to be made at my house.

I love your distinction between staples and steadies. Chocolate is certainly top on my steadies list...and cheese is another daily food group. I must admit that I do feel rather bereft on the very rare occasions that I run out of butter...

11:54 AM, October 21, 2005  
Blogger stef said...

like all the wonderful recipes and pictures you post here, this one i will be trying. cheese and chocolate are definitely worth contemplating a long term relationship with. :)

12:49 PM, October 21, 2005  
Blogger pomegranate said...


1:22 PM, October 21, 2005  
Blogger Yana/Jenn said...

Damn. I know what I'm making this weekend! Thanks much. My favorite cheese of the moment is Piave, from the locally-owned Art Mart.

1:47 PM, October 21, 2005  
Blogger Celeste said...

Chocolate...Good. Ricotta...GOOD! Bourbon & Orange Zest...Goooood!!! If I wasn't up to my you-know-what with Indian food this month, I'd be all over this one. But I'm going to file the recipe away in my list of goodies and make some for the yuletide holidays.

5:43 AM, October 22, 2005  
Anonymous kayenne said...

UGH... now you're making my mouth water... i bemoan the severe lack of good and AFFORDABLE cheeses here. they're considered luxury items and always imported and can easily cost at least half the daily minimum wage to a common consumer. i often substitute cottage cheese for ricotta, as i can't even find ricotta(very rare, except in some specialty stores, where they cost an arm and a leg!) in my favorite supermarkets.

i can't even make my own, as i only find buttermilk in the powdered form here. i wonder if that will still work? =(

11:01 AM, October 22, 2005  
Blogger T said...

Goodness me, I think you've outdone yourself! You've managed to include two of my favorites- chocolate and ricotta, into one cupcake, which is absolute genius!

12:52 PM, October 22, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Shauna, I should have known! I'm afraid you know what I'm going to write before I do. Then again, it could just be that you have very, very good taste.

McAuliflower, too funny! I see that you too have done a playful little number with chocolate cupcakes and dairy products this week, and with a definite "oh heavens" frosting. I don't think you need any advice from me in that department, my dear.

Nic, I'm not a big one for taking bourbon straight, but in something? Yes, please!

AnnieD, you have my blessing. Get on it!

Foodiechickie, cheese can never be praised too much. Carry on, honey.

Julie, it's very clear that our next meeting must include cheese, chocolate, and good spirits (tee hee again). It's a pleasure to know a woman who keeps chocolate on her bedside table, m'dear.

Thank you, stef! We're pretty lucky to live in a city with such good access to great cheeses and chocolate, don't you think? Long-distance relationships with humans are one thing, but with foods, well, a girl gets hungry.

Pomegranate, I second that.

Yana/Jenn, thank you! I hope the cupcakes were/are a hit. And thanks for the Piave heads-up; I will keep my ears/eyes/mouth open!

Celeste, these flavors would definitely work well at holiday time. And three cheers for your list of to-do goodies. I know I've got a long one myself...

Kayenne, your cheese deprivation sounds almost crimimal. I'm so sorry.

And tanvi, my dear, I'm afraid I can't take full credit, or even half. The bulk of this recipe comes from Gourmet, and my tweaks are only minor, involving booze type, amount of orange zest, oil type, and such. But, you know, I'll keep that "absolute genius" thing for myself.

9:45 PM, October 22, 2005  
Blogger Michèle said...

Oh good lord Molly. Those look so very dreamy. I am again in awe of your creations! I would happily raid your pantry AND your fridge anytime. How I wish we were neighbours so that you would leave such lovely little bundles on my doorstep!

9:55 AM, October 23, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Michele, thank you! You are welcome to raid my kitchen anytime, as long as you bring me some stinky French cheeses and some of those fleur de sel truffles of yours, d'accord?

8:03 PM, October 23, 2005  
Blogger kickpleat said...

i feel so behind on all my blog reading as of late (due to huge amounts of work, which i'm happy about financially, but it's somehow not jiving with my slacker ways), so i just have to comment that i cannot wait to make these. a little while ago, i had some cream cheese brownies and it was heaven on a plate. i think these might just be a topper. yum!

11:36 AM, October 30, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Kickpleat, this might be just the thing for you! It's definitely an "adult" riff on the cream-cheese-and-chocolate theme...

10:40 PM, October 30, 2005  
Blogger keiko said...

Oh Molly, this looks sinful!! It MUST be delicious, thank you for the great picture and recipe.

7:29 AM, October 31, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Keiko, it IS delicious! And thank you for the generous compliments, as always.

10:16 PM, October 31, 2005  
Anonymous pumpkinpie said...

My husband and I love this recipe! Lemnos makes a chocolate cherry ricotta dip, and I remembered this recipe saved from Gourmet August 2002. I just stirred chocolate chips into the ricotta dip, then made the cupcakes with 1/4 cup Spanish olive oil and 1/4 cup applesauce, omitting the orange flower water. Mmm...

5:02 AM, March 13, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Oh MY, pumpkinpie. That sounds outrageously good!

9:47 PM, March 15, 2006  
Anonymous pumpkinpie said...

Hi again! I made these last night, this time using raspberry vinegar and the chocolate cherry ricotta. Oooh, so good.

2:34 AM, February 02, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

Pumpkinpie, I swear - you're a genius with these cupcakes! Thanks for popping in to share your variations. Not only are they inspiring, but they also jogged my memory about this recipe. Would you believe that I'd completely forgotten about it?

11:48 AM, February 02, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Molly! Just found this recipe by looking through your archives, am dying to make it now! Just one question, do you think it would work baked as one big cake as opposed to 12 cupcakes? Any idea about tin size / baking time?
Thanks a million,

6:57 AM, October 22, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

Hi Julia -

Hmm! Wish I knew what to tell you. I've never tried making a cupcake like this into a cake, and I really have no idea how the ricotta filling would do. I'm inclined to think it might not work very well, but really, you've stumped me!

If you do decide to try it, I'd suggest an 8- or 9-inch round pan - that's usually about the equivalent of 12 cupcakes. Let me know how things turn out...

10:45 AM, October 22, 2007  
OpenID lifewithgusto said...

Molly, you are dangerously influential.
While I read the recipe I had to munch some parmesan; then I had to gather the ingredients, which included stopping by my parents' house to --let's call it what it was -- steal some of their amazing homelaid eggs and the end of a bottle of bourbon. There followed some mixing, tasting, baking, and delighted friends at dinner.
Several cupcakes flew with me from Sydney to Melbourne on the weekend and none made it home. Thanks for the wonderful recipe and blog.

2:15 PM, October 27, 2008  
Anonymous Heather said...

Hi Molly! I stumbled on your blog through other blogs while looking for a sweet recipe to catch my fancy. And who isn't intrigued by the combination of cheese and chocolate?

However, since you mentioned blue cheese and chocolate, and since you live in Seattle, near to my beloved Portland, I felt it was only fair to tell you about this place: http://www.pixpatisserie.com/collections/chocolate
Please note the blue cheese truffles. My goodness, they will blow your mind and if you're not already mentally planning a trip south, well...

Thanks for the recipe, I'm happy to have found your site!

8:43 AM, February 18, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had to make do without bourbon or orange flavor, but the cupcakes were still REALLY good. Here's a question: I found it almost impossible to do the swirly thing with the knife to marble the cupcakes because my chocolate batter was very thick and stuck to the knife in one big glob. Is that normal? I followed the recipe exactly other than making the omissions above and substituting soy milk for the regular milk. Also, I found that I definitely could have used all of the ricotta mixture because my cupcakes didn't rise much beyond the rims of the muffin cups.

Thanks for another delicious recipe!


11:45 AM, March 28, 2009  
Blogger Molly said...

Irina, I'm not sure what to tell you! I haven't made these cupcakes in a couple of years, so I don't remember the exact consistency of the cake batter. I can't say that I remember it being particularly thick, though. I wish I could be more helpful. Sorry about that!

3:17 PM, March 28, 2009  
Blogger Anna said...

Good god this sounds absolutely divine. I'd make some right now but I know I'd eat them all without sharing. Then again...that might not be so bad :D

2:19 PM, February 22, 2010  
Anonymous Inge said...

I just stumbled upon these in your recipe index and can´t wait to try them! I was just wondering if I could swap the orange-flower water for something else...or maybe leave out altogether?

11:07 AM, April 07, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just made these - and found the choc batter a little stiff (added more milk) and the ricotta to be "just enough" - no complaints, just sharing!

1:03 PM, March 30, 2013  

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