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Devil’s Food Cupcakes because it’s my birthday


This weekend is my birthday.  And it’s a big one.  As my father asked, “Isn’t there a six involved?” Yes, Dad.  Yes there is.  We’ll be in Nola to celebrate and I’m planning on drinking gallons of champagne.  At all hours.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Because on your birthday you get to do whatever you want and everyone has to be nice to you.  I’ve had some truly wonderful birthdays and some that lean more towards, “Well, maybe next year will be better.”  That was almost the case when I turned 14 or 15.  Around then was when Mama and I started growing apart…squabbling and constantly butting heads.  I woke up that morning and it was already hot out.  Cranky and spoiling for an argument I came out of my room for another splendid breakfast of Cheerios and, as luck would have it, Mama was the first family member I encountered.  “Good morning, Cielo, and happy birthday.  Could you please make certain your bed is made before leaving the house today?  Thank you.”  Hackles up and muttering under my breath, they might as well have been fighting words.  I don’t know why I thought she was the enemy but I did and I did everything in my power to let her know it.  All through the day I huffed and puffed, I slammed doors and scowled at whoever made the mistake of trying to talk to me.  Late in the afternoon I spied an enormous brown, cardboard box in the living room.  We always opened our birthday presents in the living room after having had our choice of anything we want for our celebratory dinner.  Oh, and the opposition, that would have been Mama, hadn’t asked me what I wanted that night for dinner so I assumed it would be the usual dried up chicken with burnt to a crisp zucchini and tomato slices.  Anger gently simmered under my skin right next to indignation.  I looked closely at the box but to no avail.  There was nothing printed on it…anywhere.  It was just a big, brown box.  I snarled at Mama, “What’s that?”  She stopped what she was doing and sighed.  “We know you’re not going to like this but your father and I feel your schoolwork is suffering and we felt you should receive something for your birthday that you truly need so we got you A SET OF ENCYCLOPEDIAS.”  Encyclopedias.  Are you freaking kidding me?  Talking to myself but making perfectly sure that she heard me I said, “I hate you.  I truly hate you.” and with that I sang out with artificial happiness, “I’m going over to Kit’s house!  Be back in time for dinner!”  Kit was another bone of contention.  My parents didn’t like her…at all.  They said she was a “bad influence” on me.  And guess what?  She was!  She lived only one island away, just a quick bike ride for me.  I spent the afternoon complaining to Kit how horrible my life and my mother were and returned home before we sat down to eat all the while continuing the bratty act of spreading irritation and negativity.  Honestly, I don’t know how my incredible mother put up with me.  I would have…well, I don’t know what I would l have done but I know I was hateful and I do regret having put Mama through the wringer.  At any rate we were called to the table and, lo and behold, she had prepared my favorite dinner.  Rare roast beef, mashed potatoes with the pan juices of the roast, asparagus, salad and Pepperidge Farm rolls that weren’t even scorched.  I don’t think I had the grace to thank her and acknowledge that she had prepared my #1, best-loved meal.  Ugh, I was awful.  We made it through dinner without anyone getting sent to their room, i.e. me, and moved to the living room for presents and cake.  Wretch that I was, that box had me worried.  It was all about me  and I couldn’t be concerned with anything that didn’t directly affect me.  Daddy urged me, “Go ahead! Open it!”  Mama was silent.  I recall thinking, “Why?  It’s not like I’m going to use them or anything.  You might as well just take ’em back wherever you found them.”  For once I didn’t vocalize my thoughts.  I slowly tore the brown packing tape and opened the cardboard flaps.  Tommy and Pamela, who would have been seven and six at the time, had the good sense to keep still and not say anything.  They sat on the sofa with big eyes willing to wait for a piece of cake.  As I peered into the dark shadows of the box I realized there weren’t any leather spines, no golden gilt edges.  No.  Shame washed over me.  My parents had simply teased me and I had responded in an ugly, ugly fashion.  Nothing was said as I pulled out a turntable, speakers, a complete stereo system.  Reeling with the enormity of how hateful I had behaved, I looked up at Mama beseechingly with eyes that begged for forgiveness letting out a sobbing, “Oh, Mama!”.  And Mama, loving me and knowing me so well smiled and said, “Oh, Cielo.”  Some birthdays are good, some not so good.

This is a go-to Devil’s Food Cake from The New Basics Cookbook.  I use this recipe for both cakes and cupcakes.  It’s dark, luscious and rich…everything you want in a chocolate cake.  There’s not much more I can say except it won’t let you down and you MIGHT gain weight.

Kathleen's Devil's Food Cake

  • Servings: 24-36 cupcakes or 2 9-inch cakes
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  • 3 ounces good-quality unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Pre-heat oven to 375°.  Place cupcake liners in pans or grease and flour 2 9-inch cake pans.  Set aside.
  2. Place chocolate in a small, heavy saucepan and melt over low heat, stirring constantly.  Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
  3. Cream the butter and brown sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer.  With the mixer on low-speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition,  Stir in the melted chocolate.
  4. Combine the cake flour, baking soda, and the salt.   Alternating between the two, add the flour mixture and the buttermilk to the chocolate mixture in three stages ending with the flour.  Then slowly stir in the boiling water and the vanilla.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pans, half full for the cupcakes or divide the batter in half fi making the cakes, and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 18-20 minutes for the cupcakes, 30 minutes for the 9-inch cakes.
  6. Remove cakes from oven and allow to cool on wire racks for 5 minutes.  Then invert cakes and place the cakes back on the racks.
  7. Ice when cakes are completely cooled.



Puff Pastry Tart with Goat Brie, Ricotta and Zucchini

There’s not much better on a Friday evening than mouth-watering, delectable dinner that’s put together with ingredients you happen to have on hand.  Having discovered some time ago goat brie at Trader Joe’s, I thought maybe I would incorporate it into some sort of puff pastry tart for dinner.  Looks like any brie but this one has a strong, goaty flavor that’s positively sublime, and, yes, now I am an addict.  If you’re not able to locate it, the combination of a small wheel of brie chopped and mixed a small amount of chevre, goat cheese, will also work quite well.   I wanted a creamy backdrop to support the brie and  one small container of ricotta was the perfect foil, rich and spreadable but not as gooey as mozzarella.  An egg to bind, some fresh basil,  zucchini ribbons, a quick drizzle of a fragrant, green olive oil and I had one gorgeous, undemanding dinner.  The only fly in the ointment was neither of my boys had gotten home yet.  Jimmy was speaking at some conference and James catching up with a co-worker he had worked with on a gubernatorial campaign.  All fine and well but, hey, dinner’s ready!  I chased away the feeling of discouragement by serving myself the prettiest part of the tart.  Cut into quarters, my portion had the most browned, runny, chewy bits of cheese.  Not exactly first prize but I’ll take second prize any day.  I had prepared a splendid salad of leaf lettuce dressed lightly with creme fraiche; the requisite glass of Malbec had been poured.  Each bite was a song of flavors. The buttery puff pastry gave a satisfying crunch as did the barely cooked zucchini.  But the goat cheese was the star of that musical.  Not too sharp and  creamy-dreamy, the brie made its presence known in every bite.  Happy Friday night to me!





Puff Pastry Tart with Goat Brie, Ricotta, Basil and Zucchini

This tart may be made with fresh baby spinach or fresh basil leaves.  If you have a handful of some strong, flavorful cheese and you want to get rid of it, it’s most welcome in this dish.  I’ve  used the odd bits of Gruyere and even used the last quarter cup of bagged, shredded Publix brand 4-cheese Italian .  One cup of marinated artichoke hearts roughly chopped is lovely, too.

  • 1 puff pastry sheet, I use Pepperidge Farm, keep chilled until assembling tart
  • 1 wheel goat brie 4.4 ounces, or cow’s brie with 3 or 4 ounces of chevre added
  • 1 15-ounce ricotta, fat-free is great…that’s all I use in this tart
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 12-15 zucchini ribbons made with a vegetable peeler or mandolin
  • fresh spinach, washed and dried, as much as you like to scatter on top, optional
  • fresh basil, cut into strips, optional
  • 1 cup marinated artichokes, drained well and roughly chopped, optional
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil to drizzle when serving
  1. Preheat oven to 425°.
  2. In a medium size bowl place a paper towel.  Gently dump the ricotta cheese on the paper towel, bring the corners of the towel around the cheese and softly press all excess liquid away.  Turn cheese back into the bowl and discard towel.
  3. Roughly cut the brie into 1/2 chunks and add to ricotta.
  4. Add the egg to the cheeses.
  5. If using spinach, basil or artichokes add to cheese/egg mixture and mix well.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Cover baking sheet with tin foil.
  8. Open puff pastry on floured  surface.
  9. With a rolling-pin, use a cold wine bottle if you don’t have a rolling-pin, quickly roll puff pastry out to a 12″X15″ rectangle.  Don’t fret.  It doesn’t have to be perfect but you do want to keep the dough cold so move fast.
  10. Using your finger or a small brush and a little water paint a 1/4″ rim around the entire rectangle.
  11. Fold 1/4″ of dough from the edge each of the four sides of the rectangle onto the wet area to make a collar or dam, if you will, to keep in the cheese mixture.  Press the dough firmly to adhere to the water painted dough.
  12. Cover the puff pastry evenly with the cheese mixture just up to the folded edge and  smooth the top.
  13. Arrange the zucchini on top of the cheese, flat and on its side to resemble a lovely jumble of green ribbon.
  14. Bake 45-60 minutes until corners are browned and top is slightly browned.
  15. Cool 10 minutes before serving.