baking makes you a crazy person

Since it’s currently eleventy-billion degrees in San Diego, no sane person would be gleefully contemplating turning on the oven and spending a day basking in cookie-fueled heat. Clearly I have the crazy, because the next few days look like they’re going to be a baking marathon and I couldn’t be more excited!

Two projects I’m tackling are treats to pack up and send on a guys get-away weekend, and making another round of gluten-free vegan cupcakes.

First, I’ve been itching to make these Peanut Butter M&M Bars from The Gonzo Gourmet.

Gourgeous, right? Thinking that they will be the perfect send-along treat. Maybe I’ll mix things up and make a few with Reese’s Pieces for my fellow peanut butter fiends. Can’t wait!

As for the cupcakes, I love making things for my friends with dietary restrictions. Sure, it’s easy to whip up a batch of flour-butter-egg goodies, but a little extra time and effort can often yield a batch of deliciousness that’s all the more meaningful to someone seldom able to indulge in treats. I’ve been playing around with some recipes and resources to make gluten-free, vegan cupcakes for a special occasion. My first batch yielded these dark chocolate cupcakes with chocolate filling, topped with “butterscotch” mousse, caramelized sugar, and smoked sea salt.

The flavor was great, but (as usual), I didn’t write much down so need to re-make it a few times to check quantities and technique for the big event. And I always figure that, as long as I’m making another batch, I might as well tinker with it a bit. I originally used a GF mix (with some tweaking) for the cake, but I’ve been eyeing this slightly more complex chocolate cupcake recipe from Gluten Free Girl. So dark. So chocolate-y.

Next step: to the ovens!

a tragedy of peanut butter-ian porportions

Those of you who follow this site’s twitter feed know I’ve been on something of a chocolate peanut butter kick lately. 

First there was the recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Bomb cupcakes – chocolate cupcakes with creamy peanut butter frosting and salty chocolate peanut butter ganache.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bombs

Then came Chocolate Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies, made with Smitten Kitchen’s homemade Oreo recipe and filled with leftover peanut butter cupcake frosting.

Next there were Stuffed Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies, made by wrapping David Lebovitz’s Peanut Butter Cookie batter around Brown Eyed Baker’s Better Than Brownies chocolate cookie dough (and, yes, drizzling them with a bit of that leftover salty chocolate peanut butter ganache I got a lot of mileage out of that cupcake recipe!).

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

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chocolate peanut butter cupcakes




Inspired by the always fabulous Deb at Smitten Kitchen, these cupcakes were adapted from her ridiculously gorgeous and drool-inducing Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake


For a party, I prefer the more easily carried and eaten cupcake format and I was too pressed for time for serious baking, so this adaptation allows the creamy peanut butter frosting and the just-a-bit-salty peanut butter chocolate ganache to steal the show.  

The Chocolate Cake – no time for from-scratch baking for this one, unfortunately.  I used a single box of Pillsbury Moist Supreme Devil’s Food cake mix (yes, hold on to your pearls, I used a box cake, stay with me here).  If you go with the box cake, don’t forget to check that you have sufficient eggs and vegetable oil at home BEFORE you get back from the store.

Any moist dark chocolate mix should work, or if you prefer to make your own, you’ll want a moist chocolate cake recipe that makes the equivalent of 24 cupcakes or three 8″ rounds.  If you don’t have a favorite recipe, I’m confident that Deb’s cake recipe at the above link is outstanding.    

Pre-heat your oven and break out some cool cupcake liners.  Following your cake recipe/box directions, fill your cups no more than 2/3 full.   This should get you the full set of 24 cupcakes, and they should rise to just over the top of the liner when finished.  Mine baked at 350 degrees for around 18 minutes.   Once a tester comes out clean, you’ll want to let these get nice and cool before you try to frost them – for me this is the most difficult part of any recipe, but I swear, your patience will be rewarded.

The Peanut Butter Frosting – This is it.  The ish.  Glorious, fluffy peanut butter frosting.   You’ll need the following:

  • 5 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ½ stick (2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 – 2 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
  • ½ cup smooth peanut butter
  • sea salt
  • OPTIONAL EQUIPMENT – offset spatula, stand mixer

Remember that you will need to use a peanut butter like Peter Pan, Jif, or Skippy.  Now I love lumpy gritty health food peanut butter as much as the next nut (see what I did there?) but you’ll need the smooth texture of the commercial brands to make this work. 

  1. Add the room temperature butter and cream cheese to a large bowl and beat together until it’s light and fluffy.  This will take longer than you think and works much better with a stand mixer.  You can use a hand electric mixer, but keep a close eye on the frosting to make sure it doesn’t get too warm and “break.”  If it does break and starts to look horribly curdled, don’t panic – just stick it in the fridge until it firms back up and try again.  If you don’t have an electric mixer and plan to beat it by hand, you have the wrists of a young John McEnroe and I will refrain from giving you any further cooking advice.  Please don’t hurt me.  
  2. Start adding the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time.  You will want to scrape down the sides and give the mix a few gentle stirs with each added cup to make sure you don’t get a face full of powdered sugar when you turn the mixer on (no, I haven’t had that happen to me a million times, why do you ask?).   Mix each addition in thoroughly.  When all the confectioner’s sugar has been added, add a pinch or two of sea salt and continue to beat the frosting on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.

Here’s where your multi-tasking starts to pay off.   Your cupcakes should be nicely cooled by this point, so you are ready to start frosting.  Grab one and smooth a nice thin coat of frosting around the top and any exposed cake above the wrapper. 

Digression  —> I know I said an offset spatula was optional, but really, a small one can be bought just about anywhere for less than $5 and will really make your life easier.  You know when you try to smooth a thin layer of frosting on a cake, or sauce onto a casserole, or sour cream on top of bean dip, but when you lift the spoon you’re using off the dish, a big chunk sticks to the back and pulls away from the dish?  That’s the magic of an offset spatula – it smoothes just about anything on anything.  Is it magic or physics?  Only Sir George Stokes knows for sure! 

Once the cupcakes have their initial frosting or “crumb coat,” they need to sit in the fridge or the freezer to firm up, about 5-10 minutes, until the frosting is rather firm to the touch.  I like to put them in the freezer as I frost them so the first cupcakes are cold and ready to go by the time I finish getting the crumb coat on the last (FIFO).

Once the frosting has set, you’ll want to start putting a second, more generous layer of frosting on the cupcake.   Remember, this is the star of the show, and the thickness of the frosting will be offset by the ganache that goes on next.  Plan to use all of your frosting to get a nice, thick layer on all 24 cupcakes.   Once frosted, set the cupcakes back in the freezer to firm.  I know, you’re thinking, “back in the freezer AGAIN?  I don’t have this kind of time!  I have to update my Facebook status!”  Patience, grasshopper –  it’s time to make our ganache!

The Chocolate Peanut Butter Ganache – We’ve arrived at the crowning glory of our cupcakes.  If the peanut butter frosting is the star, the ganache is its leading lady, agent, and lawyer rolled into one.   The ganache is the Thelma to the frosting’s Louise, the Starsky to its Hutch, the Brooks to its Dunn.   You want this rich, sweet, and salty:

  • 9 oz (3/4 bag) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • ¼ cup smooth peanut butter
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • Sea salt

You can do this in a double boiler, but I like to use the microwave set on low.  Add your chocolate, peanut butter, corn syrup, and a pinch of salt to a medium-sized mixing bowl.   Microwave on low (or soften, if your microwave has that setting).  Pull your bowl out about every thirty seconds or so and give the contents a few turns of the whisk – remember that chocolate in the microwave is always more melted than it looks at first, so be patient enough to stir intermittently and you won’t end up with burned chocolate. 


When it has melted enough to fully whisk all the ingredients together, you’ll want to start whisking in your half and half.  I like to do about 1/3 of the half and half at a time so that each addition is well incorporated, until your ganache is shiny and thick but still liquid.   Taste for saltiness and adjust if needed – I like this to have a real earthy saltiness, like you might find in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.  My salt of choice was a finely ground pink Himalayan salt, but any quality salt will do – NOT iodinized table salt, please.   You’ll need the ganache to still be nice and warm when you take your firmed cupcakes out of the freezer.

The beauty of having your frosting cold and firm is that it lets us cheat on the ganache application.  Rather than trying to pour, paint, or ladle it over the cupcakes, we will avoid turning the kitchen counters, floor, and cabinets into Prince William Sound by flipping the cupcakes upside down and dunking the tops into the ganache.  I picked this technique up from Pioneer Woman Cooks ( and it is a beauty.  Just dunk to about the level of the liner, then slowly twist as you bring it out of the ganache. 

Remember that the cupcakes/frosting must be cold and the ganache must be warm for this to work.   I like to put a piece of wax paper under a baking rack and set the dunked cupcakes right side up to drip dry, which makes cleaning up a snap.  You’ll want to get these back in the fridge once the ganache starts to set so the whole thing firms up nicely, particularly if you are going to transport the cupcakes anywhere. 

And that’s it!  24 (okay, 23 if you’re like me and already ate the broken one) delicious nuggets of chocolate peanut butter love.   Read on for the bottom line on these babies.

The Bottom Line: For this tasty treat, you are looking at the following approximate stats: 365 calories, 16 grams fat, 40 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 5 grams protein.

What would I have to give up?  Here’s a list of indulgences that stack up similarly in calories, fat, and carbs: 

  • Starbucks Grande Pumpkin Spice Latte: 380 cals/13g fat/51g carbs
  • Starbucks Reduced Fat Very Berry Coffeecake: 350 cals/10g fat/ 59g carbs
  • Starbucks Chocolate Chip Cookie: 380 cals/17g fat/51g carbs
  • Brugger’s Plain Bagel with 1oz Cream Cheese: 365 cals/7.5g fat/63g carbs
  • McDonald’s Medium French Fries: 380 cals/19g fat/48g carbs

What do I have to burn?  If you prefer to burn your calories, here are some activities that will burn approximately 350 calories (based on a weight of 180lbs, check out for customized information):

  • 30 minutes of step aerobics or elliptical trainer
  • 30 minutes of biking at a moderate pace
  • 45 minutes of shoveling snow by hand (good news for those of you in Snowpocalypse 2011!)
  • 60 minutes of walking at a brisk pace (3.5 mph)
  • 90 minutes of Wii bowling

The Verdict:  Oh yeah, it’s worth it.  What the heck are they putting in those Starbucks Coffee Cakes, anyway?  I say make a batch, give half to your neighbor, borrow their dog, and go out for a brisk hour long walk.  When you get back, pour a cup of coffee or an icy glass of milk and help yourself to a guilt-free salty sweet bomb of peanut butter chocolate awesome.

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