January Birthdays / Chocolate and Pistachio Cupcakes

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I’m a little bit birthdayed out, to tell you the truth. It seems to me like half the people I know, myself included, are January babies. Someone told me this is because a lot of people get frisky around Springtime, and hence: lots and lots of January-babies.

Last week was my sister’s 30th birthday, and she had a big party with family and friends. I’m not a fan of cupcakes, personally, but since she requested them, and she was the birthday girl, I obliged. And since she loves pistachio, I decided to try my hand at chocolate and pistachio cupcakes. I even ground the pistachios into pistachio paste by hand, not having been able to locate any pistachio paste in any of my local supermarkets or health stores. I can still feel my pecs.

The cupcakes turned out lovely, if a bit too heavy on the chocolate, in my opinion – I was really hoping the pistachio would shine through a bit more (twenty minutes of pestle-and-mortar-action will do that). I’ll definitely make them again, but next time I’ll omit the chocolate chips, and perhaps make 2/3 of the batter pistachio, and the rest into chocolate, to let the pistachio take centre stage. As it were, you could definitely taste the pistachio, but more as a subtle afternote to the chocolate, not what I was after 🙂 And the ganache frosting also packs a nice chocolate punch, so no need to worry about any chocolate withdrawals. I think I may also add more chopped pistachios to the batter next time, in lieu of the chocolate chips…

I was worried they’d be dry, but they were really nice and moist, and just a bit different to your typical cupcake (which I personally tend to find a bit bland and more for show than anything else!) – even though they were less pistachio-y than I had anticipated 🙂 I also had a bit of a frosting-fail induced panic when my newly acquired piping gadget failed me, resulting in super ugly blobs of chocolate ganache, but I remedied that by flattening the ganache with a teaspoon, dipped in just-boiled water and dried off, to make the chocolate look shiny again and less blob-like. The result was a bit ‘rustic’, if you will, but when you sprinkle beautiful bright green and purple-tinged chopped pistachios on top, no one will notice your less than stellar ganache-piping skills 🙂

I’ll definitely make them again, pistachio paste included, with slightly less chocolate next time!

Chocolate and Pistachio Cupcakes
Adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini – makes about 25-30 cupcakes, depending on the muffin tin

For the chocolate batter:

  • 135 g (1 cup) flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 75 g butter, softened
  • 150 g (2/3 cup) sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 190 ml (3/4 cup) full fat plain yoghurt
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 120 g dark chocolate, chopped

For the pistachio batter:

  • 135 g (1 cup) flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 75 g butter, softened
  • 150 g (2/3 cup) sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 190 ml (3/4 cup) full fat plain yoghurt
  • 120 g shelled, unsalted pistachios
  • 3/4 tsp icing sugar

For the ganache:

  • 200 g dark chocolate (I used 52% to avoid to chocolate dominating too much), broken into chunks
  • 200 ml heavy cream

Make the ganache by heating up the cream (e.g. in the microwave for a minute or two on high), and pouring it over the chocolate chunks. Leave for a good five minutes, then stir until you have a glossy ganache. If some of the chocolate is still in chunks, place the bowl back into the microwave for about 10 seconds on high, and then continue stirring. Set aside to cool down and thicken while you make your cupcakes.

Preheat your oven to 180°C/360°F.

Line your cupcake moulds.

Roughly chop the pistachios using a serrated knife. Reserve 20 g of the pistachios for decoration, 60 g to add to the batter, and 40 g to make your pistachio paste: place the 40 g of pistachios in a mortar, and grind them until they start to look like a paste. Add the icing sugar, and keep grinding until the mixture isn’t dry, and the bits of pistachio stick to each other. This can also be done in a food-processor, I suppose, but due to the small quantity, I was a bit worried my pistachios would simply get stuck in the blades 😉 This process took about 20 minutes, maybe a bit more.

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Using the same chopping board and knife, chop the dark chocolate, and set aside.

Prepare you your chocolate and pistachio batters in two separate bowls.

For the chocolate: cream together the butter and sugar with an electric whisk, and add the eggs one at a time, until well mixed. Add the yoghurt and vanilla, mixing well. Set aside your electric mixer. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Sift this into the wet ingredients, then fold together until just combined.

Now prepare your pistachio batter: cream together the pistachio paste, butter and sugar with your electric whisk, and add the eggs one at a time, until well mixed, followed by the yoghurt. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and the remaining 60 g of chopped pistachios. Mix into the wet ingredients until just combined.

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Put about 1 tpsb of the chocolate batter into the cupcake liners, spreading it around a bit with your spoon, and sprinkle the chocolate chips on top. Now place 1 tbsp of the pistachio batter on top, and spread out a bit to even it out. Bake for about 15 minutes until they are just golden, repeating until you have no more batter (I kept alternating my two cupcake pans).

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Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely before icing.

Once the cupcakes have cooled completely, and the ganache has set to a spreadable consistency, about an hour I’d say (don’t let the ganache sit around too too long, either, and definitely keep it at room temperature, so it stays nice and shiny and doesn’t get too thick to frost the cupcakes with), decorate the cakes however you like! As mentioned above, I ended up spreading the ganache on the cupcakes with a teaspoon, which I kept dipping in just-boiled water and wiping off, so that it wasn’t wet, but hot enough to spread the ganache out and make it nice and shiny 🙂

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Vegan Banana Cake :)

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I have a very problematic relationship with vegan baking. My lovely, vegan friend Klaudia is always missing out on dessert whenever we have a dinner party or some such, which made my sweet-toothed heart cry for her. Determined that she should want no more, I got googling and baking. But these adventures in vegan baking have been very tough on my baking self esteem. However, having wasted crazy amounts of perfectly good chocolate, and many, many bananas, I am happy to report that here is a vegan cake that doesn’t taste… well, vegan.

I know a lot of people say  it’s easy to bake tasty vegan cakes, but I think they must have forgotten what butter, milk and eggs taste like. I’m not a fan of margarine or soy milk, and I always try for recipes that don’t need anything ‘out of the ordinary’ to work. But in the end, I always find that, at the most, they taste ok, but lack something. Either in flavour or consistency. Maybe I’m mistaken, and I’ll happily be proven wrong, it’s just that I’ve tried (and failed) at so many vegan cakes now, that I’ve become very apprehensive at the idea of wasting any more chocolate. Some of these cakes have tasted fine enough.. But not in the way that you’d want to make them again.

And don’t even get me started on vegan chocolate cakes… I just cannot express how many times I’ve been disappointed, when the cake that smelled so good coming out of the oven, was just… meh. So much chocolate wasted. So. Much. I’ve also tried making ganache with coconut oil, but I just find the subtle taste of coconut distracting. Anyways, do please send me your (non-fussy) vegan chocolate cake recipes, if you have any, maybe I’ve just been unlucky!

Whilst more or less an omnivore, I tend to gravitate towards vegetarian food, simply because it makes me feel better after I eat it, and I feel as though I digest it better. And the way we produce and farm animal protein really disturbs and upsets me. I try to be conscious of where I buy my eggs and butter from, but even so… long story short, I’m always happy to find recipes that are vegetarian or even vegan!

I already have a favourite (non-vegan) recipe for banana cake, but this one is, dare I say it – just about as good. And vegan to boot. It’s from a Danish blogger, Månebarnet, which means the moon child 🙂 and it’s everything a banana cake should be, in my opinion – it’s really, really, crazily moist, studded with dark chocolate and walnuts, and strikes a perfect balance between salty and sweet. I’m really curious to try out some more of her recipes! This one turned out so yummy, and she has a lot more interesting and yummy-looking recipes.. albeit in Danish 🙂 I’m especially tempted to try out this courgette/zucchini cake. I shall report back!

Moist Vegan Banana Cake 🙂 (makes one round cake, or 20 little muffins*)
From Månebarnet

  • 200 g (1 3/5 cups) flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 100 g (1/2 cup) brown sugar
  • 130 g (1 1/3 cups) sugar (preferably cane sugar)
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla sugar/powder/extract
  • 100 ml (just over 6 1/2 tbsp) vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
  • 3 ripe, mashed bananas (about 250 g)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar
  • 50-60 g (1/3 cup or 2.1 ounces) chopped dark chocolate (obviously one containing no dairy!)
  • 100 g (1 cup or 4.3 ounces) chopped walnuts

Whisk together all your dry ingredients in a medium bowl (flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and sugar, as well as vanilla if using vanilla sugar/powder). Mush up your bananas, then chop your walnuts and chocolate.

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Add the lemon juice or vinegar, the oil and the mushed bananas (and the vanilla, at this stage, if using vanilla extract) into the flour mixture, and whisk until just combined (don’t over-mix, as the cake will become heavy). Add the chocolate chips and chopped nuts, and transfer to a greased springform tin (about 20 cm/9 inches in diameter).

Bake for 45-55 minutes at 160°C/320°F, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Let cool before attempting to cut (although it’ll taste phenomenal, it won’t cut very neatly otherwise!).

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Keeps for several days, wrapped in tinfoil or covered with a cake dome. 🙂

P.s.: I may try drizzling a bit of dark chocolate over this next time I make it! Where other vegan banana cakes I’ve tried weren’t quite sweet enough, and were easily tipped over the edge towards too bitter with the addition of dark chocolate, this is quite a sweet cake, so I think it could handle a bit of a decorative dark chocolate drizzle. Not that it needs it, but it wouldn’t hurt at all! I also think this would make for wonderful little banana-nut muffins* – with or without chocolate 🙂

*Update: I’ve now tried making these as muffins, too, and they were wonderful! And somehow even more appealing, because they’re slightly easier to eat/transport etc, in this format 🙂 The recipe makes for about 20 little muffins. I added about 100 g finely chopped walnuts on top of the muffins, to add a nice crunch and make them a bit more appealing, visually. Bake them in muffin liners, at 160°C/320°F for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

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