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Nibs & Cream: A Raspberry Cupcake

July 15, 2006

Raspberry Cacao Cupcake

Aaaaand we're back. Back from a trip up the California coast and a hectic following week at work, which really put a crimp in my staid and placid cook, blog & eat routine. And yet I did not return from this trip entirely empty-handed, as you shall see.

This week I was back on church potluck duty, and I must say it is good to be home in my own little kitchen, juggling hot pans between two tiny strips of countertop, washing dishes as soon as they get dirty so I have a place to put the new ones. I took Parmesan chicken, some herbed corn, and a dessert to church, duly inspired by the dog days of summer.

For dessert I had intended to make Chockylit's raspberry almond cupcakes, but then changed my mind and did my own riff on them - inspired by loot from my trip. See, while in Berkeley I made the now well-trodden blogger trip to the Scharffen Berger chocolate factory to see artisan chocolate making in person. It was a surprisingly fun and educational tour; the huge red roaster in action, the robust sweet smell of chocolate fingering its way out onto the street, the wine-like tastings of cacao.

Scharffen Berger Roaster

We learned about the cacao pods that droop like pendulous growths on the slender treestalks, and rattled a whole dried pod in our hands, then poked at the beans that fill it up. We learned about the long fermentation process that gives their chocolate its unusually complex flavor. Then we saw how the beans are roasted in a beautiful cherry-red Sirocco roaster, looking like a child's fantasy of a machine, with a glossy oversized funnel and wheels begging to be pulled.

Scharffen Berger Cocoa Butter

Then the beans are winnowed and cracked as the shells are shucked off (to be fed to a herd of cows in the Berkeley area; insert joke about chocolate milk here). What remains is the nib, the heart of the cacao product, that is pounded and mixed to release its fatty cocoa butter and liquor. More cocoa butter and sugar get mixed in, and fine chocolate is born.

Scharffen Berger Factory

We could taste notes of raspberry in some of these roasted nibs, crunching plain between the teeth with a pleasantly bitter acidity, filling the mouth with the unadulterated aroma of dark chocolate. Others, with a different global provenance, had a deep caramel taste. It was like tasting coffee or wine, hunting out all the flavor notes.

At the end I finally got my hands on a bag of these cacao nibs, and I wanted very much to put some in these raspberry ricotta cupcakes.

Cacao Nibs

I ended up adapting a ricotta poundcake recipe, which has less of that creamy ricotta flavor and texture, but holds up very well as a moist, tender cupcake. The produce stand I frequent had raspberries for 99 cents a package, which sent me into paroxysms of minor joy and let me heap three cups of tart little jewels into the cupcakes. Add a handful of crunchy, intensely chocolate roasted nibs and you have a small bite of summer heaven in a cupcake. I topped them with a mound of whipped cream and milk chocolate shavings.

These aren't too sweet; the poundcake is buttery and tender and does its job as a support to the soft baked berries and the savory nibs. Without the cream you just might be able to justify them as a breakfast item. But only just.

Raspberry Cacao Cupcake

This recipe makes a ton of cupcakes - four dozen at least. But they don't rise in the cups too much, so you can fill them pretty full.

Raspberry Cacao Cupcakes with Whipped Cream

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
0.5 cup dark brown sugar
1.5 cups sugar
6 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 tablespoons amaretto syrup (optional)
zest of 1 lemon
4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1.5 cups milk or light cream
1.75 cups (15 oz.) ricotta cheese
0.5 cup cacao nibs (Note: Next time I will put in more nibs)
3 6 oz. packages of raspberries (about 3 cups), washed and picked over

1. Preheat oven to 350 F and prepare four cupcake pans with liners. (Or bake in two batches.)
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugars.
3. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one.
4. Beat in the vanilla, amaretto syrup, and lemon zest.
5. Puree the milk or cream and ricotta cheese in a blender.
6. Add half the flour (2 cups) into the mixer bowl and stir in gently.
7. Add half the milk and cheese mixture and stir.
8. Add the other half of the flour, baking powder, and salt, and stir.
9. Add the rest of the milk and cheese and stir until barely combined.
10. Fold in the raspberries and cacao nibs.
11. Fill the cups of the prepared pans, then bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a center comes out clean. (Note: These do not rise very much when baked, so I was happiest with the ones I filled nearly to the top.)
12. Cool on racks for at least 30 minutes before icing.

Whipped Cream

3 oz. cream cheese
0.5 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
2 cups heavy whipping cream
0.5 cup confectioners sugar, or to taste

Good chocolate bar
Fresh raspberries

1. Whip cream cheese until light in the bowl of a stand mixer.
2. Stir in vanilla and salt.
3. Add whipping cream and whip, slowly at first so it doesn't splatter, until the mixture has gained body and stiffness.
4. Fold in confectioners sugar by hand, until you have your desired sweetness.
5. Put the whipped cream in a pastry bag and swirl lavishly on cupcakes. Garnish with chocolate curls and raspberries, if you want to. I wanted to.

Posted by Faith at 15 July 2006

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These are beautiful cupcakes! I would definitely eat them for breakfast or lunch or anytime--24/7! Can't wait to try your recipe.

Posted by: Fran at July 17, 2006 10:40 AM

wow, those are GOREGOUS!
i can only imagine the interplay btwn moist, creamy, tart berries and bitter nibs
buh, i wish i could bake!

Posted by: ann at July 17, 2006 12:01 PM

beautiful use of the nibs! they look great!

Posted by: karen at July 17, 2006 05:14 PM

wow. I really want to go up there and see that! I actually did not know they were up there. That is pretty pathetic considering I have that chocolate on my shelf right now.

Posted by: Gabriella at July 23, 2006 12:24 AM

Oh, good lord, those are GORGEOUS! Your picture is good enough to eat.

Posted by: Julie at July 24, 2006 10:19 AM

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