Dear readers, I blame you for the fact that these bite-size chocolate muffins materialized in my kitchen last weekend. I'm sorry, but I do. I've been systematically emptying the house of all quick-and-easy sweet nibbles like chocolate bars and M&Ms, because of late my willpower has been absent. So, last Sunday afternoon when my chocolate craving hit hard, there was no candy in the house; however, I found both cocoa powder and chocolate chips in the pantry. Uh-oh. Before I could reroute myself toward the celery sticks, it occured to me that you, dear readers, would love some chocolate muffins (I wasn't wrong, was I?). Of course I needed to taste a few to be absolutely certain they were worthy of you. They were -- I'm sure, because I tasted plenty of them -- and they were super-easy to make without a mixer. The recipe will make 12-14 large muffins, but I'm glad for the built-in portion control of mini muffins when self-control fails me.
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The forced confinement of a recent snowstorm made me a little bit stir-crazy, but also reminded me that my perfect pantry holds everything I need to soothe my sweets-starved spirit. A quick browse revealed some decaf espresso powder and cocoa powder, and from that starting point -- and my jars of flours and sugars and extracts -- I created these quick and easy sugar cookies. I could have chilled the dough, rolled it flat, and cut it with cookie cutters. Instead, I put my small ice cream scoop (a disher with a quick release) to work, and set the balls of dough on the baking sheet without pressing them down. The result? Mounded cookies that browned gently on the outside while remaining quite chewy on the inside. The light mocha flavor was a perfect match to my afternoon coffee as I watched the snow pile up outside the kitchen window.
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At 7:15 in the morning, I fired up the mixer to make the batter for this cake. At 7:28, it went into the oven. At 7:45, I finished cleaning up the flour, sugar, butter and chocolate that had sprayed around the kitchen when I accidentally switched the mixer to high speed too soon. Yes, friends, no matter what time of day I bake, and no matter how much coffee I've had in preparation, baking is always a bit of a misadventure. No matter, this mocha sour cream cake is worth the mess, and a last-minute sprinkling of confectioners sugar on top right before you serve hides any little bits that stick to the pan (I'm sure this never happens to you, right?). Even though I baked it, and tasted it, at breakfast time, it's more of a dessert or tea-time cake, topped with a dollop of whipped cream and served with a rich cup of coffee.
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If you drive around Rhode Island in the summertime, you'll spot a green-and-white Del's Lemonade truck, emblazoned with a bright yellow lemon, on every corner, at every Little League game, alongside every public beach. Hundreds of college students earn tuition money by driving those little trucks, and serving up the famous iced lemonade to thirsty athletes and happy children. In the off season, you can buy Del's in the supermarket, in a cute plastic bucket filled with packets of the powdered mix, and that's the mix I use in the glaze for this lemon poppyseed cake. Sounds crazy, I know, but combined with real lemon juice, powdered lemonade adds a bit of fun, and an extra pop of lemon, to the icing. (You can use your favorite lemonade mix if you don't have Del's.) The basic sour cream cake recipe comes from Lorna, a reader who sent it to me along with a handmade ceramic cake pan. The cake isn't fussy, which suits my lack of natural baking ability, and it freezes well. Serve it with coffee or tea or -- why not? -- a glass of champagne.
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