This year, I started work towards a PhD in a relatively small program that has (by my rough estimate) somewhere between 25 and 30 graduate students at a time. Regardless of where you go, I have to imagine that the first year of any PhD is some tough business because it involves a lot of new pressures and expectations, a heavy workload, and often an entirely new place and entirely new people to grow accustomed to. This year was even harder than I think it had to be for me for reasons that I’ll probably get into more in a later post, but one of the things that I feel most fortunate for throughout it all is having come into the program with a group of three other students who I all genuinely like and really get along with. The time-consuming nature of graduate work, especially combined with a rather small pool of graduate students, means that you end up spending a lot of time with a handful of people which often has the potential to be a very good or a very bad thing. For me, being around Justin, Missy, and Nicole has been a very, very good thing and we’ve a good time having group dinners, birthday celebrations, and even a Thanksgiving potluck. Any group of people I can enjoy good food and beer with is a group of people for me.
Anyway, the members of the CCR Cohort ’09 got together this past Friday at Nicole’s for a dinner celebrating her new house and the fact that her parents and in-laws had flown in. I have more than established my role as the resident cohort baker (which wasn’t hard since I’m really the only who bakes) so Nicole asked me to bring dessert, which I frankly would have done even if she hadn’t asked. Nicole and I share a love of all things chocolate, so even though I briefly considered making some lemon bars I ultimately decided to try this black bottom cupcake recipe. (Yes, it’s another recipe from Smitten Kitchen which is because I enjoy her blog so much that it’s often one of my first go to’s when I’m looking for a recipe. Her reviews and her recipe modifications have yet to fail me.)
These cupcakes are basically a devil’s food cupcake with dollops of a kind of chocolate chip cheesecake batter dropped in the middle. It’s a combination that ranks relatively high on the list of “Best Ideas Humans Have Ever Had.” These are easy to make and process goes relatively quickly. If you’re like me and forget to buy more cupcake liners, the only tedious step of the process involves buttering the individual cups of the muffin tins. Never again, I say to myself. Never again.
I knew there were going to be somewhere around 10 people at dinner, and I appreciate them all so much that I felt they deserved to have more than one if they wanted so I doubled the recipe and made two dozen cupcakes. At one point in the evening, someone mentioned the idea of eating them the next morning for breakfast so making extras was clearly a good idea.
I ended up filling each of the muffin cups up with about 1/4 c of cake batter and then dropped a nice rounded spoonful of the cream cheese mixture into the middle. One of my muffin pans was slightly more shallow than the other, and the cupcake in this pan spilled over the edges of the muffin cups and were a little . . . well, homely. After they were done baking, I tried to remove them from the pan before they were completely cool which caused one of them to fall apart. So I was forced to eat it while it was still warm. It was good, but not great. Thus I began to panic about whether or not people would enjoy them and preemptively began feeling ashamed at baking something sub-par for Nicole’s parents and in-laws who I had never met before.
Luckily, after debating about whether I should start the cupcakes at midnight on Thursday or make them on Friday afternoon, I opted for making these on Thursday night. I feel like it’s polite to recommend that you make these a day in advance, but I think of it more as an imperative. Eating them out of the oven doesn’t do them justice. After sitting for almost a day, these became more moist and the tops of the cupcakes which came out of the oven with a chewy, almost crunchy texture softened up in a big way. The chocolate flavor of the cake also intensified with a bit of time, which I’ve recently learned is often the case with chocolate cakes. Ultimately, when I bit into these at Nicole’s, I was overcome with relief because they were just so damn good.
I lived up to my reputation as baker extradinaire in front of the parents. And there were still enough to bring some home to Aidan. Another win for Team Anna.