Sunday, December 24, 2006

I'll Bring Prunes for Christmas

You are not, reader, to infer from the title that I am among those who become cross, ungrateful, spiteful, mean, or depressed when I come into contact with any aspect of any of the various holidays that celebrate the winter solstice. I have probably said before that I really do believe that this is the most wonderful time of the year, and we all know that I have no fear of repeating myself.

It is my fervent hope that each of you is enjoying the season as much as I am. I may, in fact, be a bit frazzled at this point, but it's a very happy sort of frazzled. I spent most of today with my daughters, then V., his mother, and I went over to his son's and daughter-in-law's house for dinner. Dinner, due to some sort of mistake with timing the turkey, was not actually on the table before I had to leave to head for church, but I had brought some grapes in the car to help clear my voice, so I was not hungry, and in any case, I do not like to eat much before I sing. Having started the season this year some weeks back by joining my favorite soprano in my favorite Bach duet (the slower of the two Soprano-Bass duets from Wachet Auf, the Advent cantata), I closed out the season by joining her in a beautiful arrangement of Pietro Yon's Gesu Bambino, and we sang both pieces magnificently. I also sang with the choir tonight, and that went very well, also. Then I stayed for about half an hour of the post-service reception where I accepted many compliments and enjoyed spiced cider and two of the best cupcakes ever. My own.

If you want to read the whole sordid story behind how I originally came by this most excellent of cake recipes, then you can go here. I can't be bothered to retell it in this post. We are all asked to bring refreshments to share after the service, and while I have plenty of Christmas cookies and would be happy to make more, I had been wanting to have a go at turning the prune cake into cupcakes. Originally, I had intended to make full-sized cupcakes for V.'s and my holiday party last weekend, but while I had managed to pull back a bit after having made far too much food last year, I was still doing a lot of other cooking, and I already had plenty of desserts without making the cupcakes.

It was not without some trepidation that I spooned my cupcake batter into the mini-cupcake liners. I was worried that since I'd been using tired old ground ginger when I first made the cake that the new, flavorful ginger would be too much of a presence. And I was worried that the relatively large chunks of prunes that work well in a full cake would not work in a mini-cupcake (or whatever the hell those things are called). I was worried that I was using too much chocolate and that I wouldn't get the baking time just right. I was worried that making them a full day before they were to be served would cause them to lose something.

I need not have worried. The batter, as before, comes together so that it is both more than the sum of its parts and not apparently composed of its parts. The ginger, no doubt, is important, but it is not really separately identifiable. Neither is the cinnamon. Nor the orange zest. But I'm convinced that they all belong there. The chocolate and the prunes are identifiable, but they are also subtly transformed. I got pretty lucky with the baking time on the initial trial, and they were just as good tonight as they were last night. I will note, however, that if you make this recipe, you owe it to yourself to eat one or two of them while they're still warm. Instant happiness.

The recipe here is not changed much from the last time I made it. A few more prunes. Less cocoa powder, more chocolate, and the chocolate is in smaller pieces. Grated orange zest instead of candied orange peel. Because I had originally intended to make the cupcakes a week ago, the prunes sat around in the sherry for a week. I don't think, however, that there is a significant improvement over what you get from soaking them overnight.

If you want larger cupcakes, cook for longer. I'm not sure for exactly how long but until the cupcakes seem not quite cooked when you press on them. They must not dry out. For the mini-cupcakes twelve minutes without opening the oven was just right.

Excellent Prune Cupcakes

12 ounces prunes
1/2 cup sherry
1 cup flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
1 T. cocoa powder
pinch salt
1/2 cup sugar
4 ounces (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
grated zest of one orange
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
4 ounces miniature chocolate chips

Chop each prune into six or eight pieces. Put in a bowl, add the sherry, stir, and let sit, preferably overnight (or longer).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line mini-muffin pans with mini-cupcake liners. (The recipe will make just under four dozen.)

Put the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cocoa powder, salt, and sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer. With the whisk attachment, mix for three minutes. Add the butter a tablespoon at a time, whisking until fully incorporated. Add, mixing until each is incorporated before proceeding to the next, the orange zest, the eggs, and the vanilla extract. Stir in the chocolate chips and the prunes and sherry by hand.

Put a slightly rounded soup spoon full of batter in each cup. Bake for twelve minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly, then remove to a rack to cool completely.


Anonymous Kieran said...

Hi. I found your blog through Faustus, MD. Have really enjoyed the wit with which you write--and the recipes! Thanks for sharing.

Happy New Year to you and yours.


8:14 AM  
Anonymous lindy said...

As a prune admirer (runs in the family), I'm liking the looks of these. I'm also thinking that a nice jar of prunes in armagnac would be just your thing. (I was going to say "just your cup of tea." Too confusing to use food related figures of speech when actually talking about food.)
Happy New Year.

9:44 AM  

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