black-bottom cupcakes

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I’ve always thought one of the best lines in Pulp Fiction is wedged almost unnoticeably early on. Fabienne tells Butch that she wants a pot belly because she thinks they’re sexy on women (though, kind of hilarious, she thinks they make men look oafish). Butch disagrees, tells her she should be happy she doesn’t have one because guys don’t find it attractive. She snips back that she doesn’t give a damn what men like, before musing somewhat sadly that “It’s unfortunate what we find pleasing to the touch and pleasing to the eye is seldom the same.”

And I have to admit, if you swapped “touch” with “taste,” you’d have exactly what was going through my head this weekend as I made a quickie batch of David Lebovitz’s famed Black-Bottom Cupcakes from his Great Book of Chocolate. A spin on the classic devil’s food cake, each cupcake gets a dollop of cheesecake filling which is decked out with chopped bits of bittersweet chocolate before it’s baked into something almost too delicious for words. Since they lack frosting, they’re superbly easy to schlep from one place to another, and should you have time to zap them in the fridge, I think they’re a rare cupcake that actually tastes better cold. And seriously, chocolate and cheesecake? It is beyond my comprehension how everyone does not dream about this flavor contrast. I know we here in the SmitKitch certainly do.

But, and I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, my inner perfectionist hated them as I was completely unable to get them to look like the peanut butter cup-reminiscent photo. My dollops, they wouldn’t center. My cupcakes, they kept overflowing in the oven. In my attempt to make them into miniature cakes, my first eight had too much filling, and my last eight had none. My baking karma was stunningly off on Friday night, it seemed and I had a asterisked storm cloud over my head all the way until the opening credits of Knocked Up, which if you seriously don’t die laughing from the chairs-in-Vegas scene alone, I just don’t know if we can be friends anymore.

When we got home, my sides hurting from aforementioned cracking up, the ridiculousness of being in a funk because my cupcakes didn’t come out the way I’d hoped had been squarely put in its place. Silly Deb, don’t you know that it only matters that it tastes good? Of course, of course, I muttered, because they were crazy delicious. And I almost sold myself on it, I did. But next time, I still might try a piping bag to get that damned dollop centered.

Black-Bottom Cupcakes
The Great Book of Chocolate, David Lebovitz

Yield: 12 full-size or approximately 30 mini cupcakes

For the filling:
8 ounces cream cheese, regular or reduced fat, at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

For the cupcakes:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup unflavored vegetable oil
1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make the filling: Beat together the cream cheese, granulated sugar, and egg until smooth. Stir in the chopped chocolate pieces. Set aside.

Make the cupcakes:
1. Adjust the rack to the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F (175°C). Butter a 12-cup muffin tin, or line the tin with paper muffin cups.
2. In a medium bowl sift together the flour, brown sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together the water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla.
3. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the wet ingredients, stirring until just smooth. Stir any longer and you will over mix the batter and end up with less-than-tender cupcakes.
4. Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Spoon a few tablespoons* of the filling into the center of each cupcake, dividing the filling evenly. This will fill the cups almost completely,** which is fine.
5. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the tops are slightly golden brown and the cupcakes feel springy when gently pressed. These moist treats will keep well unrefrigerated for 2 to 3 days if stored in an airtight container.

Two notes:
* If you choose to go mini for these, keep the filling at a tablespoon or less, lest you run out, as, ahem, someone else may have.
** Though I’ve only made this recipe one, and therefore don’t think you should take my input as absolute authority, I’ve got to advise against actually letting these guys fill up. Not an issue if you’re going full-size, but if you go mini, aim for 90 percent full.

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