As a child I was a total bookworm. I remember the excitement of being a kid and piling up 20 books from the library and lugging them home with my mom. We were surrounded by books as children and my favourites were always the ones with beautiful drawings of cakes or pastries or elaborate meals, or pictures of bears dispensing ice cream-like honey, or Cookie Monster ravaging a plate piled high of pink cookies. Later, when picture books morphed into junior novels then regular old booky books, it was always the pages-long descriptions of what was laid on the table at supper, from starched tablecloth to the shine of silverware to the clinking of crystal to the glugging of glasses being filled to sloshing. Now, as a mother myself, I see what a cool move that was of my mom to get us into reading! It’s that love of books that I see thusfar in my two year old son. Reading time mellows him right down as he immediately gets engrossed, points to things, practices his words, asks questions and laughs.
This book! Julia, Child by Kiyo Maclear and illustrations by Vancouver artist Julie Morstad – it’s all the things I remember loving about reading, all rolled into one beautifully illustrated book about friendship, the magic of childhood, trying, failing and trying again – and cooking, of course! Teddy loves the book too – especially the page of cooking disasters – a flopping over tiered cake, an escaping octopus, a deflated omelette! Then, a magical baking experiment – chocolate almond cupcakes with delicious chocolate centers. Those cupcakes inspired me to make some of my own! I came up with a chocolate almond cupcakes recipe thanks to both Julia Child herself and that devilishly sensuous Nigella.
My sweet memories of children’s books likely explains my love for my friend Danielle’s blog – This Picture Book Life! Her blog is so sweet, clever and fun – a blog that “explores picture books—their art, their makers, the stuff they illuminate, and all the exuberant wonderfulness they contain.” In a blogosphere stuffed with craft/DIY/food blogs (ha – all my faves) – her blog is refreshingly genuine and heartfelt. I’ve found lots of great new authors through it, and today she’s posting about Julia, Child too! Sweet!
I admit my kitchen looked very similar to Julia and Simca’s kitchen while I was making these cupcakes. Pots and pans flying everywhere, chopped chocolate, egg shells strewn on the counter, piles of bowls, and drips of batter on the floor. It was childlike chaos, and I laughed at the similarities. In the end however, out of the oven came these delicate, totally sunken in chocolate almond cupcakes, with a rich chocolate gooey texture. I filled the centers with chocolate pastry cream, sprinkled them with toasted almonds and dug right in, like a delighted child. The recipe is gluten-free, using almond flour (ground almonds). The cupcakes are very fragile, and best served with a spoon on a fancy plate.
Chocolate Almond Cupcakes with Chocolate Pastry Cream
For the cupcakes
- ⅔ cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup of dutch process cocoa powder
- ¾ cup boiling water
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 ½ cups almond meal
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
For the chocolate pastry cream
- 3 egg yolks
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- ¾ tablespoon flour
- ¾ tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ¾ cup chopped dark chocolate
For the almonds
- ¼ cup toasted almonds, chopped
Make the cupcakes
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Gently oil the top of the cupcake pans and line cupcake pans with cupcake liners.
- In a medium bowl, whisk cocoa powder with the boiling water until you have a smooth, thick and creamy chocolate paste. Whisk in the vanilla extract.
- In another small bowl, combine the almond meal with the baking soda and salt.
- Place the sugar, oil and eggs into the bowl of stand mixer with the paddle attachment and beat on high until thick and creamy, about three minutes.
- With the mixer on low, add the chocolate mixture until combined.
- Add the almond flour mixture until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl, about one minute.
- Using a medium sized ice cream scoop, dole out the cake mixture and fill the cupcake liners just over half full.
- Bake for 20 minutes – cupcakes will rise, and fall again.
- Let them cool in the pans.
Make the chocolate pastry cream
- In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, flour and cornstarch.
- In a saucepan, bring the milk and cream to a low boil.
- Whisk half of the milk mixture into the egg yolk mixture, then add the egg/milk mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk.
- Cook the pastry cream over medium heat, whisking constantly until thick – about 3-4 minutes.
- Remove the pastry cream from the heat and add the chopped chocolate. The chocolate will melt into the hot pastry cream. Whisk to combine.
- Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and power-chill in the freezer for 30 minutes, or let cool in the fridge for 2 hours to set.
- Dollop two tablespoons of chocolate pastry cream into the sunken chocolate almond cupcakes.
- Sprinkle with toasted almonds and finish with a fresh berry.
Toast the almonds
- Place almonds on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for ten minutes (watch they don’t burn!) Let cool until crispy, then chop.