When the days are rainy and gloomy, as they often are in this part of the country, there are few things that can brighten one’s mood as effectively as a snappy little baked treat. At the same time, however, no matter how much one enjoys baking, there are times when the thought of putting together an arsenal of ingredients just to lift a soggy mood seems almost counterintuitive. There is pleasure to be found in baking, for sure, but sometimes it feels as though there can be an equal amount of pleasure found in simply running to the store and buying a slice of cake.
But it’s never as good as you imagined, is it? The cake is dry and aggressively sweet. The frosting has a strangely slick and downright perplexing consistency. The types of cake available by the slice are never exactly what you’re in the mood for. It cost you $4, and you had to go outside in the rain to get it. Maybe, if you decide to hit up a bakery in lieu of the grocery store, you’d be better off in the quality department, but you’d still have to go out in the rain to fetch your treat, and now that $4 slice of cake is going to cost you $6.
However, for the beleaguered in search of a rainy day treat, I have good news: there is hope, and it goes by the name of a snack cake.
This is no snack cake from a cellophane wrapper, molded by a machine in a factory and filled with uncertain ingredients that puzzle the mind and twist the tongue. This is a warm and comforting little cake that is capable of satisfying whatever demands you have for an afternoon treat, while simultaneously boasting the near-miraculous feat of going from raw ingredients to completed cake in a mere 35 minutes.
The recipe, from David Lebovitz’s The Sweet Life in Paris, ended up with a few changes here and there. When making anything chocolate, I find it difficult to not sneak in at least a little coffee, since coffee always manages to give chocolate a most wonderful boost in flavor. Noticing that the recipe called for almond extract, I immediately knew I wanted to pair the touch of almond with something that would make it stand out, so I added a dollop of cherry preserves to the top of each cake.
Finally, instead of the ½ cup of plain, whole milk yogurt and 3 eggs called for in the original recipe, I used ¾ of a cup of plain, nonfat yogurt and 2 eggs. The reason was not one of originality or preference in taste, but rather of necessity: I didn’t have the right type of yogurt and the correct number of eggs, and lord knows I wasn’t going to head outside in the rain in order to go to the store.
Chocolate Cherry Snack Cakes
Adapted from David Lebovitz’s The Sweet Life in Paris
7 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup unflavored vegetable oil
1 teaspoon espresso powder
3/4 cup plain, nonfat yogurt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4-1/2 cup of cherry preserves (1/4 cup if you plan to fill only half the cakes, 1/2 cup if you plan to fill them all)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12 cup muffin tin with paper cupcake liners.
In a heatproof bowl, melt the chocolate in the microwave with 1/4 cup of the oil. (Heat on high for 30 seconds, then stir and heat for an additional 15 seconds, stir again, then repeat in 15 second increments until chocolate is melted and smooth.) When the chocolate is completely melted, stir in the espresso powder.
In another bowl, mix together the remaining 1/4 cup of oil with the yogurt, sugar, eggs, and vanilla and almond extracts.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the yogurt mixture. Stir lightly a few times, then add the melted chocolate mixture and stir until just smooth.
Divide the batter into the prepared muffin pan. Using a wetted spoon, make a small indentation in the center of each portion of batter. Drop a heaping teaspoon of cherry preserves into the indentation.
Bake for 25 minutes, or until they feel barely set in the middle.
Remove cakes from muffin tin and cool on wire racks.