Chocolate and Cajeta Cupcakes

May 22, 2013

Dear Friends,

I try to avoid desserts, but there was no getting away from Dorena’s decadent cupcakes. The aroma of homemade chocolate cake filled the kitchen as they baked, and pans of caramelized milk and satiny chocolate ganache lolled seductively on the kitchen counter.

What the heck. I would diet tomorrow, but I had to have a spoonful or six of that ganache immediately, and half of a rich cupcake  later. I’d take the other half home to Tony, I vowed.

The Chocolate and Cajeta Cupcakes were dessert at a post-Cinco de Mayo group cook-and-eat afternoon I enjoyed with friends recently. Appetizers were chips and a layered salsa dip from Dorena and my shrimp and mango tartlets. Kathy and Pat collaborated on the main course of paella (not Mexican but good), Kathy made killer carnitas with warmed corn tortillas, and I furnished the Champagne sangria.

The sangria, chock full of fresh cubed citrus fruits, pears and grapes (and mangos on that occasional), was snubbed in favor of jugs of purchased, pre-mixed margaritas. I couldn’t believe it. I shared my sangria recipe several years ago, but I’m passing it along again because it’s a great summer cooler for a crowd. It’s lower in alcohol than wine, and really stretches a bottle of champagne. Besides, it’s delicious. The fruits are cubed and macerated in a pitcher of mango nectar and juice or – my favorite – a fizzy mango juice drink. To serve, big goblets are half filled with juice and fruit, and topped off with champagne. Play with the proportions until it suits your taste.

Dorena’s cupcake recipe is from the PBS cooking program Pati’s Mexican Table.  Pati Jinich, who was born and raised in Mexico, got the recipe from her sister, she writes in her blog at

The chocolate cupcakes alone are great, but she goes one better (actually, two better) by filling the cooled cupcakes with cajeta and frosting them with chocolate ganache. Cajeta is the Mexican form of dulce de leche – a milky caramel that in Mexico is made from sweetened condensed milk. Cajeta is available in cans at Mexican grocery stores.

My friends heaped a plate with leftovers for me to take home to Tony, and I topped the mound with half of the rich cupcake I hadn’t eaten. Tony didn’t get home from the restaurant until about 11 p.m.  As I waited, that cupcake called to me from the kitchen. Tony loved the reheated paella and carnitas. I still haven’t mentioned the cupcake.




  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 3/4 cup cajeta or dulce de leche (available at Mexican grocery stores)


  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 14 oz. semisweet chocolate chopped
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter

To prepare the cupcakes: Place oven rack in the center position. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the cupcake molds. With a mixer, beat the butter and sugar until soft and creamy. Beat in egg and vanilla until well combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Slowly beat into the butter mixture. Pour in buttermilk and continue beating. In a small bowl, combine hot water and cocoa powder and stir into the batter, beating until combined. Pour the batter into the cupcake molds.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until the cupcakes rise, are cooked and tanned on top. Transfer to a wire rack and let them cool completely. Using a paring knife, cut a 1-inch plug from the top of each cupcake. Save the cut pieces. Fill each hole with one tablespoon cajeta and replace the cut-out pieces. Top the cupcakes with the chocolate ganache. Makes 12 cupcakes.

To prepare the ganache:
Mash the butter until it’s creamy and has no lumps. Gently melt the chocolate over hot water in the top of a double boiler. Warm the heavy whipping cream slightly. Slowly fold the whipping cream into the melted chocolate. Finish off the ganache by folding in the softened butter and adding sugar until everything is well combined.

From Pati’s Mexican Table by Pati Jinich.


  • 3 cans (12 oz. each) Knudson Light Mango Spritzer (or 4 cups mango juice)
  • 1 cup mango nectar
  • 1 large orange, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (with skin)
  • 2 limes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (with skin)
  • 1 large lemon, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (with skin)
  • 1 cup seedless grapes, halved
  • 1 to 2 ripe pears, cored and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 Tbsp. powdered sugar
  • 2 bottles inexpensive sparkling wine

Early in the day, pour spritzers and mango nectar into a half-gallon pitcher. Add enough of the fruit to fill the pitcher. Stir in powdered sugar. Refrigerate.

To serve, ladle some of the fruit into a wine goblet and fill halfway with the mango macerating liquid. Fill rest of way with sparkling wine. Makes at least 12 drinks.


Last week Tony brought home a dozen big morel mushrooms a friend of mine had dropped off at the restaurant. They were so fresh some soil was still clinging to the stalks, Tony said, so he washed them. Aiiii. NEVER wash mushrooms until just before you cook them, I told him. Morels, especially, will rot overnight. So at 10 p.m. I heated a skillet and slowly sautéed the mushrooms in butter. They were incredible.

My advice about mushrooms goes for just about every other vegetable and fruit. Washing and then refrigerating them speeds up decay. So does storing most fruits and vegetables in plastic wrap or bags. I prefer to loosely wrap morels and the asparagus I pick in paper towels and place in the refrigerator’s crisper. They remain fresh much longer this way.


From Lara:
Could the cranberry tart recipe you ran be tweaked to feature rhubarb? I’m
short on rhubarb recipes and it’s growing out there.

Dear Lara: Cranberries have a lot more pectin than rhubarb, so the rhubarb wouldn’t set up as well as the cranberries. I suggest you use a tart recipe developed for rhubarb, such as one of the eight I found at The Rhubarb Compendium (, a website that will keep you in rhubarb ideas for years to come. If I had a ton of rhubarb I’d simmer it in batches with a bit of sugar until softened, then freeze the stewed rhubarb in portions to spoon over yogurt, warm biscuits, ice cream and whatnot all winter long.



  • 4 cups rhubarb in 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 lbs.)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp. water

Combine rhubarb, sugar and water in a 2-quart saucepan. Simmer uncovered over low heat, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is soft and translucent, about 20 minutes. If necessary, add more sugar to taste. Serve warm or cold.


From Jane L.:
In regards to a mailbag question, I saw ramps for sale at Miles Road Market in Solon on Mothers Day.


From Carol Wolf:
Jane, The Countryside Farmers’ Market at Howe Meadow in Cuyahoga Valley National Park had ramps on May 11. In previous years, I have also
 purchased them at Mustard Seed in Montrose.

Dear Jane: Thanks for the tip.


From Melanie:
How do you cut a mango? I bought a bunch at 49 cents each but make a mess trying to cut them open. Do I peel it like a potato or apple? How do you get around the big seed? Thanks.

Dear Melanie: The big seed is flat on the front and back. Cut the mango from top to bottom along each flat side of the mango seed, removing two big oval hunks. Essentially, you’re cutting the mango in half lengthwise, avoiding the seed. Then place one of the hunks cut side up on the counter and score it in cross-hatches down to the skin, 1/2 to 1 inch cubes. Don’t cut through the skin, though. Then bend the scored fruit so the cubes pop outward. Cut them away from the skin.

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