Cake Mix Hack: Mocha Cupcakes

cupcake plate 2

Hello Cupcake!  Want a cupcake?

cupcake line 2

They’re gluten-free!  And super simple (and fairly easy to make dairy-free, as well–just swap in a butter substitute!) A moist chocolate cake enriched with a deep coffee flavor, topped with cool coffee icing and a bite of caramel (or a chocolate covered espresso bean). A few simple additions to Betty Crocker Gluten Free Devil’s Food Cake mix is all that it takes!

cupcake pan close

When I started to become interest in baking and cooking (pre-GF, high school years) it was always to make desserts and sweets (except for the occasional pan of Chicken Fajitas).  I think desserts were a bit more special than daily meals, took a little more creativity.  Nowadays, creating gluten-free breakfast, lunch, and dinner is enough to keep me on my toes.  My sweet tooth certainly hasn’t diminished, but I have noticed that I make less sweet treats than before.  Especially this spring, with the move and with both of my jobs at hectic points, quick and simple recipes are a must.  And when I only have the time for cooking the meal or making a special dessert, dinner is going to win out every time.  But when I did have an evening to spare and I wanted something a little bit sweet (and a lot chocolate) I looked back to options with gluten free, store-bought cake mix.  I have yet to try my hand at many homemade gluten-free cakes.  But I have tried several brand of gluten-free cake mix, and most are good enough.  But with a couple of simple twists, these cake mixes go from “Good-For-Gluten-Free” to “Delicious”!  These cupcakes really do provide a lot of bang for your buck.  They’d be perfect to bring along to a birthday, party, or potluck.  I bet no one would guess that they are gluten-free!

cupcake scape

For these cupcakes, I had a box of Betty Crocker gluten free mix that called for water, eggs, and butter to be added to the dry mix.  Substituting the water for strong-brewed coffee and vanilla extract really ups the flavor of the cake.  A simple brushing with coffee and chocolate post-baking soaks into the cake, keeping it moist and giving it a rich, decadent mouthfeel.  Finally, a coffee-flavored buttercream frosting brings the flavor to the forefront and provided the perfect cushion for a cute little bite of chocolate-covered caramel.


cupcake cut close

Mocha Cupcakes (from a cake mix)

Serves: 14-18 

  • 1 package Betty Crocker GF Devil’s Food Chocolate Cake mix
  • Wet ingredient called for on the package (eggs, butter, water*)
  • Ground coffee for brewing the water into coffee
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. instant espresso granules (optional)
  • 1/4 c. (additional) brewed coffee
  • 1 Tbsp. chocolate syrup or 1 Tbsp cocoa powder + 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 batch coffee buttercream frosting (recipe below)
  • 14-18 mini chocolate-covered caramel bites (or chocolate covered espresso beans)

Preheat oven according to package directions.

Brew a pot of very strong coffee with your preferred coffee blend.  *Measure out the coffee to the amount of water called for on the cake mix box.  Reserve at let cool.  Mix in instant espresso granules, if using.  Empty package of cake mix into a large bowl, add eggs, butter, and water-turned-coffee according to the package directions.  Stir in vanilla extract.  Pour into lined baking cup and bake according to package directions.

Remove cupcakes from oven.  Allow to cool for five minutes. Prick the top of cupcakes with a toothpick or the prongs of a fork.

Mix chocolate syrup or cocoa+sugar mixture into 1/4 c. of brewed coffee until thoroughly dissolved.  Brush mixture onto warm cupcakes.  Allow cupcakes to cool completely while mixing the frosting.

Frost cupcakes and top with single caramel candy/espresso bean.

Refrigerate up to one week.  Return to room temperature or warm slightly before serving.

Coffee Buttercream Frosting

  • 3 Tbsp. brewed coffee (warm)
  • 1 tsp. instant espresso granules
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) butter
  • 2 c. confectioner’s (powdered) sugar

Mix warm coffee, espresso granules, and vanilla extract in a small bowl.  Set aside.  Beat softened butter in the bowl of a stand mixer for 1-2 minutes at low-medium, until fluffy.  Slowly add confectioner’s sugar, combining thoroughly.  Mix on medium speed for three minutes.  Add coffee mixture, and stir on low speed until incorporated.  Increase to medium speed and beat for 3-4 more minutes, until fluffy.

cupcake alone


Cabbage Rolls, Stress, Love and Life

Today, I wanted to post about stress.  About how there are still three laundry baskets of clean, unfolded clothes in our bedroom(by the time we got to packing, it seemed silly to take them out of one container to pack them right into another box) that I haven’t managed to fold, hang, and put away, even though I still do not have a true sense of how much can fit in our closets and dressers.  I wanted to talk about how those few last things missing in the house (a mail organizer, a printer, an out-of- the-way place to put my purse) are more irritating than the plates that we were missing for two weeks.  I was going to discuss my body’s clock being completely out-of-whack: that waking up at 7am to walk the dog allows me time for a walk, yoga, and a real breakfast before work, but then I am exhausted by 4:30pm only to catch a second wind (with or without additional caffeine) that keeps me up until midnight (or later) and makes me grumpy all evening and sets the cycle to repeat.  I wanted to be a little bit selfish, to let out my frustrations, to vent the stress that builds as both of my jobs go into the second busiest month of the year.

Instead, I’m thinking of Boston.  Virginia Tech.  Sandy Hook.  9/11.  Deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq, around the world.  Yesterday, I did not hear about the bombing until almost 5:00pm.  My father’s side of the family lives in Cape Cod, MA.  My cousin lives in Boston.  Everyone fine, as I expected, but the slim, slim chance was enough to jumpstart my senses.  The overwhelming awareness that comes in the blink of an eye: a new wide view of the whole landscape of life, instead of the trivial sliver that I concern myself with on the day-to-day basis.  I have noticed something different with the Boston bombings.  Shock and horror and fear are still there, there are still many people who responded with hate, but even more responded with reminders of love and hope.  From the moments of the aftermath, these glimmers of humanity, faith, and empathy have been brought to the forefront–paraded on Facebook and Twitter and other social media sites.  As they should be.

A Projection on the Brooklyn Academy of Music

I am impressed and inspired that so many chose hope, especially on public and social media, where hate and condemnation can escalate so easily.

Today, instead of complaining, I am reminding myself to be grateful.  I have a home that I can afford, a boyfriend, family, friends, and a dog (or three) that love me as much as I love them, two jobs I enjoy, access to healthcare, to shelter, to food, to water.  I am fortunate to be able to be so trivial, to be annoyed at my staying up late.

cabbage roll close

Today, especially is about love.  Many times, I speak better with food than with words.  It is my way of showing people I love them, of showing off, of challenging myself.  The cabbage rolls that I promised to share make a comforting dinner.  The simple ingredients and slow-simmered, familiar flavors do not make these cabbage rolls revolutionary.  They are little more than meatballs wrapped in cabbage.  But the succulent cooked cabbage makes the perfect complement to these un-meatballs.  We ate them with the ricotta gnudi and pasta for dinner.  I made two large pans, enough that we had leftovers with a salad for lunches and reheated for snacks for several days.  The flavors continue to meld, and, in some ways, these cabbage rolls are even better the day after.

cabbage roll low

Italian Sausage Cabbage Rolls

Serves: 4 | Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: 40 minutes

  • 1 small head of cabbage
  • 2/3 lb ground (4 links) of gluten-free italian sausage*
  • 4 slices of gluten-free bread, crusts removed ( I used Udi’s–use less if your slices are larger)
  • 1/3 c. milk (non-dairy is fine)
  • 1/4 c. parmesan cheese (add a non-dairy substitute, or a little extra salt and bread to replace cheese)
  • 1 tsp. garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp. rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. basil
  • 1 tsp. sage, ground
  • 1 jar (16 oz) tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup water or broth
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Toothpicks

*Chicken or pork, sweet or hot, whatever your meat and spice preference, all work–you could even go veggie.  While there are several options for Vegetarian Italian Sausage on the market, I’ve yet to find a brand that is gluten-free.  If you are avoiding gluten and animal products, sub in your favorite GF sausage substitute and throw in some additional spices (try fennel, parsley, paprika, red chili flakes, garlic, rosemary, basil, salt, and pepper).  Par-cook and finely chop/crumble the sausage substitute and mix with the bread as directed

Tear the bread into small pieces.  Add to a large bowl.  Add milk, stir, allow to sit and soak up the liquid.  Lightly saute the chopped onion until translucent.

Carefully remove the leaves from the head of the cabbage.  Remove the tough stem (up to about 1 inch into the leaf).  Rinse, pat dry, set aside.

If using sausage links, remove meat from casing.  Add sausage, onion, parmesan cheese, garlic and other spices to the bread and milk mixture.  Mix well.

In a large saucepan, mix the tomato sauce and water/broth (if your sauce is already thin, you may not need this).  Heat over low heat.

Form the sausage mixture into small balls, about 1-2 Tbsp worth.  Wrap in the cabbage leaf, secure with a toothpick.  Once all meat is formed and wrapped, place into saucepan, ladling sauce over top.  Bring cabbage rolls to a boil over medium heat, reduce to low heat and cook for 35-40 minutes more, under the meat is cooked through and cabbage is tender.

Serve topped with more cheese, with pasta, salad, or side of choice.

cabbage roll top

Next time, I will be sharing something sweet (and simple).  I think we all could use a treat.

What are you grateful for today?


Moving Update and Un-ravioli (Gnudi)

gnudi close

I was trying to think of clever titles for this post, but all I could think of was “Dancing in my Gnudi pants”, in reference to the Georgia Nicholson series, which I devoured one summer at my cousin’s house when I was fifteen.  But that really isn’t a good reference to make, when I’m trying to convince you to make this recipe for dinner…

Today is day two in our new house!  My Sunday was spent madly packing the last –okay, most of my belongings into boxes and bins and miraculously fitting, at least, 80% of my life into my car.  Tabby may be small, but she’s a beast.  Just saying. (Even more miraculous, I think she got better mileage while packed with stuff–like, 5 more miles to the gallon, better.  That, or I filled up the tank partway and forgot about it…but I don’t think that I am so exhausted as to forget a trip to the gas station). Anyways, Monday was moving day, and we did a lot of it.  Between picking up the U-Haul, picking up keys (the rental office did not open until 10am, which set our day back a little bit), grabbing a new dining table from a friend’s, and packing up the first load at M’s house, we didn’t actually get into our new townhouse until 1:30pm.  But, all of our belongings and furniture made it into the house by 5pm, which is a great achievement.  Now, we are stuck trying to unpack everything, which is really the hard part.

I did not, to my relief, cull down any of my kitchen supplies, but this move has proven how strange of an assortment of kitchen gear I own.  Brotform proofing basket? Check. Madeleine Cookie mold? Check. Bread proofer, crockpots, muffin tins, baking tins, measuring spoons, pot holders? Check and check.  But when it came time for dinner (M had already claimed making a curry), we had no knives or plates (the plates got left behind in the plot of a long explanation).  After four years in a college dorm and three solid years of regular cooking and kitchen experiments, it turns out that I do not (nor does M or S) own my own knives.  Or a vegetable peeler. Or measuring cups, mixing bowls, pots and pans, cutting boards, or spatulas.  I’ve always used my mother’s.  Or M’s mother’s, or whichever roommate had brought those tools for the year. It was an enlightening and disappointing discovery.  While I have lovely plans for a shopping spree for such essentials, my wallet does not support that plan.  We’ll have to see what we can get by on borrowing and buying piecemeal as we go along.

Luckily, S did own (and bring) a few pots, and with M’s pocket knife, dinner got on the table–in mason jars, the only containers that had made it into the kitchen.  It was an interesting end to the day, but I don’t know if I have eaten more delicious curry.  The next day, I bought a cast-iron skillet and a chef’s knife, and M grabbed some of the plates.  We may have enough tools to survive now! 😉 Since Monday was my last day off for a week, and the last day off for M and S for at least another 10 days, the actual unpacking process has been quite slow.  Some cooking is certainly happening in the little corner of counter space cleared by the stove, but I’ve been more lax in documenting it.  Last night, the boys grilled steaks while I tossed together an herbed mediterranean salad and skillet potatoes.  I’m sure I will be making both again soon–photos will have to be taken on the second round.  I’ve always been a little torn about posting salad-type recipes…I guess some of my favorites (this mediterranean, a two-bean salad from my sister, my mother’s ambrosia, or macaroni salad, etc) don’t seem to be very revolutionary.  Tasty, absolutely, but they are simple enough that I’m sure you could find another recipe on the internet.  However, since this blog was started to serve as an online collection of my recipes, as much for myself as for anyone else, I think I do need to share my salad “recipes”.  If I really get my act together, maybe I will have a salad week!  Especially with summer coming around.

Speaking of summer, it certainly isn’t here.  While we haven’t gotten any snow for a few weeks, it has now become reliably sunny.  Looking out a window is looking out to a glorious promise of sun and warmth…a promise that is, in fact, a lie.  It is still quite chilly with the wind, in spite of the sun beaming down.  Maybe it is because of this disconnect that I have found myself craving tea, constantly. I may, or may not, have just stopped to make yet another cup of Earl Grey. (See, I am not quite as random as I seem–only tangential!)  Even though it is April, and even after last night’s lovely salad, I am still wrapped in sweaters, holding a cup of hot tea, and thinking about the rich, warming stews, rich gravies, and filling squash dishes of winter.

For today’s recipe, especially since I am still bogged down with unpacking, I have a recipe that I made several weeks ago, when the season, definitely, could still be counted as winter.  I came across Giada’s recipe for Gnudi and was intrigued by these “nude ravioli”.  Filled pastas, like ravioli and tortellini and chinese dumplings, were a staple in my house when I was young.  After going gluten-free, I have had one dish of GF ravioli that was actually passable (in fact, it was delicious!) at a local restaurant.  I was very much interested in trying gnudi as a substitute.  A creamy mix of ricotta under thick tomato sauce would be the perfect warm and comforting dish to make for dinner.  (Ultimately, my binge-cooking got the best of me, and I made cabbage rolls to go along with this.  Recipe for those coming soon!)

My expectations for this recipe were, honestly, entirely wrong.  Though the ingredients make up the soft, creamy filling of ravioli, I should have thought more about their counterpart in name: gnocchi.  Gnudi are dumplings, in the “chicken and dumplings” sense–thick all the way through, rather than holding the soft ravioli center.  This didn’t diminish their tastiness, but it was rather surprising when I came to the finished product.  Because I was expecting these to be a tad softer, I made them into larger rounds, like the dinner-sized raviolis of my childhood.  Next time, I will definitely keep gnocchi in mind and form my gnudi much, much smaller into little bite-sized pillows of cheesy awesome.  But their large size wasn’t much of an issue–two gnudi made the perfect snack, three were great for dinner with a side dish.  M, ultimately, ate these with his fingers, dipping them into the marinara sauce like I have photographed.  Either way you form them, big or small, gnudi are a delicious option for any meal.

gnudi plate

Gnudi 

Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

Serves 6 | Prep time: 30 minutes | Cook time: 15 minutes

  • 1 c. whole-milk ricotta, undrained*
  • 2 c. kale leaves
  • 1 c. grated parmesan or pecorino romano (please use REAL cheese, not the Kraft Green Bottle stuff)
  • 1/4 c. shredded mozzarella
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • 1 tsp. (each) salt and pepper
  • 6 tsp gluten-free flour mix + extra for dredging(I used 2 Tbsp, each, White Rice Flour, Sorghum Flour, and Tapioca Starch)
  • 1/8 tsp. xanthan gum
  • Pasta sauce (marinara, bolognese, vodka sauce, etc)

*Stir the liquid at the top of the ricotta into the rest, then scoop out ricotta to measure

Rinse and dry the kale leaves.  Chop finely.  Mix the ricotta, kale, cheese, eggs, egg yolks, and spices in a large bowl.  Whisk 6 tablespoons of flour mix and xanthan gum in a small bowl until well-combined.  Stir in flour mixture, incorporate well.  Refrigerate for ten to fifteen minutes.  This rest will help the flour begin to absorb the liquid, as well as firm the mixture slightly.  The mixture may still be rather loose and “goopy”.

After mixture has chilled, place a large pot of water on the stove.  Heat to boiling, then turn down to a simmer.  Add additional flour to a wide, shallow bowl. Using a spoon or two, scoop out desired amount of cheese mixture for one piece of gnudi.  Drop mixture into flour and coat lightly (I spooned some flour over top, then rolled a little bit).  Once coated, the gnudi will be able to be picked up by hand, but will still be delicate.  Drop gnudi into simmering water in small batches and allow to cook for about 5 minutes, until the gnudi are cooked through and float to the surface.  Drain and keep warm until serving.

Continue shaping, dredging, and cooking gnudi in small batches.  Serve warm with your favorite pasta sauce.

gnudi top

Would you make small gnocchi-size gnudi?  Or keep them big (and potential finger foods)?  Do you have the same everlasting love for tea?  Do you name your car? (Fun fact: Tabby’s full name is Tabitha.  And my KitchenAid Stand Mixer is named Henrietta.  Those are the only inanimate objects that have names, though.) Have you read the Georgia Nicholson books?