Pay to Play

As happy and proud as I would be if Lilli were one day president, or perhaps another rocking female senator from Massachusetts, I’m a little concerned about how well she responds to bribes. Then again, I don’t know of any other way to get a two and a half year old to do anything without the promise of a sticker, or perhaps a special treat.


“If you let me brush your hair, I’ll give you a sticker.”

“If you get into bed I’ll give you a sticker. You have to stay in the bed to keep the sticker, though.”

“If you let me rest next to you while you quietly watch Mr. Maker, you’ll get a surprise!”

The surprise turned out to be baking chocolate cupcakes, something Lilli asked to do several times last week. And because she sat and quietly watched Mr. Maker until 7AM, we tied on our aprons and got to work.

Finding a good chocolate cupcake recipe proved much more challenging than I would have expected. For instance, Joanne Chang’s version from her first cookbook,flour, was inspired by a dump cake, where you dump all the ingredients into a bowl. I know, sounds easy, but then you have to let it sit at room temperature for at least an hour, or store it in the refrigerator for up to three days. I can’t do anything with a two and a half year old for an hour, so that one was out of the question. Oh yeah, and Chang’s magic frosting calls for three sticks of butter.

ferris wheel

I found the perfect chocolate cupcake recipe in Greg Patent’s Baking in America: Traditional and Contemporary Favorites from the Past 200 Years. I have to admit this isn’t my book. A former co-worker brought in the book to show me a recipe for an Election Cake, a yeast bread flavored with nutmeg, mace, brandy and Madeira, with a pound of dried fruit kneaded into it. Election cakes date back to the 1600s and were served at musters, election-day picnics and other festivities.

I think my co-worker must have brought it in for the 2012 elections, or one of the innumerable special elections we have had here recently. If I was your colleague, I’d warn you against lending me any cookbooks. Then again, I might bring you in cupcakes on Monday morning.

Sleeping Bea

The recipe is for “Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting” and it’s a terrific cupcake. The headnotes say it makes 12 cupcakes, but I made 24 mini ones. I kept out six of them, and put the rest in the freezer. They’ll go into Lilli’s lunch bag, and probably be served to her as an afternoon snack.

I actually didn’t use the frosting recipe in the book, but used my go-to: Deb’s frosting recipe, which is made in the food processor.  Patent says to bake these cupcakes for 22 to 25 minutes, but they took 15 minutes on the dot as mini ones.

This weekend Lilli had her first carousel ride, rode a ferris wheel, went to a sand castle competition, and flew a kite. But when I asked her what was her favorite part of the weekend, her response was, “chocolate cupcakes.”

Chocolate Cupcakes


1 ¼ cups sifted all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ Dutch-process cocoa

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

¾ cup sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 large eggs

½ cup milk


Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners, or a 24 mini muffin pan with liners; set aside.

Resift the flour with the baking soda, salt and cocoa; set aside. (Please note: I “sifted” all dry ingredients together at one time by whisking them in a bowl.)

In a medium bowl, beat the butter on medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat on medium-high speed for 3 to 4 minutes, until smooth and fluffy; stop to scrape the bowl as necessary. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating for about 1 minute after each.

With a rubber spatula, stir in about one third of the flour mixture, just until incorporated. Gently stir in half the milk. Stir in half the remaining flour mixture, then the rest of the milk, and finally the last of the flour, stirring after each addition just to combine well. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups; each cup will be about half full. Don’t bother to smooth the batter; it will level itself during baking.

Bake for 22 to 25 minutes (or 15 if you’re doing mini), until the cupcakes spring back when their centers are gently pressed; do not overbake. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then remove from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.


One thought on “Pay to Play

  1. Awww. I love that the baking was her favorite part of the weekend. I have so many good memories of baking with my mom and little sisters when we were kids. Keep making time for it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s