All the way back to 2007, in short — less than a year after I opened my bakery.
Baking 100% from scratch, as we did at Lola’s, was already pretty revolutionary: Most bakeries were going in the opposite direction, using mixes and adding café fare like soup. My goal, by contrast, was a limited menu of the highest caliber baked goods. That’s why I hesitated to do cupcakes at first, even though I saw that interest was growing. Could I support lots of flavors — cupcake fans love choices — and still maintain quality?
One of my bakers kept urging me to take the plunge, and eventually I did. (Thanks, Rebekah!) This was still the year before Georgetown Cupcake opened, mind you. Our very first flavor was … yes, coconut. Everyone loved it, so I bought a LOT more cupcake pans.
It wasn’t long before cupcakes were the headliner at Lola’s, with up to ten flavors made fresh each day — all in that tiny bakery! No matter how many varieties we stocked, however, the Coconut Cupcake remained a top seller. It was one of our “Big Four” flavors, which we kept available every single day we were open.
(Are you fan enough to remember the other three? They were Madagascar Vanilla, Double Chocolate, and Red Velvet.)
The key to this recipe is full-on coconut: Plenty of moist coconut in the cake, then cream cheese icing rolled in more flakes for a complete coconut experience.
So in every sense, these cupcakes are about committing to the concept.
Note: Usually I don’t recommend specific brands, but I’ve always paid extra for Baker’s coconut. I think it is worth it.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine butter and sugar on low speed until the chunks are broken down. Then increase speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl.
Beat in the eggs one at a time on medium speed, beating for about 30 seconds after each one is added.
Reduce speed to low and add the extracts..
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and buttermilk powder.
Add about ⅓ of the flour mixture to the mixer bowl and stir it in.
Add ¼ cup of water and stir it in.
Stir in another ⅓ of the flour mixture, then another ¼ cup water, then the final ⅓ of flour mixture.
Finally, add the coconut and stir again.
Scrape down the mixer bowl and the paddle, making sure you have no pockets of batter that are not fully mixed. Then run the mixer one last time for 90 seconds or so.
Now you're ready to scoop your cupcakes. I use a yellow-handled #20 scoop so that I get cupcakes of equal size that will all be done at the same time. Use a baker's spatula or similar to level the scoop each time.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean.
Let the cupcakes sit in the pan for a few minutes after you take them out of the oven, then move them to a rack.
To ice: Use a palette knife to spread softened icing into a nice dome on top of each cupcake. Then hold the cupcake by its base and roll it in a bowl of sweetened coconut flakes until the icing is covered.
Sugar cookies get a crowning final touch when finished with royal icing. Versatile enough to be used by both amateur and highly skilled decorators, royal icing dries hard and gives the cookies a lovely snap.
This recipe is the icing we used on all our sugar cookies at the bakery. It takes color very easily. (I always use gel colors.)
When icing cookies, decorators start with two basic techniques: Piping and flooding. Piping is about “drawing” outlines and details; flooding is about “coloring in” the shapes you’ve outlined. Each technique demands icing of a different consistency.
If you make this recipe exactly as shown, your icing should have roughly the consistency of paste — yet still will flow out of a pastry bag without breaking. This is the right thickness for piping.
For flooding, you’ll need to thin my recipe with water until it has a consistency closer to honey. If you run a knife through icing that’s used for flooding, the resulting line should disappear in about 10 seconds.
If the line is gone sooner, your icing is too thin. (Add a bit of confectioners’ sugar.) If it takes longer, too thick. (Add a tiny bit of water.)
Experienced cookie decorators use all sorts of consistencies besides “honey” and “paste,” but only the most hardcore home bakers need to care about such subtleties. (And many do, of course — check out Cookie Con!)
It’s not my aim here to give a big tutorial here on how to ice cookies. I think the ingredients of good cookie decorating are clear:
Good sugar cookies
Good royal icing
For tips, watch some YouTube videos: Many have excellent advice on cookie decorating, which is a skill that most people can master if they devote some time and effort.
Don’t worry if your early tries look a bit inelegant: It takes a lot of time to get the hang of this. And as long as they taste good, I’m sure your family and friends will be happy to enjoy all your progress.
A couple of years ago, an out-of-town fire truck — from Alexandria, maybe? — pulled up to our bakery after a local call. The guys came in relaxed, happy, and hungry, and we all enjoyed chatting with them. (One employee especially! You know it.)
Fire fighters cook and have appetites — and they know from bakeries. These guys wondered if we had any Nutella Scones. We didn’t, but they left laden with our other great flavors. Still, even before their big red truck pulled out of our parking lot we were plotting a Nutella recipe because:
Great idea; and
Maybe we could tempt these guys back?
I tried a recipe right away, but it had the wrong texture and spread too much. I adapted it and tried again: No luck. I wanted the Nutella flavor to come through, but to keep that classic scone form. Then the bakery got very busy and I had no time for such experiments.
Over several months I returned to the recipe whenever I had a spare moment. Progress was slow, but my staff and kids loved each “failure” — they urged me to sell them, but I held out. I was sure they could be better.
Finally, after taking time away from the project and returning to it fresh, I think I’ve got it: These are the scones you’re looking for.
Firemen, if you’re out there: These are for you. And even though that one employee has a great guy now, she can always keep this recipe in reserve — in case of fire.
These are surprisingly light considering that they are made with Nutella.
8½ oz. unbleached all-purpose flour (~2 cups)
1.5 oz granulated sugar (~1/4 cup)
1 oz unsweetened American process cocoa powder (~1/4 cup )
1 Tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
⅓ cup Nutella
1 large egg
½ cup heavy cream (add a touch more if needed)
Roughly ⅓ cup semi sweet chocolate to melt for drizzling on top
Roughly ½ cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped—to go on the top
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Put flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and run it on low speed until butter is broken down.
Stop the mixer and add the Nutella. Stir again until just combined.
Stir together the egg and heavy cream in a separate bowl, then add these to the mixer. The dough should be moist, a bit sticky, not dry. If you need to add another tablespoon or so of cream then do so. Just be careful not to overmix at this step.
Now use a spatula to scape the dough out of the mixer and off the paddle, patting it into a ball a bit as you move your dough onto a lightly floured surface.
Pat the dough gently with your clean hands into a cylinder or log shape about 7" long, then cut this in half and flatten each into circles about ¾" high. Use a dough dividing tool or a sharp knife to divide this into wedges and make 6 scones.
Place the scones on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
Bake on the center rack for about 22 minutes. The bottoms should be just starting to brown and a cake tester will come out clean.
Once they've cooled a bit, drizzle them with melted semi-sweet chocolate and sprinkle chopped hazelnuts on top.
This is more than a cookie recipe: It is the story of the recipe and, because they are intertwined, it is also the story of Lola’s.
I made my first batch of ginger chocolate cookies more than a decade ago, in my KitchenAid mixer at home. I had seen a recipe that wasn’t quite right in my view, and instinctively knew what I wanted to do with it. Right out of the oven these cookies were winners — soft and slightly puffy when warm, artfully cracked on the surface, with a deep molasses chewiness. Not at all like a ginger snap. I loved the thickness, the texture, and the chocolate. Especially the chocolate.
My husband and young kids were the next big fans. I had talked of entering my baked goods in the Virginia State Fair, and they urged me to add these to the roster. Nervously, I filled out the competition form, unsure how these would do in an open category.
That September, our whole family drove to Richmond with a batch of cookies I’d baked at the last possible moment. We stayed overnight in a hotel, then drove to the fairgrounds on opening day.
The judging hall was full of hardcore home bakers — people who compete at the fair every year. Many knew each other, but I was an outsider who had never even attended this fair before. I felt sure I had no chance.
That morning we wandered around the State Fair checking out the farm animals, the BMX bike show, the hog races. Finally we dared to return to the judging hall. I found that I’d won multiple prizes, including a blue ribbon — first prize! — for my ginger chocolate cookies.
High on that win, I became more serious about my dream of starting a real bakery. I traded up to a bigger mixer and sold more of my home-baked goodies at local farmers’ markets. I experimented: Mini cakes, breads, biscotti, special cookies of all sorts.
My customers’ favorite never changed: Ginger Chocolate, always.
Before long, I opened the Lola bakery. We branched into cupcakes, and lovely custom cakes. And yet for seven years, when people talked about Lola’s they never failed to mention the Ginger Chocolate Cookies.
These cookies have made many people happy. They make me happy still: I never get tired of baking them, of smelling that wonderful cinnamon and ginger aroma coming from the oven and serving them to an eager audience.
Would you like to bake some yourself? I’ve scaled this recipe back down to its original size, just right to fit in your home mixer when you want to bake up a couple dozen. Enjoy!
P.S. I’m sure you noticed the amazing photos included in this post. They were taken my my talented photographer friend Jeanette. Her web site is here.
2 sticks plus 2 Tablespoons butter, cut up into chunks
9 oz light brown sugar (~1¼ cups)
7 oz molasses (~1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon)
16 oz all-purpose flour (~3.5 cups plus 2 Tablespoons)
7 teaspoons American cocoa
5½ tsp. ginger
2¼ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cloves
½ tsp nutmeg
2¼ tsp baking soda
14 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips (~2.25 cups)
extra granulated sugar for finishing
Put the butter, brown sugar and molasses in the bowl of a small stand mixer and run it on low speed until the butter is broken down completely and there are no visible bits of butter left.
In a separate bowl, stir together then flour, cocoa, spices and baking soda. Add these combined ingredients to the mixer bowl and run it again on low until the dough is almost --but not completely-- combined.
Now pour in the chocolate chips and stir them until everything is fully combined (about one more minute).
Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and the mixer blade. If you see any unmixed parts, run the mixer again. If it looks good, go ahead and start scooping. I use a yellow #20 (2 oz.) scoop for these cookies to make a nice big soft cookie.
After you've scooped the cookies, roll them just a bit between your clean hands to smooth out each ball and roll each one in a shallow bowl of sugar. This will give them their glistening and lightly crisp exterior. Put them on a baking sheet and pat them down lightly so they don't roll and so they'll spread just right.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 14 minutes until the tops begin to crack a bit.
I started by selling cookies at the farmers' market. Then, in 2006, I rented a few small rooms in an old Victorian building in historic downtown Leesburg, Virginia, and turned them into the bakery of my dreams.
We baked everything in our open kitchen using no preservatives and no artificial flavors — because that's how it tastes best.
Lola's was featured on The Rachael Ray Show and Fox 5 TV; in Washingtonian magazine and Northern Virginia magazine; and on the cover of Loudoun Magazine.
In 2013 our building was sold and converted to office spaces, so we closed — at least for the moment. So many customers asked for our recipes that I started this blog in response.