A few years ago we went to Ireland for a big family reunion: Nearly 100 relations gathered from all over Ireland, from the U.S., from England and elsewhere. We converged on a small town in County Clare — in the West, barren but scenic — and our gang stayed in these thatch-roofed cottages.
The kids loved feeding donkeys, sharing meals with cousins, and exploring the countryside. Until the next trip, we keep up with the culture as much as possible, reading Irish legends, watching Irish movies (like this one), and noting great Irish achievements.
Speaking of which: Guinness, am I right? A drink, but also a technological marvel (read all about it) and even a wonder drug.
Yep, turns out there’s science behind the 1920s advertising slogan, “Guinness is good for you.” More than a decade ago, a team of researchers found that old-time doctors weren’t crazy to prescribe a daily pint of the black stuff: Guinness works as well as aspirin to prevent blood clots.
And what happens when you bake it into a cupcake, you ask? I have done this research myself and, as I hope Lola’s customers remember, the result is wonderfully smooth: Baking removes the stout’s bitter edge, leaving a mellow taste that’s the perfect complement in a rich chocolate cake. Top it with cream cheese icing — to evoke the creamy head on your “pint” — and a dusting of cocoa, and it’s just grand.
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.
This is my new favorite holiday cake — and I love the creative process that inspired it.
It started last year when a former Lola’s employee made a paper snowflake with “Ho Ho Ho” cut into it. It looked great, so this year I urged my daughter to make something similar for our windows. And when she did, I realized this wasn’t just a snowflake: It could be a powdered-sugar stencil, too, perfectly sized to cover … a cake!
I chose to make a Gingerbread Cake because — well, because Christmas! At the bakery we used this same recipe for Gingerbread Cupcakes, a huge holiday hit. I like lemon cream-cheese icing because citrus brings out the flavor of gingerbread: I always add lemon to the royal icing for gingerbread men, too.
A few details on this cake:
I baked mine as two 6-inch layers, each of which I trimmed flat and sliced horizontally for a four-layer cake. That looked great and allowed me to boost the icing-to-cake ratio — (important, since there’s no icing on top or sides as I did it “naked” style). If you want to try this, use a long serrated knife and a rotating decorating stand (a must-have for cake bakers) and get yourself at eye level with the cake. Or just use two trimmed, unsliced seven-inch layers, so they’re thinner, and be generous with the icing.
Using the powdered-sugar stencil isn’t hard, but you should practice a few times on the counter top to get the hang of it. Make a snowflake or stencil of whatever you like and check it for size. I laid the stencil — just regular paper is fine — directly on the uniced cake-top, then used a sifter to spread a very light coating of powdered sugar over the design. The tricky part is removing the stencil without disturbing the sugar. If the paper overhangs both sides, just lift very slowly from two sides at once. Otherwise, use two sets of tweezers to pick it up carefully from the edges.
Put butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer set on low. Run the mixer for a minute or two until the big chunks of butter are broken down a bit, then switch the mixer to medium speed and run it for 3 minutes. The butter and sugar should be light and fluffy now, with no chunks of butter left.
Scrape down the bowl, then add the molasses and stir in at low speed.
Add the eggs one at a time to the mixer, beating for ten seconds after adding each one, then stop the mixer.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, spices, baking soda, and baking powder. Add one half of this to the mixer and stir it in on a low speed. Once it is fully incorporated, pour in the water and stir again. When that is mixed in, add the rest of the flour mixture.
Scrape down the bowl, then run the mixer one last time.
Now you can scoop the batter into either two prepared 6-inch cake pans (for taller cakes that can be cut into four layers) or 7-inch cake pans (for wider, thinner layers) -- or into cupcake pans (will make about 24 cupcakes).
Either way, bake at 350 degrees. Cupcakes will take about 24 minutes, cakes will take about 45 minutes. Always use a cake tester to determine "done-ness." :)
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into chunks of about 1 Tablespoon each
1 tsp salt
8 tsp pure vanilla extract
8 oz pumpkin purée
3 lbs 2 oz confectioner's sugar
Put chunks of butter with salt in the bowl of stand mixer and run on low speed until broken down, then increase speed to medium and beat it until 100% smooth and creamy. (This will take a few minutes.)
Scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl.
Stir vanilla into the pumpkin purée, then add half of mixture into the mixer. Stir on low speed.
Add half of the confectioner's sugar and stir until combined.
Add the rest of the pumpkin/vanilla mixture; stir it in again.
Add the rest of the confectioner's sugar; stire it in again.
At this point you need to asses if this icing is thick enough for your use. If you'll be applying it with a pastry bag, you don't want it to be too "loose" — you need it to hold its shape. You may need to add just a bit more confectioner's sugar to get your ideal.
Another trick: chill the icing a bit before icing with it.
Caramel apples are a wholesome symbol of fall, timeless and delicious. But it’s murder finding a good one: The apple must be fresh and crisp; the caramel must be soft but not drippy; the coating must be smooth and even.
Homemade caramel apples are no cinch, either. I tried to make them years ago and found it surprisingly difficult. The caramel must be just so, or it won’t coat well. Very frustrating!
My solution: Caramel Apple Cupcakes.
I remember the day I invented these beauties. I was at the bakery making Apple Spice Cupcakes — another fall classic — and I realized I could put Salted Caramel Buttercream on top. It was my Edison moment, resulting in one of my all-time favorite cupcake recipes. Lightbulbs went off for my customers, too: These cupcakes were instant best sellers.
(P.S.: Ideally you would make your own applesauce from local apples; it’s the perfect time of year. Alternatively, buy local applesauce at the farmers’ market. At Lola’s we finished these off by drizzling them with our amazing Caramel Sauce. Give it a try. )
This recipe takes a little extra work, but it is so worth it. It is seriously amazing.
4½ sticks of butter, cut up into chunks
2¼ tsp salt
¾ cup fresh-made caramel (ingredients and instructions below)
2 lbs 9½ oz confectioners' sugar (powdered sugar) — about 10½ cups
FOR FRESH-MADE CARAMEL:
3½ oz granulated sugar — about ½ cup
½ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup water
⅓ cup heavy cream
1½ tsp vanilla extract
First off, you'll need to make the fresh caramel: Put the granulated sugar, light corn syrup, and water in a large sauce pan over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally as it heats up.
Bring the sugar mixture to a low simmer. Let it bubble gently as it simmers for 15-20 minutes. Don't wander off: Keep an eye on it!
After about 20 minutes the mixture will turn a nice caramel color. When it does, add ⅓ cup heavy cream (some steam will billow up, which is fine) and 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract; stir until smooth.
Let the caramel cool to room temperature before using it in the icing — it should still be pourable, but no longer hot.
Meanwhile, start the icing: Put the butter and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer and run it on low speed until the butter bits are broken down.
Now turn the mixer to medium and keep beating. When the butter looks pretty smooth, stop the mixer, scrape it down, and beat it some more. You want that butter to be completely smooth. The whole process may take up to 7 minutes.
Once you're sure the butter is really smooth, slowly add ¾ cup of your fresh-made caramel and stir it in at low speed.
Now add the powdered sugar, a bit at a time, while the mixer runs at low speed.
When the powdered sugar is all incorporated, stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl to make sure you got all the lumps. Then run it again briefly.
Now you're ready to use a pastry bag to apply this frosting to your cupcakes. This batch size should work well for Caramel Apple Cupcakes.
In the psychedelic era, simple things could blow people’s minds. Listen to Mick while you’re baking and get inspired: Vanilla cake needn’t be vanilla — it comes in colors.
My vanilla cupcake recipe is a great palette for color, and a rainbow cake is the ultimate trip: When you cut the first slice, you’ll alter reality for your party guests.
This cake takes some planning and a lot of bowls, but it’s not exactly hard: In fact, it was pretty much invented by a teenager. At bottom it’s just a vanilla cake with vanilla butter cream frosting. Beyond that it’s all about layers and logistics, so you’ll want to get comfortable with the techniques of trimming/levelling and stacking, plus the basics of crumb-coating and icing.
The recipe below fits into a 5-quart stand mixer and makes three layers for a 7- or 8-inch cake. Make a six-layer cake over a few days: Bake three layers on the first day, let them cool, wrap them in plastic wrap, and put them in the fridge. The next day bake the remaining layers, cool and chill them, and make your buttercream. On the third day (or later on the second day), level, stack, and ice.
Level each layer so it’s fairly thin: Six layers add up quickly, and this cake can turn into a tower. (On the other hand, a tower can be cute: I’ve used a single batch of this recipe to make six 3″ layers. I then sliced those in half and made two mini cakes. Fun–but tricky to slice!) You don’t want to make the layers so thin that they’ll tear when you try to stack and ice them.
A word about colors: Butter and eggs make this cake taste great, but they also make the batter yellowish. Most colors will work fine, but your blue layer may look a bit green (because, of course, yellow + blue = green). The solution is to add some white coloring. It’s absolutely worth buying professional-quality colors: A basic set from AmeriColor, plus white, will take you far.
And how exactly do you add color? Once the batter is ready, I divide it equally (by weight) into three bowls, then fold in each color by hand using a spatula. Use as little color as possible: Start with two drops and see how it looks — adjust by adding one small drop at a time. The color of the batter is a decent guide to the final cake color. (The final color will be more vibrant but also a little darker.)
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.