Like every food writer the world over, I am duty-bound to offer a chocolate recipe for Valentine’s Day. I was fortunate to get a recipe for Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes from the Woodstar Café in Northampton, Mass., a bakery whose goods are so delicious that I have been known to eat there twice a day when I’m in town.

Nothing says I Love You like a cannelé.

Photo: Canto 6 Bakery and Café

But I also wanted to offer a non-chocolate alternative for those who can’t have chocolate or who just prefer other flavors. The owners of Canto 6, a bakery in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood, were kind enough to give me their recipe for cannelés (also spelled canelés), a sort of ridged, sweet muffin with a dark, crisp, caramelized surface that contains a heavenly vanilla custard center. Magically, it’s all made out of the same batter. Appropriately, Canto 6 takes its name from the circle of hell devoted to gluttony in Dante’s Inferno.

When I was melting the butter in the Guinness to make the cupcakes a few nights ago, I couldn’t help but think of Harry Potter’s Butterbeer. These cupcakes are very chocolatey, and while they are good hot out of the oven (what isn’t?), they become even denser and more delicious once they have cooled. They are so good that they don’t require any kind of frosting — although if you want to gild the lily, you can, of course, frost them or cover them with dollops of whipped cream. It’s Valentine’s Day, after all.

As for cannelés, they’re magical. The first time I had one was during a trip to Los Angeles. I had never been to L.A. before and I really loved it. In particular I liked staying at the Farmer’s Daughter Hotel and being able to walk — yes, walk — to the original L.A. farmers’ market (and the Whole Foods across the street). The farmers’ market offers not only all manner of fruits and vegetables, but dozens of booths selling ethnic foods. You can have a bowl of gumbo for lunch and then wander a few feet away and order hummus and top it all off with toffee and coffee. It is as close to heaven on earth as any human-made place I can imagine. Keep the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal … give me the farmers’ market at Third and Fairfax!

I also ventured (on foot!) to the La Brea Bakery. I had heard tell of this shrine to butter and sugar, and couldn’t believe I was finally there in person. My first morning in L.A., I ordered some cannelés and sat in front of the bakery at a tiny table on the sidewalk. I had just tasted the incredible vanilla custard hidden in the center and was in the midst of a transcendent vanilla-butter-sugar experience when I saw a car take off — slowly — a few feet away from where I sat. I heard a policeman call out over his squad car’s public address system, “Pull over! Stop!” but the car kept heading — slowly — in the direction in which it had started. My first low-speed car chase! “Welcome to L.A.!” I thought to myself, and turned my attention back to the cannelé.

The other “only in L.A.” experience I had was noticing that the rather large Kermit who sits atop the Muppet building appeared to be looking straight across the street into a strip club. I recently mentioned this to a friend. He smiled and said, “Where do you think Kermit met Miss Piggy?” Ah, yes, now it all makes sense … the feather boa, the huge false eyelashes, the crazy wigs. Who knew? Perhaps one day there will be a scandal … photos taken early on in her career when she was just an innocent piglet, recently arrived in Hollywood, fresh off of the farm.

I hope your Valentine’s Day is filled with all manner of delights. Here are recipes for two of them.

Woodstar Café’s Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes

Makes 24 and a little bit more

These are irresistible. I found that the recipe actually makes a little bit more than 24 cupcakes. I put the extra batter into a small Pyrex dish and baked it as a small cake. (Perfect for two.) Don’t over-fill the cups in the cupcake pan because if there’s a “muffin top” that spreads over the top of the cup, it can be hard to get the cupcake out in one piece. Many thanks to Rebecca Robbins for sharing this recipe with us.

Consider using Fair Trade, organic cocoa. I visited the Equal Exchange offices a few years ago and learned a lot about fair-trade chocolate and coffee. (My visit resulted in a two-part article for Grist that also looks at tropical commodities.)

 

1 1/2 cups Guinness
12 oz melted butter
1 cup + 2 tablespoons cocoa, sifted
3 cups flour
3 cups sugar
3/4 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/8 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 cup sour cream
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 360 degrees.
  2. Gently heat the Guinness and butter together in a pot over medium heat until the butter is melted. Don’t let it boil. Cool for 20 minutes.
  3. Combine dry ingredients.
  4. Combine all wet ingredients in a separate bowl.
  5. Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Gently stir until just combined. Do not overmix.
  6. Scoop into cupcake pans lined with paper liners. (Fill the cups 2/3 full, no more.)
  7. Bake until cupcakes spring back when lightly pressed, about 20 minutes.

 

Canto 6 Cannelés

Makes 12 – 24, depending upon the size mold you use

Transcendent. Who knew that one could sample a little bit of heaven in a bakery named after a section of hell? Alex Emmott, one of the owners of Canto 6, says, “Cannelés are a traditional pastry made in Bordeaux, originally invented by monks, or so the story goes. If you travel to Bordeaux, they are everywhere — I remember seeing them on the street, and even in hotel lobbies!” The batter for this recipe has to chill for 12 hours, so plan accordingly!

I bought some expensive copper cannelé molds at Sur la Table. Traditionally, one is supposed to prepare the molds by swirling melted beeswax inside the mold until it’s just coated. You can skip that step and use silicone molds if you don’t have any beeswax (or extra cash for the expensive molds!) lying around. The staff at Canto 6 use silicone molds very successfully. (Last fall I bought some beeswax from a guy who keeps bees in Boston, so I actually happen to have some, but I am not usually quite that Martha Stewart-esque!) Thanks to Alex Emmott and Evangeline McKilligan for sharing their recipe.

 

1 egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

 

  1. Combine milk and butter and heat on low until butter is melted.
  2. Meanwhile, combine egg, yolk, and sugar and whisk well.
  3. Add flour and whisk until smooth.
  4. Add milk and butter to egg mixture and whisk until smooth.
  5. Stir in rum and vanilla.
  6. Chill 12 hours.
  7. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  8. Pour into molds and bake at 400 degrees until the cannelés look very dark (approximately one hour).