- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The new year is nearly here. It’s time for that annual assessment of what you did right and what you did wrong in the past 365 days.

Were there memorable meals with family and friends? If so, you did something right.

When it comes to enjoyment, sharing food with the people I love is high on my list. You have a few days to think about a last meal of the year (or the first of a new one, depending on how late you stay up).

Why not settle in with friends, enjoying some classic American recipes — shrimp cocktail for starters, good steaks pan-fried on the stove, twice-baked potatoes, a crunchy Caesar salad and decadent chocolate cupcakes for dessert.

You use a chocolate cupcake batter with a center of chocolate ganache, that luxurious mixture of semisweet chocolate and hot cream, stirred until smooth, and allowed to cool.

The ganache sinks into the batter as the cupcakes bake, creating a creamy molten center. Serve right out of the oven with a dusting of powdered sugar.

Warm chocolate cupcakes with molten centers

Basic chocolate ganache (recipe follows), chilled at least 1 hour

Vegetable oil spray for misting the pans

Flour for dusting the pans

1 18.25-ounce package plain devil’s-food cake mix

1 cup water

cup vegetable oil

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Prepare the basic chocolate ganache, cover it with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator to chill.

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly mist 24 cupcake cups with vegetable oil spray and dust them with flour. Shake out the excess flour. Set the pans aside.

Place the cake mix, water, oil, eggs, vanilla and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Increase the mixer speed to medium and blend 1 to 2 minutes more, scraping down the sides again, if needed. The batter should look well combined and thickened.

Spoon or scoop 1/3 cup batter into each prepared cup, filling it 3/4 full. (You will get 22 to 24 cupcakes.) Drop a heaping teaspoonful of ganache onto the top of the batter in each cup. Place the pans in the oven.

Bake the cupcakes until the cake bakes up around the ganache, the tops are domed, and the cupcakes spring back when lightly pressed with your finger, 12 to 14 minutes.

Remove the pans from the oven and place them on wire racks for 1 minute. Run a dinner knife around the edges of the cupcake cups, lift the cupcakes up from the bottoms of the cups using the end of the knife, and carefully pick them out of the cups with your fingertips.

Place cupcakes on dessert plates and sift confectioners’ sugar over the top.

To reheat, place the cupcakes on a microwave-safe plate and cover with paper towels. Heat on high power for 10 seconds, carefully remove, and serve. Makes 22 to 24 cupcakes.

BASIC CHOCOLATE GANACHE:

3/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream

8 ounces (11/3 cups) semisweet chocolate chips

1 tablespoon liqueur of your choice or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional)

Place the cream in a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Bring it to a boil, stirring. Meanwhile, place the chocolate chips in a large stainless-steel mixing bowl.

Remove the cream from the heat and pour it over the chocolate. Stir with a wooden spoon until the chocolate has melted.

Stir in the liqueur, if desired. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour or chill for 20 to 30 minutes so it thickens into a spreadable consistency.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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