“The cupcakes are here.” That’s what the construction workers who were building Ricky and Karl Newkirk’s Harbor Acres home would say when they saw her car. Every Wednesday, Ricky Newkirk would bake about four-dozen cupcakes for the crew of 20 to 30. She brought two kinds: apple cinnamon and devil’s food. They were, she says, “My way of saying thank you.”
Newkirk grew up in Cheshire, England, southeast of Manchester. Then she lived in Surrey, southeast of London. Her passion for cooking comes from her grandmother.
“She switched on the light for me,” Newkirk says. “I lived with my grandmother from age 18 to 20. We were both working. She could produce the most amazing meal in the shortest time. She always had a pot of chicken stock on her Aga cooker. She would use some then put some more ingredients in the pot, creating the most marvelous flavors.”
Newkirk is a self-taught cook, largely from cookbooks and magazines. Some that she loves made the trip from the U.K. with her in 1988: three volumes of “Delia Smith’s Cookery Course” and several binders of Robert Carrier’s newsletters from the ’70s. They contain, she says, “Everything I need to know about cooking.”
If Newkirk’s grandmother “switched on the light” for her, Newkirk did the same for her son, James Arnsby, who started working in restaurants as a bus boy when he was only 11 years old. After several jobs in casual restaurants, his interest in fine food was piqued by a chef at Ophelia’s, and Arnsby studied at the French Culinary Institute, in Manhattan, N.Y. At the moment he is taking a break from professional cooking, but he still fixes dinner for his wife, Ester, five or six nights a week, and he was happy to show up for the cupcake shoot and render an expert opinion: “I am not really a sweet-tooth guy, but these are excellent.”
RICKY'S DEVIL'S FOOD CUPCAKES
Yield: approximately 30
3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
3/4 cup hot water
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (three sticks)
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream, room temperature
Chocolate ganache frosting (optional)
Chocolate curls (optional)
1. Preheat over to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk together cocoa and hot water until smooth. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
2. Melt butter with sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring to combine. Remove from heat and pour into mixing bowl. With an electric mixer on medium-low speed, beat until mixture is cooled — four to five minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated. Add vanilla, then cocoa mixture and beat until mixed together. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture in two batches alternating with the sour cream and beating until just combined after each addition.
3. Divide batter between lined cups, filling approximately three-fourths full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until cake tester comes out clean (approximately 20 minutes). Transfer tins to wire racks to cool, approximately 10 minutes. Turn out cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely.
Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature or frozen up to two months in an airtight container. To finish, spread ganache frosting onto cupcakes and garnish with chocolate curls if desired. These are so delicious just plain. Enjoy!
Note: Ricky Newkirk sometimes adds chili or chocolate chips or substitutes leftover coffee for some of the water.
CHOCOLATE GANACHE FROSTING
Ganache, a mixture of chocolate and cream, is the richest and most delicious of all chocolate frostings. If the frosting becomes too firm to spread, reheat in a bowl over a pan of simmering water until it begins to melt around the edges. Remove from heat and stir until smooth.
1 pound bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup corn syrup
1. Put chocolate in a large heat-proof bowl. Bring cream and corn syrup just to a simmer over medium heat. Pour mixture over chocolate. Let stand without stirring until chocolate begins to melt.
2. Begin near the center and work outward. Stir melted chocolate into the cream until all combined and smooth. (Do not over-stir.)
3. Refrigerate, stirring every five minutes, until frosting just barely begins to hold its shape and is slightly lighter in color. Use immediately. (Ganache will continue to thicken after you stop stirring.) See note to the left to reheat.