September 20, 2011

Mini chocolate yogurt snack cakes

It's never long before my brain steers me back to chocolate.  But instead of a rich, heavy chocolate cake, today I'm making lighter chocolate yogurt snack cakes - in miniature form.  
I admit it...I had been baking banana bread with chocolate again.  And despite making several batches, I still had plenty of whole-milk yogurt left in my refrigerator.  I was looking around for recipe ideas when I remembered these chocolate yogurt snack cakes from David Lebovitz that I had wanted to try.  In comparison to your typical chocolate cupcakes, these little bites are light, mildly sweet, and have a moist crumb thanks to the yogurt.  One of my favorite things about these snack cakes that make them special is a hint of almond (from almond extract, which I just love) - I think it blends really well with the chocolate.
You could make these regular cupcake/muffin sizes or in little ramekins or mini cheesecake pans.  Or like me, you can make miniature versions using mini cupcake/muffin tins.  Given these are lighter chocolate yogurt snack cakes, I thought the petite size suited them nicely.  These are great at breakfast or as an afternoon snack.  My family and I really enjoyed them and I'll be making these again for sure.

These chocolate yogurt cakes reminded me of the chocolate chocolate-chip muffins I attempted about a month ago.  If you'll recall, those fell short of expectations but these yogurt cakes are great when you're not looking for something overly decadent but still want a chocolate pick-me-up.  There is no frosting or icing needed here.  It's just a bite of moist chocolate cake, with a light almond flavor thrown in.  Be careful about making these in mini-sizes.  You end up quite innocently popping two or three into your mouth before you know it.
I made a half recipe of these chocolate yogurt snack cakes.  These French style yogurt cakes have been a great revelation to me.  Yogurt lends a lovely moistness to cakes while giving them a surprisingly firm structure.  This particular recipe should yield about 12 standard cupcake-size cakes.  In my case, I used mini cupcake tins and half a recipe yielded 15 mini cakes.

The recipe is fairly simple, no major equipment required.  I first melted some bittersweet chocolate, a dash of espresso powder (optional) with canola oil.  Many of my favorite recipes start out similarly.  
When the chocolate is melted and set aside to cool, mix together a little more canola oil, whole-milk yogurt, sugar, eggs, vanilla and almond extracts.  I think the almond extract is very well my favorite part of these snack cakes.  It makes things a little more interesting and I think the almond blends very nicely with the chocolate.  I love that scent you get from the mix.
The dry ingredients, or flour, baking powder, and salt, get whisked together in a large bowl.  Make a little well in the center and pour in the yogurt mixture. 
Stir this around a few times with a rubber spatula and then add the melted chocolate mixture.
Now here's the thing I notice about making batters with yogurt.  I notice you get lumps.  As in you'd really need to work it to smooth everything out evenly but you do not want to overmix the batter or you'll end up with a tough cake (and we really don't want that!).  So I err on the side of not overmixing.  I'd rather have some bits of light or white-colored batter rather than risk getting a tough cake. [See update]
As you can see, there are some uneven bits in my snack cake batter.  Luckily, while you can see it, you can't taste it when you pop in into your mouth.  So if you see some lumps, it's fine. 
Baked in a preheated 350 degree oven, my mini cakes were done in about 15 minutes.  For regular sizes, they should take 20-25 minutes.  Once the cakes are set in the center and puffed up, they're ready.  I had 15 mini cakes.  I fill the empty slots with a bit of hot water before placing in the oven.
I think these snack cakes should be kept simple.  You don't really even need the dusting of confectioners' sugar on top but I think it makes them look pretty.  My husband, son, and I really liked these. 

Update (July 10, 2013):  These yogurt cakes are one of my little one's favorite cakes/muffins. That's saying a lot since there's no frosting on these and, like most kids, he is all about the frosting. I tell you that to let you know that I make these yogurt cakes fairly often and have  been doing so since I blogged about this recipe almost 2 years ago!  Well, I don't know what took me so long but I finally tweaked the recipe to eliminate those lumps, or uneven bits, in the batter.  As I mentioned, they don't really affect the taste but they do bother me just a little - especially when I want to share some with friends.  
I did some searching online to see if anyone else had the same problem.  I didn't see any mention of it so maybe I was just too shy with my mixing.  Either way, I've changed up the steps in the recipe to make a smooth batter.  I now combine the melted, cooled, chocolate together with the other wet ingredients first.  Then, I fold in the dry ingredients.  The original recipe called for mixing the yogurt, oil, eggs together into the dry ingredients and then folding in the chocolate last.  I tried my revised procedure today and as you can see, no more lumps! 
No more lumps!


Chocolate Yogurt Snack Cakes
Adapted* from The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz

* Note: I've changed up the mixing method for these yogurt cakes to get rid of the problem of uneven lumps in the batter (an issue I always had following the original recipe).  In the original recipe, the wet ingredients are combined with the dry mixture and then the melted chocolate is folded in last.  With fear of over-mixing, I always had an uneven batter with white lumps.  To eliminate that problem, I now combine the melted, cooled, chocolate together with the other wet ingredients first and then fold in the dry ingredients as the last step.  This creates a smooth batter without risk of over-mixing.

- Makes 12 standard cupcake sizes or up to 30 mini ones (I got 15 minis with half the recipe) -

7 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder (my little addition and optional)
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil, divided
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Optional:  Confectioners' sugar (for dusting)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line cupcake tin with paper liners.

In a heatproof bowl set over barely simmering water, melt the chocolate with the espresso powder and 1/4 cup of the oil.  Set aside and let cool to room temperature.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl, whisk together the other 1/4 cup of oil with the yogurt, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, and almond extract.  Gently whisk in the cooled chocolate mixture.  Be sure the chocolate is cooled so that the mixture doesn't curdle. Add dry ingredients and gently fold together until just combined.

Divide the batter into the prepared muffin cups.  Standard muffin size cakes should bake for 20-25 minutes.  Mini versions take about 15-16 minutes.  The cakes are done when they are set in the middle and the top has risen to a little dome.

Let cakes cool on a wire rack.  When completely cooled, dust the tops with confectioners' sugar, if desired. 

The cakes have a slightly crisp top when they are just cooled that I love.  You lose that top crust after a few hours but they are still moist and tasty.  These cakes keep well at room-temperature, in an airtight container, for about 4 days.  

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