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March 25, 2013

Black Bottom Beauties

Black Bottom Cupcakes
Mr. B is always game for something chocolatey--just one of the many reasons that he's my perfect match and since we both are rather fond of cheesecake, every now and then when we're looking for something sweet, I like to mix up a batch of Black Bottom Cupcakes.

I can't tell you why or how these gems came about getting that particular moniker, but I can tell you that most food historians think the recipe originated during the 1930s, right after the Great Depression because the cake is a basic wacky cake. Wacky cakes were popular because they didn't use eggs and included a mix of white vinegar, water and vegetable oil, all common and fairly cheap. Personally, I don't think women were using cream cheese and chocolate chips at that time, but whoever came up with the addition is a real champ in my book.

National history aside, the real reason I love this recipe so much is that it came to me from a friend. The first real grown up friend I ever had when I wasn't a grown up yet myself. After my parents were divorced, my dad only introduced me to one woman and of course, she was in the friend category and not the girlfriend category which is just as well since I don't think I would have liked any of the women who wound up in the latter category. Unfortunately for her, though, my father would never have the sort of feelings for her that she had for him.

I was fourteen when I met her and we immediately clicked. She was newly divorced and had two children many years younger than I was at the time. She was tall and solid and had a mass of red hair and she was strong and dependable. She was, in fact, the antithesis of the sort of woman who my father would have found attractive, but for a teenage girl with a flair for the dramatic who spent her free time writing very bad, violent and tragic poems, she was everything I was looking for in a friend.

While I didn't live close enough to my father to visit her on a regular basis, she was kind enough to strike up a correspondence with me anyway and thus, we wrote back and forth for many years, all the way until I was an undergraduate and sadly, she was diagnosed with breast cancer; she died very soon after.

In one of her many letters, she tucked in a recipe card handwritten in her solid script. It was her recipe for Black Bottom Cupcakes, which along with her red hair, had become the way others identified her. I was fifteen when I opened the envelop to find the card and somehow--a miracle, perhaps--I have never lost or misplaced it. This is a true feat since I've never managed to live anywhere for more than a seven year stretch.

At some point, I put the recipe card on my refrigerator, among a hodge-podge of artist cards with brilliant landscapes, interesting pictures cut from magazines, and two or three poems that I find a need to read over and over again in the span of a day. I've had the card now for over 30 years and it's come to be much more than just a recipe for delicious cupcakes. It's also a  symbolic reminder of how important it is to be a true individual, even when it means writing bad poetry and having a weakness for chocolate.

Black Bottom Cupcakes

Makes 12 large or 18 regular cupcakes

Filling:
1 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 egg
1/3 cup of sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

Cupcake Batter:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar

1 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350º.
2. Line muffin pan with cupcake liners
3. Mix filling ingredients together and set aside.
4. Mix dry batter ingredients together and then add water, oil, vinegar and vanilla. Stir until smooth.
5. Place 1/4 cup of batter into the bottoms of the cupcake liners.
6. Top with a heaping spoon of filling mix.
7. Top the filling mixture with just enough batter so that some of the filling peeks through.
8. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the cake portion comes out clean. Usually about 25-30 minutes depending on the accuracy of your oven temperature.

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