Let’s talk about your sense of adventure. How is it these days? Thriving? While I believe each of us to have our own innate level of comfort with adventure—that can certainly fluctuate throughout the years. I think of myself as a solid 8 out of 10 on the adventurous scale, but I’ve dipped down as far as a tentative, trembling 2 at times and sometimes soared high as a fearless 14 (yes, out of 10), craving all sorts of risk, seeking hits of adrenaline in far-flung places.
In college, not only did I look for adventure, I needed it. I thought nothing of taking a job in a place I’d never lived, driving 9 hours with the trunk of my car jammed with hiking boots and my blue striped comforter and dozens of books. I spent that first summer on a lake in New Hampshire, building trails and swimming in the cool lake water and drinking too much at parties where we’d slice open watermelons and fill them with vodka and eat homemade pizza with our feet in the grass. I studied for a semester in South Africa, renting a car for 10 days at one point and driving north into the Drakensburg Mountains, venturing into the tiny kingdom of Lesotho then down to the Wild Coast with its rugged coastline and tiny beach hostels full of surfers.
I got myself hired at a little environmental non-profit on Block Island, a speck of land off the coast of Rhode Island. I worked shifts at a popular beachside restaurant in my spare hours to make extra money and lived alone in a tiny pink house called Strawberry Shortcake with an outdoor shower and a porch that overlooked the ocean. I’d ride my bike around the meandering island roads, pausing to explore when the asphalt gave way to sandy paths edged with wild roses and low-slung stone walls.
I make friends easily, so everywhere I went I’d quickly find myself people to go to beach bonfires with, or lazy boat trips on days off, or to watch the Black Keys play live at an outdoor lakefront concert.
I relished the newness of each experience—letting it fill me up, letting every day leave its mark on me, letting myself become someone richer and more layered with everything I did that became a part of me: learning how to chop down a tree with an axe, learning how to sandboard on the remote desert dunes in Namibia, learning how to tag and release a tiny hummingbird for a birding study, learning that I can hike 11 miles by myself cheerfully if I sing out loud a lot, learning that instant chocolate pudding and a handful of wild blueberries is a perfectly fine dinner three nights out of five if the fourth and fifth nights are burgers eaten over a smoky campfire.
But then in some months I’ll feel a shift towards needing comfort and security and safety. I want to cook at home instead of going out. If someone cancels plans I inwardly cheer and promptly watch three episodes of Gilmore Girls in one night, happily soaking up the satisfaction of a homemade dinner and quiet. (Okay don’t worry I’m not a shut-in, but these phases just indicate that—at least for a little while—I need less in the way of stimulation and social activity to be content.)
But where I always find myself up for adventure is in the recipe department: I have a tendency to push the boundaries of things I’ve already made, wondering how I could add more flavor or make it better. Could I make strawberry ice cream taste more deeply of strawberry? Would my cinnamon rolls be more interesting with cardamom in the filling? Is a chocolate chip cookie improved with tahini and coconut oil?
Today’s recipe is a perfect example of a way to take two simple, straightforward things (chocolate cake and cheesecake) and get a little adventurous with each.
The cake is a fairly basic chocolate cake batter, and inside each one you’ll hide a spoonful of cheesecake batter. I make this particular cheesecake with bourbon because…um….because why wouldn’t you if you could? Just kidding. You can totally use vanilla extract instead. But really, use the bourbon.
I also add a little melted white chocolate because it gives the filling a nicely creamy texture without adding too much white chocolate flavor.
So there you have it: a perfect mini adventure for anyone, regardless of how adventurous you are feeling at this particular moment.
Cheesecake-Stuffed Chocolate Cupcakes
Makes 18 cupcakes
2 cups (240g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (198g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (21g) cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup boiling water
1/4 cup whole milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 cups (340g) semisweet chocolate chips, divided
8 ounces (1 package) cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup (38g) confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons bourbon (or substitute vanilla extract)
3 ounces white chocolate chips (or chopped white chocolate), melted and cooled slightly
Whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking soda, and salt.
Add the water, milk, oil, and vinegar. Mix until smooth and well-combined. Stir in 1 cup of the chocolate chips.
In a separate small bowl (I like to use the stand mixer), combine the cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, bourbon (or vanilla extract), and melted white chocolate. Beat until very smooth.
Reserve half of the batter: using the other half of the batter, divide it evenly between your muffin tins (I usually make 18 large cupcakes but you can make 24 smaller ones).
Drop a small spoonful of the cheesecake filling into each well: I find that a teaspoon scoop or melon baller works nicely here.
Divide the rest of the batter evenly into each well, covering the filling fully.
Bake the cupcakes for 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Melt the remaining 1 cup of chocolate chips and pour a thin layer over each cupcake.