Friday, March 25, 2011

Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes


Last week, one of my blog posts noted that the chocolate cupcakes I made weren't quite up to my expections. Within minutes, cooking contest buddy, Julie, pointed me to her favorite chocolate cupcake recipe. Since she's a contest winner, food blogger and granola goddess, I had no doubt they'd be delicious. I made them for my son's cast party, and boy did they live up to my expectations. They were tender, moist and very chocolatey. Plus, they made 30+ cupcakes, which was perfect for feeding a crowd of high school performers. Definitely a keeper recipe -- I'll be making this one again. Thanks, Julie!

Julie’s Chocolate Cupcakes - Large Batch
(Adapted from Julie's recipe.)
Makes about 36 cupcakes. To make as a cake, check out Julie's blog!

1 1/2 cups hot strong coffee
1/3 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
3 large eggs
3/4 cup (600 grams) canola oil
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 (313 grams) cups flour
1 ½ (138 grams) cups good-quality cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line cupcake cups with paper liners.

Mix the hot coffee with the chopped chocolate, stirring occasionally until the mixture is smooth.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs until they are slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Slowly add the canola oil, and mix at medium speed for 1 minute. Gradually add the sugar, mixing until well combined. Slowly add the buttermilk, coffee mixture, and vanilla, and mix until blended.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the batter in three additions on low speed, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. The batter will be liquidy -- don't worry!

Divide the batter among the prepared pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center emerges clean, 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center emerges clean. (For me, mini cupcakes took 20 minutes; regular took closer to 22 minutes, but I think my oven is slow.) Frost when completely cooled.


Chocolate Ganache Frosting
Adapted from Cupcake Bakeshop by Chockyli

9 ounces chocolate chips (I used semisweet -- I might use a mixture of milk & semisweet next time)
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
2 cups (250 grams) powdered sugar

Put chocolate chips in a heatproof bowl (I used the bowl of my electric mixer). Heat cream until bubbles form around the edge of the pan, then pour cream over the chocolate. Let sit for one minute, then stir until combined. Add butter and vanilla and stir until combined. Let cool for 10 minutes.

Dump powdered sugar into the mixture (you're supposed to sift it but I never do). Beat until combined. Continue to beat with an electric mixer until lighter in color and creamy. I used a pastry bag with a large star tip to ice the cupcakes.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Banana Cupcakes, Three Frostings


Boy, did I make a lot of cupcakes during the past week! I made seven dozen for a late night of rehearsals of my son's high school play, "Once Upon a Mattress." A few days later, I made another four dozen for the cast party. It felt good when one of the leads stopped me at the cast party to tell me how much he enjoyed my cupcakes -- these banana cupcakes in particular. When he makes it big, I can say he liked my cupcakes.

I've made these banana cupcakes several times. They are moist and full of banana flavor. If you're like me and wind up with a lot of black bananas, they are a welcome alternative to banana bread. I've played around with various frostings and found that some work better with banana than others. Here are three I like best.


Since the cupcakes are quite sweet, I think they are best with a frosting that's not too sweet. One great alternative is a classic cream cheese frosting, pictured above.


My favorite frosting in terms of taste is caramel frosting. The drawback, though, is that it's hard to make the frosting look pretty. Because it's cooked, you need to let it cool to just the temperature to be able to pipe it. Too warm and it will not hold its shape; too cool and it will be too stiff to flow through the piping bag. I managed to pipe the frosting in the top photo. I added a little dollop of chocolate ganache in the middle. It didn't look that great, and the chocolate competed with the buttery frosting. I wouldn't do that again.

For the cast cupcakes, above, I just spread the frosting. I should have waited a bit longer for it to cool because it oozed down the sides a bit. I tried to gussy them up with some sparkly sugar and a candy pea (because the play was a spoof on The Princess and the Pea). They didn't look terrific but they sure were delicious.


I also tried to make a vanilla buttercream with chocolate swirled in it. The effect wasn't as attractive as I had hoped, and I thought it was too sweet to be paired with the banana cupcakes. The cast enjoyed them, though, so I included the recipe below.

I got the cupcake recipe from a food blogger named Evan, who also made these cupcakes with three frostings, but three that were completely different from mine -- Honey-Cinnamon Buttercream, and Peanut Butter Buttercream. So if you want to try those, go to her post.

Large Batch Banana Cupcakes
Adapted from Hello Cupcakes! by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson. I found the recipe on this blog post.

Makes 36 standard cupcakes (or 30 regular and a bunch of minis)

3 1/3 cups (417 grams) all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt (I used ¼ tsp because I only had salted butter on hand)
6 medium ripe bananas
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
2 1/2 cups (500 grams) sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

You'll need three good-size mixing bowls. In one, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In the second bowl, mash bananas and buttermilk.

In your third bowl – the stand mixer bowl, if you’re using one -- beat butter and sugar until fluffy. (If you don’t have soft butter, just let the stand mixer do its thing until the butter is room temperature.) Add the eggs, one at a time.

Add the flour mixture, alternating with the with the banana mixture in batches, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Stir in vanilla.

Spoon batter into paper lined muffin tins. If you happen to have Pampered Chef scoops, I used the large for the regular cupcakes, and the smallest for the mini cupcakes. Pop the pans into the oven.

Bake until light golden brown on top and a toothpick comes out with a couple of crumbs. My mini cupcakes took about 15 minutes to bake. The regular cupcakes took about 20 minutes.

Classic Cream Cheese Frosting

1 8-ounce package of regular cream cheese (I think this works best if it's somewhat cool)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar

Blend together cream cheese and butter. With mixer on low speed, add the vanilla, then gradually add the powdered sugar until completely incorporated.

This frosts about 2 dozen cupcakes. I used a large star tip to pipe the frosting.

Caramel Frosting (I've also seen this called brown sugar frosting.)
This frosts about a dozen cupcakes, so you’ll need to double (at least) to frost a large batch.

6 Tablespoons butter
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed (I prefer dark but light works fine)
6 Tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups (250 grams) powdered sugar

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the sugar and the milk. Bring to a boil and continue to boil for 1 minute (it's in bold because I often forget this part). Remove from the heat, add the vanilla and gradually mix in the powdered sugar. Let cool until slightly thickened. If you want to pipe it, you'll have to keep checking until it's at the point where it holds its shape but isn't too stiff. It's easier just to spread.

Swirled Vanilla and Chocolate Buttercream Icing
My own concoction. Use this with the banana cupcakes only if you like things really sweet.

2 1/2 ounces (or so) bittersweet chocolate chips
3 cups (375 g) confectioners' sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons whipping cream (I sometimes go up to 3)

Melt chocolate chips in microwave in 30-second increments. Let cool while you make the vanilla icing.

In a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, mix together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.

Add vanilla and cream. Continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream if needed for desired consistency.

Mix one cup of the frosting with the melted chocolate chips. Using a long icing spatula, make a stripe of chocolate icing down one side of a pastry bag. Fill the rest with the vanilla buttercream. When you pipe the frosting (I used a star tip), it will swirl.

Frosts 24 cupcakes with a generous amount of frosting.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Chocolate Cupcakes for the Cast


This is the second of the three kinds of cupcakes I made for the cast of "Once Upon a Mattress," playing at Penfield High School through Saturday. The musical is a funny variation of the princess and the pea story, which is why they have candy peas for a garnish.

The cupcakes had a light, fluffy texture and a mild chocolate flavor. I'd prefer a denser cupcake with a more pronounced chocolate flavor, so I'll keep looking for my ultimate chocolate cupcake recipe. The frosting, on the other hand, is a keeper. Creamy and shiny with an intensely chocolate flavor, I'll use this recipe again and again.

Large Batch Chocolate Cupcakes
Adapted from "A Baker's Field Guide to Cupcakes" by Dede Wilson. I found the recipe in this article. It's very similar, BTW, to the one in the red & white check Better Homes & Gardens cookbook.
(Makes about 24 – I got 27)

2 1/4 cups (281 grams/9.9 oz) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (69 grams) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small pieces
2 cups (400 grams) sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk, at room temperature

Whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt together in a small bowl to aerate and combine; set aside.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add sugar gradually, beating until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl once or twice. Beat in vanilla extract. Beat in eggs one at a time, scraping down after each addition, allowing each egg to be absorbed before continuing. Add the flour mixture, alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with flour. Begin and end with the flour mixture, and beat briefly until smooth on low-medium speed after each addition.

Divide batter evenly among cupcake wells. Bake for about 22 minutes (15 minutes if you bake mini cupcakes), or until a toothpick inserted in the center shows a few moist crumbs. Cool pans on racks for 5 minutes, then remove cupcakes to cooling racks to cool completely.

Chocolate Ganache Frosting
Adapted from a recipe on Cupcake Bakeshop by Chockylit
 
9 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips (or a mixture - semisweet will make it sweeter)
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
2 cups (250 grams) powdered sugar

Put chocolate chips in a heat proof bowl.

Heat cream until bubbles form around the edge of the pan, pour cream over the chocolate. Let sit for 1 minute then stir until combined. Add butter and vanilla and stir until combined. Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixture and let cool for 10 minutes.

Add powdered sugar into the chocolate mixture and beat until combined. Continue to beat with an electric mixer until lighter in color and creamy.

Frosts 24 cupcakes

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Vanilla Cupcakes for the Cast


My son is in the cast of "Once Upon A Mattress," playing at Penfield High School this weekend. The cast puts in late nights the week leading up to the play, so a group of parents have been bringing in dinner for the cast each night. On Monday, I was assigned the task of dessert for all 70 members of the cast and crew. No problem! I love baking desserts. I made three big batches of cupcakes and I'm happy to report that they were some of the best cupcakes I've made.

The first was what I figured was the safest bet for making kids happy -- vanilla cupcakes with vanilla icing. Normally, these wouldn't be my cup of tea because they can be incredibly sweet. Those that aren't can be on the blah side. But these, from Cooks Illustrated, were so delicious that we were nibbling on them before they were even frosted -- and I generally consider frosting to be the best part of the cupcake. In fact, they were so good that this will be my go-to scratch recipe for vanilla cupcakes and vanilla frosting.I don't need to look any further. (Normally I'm funny about including recipes from Cooks Illustrated, because they are protective of their recipes, but this one is all over the internet.) The frosting was a tried-and-true recipe that I've used in the past.

Because "Once Upon a Mattress" is a funny take-off on the "Princess and the Pea," I garnished them with some sparkly sugar and a Runts pea. Although now that I look at them, they'd be kind of cute to serve on St. Patrick's Day. Speaking of St. Patrick's Day, tomorrow is opening night -- tickets are still available!

Large Batch One-Bowl Yellow Cupcakes
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated. If you want to make just a dozen, follow this recipe from Joy of Baking

3 cups (13 oz/375 grams) all purpose flour
2 cups (14 oz/400 grams) granulated white sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature (cut into pieces)
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and lightly butter or line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt on low speed to combine. Add the butter, eggs, egg yolks, vanilla extract, and sour cream. Beat at medium speed until the batter is smooth and satiny, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. If necessary, stir the batter with a rubber spatula until the flour is fully incorporated.

Evenly fill the muffin cups with the batter (I used the largest Pampered Chef scoop) and bake for about 20 - 25 minutes or until pale gold and a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Once the cupcakes have completely cooled, frost with icing. These cupcakes are best the day they are made, although they will keep for a few days at room temperature.

Makes 24 cupcakes

Quick Vanilla Buttercream Icing

3 cups (375 g) confectioners' sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons whipping cream (I sometimes go up to 3)

In a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, mix together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.

Add vanilla and cream. Continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream if needed for desired consistency. I used a large star tip to pipe the frosting on the cake.

Frosts 24 cupcakes with a generous amount of frosting.
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