Saturday, April 19, 2008

Chocolate cupcakes

Cupcakes have been very trendy for the past couple of years. Some friends of mine got married and had cupcakes arranged on a large multi-tiered plate instead of wedding cake. Bakeries all around town have begun selling pretty, decorated cupcakes. In NYC there are entire bakeries dedicated to taking the humble cupcake to new heights of elegance and sophistication. Cupcakes have a lot going for them: they are single portions, they don't require a fork, and they can support a generous amount of frosting.

My favorite cupcake recipe comes from the March 2005 Cooks' Illustrated. Currently the recipe is available for free on their subscription Web site, but I've also copied it below.

It makes twelve cupcakes and cannot be doubled. The cupcakes come out with a tender, moist crumb and a rich, chocolate taste. I have topped them with coffee flavored frosting, peanut butter frosting, and chocolate frosting. The coffee frosting is great but I doubt children would like it so keep that recipe for adults! I know that I would have been woefully disappointed as a child if I bit into a delicious homemade cupcake only to discover it had coffee frosting!

Dark chocolate cupcakes:

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate , chopped
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocao (1 1/2 ounces)
3/4 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour (3 3/4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar (5 1/4 ounces)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup sour cream (4 ounces)

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard-sized muffin pan (cups have 1/2-cup capacity) with baking-cup liners.

2. Combine butter, chocolate, and cocoa in medium heatproof bowl. Set bowl over saucepan containing barely simmering water; heat mixture until butter and chocolate are melted and whisk until smooth and combined. Set aside to cool until just warm to the touch.

3. Whisk flour, baking soda, and baking powder in small bowl to combine.

4. Whisk eggs in second medium bowl to combine; add sugar, vanilla, and salt and whisk until fully incorporated. Add cooled chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Sift about one-third of flour mixture over chocolate mixture and whisk until combined; whisk in sour cream until combined, then sift remaining flour mixture over and whisk until batter is homogenous and thick.

5. Divide batter evenly among muffin pan cups. Bake until skewer inserted into center of cupcakes comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes.

6. Cool cupcakes in muffin pan on wire rack until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Carefully lift each cupcake from muffin pan and set on wire rack. Cool to room temperature before icing, about 30 minutes. (To frost: Mound about 2 tablespoons icing on center of each cupcake. Using small icing spatula or butter knife, spread icing to edge of cupcake, leaving slight mound in center.)

Easy coffee buttercream:
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar (5 ounces)

Pinch table salt
1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon heavy cream

In standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat butter at medium-high speed until smooth, about 20 seconds. Add confectioners' sugar and salt; beat at medium-low speed until most of the sugar is moistened, about 45 seconds. Scrape down bowl and beat at medium speed until mixture is fully combined, about 15 seconds; scrape bowl. Dissolve instant espresso in vanilla and cream, and beat at medium speed until incorporated, about 10 seconds, then increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down bowl once or twice. The frosting may be made ahead and refrigerated but bring it to room temperature before using. The recipe may be doubled to make enough for a two layer cake.

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