Boys, don’t run off yet. We will mention bar food, beer and other booze in this article. I also mention hockey, but don’t get too excited about that.
For as many times as I have baked cupcakes, eaten cupcakes, and written about cupcakes, I realize that I have not actually included any recipes for cupcakes. I don’t know why not, and have no real excuse. Suffice it to say that it has become so commonplace for me to make them, that I completely, totally, overlooked what should have been an obvious inclination to include a few.
Baking regular, plain old cupcakes in vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry is fun, and the results remind me of my youth. A plain buttercream frosting and some sprinkles, and I am transported to kindergarten birthday parties, pointy hats, and party favors.
But alas, I am not a child anymore. Heck, my youngest child, having turned 14 this week, really isn’t a child anymore either. My cupcake palette craves something more refined, more sophisticated. Not complicated, just multidimensional. I want layers of flavor, and some surprising elements in my cupcakes. Champagne. Chili pepper. Mango.
Boys, if you think cupcakes are just too girly, you’ll be glad to know that they have come along way in recent years. They are much more likely to appeal to those of you that would rather be pounding brews and picking fights! Yep, cupcakes have been elevated to the level of pub food. You have your Irish Nachos, your beer battered fish and chips, and your beer nuts. Now you also have your Chocolate and Stout Beer Cupcakes, or Bittersweet Chocolate and Merlot Cupcakes. Or how about Sweet Corn Cupcakes with Maple Buttercream and Bacon?
Cupcakes are great, because as you will see, you can play around with different flavors, textures, frostings and toppings on a small-scale. You can create really dramatic art on such tiny canvases. For this posting, I will use one basic chocolate batter, and make three great “grown up” cupcakes.
As easy as they are, I feel inclined to point out a few basics of cupcakery before waving the checkered flag here. Following a few simple tips will insure your cupcakes are just as delicious and beautiful as they are fun. If you have already earned your bronze stars in baking, congratulations! You can skip straight to the recipes!!
A few words about ingredients, instructions, and equipment:
Unless otherwise noted, all ingredients should be at room temperature. Milk, eggs, butter, buttermilk. All of it. No, you will not contract salmonella and die because your eggs and milk sat at room temperature for a few hours. Baking will cook the bejeezus out of any little microbial friends that come to the party. There are a number of reasons why room temperature ingredients are necessary, but they all boil down to science–chemical and heat reactions, etc….Alton Brown will have my back on this.
All of your ingredients should be fresh. Again, this is science. Usually we make sure our dairy is fresh, but don’t check our dry ingredients. If your baking powder or baking soda is old, your cupcakes will not rise properly, and you may wind up with gooey little hockey pucks. (These can be delicious also, in proper applications, but today we want nice, moist, airy little cakes, with a gently domed top)
Whereas cooking is art, baking is science. If you want the recipe to turn out the way it was intended, don’t make substitutions. Using margarine instead of butter will introduce more water into your recipe, and that isn’t a good thing. If you use egg whites instead of whole eggs, you are reducing fat, which will result in a less moist product. You get the picture. I am not saying substitutions can’t ever be made, just that making substitutions will change the result.
Use real flavorings wherever possible. Buy good quality real vanilla, not “vanilla flavored extract”. If a recipe calls for orange or lemon zest, do yourself a favor and zest an actual orange or lemon. Aside from being dry and gritty, the dried zest that comes in a spice jar just doesn’t taste good. One of my favorite smells and flavors in the kitchen is freshly grated nutmeg, and the ground stuff just doesn’t even compare. For both the zest and the nutmeg, use a microplane zester, available for $10.00 at your mega-mart.
Follow the steps in the recipe. Recipes that are butter based usually call for creaming the butter and sugar together, adding the eggs one at a time, and slowly adding the rest of the wet and dry ingredients. Oil based recipes are usually dump and go. You can find out yourself the hard way that these are more than just suggestions, but why not just save yourself the disappointment of uneven, lumpy, or tough cupcakes, and just follow the directions?
Batter should be beaten or stirred just until everything is incorporated. Overbeaten batter makes for tough cupcakes. Under mixed batter can cause uneven rising.
Baking is usually done at 350* for 18-20 minutes. A cupcake can go from undercooked to burnt in 2 minutes, so keep a close eye on them. Most recipes can be tested by inserting a toothpick, which should emerge clean, or with only a few crumbs, but follow your recipe.
DO NOT overfill your pans. Some recipes call for the cups to be ½ full of batter, some call for 2/3 full. This difference is not because some bakers are more or less generous than others. This, again, is science. Some batters will rise more than others, and some less. Cupcakes recipes are created so that they will rise just enough to get a pretty domed top. If you have ever had cupcakes that had large flat tops and undercooked middles, it is because the cups were overfilled. If you find yourself with a little extra batter, resist the urge to go back and “top off” all of the cups. If you have a child, he or she no doubt loves to lick the batter out of the bowl, so make her that much happier.
To make filling the tins easy and mess free, try this…For thick batters, use an old-fashioned ice cream scoop to plop a scant scoop of batter into the cup. Perfect, uniform size, expedient work, and no mess. For thinner batters, I use a pancake batter dispenser to pour the batter to the desired level in the cup. Again, less mess, and quick work.
Now, let’s get baking!
Mocha Cupcakes with Orange Ricotta and Chocolate Filling and Orange Cappuccino Frosting—-30 cupcakes
Basic Chocolate Cupcakes:
- 2 C all-purpose flour
- 1 t salt
- 1 t baking powder
- 2 t baking soda
- ¾ dutch process cocoa powder
- 2 C sugar
- 1 C vegetable oil
- 1 C hot coffee
- 1 C whole milk
- 2 large eggs
- 1 t vanilla
- ½ C sour cream
- 2 Cups Ricotta Cheese
- ½ c powdered sugar
- 1 T fresh orange zest
- 1 T orange juice
- 4 oz bittersweet chocolate, grated
- 2 sticks softened butter
- 1 t. salt
- 2 pounds powdered sugar
- 2 T strong brewed coffee
- 2 T orange juice
- 1 T fresh orange zest
4 oz finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
Preheat oven to 325*……For cupcakes, mix together all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix milk, oil, coffee, vanilla and eggs together in a medium bowl. Add to dry ingredients and mix just until well blended. Mix in sour cream until fully blended. Batter will be fairly loose.
Fill cupcake tins 2/3 full. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.
While cupcakes are baking, make filling. Beat together ricotta, powdered sugar, orange zest and orange juice. Fold in chocolate.
Make icing. Beat butter until creamy. Slowly add in salt and half of the powdered sugar. Add juice and coffee. Beat in the rest of the sugar and the orange zest. If the frosting is too stiff, add a little more juice or coffee until a good spreading consistency.
When cupcakes have cooled for at least 20 minutes, they may be filled. Place ricotta filling in a frosting bag fitted with a pastry tip. Insert tip into center of each cupcake and squeeze a bit of filling into each. Frost each cupcake liberally with frosting, and sprinkle chopped chocolate over tops.
Spicy Chocolate Cupcakes with Mango Lime Buttercream, and Chile Dried Mango
Follow the recipe for the Basic Chocolate Cupcakes above, adding 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper to the batter.
Mango Lime Buttercream Frosting:
- 1 stick softened butter
- 1 small mango, peeled, seeded and chopped
- 1 lime, juice and zest
- 3 pounds powdered sugar
- 1 t ground cayenne
Place mango and lime juice in a small saucepan, and cook on medium until is soft, about 5 minutes. Puree in a blender.
Beat butter and sugar together until creamy. Add lime zest, cayenne, and half of the sugar. Beat until fully incorporated. Beat in mango puree until smooth. Beat in remaining sugar. Place frosting in a large ziplock bag, squeezing out excess air. Snip ½ an inch off one of the corners of the bag, and pipe into swirls on top of cooled cupcakes. Sprinkle with chile limon and sugar mixture, and place one piece of mango in the top.
- 30 pieces dried mango with chile (sold in latin or dried fruit section)
- 2 T chile limon seasoning (sold in produce section, for sprinkling on fruit) mixed with 2 T sugar
Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes
Prepare the Basic Chocolate Cupcake recipe as above, adding 2 t cinnamon to the batter. Bake for 16 minutes. Place 3 large marshmallow halves (that have been cut crosswise) on top of each. Return to oven quickly and bake for 5 more minutes, until the marshmallows are golden and puffed up. Sprinkle with Cinnamon Sugar
- 45 large marshmallows, snipped in half crosswise
- cinnamon sugar
For the guys looking for the Beer Cupcakes….I am including three award-winning recipes calling for stout beer….They aren’t my recipes, and I can’t say I have tried them, because, brace yourselves, I don’t like beer. It’s just an acquired taste that I never quite acquired. I acquired the taste for stout beer even less so. However, these were the top three winners in the 2010 Scharffen Berger Chocolate Cupcake Recipe Contest, so I am sure they met with discriminating tastes.
You Make We Wanna Stout
Spicy Dulce de Leche and Chocolate Cream Stout Cupcakes
Beer Bellies (Cocoa-Stout Cupcakes with Beer-Malt Frosting and Spicy Pretzel Crumbles)