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The Batter Thickens: Holiday Cupcakes

Friday, January 11, 2013

Holiday Cupcakes

NOTE: This is a tandem post; Audrey's commentary is left-aligned, Molly's is right-aligned and italicized.

You may have read our last post about Christmas bread pudding (or if you haven't, go read it now!), but knowing our family, one scrumptious dessert during our celebrations doesn't cut it.

Having bread pudding on Christmas Day is all well and good, but we wouldn't want Christmas Eve to feel overlooked, now do we?  We have a "no hurt feelings" policy here at The Batter Thickens. No holiday or special occasion will go uncelebrated by a baked good to recognize the occasion!

So on Christmas Eve, Molly and I each made a batch of cupcakes. I made chocolate cupcakes with peppermint buttercream, she made chocolate gingerbread cupcakes with marscapone frosting.

We decided to make two different types of cupcakes for various reasons: we have a large family, so we needed a lot of cupcakes, we each wanted to make our own, and, honestly, who doesn't love more than one cupcake? Like, seriously?

Also, neither of us are very decisive. Gingerbread cupcakes sounded unique and alluring, and we hadn't made anything quite like them before. On the other hand, peppermint and chocolate (as we have previously established are a fail-safe combo, especially on the holidays. We may have come up with some decent excuses, but baking two separate batches of cupcakes was really our cop-out of having to decide between them!

So there's not much to say about these cupcakes: they were both delicious in their own ways. If you are going to make these (which I highly suggest) you should eat them separately because if you eat them both right after each other, the first one steals the show and the other doesn't seem as good. But if you switch the order with a clean palette, it's the opposite. So eat them separately for guaranteed enjoyment.

On Christmas Eve, Audrey and I each only ate one entire cupcake, with sample bites of the second flavor (how virtuous!). She ate her flavor and I ate mine, and we both preferred our own flavor. The next day, though, when I tried  the chocolate peppermint cupcakes on their own, I was much more wowed! I think they are both such rich flavors in their own rights that eating them one after the other doesn't allow you to appreciate the fullness and complexity of the flavors.

(Our festive cupcake liners were adorable when empty, but the dark coloration of the cupcakes made them a bit gross looking once filled, so we wanted to give you a solo shot of the liner so you could appreciate their adorable festiveness, too!)

If you want a more distinctive flavor, I recommend the gingerbread cupcakes, because the chocolate gingerbread combo is unique (but delicious, this isn't one of those time where you say, "It's... unique..." as in, it's disgusting. These are good. I pinky promise) and a festive flavor.

I'm not a huge fan of plain gingerbread, which was why this chocolate gingerbread cake recipe jumped out at me. The recipe takes a wonderfully moist, rich chocolate cupcake and gives it a holiday appropriate infusion of gingerbread spices. The result is a subtle, complex combination of flavors that will both delight and stimulate your tastebuds. And the mascarpone frosting makes for a sweet, but not attention-seeking complement.

The chocolate peppermint ones, now they're delicious too. The combination of chocolate and peppermint is nothing super special - but it's a pretty well-tested classic, and these were definitely a good example of the combo. You may notice that the frosting of these cupcakes is red and white. (if you didn't notice this... either get glasses or pay attention to your surroundings more). That is due to this fancy-ish frosting technique that you too can do. The directions are included in the original recipe; it's actually pretty simple!

The frosting swirl trick really is nifty - surprisingly simple, yet it gives the cupcakes' appearance such a professional-looking flair! I will definitely keep this trick in mind for the future, in case I ever want my cupcakes to dress to impress not only the tastebuds but the eyes!

Another reason we made two differently flavored batches of cupcakes is because we weren't sure that the chocolate gingerbread would appeal to everyone, everyone not having the same adventuresome tastebuds that we do. So, going in, I assumed that the chocolate peppermint cupcakes would be more popular, simply because they are a more traditional flavor combo. But in reality, I think it was a draw between which cupcake was more popular! In any case, the competition didn't last long as the entire 24 cupcakes were going in just over 24 hours!

These cupcakes are both super easy to make, with a delicious, impressive-tasting payoff. What's not to love? The one thing I would recommend is using a different mascarpone or cream cheese frosting for the chocolate gingerbread cupcakes. Following the recipe, the texture came out all wonky and I ended up having to add a lot more cream cheese, mascarpone, and powdered sugar than the recipe originally called for. It ended up okay, but the ratios were off, meaning it did not end up tasting all that mascarpone-y - or cream cheesy, for that matter. It was kind of just a mildly cheesy, sweet topping. Which was fine, but I imagine they would be even more stunning if topped with a successful mascarpone frosting!

The great thing about these is that they are not specific to Christmas, these flavors can be seasonal long into winter, so if you still want to make some cupcakes... I recommend these!

- Audrey and Molly

Chocolate Candy Cane Cupcakes

For the Cupcakes:
Adapted from Joy the Baker

1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1 cups cane sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 cup cold water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line two cupcake pans with paper liners and set aside. In a large bowl, sift the dry ingredients together.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, water, vanilla extract and vinegar.
Slowly whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients being careful not to over mix.  The mixture will be quite wet, but that’s ok. Pour the batter until the cups are two thirds full and place in the oven for 20-24 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cup comes out clean.

For the Frosting:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 teaspoon salt
1-2 teaspoons peppermint extract, depending on personal preference
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Red gel food coloring
Crushed candy canes (about 2)

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter until smooth. Continue beating and add the vanilla extract, salt, and peppermint extract (start with 1 teaspoon and increase if you would like a stronger flavor). Gradually mix in the powdered sugar and heavy cream until the frosting is light and fluffy. If frosting is too thick, add a small amount of cream until desired consistency is achieved. If frosting is not thick enough, add powdered sugar until desired consistency is achieved. Set aside.

In a large pastry bag (or large plastic bag with a corner cut out), using a toothpick or small brush to paint 3 thin lines of red food coloring, evenly spaced apart, up the inside of the bag (it should look like this photograph). I used a 1M tip, but any tip should work well. Fill the pastry bag with frosting, taking care not to scrape the sides of the bag with a spatula or spoon. Pipe the frosting onto the cooled chocolate cupcakes.

When refilling the pastry bag you can repeat the food coloring process to get a bright red color for the frosting or you can leave it as is and still get colored candy stripes, but they will be fainter in brightness.

Sprinkle the cupcakes with the crushed candy canes and serve. The cupcakes can be stored overnight in an airtight container (however, the candy canes may take on a slightly melted appearance if moisture gets trapped in the container).

Chocolate Gingerbread Cupcakes

For the cupcakes:

1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup dark molasses
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup whole milk or cream
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 325F.  Spray a 9-inch bundt pan with nonstick spray. Dust with cocoa powder and tap out excess.  Set aside.

Over medium-low heat, melt together the oil, molasses, brown sugar, and 1/4 cup water in a medium saucepan until all of the brown sugar has dissolved.  Transfer to a large bowl and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Whisk the eggs and milk into the molasses mixture after it has cooled (to avoid heating and scrambling the eggs).  Set aside.

Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg into a medium bowl.  Gently fold the flour mixture into the molasses mixture until just combined.  There will be lumps remaining.  Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes until cake is pulling away from the sides and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Allow cake to cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

Mascarpone Frosting:

¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
½ cup mascarpone cheese, softened
1/6 cup cream cheese, softened
Seeds from 1 vanilla bean
1/3 teaspoon lemon or orange zest, finely grated, optional

In bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter and confectioners’ sugar at medium speed until smooth.

Add the mascarpone and cream cheese and beat until combined well, about 3 minutes.

Add the vanilla seeds and if using, citrus zest, and beat until seeds are evenly distributed.

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