Friday, December 30, 2011

Dark Chocolate Espresso Cupcakes: Chocolate Paradise

Cupcakes have a way of making me smile. Maybe it’s the fact that these perfect treats resemble miniature cakes, and who doesn’t smile at the sight of an iced celebratory cake with perfect loopy prose spelling their congratulations? But cupcakes are really something special: eating a cupcake is like saying congratulations to yourself for picking such a lovely treat to feast on. Also, eating a cupcake always presents a bit of a struggle. It’s so hard to get the perfect balance of cake and frosting in each bite. But this struggle makes the cupcake even more fun. The petit round desserts are always beautifully decorated; it is the simplicity that really adds to their perfection in my opinion. There are countless ways a simple cupcake can taste, so many bold flavors can be baked into the cake base and the frosting is what really gives a cupcake its character.

The other day, I really needed to make cupcakes. There was no occasion, I just had to bake. I chose cupcakes to play the main role, and set out to pick the batter flavor and frosting that would play the lead supporting actors. I didn’t go into this search haphazardly though, I was prepared, I had an idea. My idea took me to 4 years ago when I went to visit family in Iran for a wedding. One sunny afternoon before the wedding, my aunt took me and my mother to a cute but crowded corner bakery called Bebe (pronounced bee bee). We chose as our poison a lovely chocolate cake with a thick rich chocolate icing that had hints of espresso baked right in. This cake was delicious: it was the yummiest cake ever, seriously. I needed to recreate this flavor in my cupcakes.

After searching through online baking blogs, I finally found a good recipe for a flavorful but not overpowering chocolate cake base and an amazing recipe for a bold dark chocolate espresso frosting. This recipe is adapted from a blog titled Bakeaholic. After a quick trip to the grocery store, I was ready to bake. The recipe is shown below.

Chocolate Cupcake Base
3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon. flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon instant coffee

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tin with paper liners.

2. Stir the instant coffee into the boiling water until dissolved. Set aside.

3. Combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and baking powder into a bowl. In another bowl, combine milk, oil, egg, and vanilla. With an electric mixer, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. Add the coffee with the mixer still on.

4. Distribute the batter, filling each cupcake well 2/3 full. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes.

Dark Chocolate Espresso Frosting
1/4 cup + 1/2 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon instant coffee
1/4 cup + 1/2 tablespoon boiling water
1 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 confectioners’ sugar
1 cup dark chocolate, melted and cooled

1. Combine the cocoa and the boiling water, stirring until the cocoa has dissolved. Add the instant coffee. Stir until dissolved.

2. Melt the dark chocolate chips in the microwave and then place then in the refrigerator to cool. Be sure not to let it harden!

3. With an electric mixer, beat the butter and confectioners’ sugar until fluffy. Add the melted and cooled chocolate, beating until combined. Beat in the cocoa and coffee mixture.

4. Use a pastry bag to pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes.

This recipe took some alterations from the original, but the final product was just what I had hoped for. The cupcake base not too sweet or overpowering and the frosting was absolutely amazing. What really makes the frosting excellent is using good quality dark chocolate. I used Ghiradelli 60% cocoa bittersweet dark chocolate chips. These worked perfectly because they melted quickly and tasted delicious. Because the frosting did not have much added sugar, I wanted to use a dark chocolate that was sweet enough on its own and not too bitter. Also, the bold flavor of the instant coffee added hints of rich espresso to the frosting. The original recipe had called for unsalted butter but all I had in the house was Smart Balance butter. This worked perfectly and had a much lower saturated fat content than regular butter so you feel less guilty. Also, I felt as though a little salt in the butter really enhanced the flavor of the dark chocolate (think Starbuck’s Salted Caramel Mocha minus the caramel, yum!). This recipe made 14 cupcakes and was very easy and quick. Bake some for a New Year’s gathering for family or friends and your cupcakes will be talked about for the entirety of 2012, they are that good. Happy baking and Happy New Year’s!!

--Monica Purmalek

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