On Thursday, we had our annual condo holiday gathering. A low-key affair, it is a bit of a highlight for me to sit down with my neighbors, enjoy a nice meal and hear about their lives. I love that since we all moved into the condo complex at the same time, there is almost an instant timeline for our lives from 2008 where we can mark out the major milestones using the purchase our homes as the capstone or in many cases the starting point.
Surprisingly, for all of our gatherings, I have never cooked a main course or an appetizer. I have always made dessert. I don’t know why but that is what I have gravitated towards for the last two years. I have subjected my neighbors to chocolate mousse, German Walnut cakes, caramel apple tarts, rice pudding and the like for our multiple gatherings. This year, when we discussed the menu, I think we all had comfort, ease and simplicity on the brain, so when it came time to choose a dessert to pair with rather earthy meal, I opted for something familiar and comfortable….cupcakes.
I know cupcakes are not the thing that springs to mind when thinking holidays but that is exactly why I chose to make them. I wanted something that was easy, appealed to everyone, could be individualized and if I felt the whim could be “gussied” up a bit. So I decided on making a duet of chocolate cupcakes – one set with salted caramel frosting and a second set with peanut butter frosting and dark chocolate sprinkles. While the salted caramel cupcakes came out fantastic, it was the chocolate with peanut butter frosting that got the true praise.
I based this recipe on one from Ina Garten’s chocolate cake recipe but with a few modifications. I increased the amount of flour overall and included pastry flour. Second, because I added more flour, I added an egg yolk to the recipe to help bind the ingredients but not make it overly light. The icing recipe, I use the cream simply to moisten the mixture, so the amount will vary. I also added additional peanut butter to the recipe as I found the original to be too light in peanut butter flavor.
Makes: 18-20 cupcakes
* 1 cup all-purpose flour
* 1 3/4 cup whole grain pastry flour
* 2 cups sugar
* 3/4 cups good cocoa powder
* 2 teaspoons baking soda
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1 teaspoon kosher salt
* 1 cup buttermilk, shaken
* 1/2 cup vegetable oil
* 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
* 1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* 1 cup brewed coffee/instant espresso
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tin with cupcake papers.
Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low-speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low-speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Using an ice cream scoop, scoop batter into cupcake papers and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top of each cupcake with frosting. Finish with a zest of dark chocolate and half of a peanut butter cup.
Peanut Butter Icing
* 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
* 1 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
* 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
* 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
* 1/3 cup heavy cream
Place the confectioners’ sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work. Add the cream and beat on high-speed until the mixture is light and smooth.
Batter Consistency: The batter will appear to be slightly thin and that is what you want. The thin batter will produce light and airy cupcakes rather than the dense chocolate bricks that pass for cupcakes nowadays….
Flour: If you don’t have pastry flour or can’t find it in the store, you can substitute equal parts all-purpose flour. I use the pastry flour because I find it makes the cupcakes less dense and produces a slightly crisp muffin top, perfect for icing.
Icing: I actually find it easier to pipe out the icing on the cupcakes, but most folks don’t happen to have a piping bag lying around the house. If you are one of the lucky few, then using your small star tip will give you excellent results.
Peanut Butter: While I love to use natural ingredients where possible, this is not the place for natural peanut butter. It will not produce the smooth and creamy texture you need for frosting. Believe me when I say that I went through about three different brands at Whole Foods and got variations on a theme called CRAP! Bite the bullet and buy yourself a jar of Skippy…..