Saturday, April 22, 2006

Un-easy dark chocolate cupcakes

When I was putting together the lasagna for my St. Patrick’s Day shindig, I realized I needed something sweet to round out the meal. I searched through my copies of Cook’s Illustrated and found a few earmarked, yet untested recipes and settled on making cupcakes, something I thought would be pretty simple and easy to make—plus, who doesn’t like cupcakes? I knew I already had most of the ingredients for both the cupcake recipe and the vanilla bean frosting. I figured I could find the few other items pretty readily.

One of the ingredients I did not have was Dutch-processed cocoa. I knew from reading a number of articles that the alkali in the Dutch-processing neutralizes the acids in natural cocoa powder, creating a delicate flavor when used in baked goods. When recipes call for Dutch-processed cocoa it is best, therefore, to stick with it because natural cocoa powder can impart bitterness from the acids. I just didn’t realize how hard it would be to find Dutch-processed cocoa in New York City. I spent a great deal of time searching all the nearby supermarkets, specialty and gourmet shops. When I could not find anything besides natural cocoa, I made a trip to several uptown places and only after my 5th or 6th store did I finally find a box of Droste Cocoa.

With my precious box of powder I trekked back down to my apartment to get to work on both the lasagna and the cupcakes. Since the baking time for the cupcakes was a lot less than the lasagna’s hour, I decide to make them first. I was surprised at how labor intensive this recipe turned out to be because the author implied that it relatively quick and easy.

Heating the chocolate in a bowl over a simmering saucepan was actually a bit of a balancing act. Maybe it was due to the fact I didn’t really have the best equipment at hand, but I was constantly having to make sure that I didn’t overheat the chocolate/butter/cocoa mixture—that takes quite a bit of concentration and maneuvering. The several step process of adding and mixing the different sets of ingredients together is slightly complicated and really counters the notion that this is an easy recipe you can just “dump and stir” like they declare on the front cover. I’m a big fan of Cook’s Illustrated because they often simplify complicated ethnic recipes that are delicious and user friendly, but in this case suggesting this was an 'easy' recipe was quite a stretch.

This all being said, the final products were deliciously rich, moist and chocolatey—the essential elements of a perfect cupcake. If you have the time and energy and are looking for to make a scrumptious cupcake, I highly recommend this recipe, but it is not for those who are looking to produce a 'quick' dessert.

P.S. Thanks to J.F. for supplying the green decorating gel which we all had fun using to make the silly patterns and designs on the cupcakes.

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes (Adapted from Cook's Illustrated March & April 2005)

Makes 12 cupcakes

According to the author, the recipe doesn’t double very well, so make two batches separately.

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
½ cup (1 ½ ounces) Dutch-processed cocoa
¾ cup (3 ¾ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
¾ cup (5 ¼ ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon table salt
½ cup (4 ounces) sour cream

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard-sized muffin pans (cups have ½ 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 fully combined. Set aside to cool until just warm to 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.

Easy Vanilla Bean Buttercream (Adapted from Cook's Illustrated March & April 2005)

Makes about 1 ½ cups, enough to frost 12 cupcakes

The frosting can be made ahead and refrigerated, but it must stand at room temperature to soften before use. Mixing times are increased by 50% if you use a handheld mixer.

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
½ vanilla bean, halved lengthwise [I used a whole bean and the flavor was much more intense]
1 ¼ cup (5 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
Pinch table salt
½ 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. Using paring knife, scrape seeds from vanilla bean onto butter and beat mixture at medium-high speed to combine, about 15 seconds. Add confectioners’ sugar and salt; beat at medium-low speed until most of sugar is moistened, about 45 seconds. Scrape down bowl and beat at medium speed until mixture is fully combined, about 15 seconds; scrape bowl and add vanilla extract and heavy 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.

It's been a while since I last participated in Weekend Cat or Dog Blogging, so here's my latest entry that covers both.

It seems that K has gotten out of the sink and into G's arms.

For more adorable pics of pups and kits, check out the weekly cuties at Eatstuff and Sweetnicks.


Anonymous clare eats said...

Awwww I wish Kiri liked puppies!

10:33 PM  
Blogger Mona said...

those cupcakes look awesome. i 've never used cook's illustrated before, perhaps i should start.
those animals look adorable...ugh, the day i can have pets will be a very happy day in my life:)

9:17 PM  
Blogger Rose said...

Cook's Illustrated is WONDERFUL for those of us who need a little bit of simplicity in cooking rather complicated recipes. They spell out the techniques for you.

Those animals unfortunately are not mine. I wish for the day, too, when I can have a dog of my own :-)

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tried this chocolate cupcake recipe from Cook's illustrated also -- and actually was disappointed. I like my cupcakes extra moist and found these cakey -- and tips? i'm going CRAZY!

5:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do some homemade cupcake recipes call for vinegar?

6:31 PM  
Blogger t-dawg said...

you say adapted--did you change any of the ingredients or anything? (i can't find my copy of that month's cook's illustrated--its a disaster!!)

9:32 PM  
Blogger Rose said...

I meant adapted as in "taken from", because its not my receipe. I didn't change any of the ingredients.

1:50 PM  
Blogger Pangi said...

Where did you end up finding the cocoa powder? I'm trying to track some down in NYC.

2:32 PM  
Blogger Debbie said...

I've made this recipe twice. And both times the cupcakes were dry and crumbly. I made the recipe that makes 24 cupcakes. Wonder if that was the problem...

10:16 PM  

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