It was my coworker Laurie’s birthday last week. And because she is my partner in crime in the office, I knew I had to bake something special for her. When we get our afternoon sugar craving, Laurie normally seeks out the mini chocolate bars in the office pantry. (Sorry to out you Laurie…but it’s ok…we all do it) So when trying to figure out what I wanted to make for her, I opted for something that I knew she would love – Chocolate Cupcakes.
Now people think I’m weird because I don’t like chocolate. But for me, milk chocolate is too sweet and dark chocolate is too bitter. So the use of unsweetened cocoa powder in this recipe from Elisa Strauss’ The Confetti Cakes Cookbook was the main draw for me. But then another ingredient jumped out at me – coffee. When I saw this I told myself I was either going to love this cake or hate it because I don’t like coffee either (another reason why people think I’m strange).
Turns out coffee is what makes this cake spectacular. I am currently researching the exact reason why but coffee wonderfully enhances chocolate. This is not like Tiramisu – where coffee flavor takes the stage. The coffee in this cake very much in the background. While you can’t taste it, you do notice something in the back of your throat that makes you go “Hmmm, what is that?” Make these and you will see for yourselves.
I topped these cupcakes with my favorite icing – Swiss Meringue Buttercream – which I dyed pink with red food coloring to make them more festive. For those of you who have not heard of this type of buttercream, it is so good you are going to want to eat it with a spoon. It does require a little bit of work, as you will see below. But the flavor and creaminess of the finished product will make it all worth it. This buttercream is also extremely versatile and can be flavored with pretty much anything. I used vanilla extract this time but it can be flavored with lemon, orange, chocolate, coffee, mocha, flavored liquors…the possibilities are endless. Very Important – make sure your cupcakes are cool before frosting them.
A quick lesson I learned while making this cake:
A general rule in baking is using ingredients that are at room temperature. While making these cupcakes, I learned that butter should be soft but not oily. Because my butter had been sitting on my counter for the whole day and I then creamed it for 10 minutes with the sugar, my first batch of these cupcakes did not hold their shape well. They ran over the top and spread out on the baking pan.
Notes in red are my personal tips for the recipes.
by: Elisa Strauss
The Confetti Cakes Cookbook
Yield: 3 9-inch rounds, 1 Half Sheet Pan (13×18), 24 cupcakes
(I ended up with 29 cupcakes – yippie)
2 2/3 cups All-Purpose Flour
1 1/4 cups plus 2 Tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Sour Cream
1 Teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
1 Teaspoon Pure Almond Extract
1 Cup (2 Sticks) Unsalted Butter
2 Cups Granulated Sugar
1 1/4 Cups Strong Coffee (Make sure this is fresh coffee, preferably not instant)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the bottoms and sides of the pans with melted butter and line the bottoms with parchment paper. (Since I made my cake into cupcakes, I skipped this step. I instead lined my pan with cupcake wrappers) In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set Aside. In a separate bowl, combine the sour cream, vanilla, and almond extract. Set aside. In a bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugar and beat on medium speed until smooth. (After 3 minutes of beating, scrap your bowl and beat for another 3) Set the mixer on low speed and add eggs one at a time, scraping thoroughly between each addition. Alternately add the flour and sour scream mixtures to the butter mixture in two batches, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl after each addition. (This is a very important step to make sure everything is fully incorporated) Gradually pour in the coffee. Scrape down the bowl and beat until thoroughly combined. Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans or muffin tins. For each 9-inch cake pans, bake 1-hour or until a toothpick comes out clean; for half-sheet pans, bake 45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean; for cupcakes bake 20-25 minutes, or until they spring back after being touched. (Mine baked for 25 minutes; I rotated my pans after 12 minutes to ensure even cooking)
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
by: Melanie Underwood
from: Cupcake Workshop at NYC’s Institute of Culinary Education
4 Large Egg Whites (These should be room temp. along with butter)
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
2-4 Sticks of Unsalted Butter, Cut into 1-inch Pieces (I always use 3)
Combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Place this over a double boiler and whisk constantly until hot to the touch (and there are no sugar crystals left in the mixture). Remove from heat, place on mixer with whip attachment and whisk until fluffy and cool to the touch and looks like marshmallow fluff (make sure it’s cool before adding butter because if not, your butter will melt). Switch to the paddle attachment and begin adding butter, 1 or 2 pieces at a time, adding at least 2 sticks of butter. (The buttercream may seem a bit runny at first but continue to beat on high speed after adding all the butter for 3-4 minutes and it will thicken up)
Double Boiler Set-Up for Cooking Egg White Sugar Mixture – Make sure you keep the flame low and constantly whisk so that you don’t end up with sweet scrambled egg whites.
By the time the sugar completely dissolves in the egg whites, your mixture will be frothy.
Egg white sugar mixture before adding butter – you are going to want to eat this fluff but try to contain yourself.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream beating away in the mixer. When it starts to thicken, it will collect along the sides of the bowl .