I am, to put it quite frankly, obsessed with cupcakes these days. Quite a few of my friends have had the audacity to complain that they have put on some pounds since I've started this cupcake nonsense...I have to admit that my own waistline has NOT been unaffected by my recent cupcake experimentation, but I find cupcakes really fascinating. The texture of cake and the type of frosting and how to match them up, and what is actually better - tons of questions that I have about cupcakes that need to be answered, and are only answered by trying some of the bountiful recipes out there.
I posted on another chocolate cupcake recipe a while back and that recipe is SIMPLE to execute and in virtually no time at all you could have chocolate cupcakes. However, I was not entirely satisfied with that recipe as it did not elicit the high level of "oohs" and "aaahs" I wanted from my tasters. I decided that I would continue my search for a great chocolate cupcake recipe and have actually tried out three other recipes...to decide on this following recipe, from Ina Garten's book, barefoot contessa at home. It is a super moist, rich, chocolate cake that uses BOTH sour cream and buttermilk in the batter. This will get you some ooohs and aaahhhhs. I thought I'd do a head to head comparison between a cream cheese vanilla bean frosting and a chocolate fudge like frosting and see which one got the bigger reaction.
My friend JEL, who is by far the most critical of my cupcake testers, gave the following critique - she said that the cake itself is very very special and although she does not love chocolate, she LOVES a good chocolate cake, which is what this is. In addition, although she found the vanilla bean cream cheese frosting truly delicious, she didn't know if it went as well with the cupcake as she would have liked. She preferred the chocolate ganache with the cupcake as did my husband, but I loved the cream cheese tang against the chocolate. So, again, I'm forced to post both recipes as it is such a personal choice in deciding on your frosting preference.
Some tips that I've gathered from making cupcakes and reading far too many books about them.
In recipes where you are "creaming butter and sugar together" room temperature ingredients are always the best. By using room temperature ingredients you are allowing for the greater absorption and blending of the ingredients as well as maximizing the leavening power of the ingredients. Cold ingredients constrict the process while room temperature allows things to really bloom.
It is ALMOST (but you can) impossible to over mix the butter, sugar, and eggs. When you cream the butter and the sugar, really do a good job of it. Also really work the eggs into the mixture and scrape the sides with a spatula to make sure you are incorporating everything. You can really make a difference in the flavor and texture of your cupcake by focusing on this step.
You CAN overmix flour, so when you start adding the flour, make sure you use a light hand with your mixer. Don't over mix. In fact, I mix as well as I can with the mixer, and at the end I use a spatula and some elbow grease and mix the end maually.
Chocolate Cupcakes (From Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics)
(her recipe says 14-15 cupcakes, but I got 25 out of this recipe, using standard muffin/cupcake tins)
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, shaken, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
2 tablespoons brewed coffee (I used decaf, only because kids were going to be partaking)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup good cocoa powder (I find the flavor of Ghiradelli's to be very good)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and 2 sugars on high speed until light and fluffy, approximately 5 minutes. Lower the speed to medium, add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream, and coffee. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. On low speed, add the buttermilk mixture and the flour mixture alternately in thirds to the mixer bowl, beginning with the buttermilk mixture and ending with the flour mixture. Mix only until blended. Fold the batter with a rubber spatula to be sure it's completely blended.Divide the batter among the cupcake pans (1 rounded standard ice cream scoop per cup is the right amount). Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, remove from the pans, and allow to cool completely before frosting.Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting (enough for 30 cupcakes)
1 cup of unsalted butter, softened
1 8oz pack of cream cheese, softened
1 whole vanilla bean, split open with a knife and vanilla beans scraped out (Amazon.com has 16 beans for $15)
3-4 cups confectioner sugar (I try and use as little as I can, but making sure it's pipeable)
Cream butter and cream cheese together on medium speed until texture is uniform. Add 2 cups of confectioners sugar and beat on low speed until sugar is all incorporated. Add 2 more cups and again mix on low speed until sugar is all incorporated. Add scraped vanilla beans (get every last bit) and mix on medium speed for 5 minutes, occasionally scraping down sides. The key to really creamy frosting is to NOT beat too much air into the frosting but rather, on a medium speed, beat it until it is creamy.
Chocolate Fudge Frosting (enough for 24 cupcakes)
adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
6 tablespoons boiling water
2 sticks (1 cup) butter, room temperature
1-2 cups powdered sugar
1. Chop the chocolate and place in a heat proof bowl. Melt over a pan of gently simmering water. Remove from heat and let cool for 15 - 20 minutes.
2. Dissolve the cocoa powder in the boiling water in a small bowl. Set aside.
3. In an electric mixer, beat butter until creamy. Scrape the bowl.
4. Add 1 cup of powdered sugar and beat to combine.
5. Add cooled, melted chocolate and beat to combine.
6. Add cocoa paste and beat to combine.
7. Check consistency of frosting, if needed add more powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time.
This is where I buy my vanilla beans.