Saturday, March 12, 2011

Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting: On 40th Birthdays

For TR, HJL, SPL - for setting a great example.

One advantage about having your birthday late in the year (November), is being able to see how other people handle turning 40 years old.  Already this year, I've been lucky enough to see 3 people turn 40 before I do.  And It is always very interesting seeing how people deal with it.  A couple of weeks ago, I got to make cupcakes for a good friend who turned 40.  I decided on a black and white theme, which I think is sort of an 80's throw back when the "over the hill" parties used to involve black and white.  For some reason, it appealed and I made a tray of Vanilla Bean Vanilla Bean cupcakes and Chocolate Cupcakes with Cream Cheese.  I loved how they looked on the tray and especially when we put in all the candles.  It was a special day for sure and the guest of honor handled it with such aplomb and grace it was wonderful to see.

Husband (who turned 40 last year) has turned the birthday into the cliche "mid-life crisis" and has used it as an excuse for everything.  "Honey, can you please bathe the kids?" I asked.

"I can't.  I'm having a mid-life crisis."

"Honey, let's eat dinner now," I called him to the dinner table.

"I don't want to. I'm having a midlife crisis."

"Can you take the car to the carwash?"

"No.  Sorry.  Midlife crisis."

From Husband, I learned that turning 40 means that you can get away with bloody murder.

Today we celebrated another birthday for HJL, who is someone I jokingly refer to as my twin brother from another mother.  He is married to my best friend JEL (and I am married to one of his close friends) and the two of us see eye to eye on more topics that we do with our respective spouses.  Our sense of humor is the same (corny with a healthy splash of dirty) and our outlook on life is more alike than with our respective spouses. (Funnily enough, our spouses are also strikingly similar in many ways.)  We enjoy socially hanging with our close friends and I would say that our main point of difference is that he is more socially outgoing than I am.  But we understand each other and so for his 40th, I wanted to make him the cupcakes that I knew he would like.

Husband had a few words of wisdom of his own in order to get the birthday started, and since he is all about the mid-life crisis, I think he wanted to offer some ideas on how to get HJL's midlife crisis started.  In the birthday card he wrote the following pieces of advice.  (My thoughts are in parenthesis)

"How to have a mid-life crisis" (or how to get excused from doing mundane tasks)
1.  Buy a new car.  (fully loaded minivans count)
2.  Get a new young girlfriend.  (current significantly younger wife counts.)
3.  Wear designer jeans so you can put #2 in #1.  (designer jeans won't help you get anything.)

HJL handled his birthday with a great deal of humor, laughter and jokes.  And the cupcakes disappeared faster than the black hair on my head and were enjoyed by all.  I made mini's for the children and regular sized ones for the adults.  It was a mixed tray but it still looked great.  (I decided that this white melamine tray from Target is awesome for cupcake transport.)

Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting

Chocolate Cupcakes (adapted from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics)
Makes 24 regular sized cupcakes or 48 mini

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
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)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup good cocoa powder (I find the flavor of Ghiradelli's to be very good and have also tried Hershey's Special Dark which is nice as well)
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.  (Tip - cracking the egg in a bowl, one at a time, before dumping it in is a good way to ensure that you aren't going to get shells in your batter.)

In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream, coffee and vanilla.

In another bowl, whisk 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.  (Second photograph below is the transformation of the batter after I worked it with just the spatula and not the mixer)

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 ( 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 scraped vanilla bean seeds. 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. Scrape down sides. Add additional sugar if necessary to make it pipeable.

Printable recipe

I know that a tray of these, shared with friends makes turning 40 easier.


Joy said...

That looks great.

yimkids said...

your cupcakes are so beautiful! I wonder- what kind of piping thing do you use to get your frosting so pretty. Every time I do it, I realize I don't have enough frosting and then I am scrounging. I love the way you frosted!!!

Joanne Choi said...

I use a wiltons 2D tip. I put it in a pastry bag, hold the tip perpendicular, and start at the middle and swoop out using continuous pressure. Sometimes it does help to add a bit more sugar than you think you need in order to stretch the frosting a bit. I do tend to frost less generously than others, so maybe that is why I always have a big leftover.


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