Monday, February 15, 2010

The Cupcake Wars

Rachel here: I only made these cupcakes because my mother upped the cupcake ante by purchasing mini cupcake tins. Yup, that's the kind of daughter I am: You got a cute accessory for this post? I will make the most complicated recipe I can find. Not really sure what I'm proving (or to whom, since my ma's not eating these from Connecticut!), but after they were done I proved that I can eat an insane amount of sugar. But anyway...

For this post, I re-approached the cookbook I used for my two failed scone attempts. Remember how I protected the name of the cookbook to preserve the innocent? Well, I have to say, I am actually not that impressed by this cupcake recipe, either (though, of course, I will eat the cupcakes dutifully). The cupcake itself is pretty anticlimactic and once drenched in chocolate and coconut it's just sort of, well, too much. If you are a nut for chocolate and coconut (and, speaking of nuts, I'm thinking these would be good with nuts in/on them), though, then this just might be the recipe for you (although maybe only dip the tops in chocolate to provide a little balance). And yes, I will continue to try recipes from this book because, well, I just really want one of them to be wonderful and because I am a glutton for sugary punishment.

Lamington Cupcakes
from "The Craft of Baking" by Karen DeMasco and Mindy Fox

2 c. unsweetened shredded coconut
1 1/2 c. cake flour, plus more for the muffin tin
1 tspn. baking powder
1/2 tspn. kosher salt
8 oz. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and very soft, plus extra for greasing muffin tin
1 c. granulated sugar
1 T. pure vanilla extract
1/4 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out, bean and seeds reserved
1/2 c. whole milk
4 large egg whites
1/4 c. plus 3 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 c. confectioners' sugar
1/4 tspn. kosher salt
1/2 tspn. pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Spread coconut on a baking sheet and bake until it is lightly toasted, about 5 minutes. Remove, cool and transfer to a bowl (large enough to dipping cupcakes into later).

Increase oven temperature to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a standard muffin tin (ok, so she says not to use paper liners...I greased and floured and whatnot, but my cupcakes still stuck and so, in the future, I'm using the paper liners because you end up coating everything in chocolate anyway).

In a bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.

In your electric mixer (with the paddle attachment) beat the butter, granulated sugar, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean and seeds on medium high until light and fluffy. If you are operating sans mixer (soooo sorry), umm...good luck beating the butter and whatnot into fluffy submission. Scrape down the sides of your bowl.

With the mixer on medium speed (or with your left hand if you are your mixer), add the milk and flour alternately in three additions. Scrape the batter into a large bowl and remove the vanilla bean. If using an electric mixer, you now to have to clean and completely dry your mixer bowl. If you are mixing by hand, bust out a clean bowl and relish in this moment of not having to stop to clean a dish mid-baking process (it's maybe the only advantage to doing things the old fashioned way for this recipe...don't get too pleased, though, since you are about to work your whisking arm into an exhausted frenzy).

Whisk your egg whites until they are in soft peaks. In your mixer this takes about 4 minutes at medium speed with the whisk attachment. Without a mixer I have no idea, but I am pretty sure it will take longer than 4 minutes (I only got a mixer recently and I'm also pretty sure I always called John into the kitchen for steps like this in recipes...he's so big and strong and useful). In three turns, fold egg whites into batter.

Divide batter amongst muffin cups and bake approximately 20 minutes, rotating halfway through. Remove from tins and cool on wire rack. Let cool completely before glazing.

Place a sheet of foil, parchment paper or whatever underneath wire rack for this next part (or, forget this step and get chocolate all over your counter like I did...there are worse things). In a medium bowl, sift together the cocoa powder, confectioners' sugar and salt. Add 1/4 c. plus 2 T. water and the vanilla and whisk until smooth.

Dip each cupcake into the glaze, covering completely and then immediately rolling through the bowl filled with coconut before placing on wire rack to dry. Wait for the glaze to set before trying to eat (or don't, it's just messier).

Janet here: Yes, I annoyingly texted Rachel and told her I had purchased mini cupcake tins AND cute little cupcake paper holders all because I wanted to one-up her. (Not that we're competitive or anything.) Anyway, I had heard about this cookbook on NPR and was immediately intrigued. Called Salty Sweets, it's by Christie Matheson and is all about the wonderful combo of salt and sweet. I can remember loving hot fudge sundaes as a kid precisely for the the mix of salty peanuts and hot fudge sweetness. Seriously, is there anything better?

I've only made one recipe from this book but I'm here to report, it's pretty damn tasty and while I kind of freaked out about paying a lot of money for a tiny jar of fleur de sel, it was totally worth it. I served this to friends Friday night and the oohing and ahhing was music to this baker's ears. It's 48 hours later and there are only two left. Now that's a success!

Dark Chocolate Fleur de Sel Cupcakes
with snappy butterscotch icing
makes 12-14 regular size cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons canola oil
1/3 cup water
1 large egg
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
fleur de sel

Cupcake Method
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cute cupcake liners
Sift the flour, cocoa powder, sugars, baking soda and fine sea salt together in a bowl (I don't sift so I didn't do this and it came out fine, but that's the official recipe line so I'm giving it to you.)

In a small saucepan, heat the butter, oil and water over medium low heat, stirring until the butter is completely melted and incorporated.

Whisk the butter mixture into the dry ingredients on low speed until combined. (I did this by hand; I don't have an official mixer; it was fine). Whisk in eggs, then whisk in buttermilk and vanilla.

Fill the cupcake liners 3/4 full with batter and sprinkle with a tiny bit of fleur de sel over the top of each. Bake for 22-24 minutes until the tops of the cupcakes are set and spring back when you touch. (For mini cupcakes I cooked for 15 minutes.)

Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan and then transfer to a wire rack for cooling (or to another spot if you're like me and don't have a wire rack). Ice with snappy butterscotch icing.

Snappy Butterscotch Icing

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon water
1/4 fine sea salt

Combine all the ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir until the butter is melted and the sugar is completely dissolved, 3-5 minutes.

Turn the heat down to low and let simmer 8 minutes without stirring until the icing has thickened. Remove from the heat and let cool completely so the icing will thicken enough to spread. Refrigerate or freeze for 30 minutes to spped up the thickening process. Icing can be stored airtight in the fridge for up to 3 days.

I will tell you my icing didn't really get as thick as it was supposed to, probably because I didn't really pay total attention to the timing etc. I will also tell you it still was mighty fine on the cupcakes ... and off the spoon I licked repeatedly.

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