I like hitting balls at the driving range for the same reason I like baking chocolate chip cookies. I am intrigued by challenging myself to constantly improve, and I like trying this is a somewhat controlled environment. I like being able to see how the slightest change in the process can significantly change the outcome. My problem with both golf and baking, though, is I can never really remember exactly what I did right the last time. Also, I get ahead of myself sometimes and change a few things at once, thus not really knowing whether it was the bread flour or freezing the dough overnight that made the batch Cole claims is "the best you've ever made". My most recent focus: Cupcakes. The "challenge" with this one is not to improve upon a single recipe, though. It's to see how creative I can get with the cupcake -- and that can creativity can extend to flavor combination, decoration, presentation, etc.
I sketched out my first idea one day after work last week:
I then tried to bring my idea to life on Saturday, with a little help from Oscar:
Sweet Kiera's Candy Cane Cupcake in Review: While I can't say I'm overly proud of the ultimate frosting decoration for these cupcakes, they were still kind of simple and presentable. More importantly, I had fun doing it and my sketch during the week/weekend creation process was totally fun.
Sweet Reflection: Of course the sweetest part was having Oscar there to help out and get excited about how "chocolaty" the chocolate looked. F'cause, even Oscar can appreciate the richness of Ghiradelli cocoa powder. (It ain't government cocoa.) I think that was my first time pulling up a stool to the kitchen counter for a little one, other than myself. I remember that was one of my favorite parts of baking with my mom when I was younger... and I continued to do it even when I was tall enough to stir without the extra boost.
Blooper: Used one too many sticks of butter. Had to double everything else in recipe to compensate. Always look on the bright side: more cupcakes!
Bummer: LOTS of red food dye and white frosting just keeps making pink.
Friendly Feedback: Shared cupcakes with Mark, Vale, Oscar and Cole. Also brought in a batch of my various frosting decorations (not photographed here) to work. While Hoffman was thanking me before he even swallowed (he's an easy customer), I solicited some "areas for improvement" from a highly respected baker companion. Alas, the frosting admittedly was perhaps a bit to "pepperminty", especially for those cupcake eaters who like to clean the top off first. (I was just so excited to use my new fancy schmancy purchase from Faletti's!)
Duly noted, Hoppy! I'm excited to get input and encourage anyone to add comments (especially those who sampled!)
I used Joy of Baking’s chocolate cupcakes recipe. I liked technique of dissolving the cocoa powder in boiling water – which brings out the full chocolate flavor and give the cupcake a “dewy” (avoiding the m-word) texture.
I used a natural unsweetened cocoa powder (not the Dutch-processed, as called for by the recipe) and while I didn’t necessarily notice any negative effect from the swap, but I later did some reading and there is an important difference.
Dutch-processed means the cocoa has been treated with alkali (i.e. baking soda) to neutralize the acidity. I actually tasted the natural unsweetened cocoa after I added hot water and said “YUCK!” (Mostly to get a laugh from Oscar), but I now know this happened because of Science. It was yuck because the bitterness wasn’t taken out by the Dutch people.
No, but seriously… there is some interesting chemistry to be learned from baking. I learned all about leaveners on this interesting site: Baking 911.
Bottom line: If using this recipe with Ghirardelli natural unsweetened cocoa powder, substitute the 2 teaspoons of baking powder with 1 teaspoon of baking powder + ¼ teaspoon of baking soda. This little trick helps offset that extra acidity and can even enhance the color of the cocoa. I've already made this adjustment in the chocolate cupcake recipe below made with natural cocoa powder..
For the frosting, I went for a recipe that the owner of Sprinkles shared with Oprah, and inevitability, she told the world. I mentioned that I used too much peppermint extract, but the recipe below shows the correct amount.
PEPPERMINT BARK CUPCAKES
Chocolate Cupcakes (Adapted from Joy of Baking)
1/2 cup (50 grams) natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup (240 ml) boiling hot water
1 1/3 cups (175 grams) all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
about 3-4 peppermint candy canes, crushed
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/8 tsp. salt
3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar , sifted
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
1/2 tsp. milk
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). LIne muffin pan with parchment baking cups. (Will make about 16 cupcakes)
- In a small bowl, whisk together hot water and cocoa powder until smooth. Set aside to cool.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla extract, beating on low speed until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Then add the cooled cocoa mixture and gently stir until smooth.
- Fill each baking cup about 2/3 full with batter and bake for about 16 - 20 minutes, or until tops are rounded and springy to the touch, and a cake tester (or toothpick) comes out clean. Let cool on wire rack.
- In a bowl combine butter, sugar and salt. Beat till blended.
- Add the milk and vanilla and beat for an additional 3 to 5 minutes or until smooth and creamy.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and salt on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
- Reduce to low speed, gradually add the confectioners' sugar and beat until incorporated. Add both extracts and milk and beat on low until just smooth and creamy.
To Assemble Peppermint Bark Cupcakes: Once the cupcakes have completely cooled, pipe on frosting with star tip. Sprinkle with crushed peppermint candy canes.