I know it doesn’t look like I’ve been searching for the best darned chocolate cupcake recipe, but I have. I have tested Corriher’s Deep Dark Chocolate Cake recipe and the Cooks Illustrated Dark Chocolate Cupcake recipe against my favourite go-to recipe by the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten.
When I tested the Corriher recipe, I found the flavour okay but it certainly didn’t beat out Garten’s recipe. I found the Garten recipe superior in ease of technique and less fussy as you didn’t have to use as many eggs (nor did you have to separate and save 4 whites from the extra yolks you needed). For the extra richness the yolks added to the Corriher recipe, I didn’t find the cupcake any more flavourful. For some strange reason, I also found little pockets of unmixed flour in the baked cupcakes, which is my ultimate pet peeve. I had sifted the dry ingredients so that shouldn’t have happened. I had followed the directions carefully, so I wasn’t happy. Initially, I thought that the technique of adding the flour into the warm hot cocoa mixture was the problem, but I’m not too sure. In any case, it wasn’t a foolproof recipe and it didn’t work out for me.
So, it was with apprehension and a bit of excitement that I picked up a copy of Cooks Illustrated from the newstand and noticed they had a recipe for a Dark Chocolate Cupcake. I chose to make it for Bebe’s birthday. Yes, I know I made her chocolate butterfly cupcakes already for her birthday party, but that was her “warm-up birthday party” for her friends. I had used Corriher’s Deep Dark Chocolate recipe for those cupcakes but didn’t bother to post the recipe because I generally don’t post recipes that don’t pass muster in my kitchen. I have made Corriher’s Whipped Cream pound cake many times however, and that is my go-to recipe for pound cake.
I made these particular cupcakes for Bebe’s actual “real” birthday, July 27. Yes, she’s a big girl now…all of 6 years old. I also liked that the CI recipe only made 12 cupcakes. I really didn’t have any need for the usual batch of 24 cupcakes that a recipe yields. To make a perfect birthday weekend, we like to spend the real birthday together as a family. Bebe specifically requested chocolate cupcakes and with her permission, I was able to forgo the usual pink colour in the buttercream.
So, we went on a Stanley Park train ride in the morning, went to Maplewood Farms in North Vancouver and visited the Lynn Canyon all in one weekend for her birthday. Bebe’s favourite activity, I think, was having a picnic on the rocks along the rushing shallow water of the creek.
As you can see, people like to stack rocks and make inukshuks along the water in Lynn Creek. The icy mountain water is so refreshing in this heat wave and the shallow pools of water are perfect repositories for your feet as you sit on a rock munching on a submarine sandwich and fresh fruit. Ahhh!
This Dark Chocolate Cupcake yields a perfect top for decorating as it doesn’t have pointy domes. The cake’s crumb is strong enough not to crumble so you can inject some fillings inside for a surprise, and most importantly, it tastes really chocolatey! I think it beats out all of the recipes I’ve tried so far (and I’ve tried many) in terms of flavour. It incorporates Dutched cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate which you melt with the butter. I appreciate that I didn’t have to cream room temperature butter because sometimes it’s a pain to remember to bring it out of the refrigerator and if I leave it out too long, the butter can get too soft. So, for my future chocolate cupcakes, this will be my favourite recipe.
I like to decorate my cupcakes with fresh organic flowers from my garden. These are Johnny Jump-Ups. They look quite similar to the sugar violets I used to decorate. I have a variegated variety that is violet, yellow, orange and various permutations thereof. It’s gorgeous!
So, here’s my take on the perfect cupcake. It’s a combination of vanilla buttercream and chocolate cupcake. I like vanilla swiss meringue buttercream swirled atop the CI Dark Chocolate Cupcake. I don’t like sprinkles, but hey, if you have kids you have to put them there, don’t you? I went halvsies with the girls and left mine sprinkle-less because I don’t like the crunch of the sprinkles distracting me from enjoying the silky smooth buttercream.
****update: check out a Caramel version of the Buttercream here.
***P.S. I have been receiving a few comments from people who do not think the crumb is moist enough. I never said the crumb would be super-moist, but it is superior to every other cupcake for CHOCOLATE FLAVOUR. For this particular application: a chocolate cupcake with a huge buttercream swirl, this crumb is strong enough to create structure that won't buckle under a heavy buttercream swirl. This cupcake is superior for FLAVOUR AND CAKE DECORATING PURPOSES WITH BUTTERCREAM. Not for eating frostingless. Anything with a moist cupcake crumb would not hold up to the rigors of cake decorating...the huge swirl of buttercream frosting that I tend to employ. If you want a moister crumb, try the Garten recipe I mentioned before near the beginning of my post. It uses just cocoa powder, coffee and buttermilk and no real melted chocolate is used. That being said, this recipe isn't dry either. Everyone's expectations for a perfect cupcake is different. This one rocks for flavour and beauty. It is perfect for bringing to parties. Veggie oil based batters will always give you a moister crumb, so look for recipes incorporating oil if you like a moist cupcake.
DARK CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES
(from Cooks Illustrated, “American Classics 2009”)
(makes 12 cupcakes; do not double recipe…make two separate batches if you need more)
**Cakebrain's note: IF YOU LIKE REALLY MOIST/WET CUPCAKES, THESE ARE NOT FOR YOU. MOVE ALONG TO THE QUINOA CHOCOLATE CUPCAKE RECIPE. These cupcakes are perfect for cake decorating purposes, which requires a crumb with structural integrity and that will hold up to buttercream and other decorations. To ensure a moister cupcake with this recipe, ensure you WEIGH YOUR INGREDIENTS CAREFULLY. Do not dip and scoop/pack your dry ingredients.
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
- 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 1/2 cup (1 1/2 oz) Dutch-processed cocoa
- 3/4 cup (3 3/4 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 1/2 cup (4 oz) sour cream
- Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard-sized muffin pan (1/2 cup capacity) with baking-cup liners.
- Combine butter, chocolate and cocoa in medium heatproof bowl. Set bowl over saucepan containing barely simmering water; heat mixture until butter and chocolate are melted and whisk until smooth and fully combined. Set aside to cool until just warm to touch.
- Whisk flour, baking soda and baking powder in small bowl to combine
- Whisk eggs in second medium bowl to combine; add sugar, vanilla and salt and whisk until fully incorporated. Add cooled chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Sift about one-third of flour mixture over chocolate mixture and whisk until combined; whisk in sour cream until combined; then sift in remaining flour mixture and whisk batter until it is homogenous and thick.
- Divide batter evenly among muffin pan cups. Bake until skewer inserted into center of cupcakes comes out clean, 18-20 minutes.
- Cool cupcakes in muffin pan on wire rack until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Carefully lift each cupcake from muffin pan and set on wire rack. Cool to room temperature before icing, about 30 minutes.
SWISS MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM
(from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes; makes about 5 cups)
- 5 large egg whites
- 1 cup plus 2 T sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, room temperature
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- Combine egg whites, sugar and salt in the heatproof bowl of a standing mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly by hand until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved (the mixture should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips).
- Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Starting on low and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, whisk until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Continue mixing until the mixture is fluffy and glossy, and completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl), about 10 minutes.
- With mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once all butter has been added, whisk in vanilla. Switch to the paddle attachment, and continue beating on low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl with a flexible spatula, and continue beating until the frosting is completely smooth. Keep buttercream at room temperature if using the same day, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month. Before using, bring to room temperature and beat with paddle attachment on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes.
- (optional) To tint buttercream, reserve some for toning down the color, if necessary. Add gel-paste food color, a drop at a time (or use the toothpick or skewer to add food color a dab at a time) to the remaining buttercream. You can use a single shade of food color or experiment by mixing two or more. Blend after each addition with the mixer (use the paddle attachment) or a flexible spatula, until desired shade is achieved. Avoid adding too much food color too son, as the hue with intensify with continued stirring; if necessary, you can tone down the shade by mixing in some reserved untinted buttercream.