Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Celebrating National Chocolate Cupcake Day 2011 with Dark Chocolate

If you didn't know, today is National Chocolate Cupcake Day and quite naturally I had to celebrate this unofficial food holiday that's nevertheless recognised this time of you. Combining my adapted dark chocolate cake recipe (based off of the recipe found on the back of Hershey's dark cocoa powder containers) and this one offered by online specialty foods magazine The Nibble, I woke up this morning prepared to bake some cupcakes in acknowledgment of this 19th century treat. The one issue I faced was the fact that I don't have any cupcake pans in my apartment and so I baked two cupcakes in ramekins and poured the rest of the batter into a baking dish; by definition, a cupcake is typically a cake made as a single serving and so at least the ramekin versions fit the celebration. On the menu: Dark Chocolate Chunk Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Orange and Almond Cream Filling and Dark Chocolate Buttercream Frosting.

In theory, there's a rather streamline timing process that can allow you to go from scratch to finished product with ease, but of course this relies on mise en place and reading through the suggested timing proposed here. In addition, I'd like to note I'm a fan of guesstimating and applying savoury techniques to baking, but for those who remain true to measurements and a more scientific process, you may find this interesting as you prepare your cupcakes, or this as you seek to find solutions to issues that may have already happened. To begin, take out 1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, switch your oven on to 350 °F, and then get a small pot of water boiling (at least 3/4 c, cognisant of the water you'll lose to evaporation) on medium heat. Then, for a half batch of cake, in one bowl, prep and then sift together 1 c granulated sugar, 7/8 c all-purpose flour, 3/8 c dark cocoa, 1.5 tsp baking powder, and 1/2 tsp salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk together 1 egg, 1/2 c milk, 1/4 c canola oil, and 1 tsp vanilla extract. Add this liquid mix to the dry ingredients and combine well. By this point, your water should be boiling (or at least bubbling). Add 1/2 c water and slowly fold everything together until you get a smooth, even batter.

Pour your batter into your baking dishes; if you're not using cupcake liners, be sure to lightly grease any dish interiors with canola oil. Get these into the oven.

By now, your butter should be at room temperature and ready to use for the buttercream frosting and filling, both of which start with this recipe I've used before. To start out, use an electric mixer (or go tech-free and use a fork) to cream the butter and 1/2 c shortening. If you're just aiming for buttercream and not baking cake, there's no real need to wait for the butter to reach room temperature, as the shortening will help cut through the butter quite easily. Throughout the process of creaming the butter, slowly microwave 3.5 oz (a typical chocolate bar) dark chocolate, about two squares at a time at 20 second intervals; specifically, I used Lindt's Intense Orange (which already includes almond slivers). A side note about the chocolate I used: dark chocolate has an especially long shelf life because of the low sugar and butter content; however, over time the chocolate may "bloom," i.e., the cocoa butter separates the cocoa solids, particularly as a result of heating/cooling periods. This chocolate is still safe to eat and use.

By the time the butter and shortening are combined, your chocolate should have finished melting. Set the chocolate aside to cool slightly, and to the butter and shortening, mix in one cup of confectioner's (powdered) sugar. Add another cup of confectioner's sugar after the first cup has been fully incorporated and continue to combine well.

Depending on how quickly you can get the butter-shortening-sugar mix going (about 10 minutes at most by this point), your batter should be cooked enough to accept chocolate chunks; add them (you choose the amount; I went for enough to sprinkle one layer) to the batter. If you start cooking the batter with the chunks already in the batter, they'll tend to sink and stick to the bottom of the baking dish. Close the oven door and allow the cake to cook for a combined (pre- + post-chocolate chunks) baking time of 30 minutes. Meanwhile, add a third full cup of powdered sugar, 1 tbsp milk, and 1 tsp vanilla extract. Combine this well, and then add in a final full cup of powdered sugar (i.e., four in total). Give this buttercream a taste and add a bit more powdered sugar if necessary. Divide the buttercream into two batches.

Inspired by this recipe, to one of the buttercream batches, add 2.5 tbsp milk and the melted chocolate, and combine very well until the (now) filling liquid is smooth; if absolutely necessary (by taste or consistency), add a little more powdered sugar. To the second buttercream batch (above right), mix in well 2 tsp dark cocoa, and adjust this to taste and consistency: too dry, add a touch more milk; too wet/bitter, add a touch more powdered sugar; too sweet, add a touch more dark cocoa powder. By this point, give your cake another check. If an inserted toothpick comes out clean, you're ready to take the cake out of the oven; otherwise, leave it in for a bit longer until it passes the toothpick test. When finished, allow the cakes to cool completely before filling and frosting.

Transfer the filling and frosting into two separate bags, and cut off the tip at one corner to create a makeshift piping bag. To fill the cupcake, make a small well and carefully pipe (remember the filling is fairly runny) in some of the dark chocolate orange almond filling. Cover this with a piping of the dark chocolate buttercream frosting, as shown above, and some sprinkles if desired (Halloween-themed in this case because of the seasonal timing and orange flavour). And if you went with making more of a sheet cake version, check out this plating version, using the filling more as a plated sauce to rest the cake on.

Consistently moist each time I've made this cake, the dark chocolate flavour is undeniably present and comfortably rich. The buttercream frosting cuts into the smooth taste of cake, while the textural contrast between the frosting and filling is both noticeable and melds the two together. For more photos from today's National Chocolate Cupcake Day celebration, click here.

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