Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cupcakes Galore "aka" Jake's Birthday Part 2

Since he was sick and there were family scheduling conflicts, we had a birthday lunch with Jake's family this past weekend, and I offered to bring the dessert. As much as he loves chocolate, my husband typically prefers desserts that are on the lighter side, and not overly sweet (as opposed to me, who spent my childhood practically mainlining sugar) so I wanted to make a dessert that would give everyone options and smaller portions at the same time. Instead of doing a massive cake like the weekend before, I decided to make 4 different kinds of cupcakes: chocolate cherry, mint chocolate, vanilla and gingerbread, because that's not a massive endeavor or anything.

One of the things I consistently have a hard time with is timing. I almost never allot enough time for kitchen projects. Sunday morning was especially difficult, as we'd spent the night before at my mother's house dog-sitting a Basenji that decided every 15-30 minutes she needed to scratch on a door, howl, or pace the kitchen. And to make it worse she's recently gone blind (which is probably what caused this behavior in the first place) so you can't even be mad at her for it. By the time we headed home at 7:30 am (no alarm needed) we were both exhausted and not in the best of moods. But, as I had already committed myself to taking care of the dessert and I'd already made components for 3 of them, I pressed on...only to realize that I'd forgotten to get molasses at the store and didn't have enough time to run out and pick some up.

What to do? Just make 3 kinds of cupcakes? Ha. Only a sane person would do that. I divided the vanilla batter in half and made half of them vanilla-caramel.
Three hours. Four full batches of cupcakes. Could it be done? Apparently not by me. But that's okay. We still ended up with some really fabulous cupcakes, and one that was...interesting. There were three kinds of leftover batter and my kitchen was still a disaster when it was time to leave but on the plus side I finally got to use the silicone cupcake molds we got as a wedding present last year.

The verdict:

The chocolate cherry cupcakes (that were so dense they probably shouldn't be called cupcakes, but it's a theme, so go with it) were a hit, but the mint chocolate cupcakes were the real crowd-pleaser of the day. They were everyone's all-around favorite, including mine.

For some reason I had decided to try the vanilla cupcakes with a white chocolate-orange ganache frosting. Too sweet, even for me. No one tried their spin-offs, the vanilla-caramel with orange sugar icing at the restaurant, which turned out to be a shame because they were actually pretty good when I got around to trying them the next night. Oh, the things I do for my blog... I think I know I was going for variety here, so there would be lots of choices, but perhaps it was just TOO much. Wait, me? Take on too much? Never! Or as I like to say it nev-ah!

When I finished up the rest of the cupcake batter I went the mini cupcake route because, let's face it, the only thing better than cupcakes is mini cupcakes. Except I didn't think about the fact that making 20 minis would take longer and be more difficult to do with the ganache (since there's less cake on the outside to make sure the ganache stays inside). I'd already thrown out the orange-sugar icing and the mint whipped cream...well, let's just say there wasn't enough left to top all of the I frosted the mini vanilla and most of the mint chocolate cupcakes with some of the leftover cocoa fudge frosting. Not bad, actually. At least Jake's co-workers didn't complain when I sent them to work with him.

Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes with Cocoa Fudge Frosting

The cakes are adapted from an Epicurious recipe submitted by Gourmet and the frosting is a slight adaptation of the Cocoa Fudge Sauce from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert.

Note: The frosting can be made a day or two in advance and stored in the fridge, but then you risk eating it all by random spoonfuls every time you open the fridge, so make it ahead at your own risk. Just don't say I didn't warn you.

Makes 8 mini (cup)cakes



  • 3/4 c dried tart cherries (razzcherries are fabulous in this)
  • 1/2 c tart cherry juice, divided
  • 3 oz bittersweet chocolate (I used Guittard's 72% wafers)
  • 1/4 c unsalted butter
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/2 c heavy cream
  • 3 T unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 t vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt


  1. Stir together the cocoa powder, 1/2 c sugar, pinch of salt and 1/4 c of heavy cream in a saucepan until thoroughly combined.
  2. Adding the remaining 1/4 c heavy cream and butter, heat the mixture over low heat until the butter is completely melted and the sauce is smooth and hot.
  3. Stir in the 1/4 t vanilla and store in the refrigerator. If you are not making the cupcakes immediately, remove the frosting from the fridge about half an hour before you start making them to allow it to come to room temperature.
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Combine the dried cherries and half the cherry juice in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until the juice has mostly been absorbed by the fruit and the rest has considerably thickened. Remove the cherries and as much of the syrup as you can scrape out to a plate or bowl to cool.
  3. In the top of a double-boiler or a heat-proof bowl nested snugly on top of a saucepan of simmering water, stir together the chocolate and butter until melted and completely smooth.
  4. Add in the 1/2 c sugar, 1 t vanilla, and the remaining cherry juice, whisking until thoroughly incorporated.
  5. Stir in flour and salt until just combined, then fold in the cherries.
  6. Fill muffin cups/molds to the very top, smoothing the top as best you can. Whatever shape you put into the oven is exactly what will come out.
  7. Bake for 25 minutes, until a paring knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  8. When the muffins cool, spread liberally with the cocoa fudge frosting.

For the mint chocolate cupcakes I (once again) used Dorie Greenspan's cocoa-buttermilk cake recipe as a base. It's such a light, versatile cake. I do like it better without the buttermilk, though. And I might also like it better before I bake it, but my addiction to batter is probably best left for later.

Mint Chocolate Cupcakes

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's recipe for cocoa-buttermilk cake, from her book Baking: From My Home to Yours.

Makes 12 cupcakes 


  • 4 oz mint chocolate ganache, room temperature
  • 2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 t baking powder
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 8 oz unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 c sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 t pure vanilla extract
  • 1 c milk
Mint Chocolate Ganache
  • 1 c heavy cream
  • 6 oz bittersweet chocolate (72% is really good with this recipe)
  • 1 c mint leaves, loosely packed
Mint Whipped Cream
  • 2 c heavy cream
  • 6 T confectioners sugar
  • 1/4 t vanilla extract
  • 1/2 t peppermint extract
  • 1/2 c crushed starlight peppermint candies for garnishing (optional)


Mint Chocolate Ganache
  1. Combine the heavy cream and mint leaves. Refrigerate for 12-24 hours.
  2. Once the cream has infused with the mint, put the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl and set aside.
  3. Strain the cream into a saucepan (if a few green specks get through don't worry about it) and set over medium heat until it starts simmering around the edges. Pour over the chocolate and stir until the mixture is completely smooth.
  4. Transfer 4 oz of the chocolate to another container and set aside to cool. If making the cupcakes right away, leave the smaller portion on the counter to cool and put the larger portion in a large dish and put in the freezer as soon as the mixture reaches room temperature. The larger portion of ganache needs to be thick enough to form into small balls.

  1. If made ahead, take both containers of mint ganache out of the fridge to allow it to soften. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and and place 12 silicone cupcake molds on a baking sheet or 12 paper cups in a muffin tin.
  2. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt until thoroughly combined.
  3. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or a hand mixer and a large bowl, beat the butter until soft.
  4. Add 1 1/2 c sugar and beat until thoroughly combined (about 2 minutes).
  5. Add the egg, let it incorporate for a minute, then the egg yolk, and wait another minute before adding in the vanilla.
  6. Reduce the mixer speed to the lowest setting and add in the flour mixture and milk alternately as follows: 1/3 flour, 1/2 milk, 1/3 flour, 1/2 milk, 1/3 flour. Just allow the batter to come together before adding the next batch.
  7. Turn off the mixer and fold in 4 oz ganache by hand. If the 4 oz of ganache is too thick to easily whisk with a fork, heat in the microwave for about 15 seconds on the lowest defrost setting.
  8. Portion the batter evenly into 6 muffin molds, filling each only half full.
  9. Set about a teaspoon of mint ganache into the center of the batter in the muffin cup. Fill the muffin cups to about 1/4" from the top with more batter.
  10. Bake for 25 minutes, until a paring knife inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out cleanly.
  11. When the cupcakes are done, transfer them to a rack and allow them to cool for about 10 minutes before removing them from the molds.
I tried rubbing the sugar with some extra mint leaves to flavor it but it didn't seem to change the taste of the batter at all so I left that step out of the recipe.

Mint Whipped Cream
  1. Combine 2 c heavy cream, 6 T confectioners sugar, 1/4 t vanilla and 1/2 t peppermint extract in the bowl of a stand mixer (you can do this with a hand mixer but I found it to be messy).
  2. Whip until the cream is thick and stands on its own.
  3. Use a pastry bag or a Ziploc bag with the tip cut off to frost the cupcakes. You could just put a dollop on each cupcake with a spoon but the bag method is slightly prettier. If the whipped cream starts to get a bit warm, stick the bag in the freezer for a few minutes to thicken it up.
  4. Sprinkle crushed peppermint candy on whipped cream, if desired.
I wasn't expecting it to be all that great so I didn't photograph the cupcake until I'd already eaten through 3/4 of it. Sorry!

Vanilla-Caramel Cupcakes with Orange-Sugar Icing

The cupcakes are adapted from Anita Chu's Vanilla Saffron Cupcake recipe at Dessert FirstIf you prefer chocolate frosting you can use the Cocoa Fudge Sauce from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert (the same frosting used on the Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes).

Makes 12 cupcakes



  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 c whole milk
  • 1/2 c unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 c raw sugar
  • 1 egg plus 2 egg whites
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 1/4 c caramel shards
Caramel Shards
  • 1/2 c granulated sugar
  • 1/4 c heavy cream
  • pinch of salt
  • splash of vanilla
  • 3/4 c confectioners sugar
  • juice of 1/2 an orange
  • zest of 1/2 an orange


Caramel Shards
  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set near the stove.
  2. Melt the granulated sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan without stirring; once the sugar starts to turn amber you can start stirring.
  3. When the sugar is completely melted, stir in the cream (don't worry if it seizes, just keep stirring and it'll melt again).
  4. As soon as the mixture is completely smooth, remove from heat, stir in the salt and vanilla (make sure to incorporate it completely) and pour onto the prepared baking sheet. Using a (preferably silicone) spatula spread the caramel as thinly as possible, as quickly as you can. It will start to harden almost immediately.
  5. Let the caramel cool for 5-10 minutes, then holding onto the end of the parchment paper lift it off the baking sheet and quickly wrap it on a counter (or other hard surface) to break it into shards; you want a lot of small shards and a few bigger ones for decorating. Set aside or transfer to a plastic bag for later uses.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and place 12 silicone cupcake molds on a baking sheet or 12 paper cups in a muffin tin.
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt into a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat together the sugar and butter until light and creamy.
  4. One at a time, add the egg and egg whites, waiting until the last element is completely incorporated before adding the next one.
  5. Slow the mixture to a low speed and add in the flour mixture and milk alternately as follows: 1/3 flour, 1/2 milk, 1/3 flour, 1/2 milk, 1/3 flour, mixing thoroughly before adding the next batch.
  6. Add in the vanilla extract and mix just to combine.
  7. Fold in the caramel shards.
  8. Portion the batter evenly into the cupcake molds and bake 20-25 minutes, until a pairing knife inserted into the center comes out clean and the cupcakes spring back when touched.
  9. Let the cupcakes cool for about 10 minutes before removing them from the molds; let cool to room temp if you want the icing to stay in place, or frost them just a little sooner for icing that drips down the sides of the cupcake in lovely rivulets of sugary goodness. And stick a piece of caramel in the top to make it look extra pretty, you know, if you want.

  1. Stir together the confectioners sugar, orange juice and orange zest until thoroughly combined. Let it sit in the fridge for a bit to thicken the icing if you prefer it that way.

We were running out the door to get to lunch so I forgot to take photos of the icing. My bad. 

Things I learned from this project:
  1. If you are planning a large assortment of small desserts, make them the night before and just assemble them the day-of if at all possible. Even if you only get through half of them the night before it'll still make the morning-of much less stressful.
  2. Don't ever serve anything to people that you haven't already tried. In this case it wasn't a big deal, but I had plenty of the chocolate cupcakes to be able to fill the box so the vanillas with white chocolate could have easily been left at home. And I would have been able to confidently recommend the vanilla-caramel.
  3. I really need an extra bowl for my stand mixer...


  1. Look at all those cupcakes! Happy birthday to the birthday boy!

    1. He definitely got spoiled with desserts this year, but I wouldn't have it any other way!

  2. What great cupcakes, but I couldn't see several of the photos. Will refresh and look again.

    1. Ugh, I know. I was having major issues with Picasa yesterday. It was somehow uploading the same picture 2, 3 or 4 times, and when I tried to delete the duplicates it deleted the ones from my blog (of course it waited until I went to bed to do it). They should all be fixed now.

      I was really happy with the cupcakes in general. I'd never made any of them before so it was nice that they came out so well.

  3. They do look great (except the mint ones but mainly because I don't like mint...) but I can't see either some of the pictures!!!

    1. Yesterday was a nightmare with Picasa, but all the photos should be there now. Sorry about that!

      You could substitute orange for mint in the mint chocolate cupcakes and top them with orange whipped cream and bits of candied citrus peel. I bet it would taste amazing. Actually I'm going to have to add that to my (never-ending) list of things to try myself!

    2. great idea! orange sounds delicious, I'll have to put it in my also never-ending list! the pictures are perfect now :) your husband is very lucky!

  4. What great looking cupcakes!!!
    I love cupcakes and this is such a fabulous idea for birthday!!!!

    1. Thank you! I thought it would be nice to let him have several things he liked instead of just one! (And save everyone else from insanely large slices of cake that they can't finish!) I just saw your orange tart recipe and it's beautiful!