Why do we love cupcakes? Is it because these adorable mini-morsels let us have our own individual cakes? Or maybe because they let us splurge on a not-quite-so-healthy treat without feeling guilty? I have my own reasons. I love eating them because it means I can have multiple cupcakes…one in each flavor! I also love baking them because they are elegant, yet simple…and perfect for sharing.
When I bake cupcakes at home I inevitably end up making multiple deliveries later that day or the next morning. I cannot should not finish a whole batch myself and it makes me smile to see the joy on people’s faces when they open the box. Yes, joy. It is so amazing that an unassuming little cupcake can evoke such a positive emotion. I think it is because people associate a cupcake with being a kid again…and the joy we experienced from the simple things in life.
Mini-cupcakes were the perfect food to share at the Brooklyn Good Food Fest. Tasty Pursuits is about flavor combinations and beautiful food, so Chocolate Cupcakes with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting were the perfect culinary ambassador to get the word out on the blog.
My biggest hurdle was figuring out how to prevent the icing from melting. Rather than altering the flavor by adding shortening, which remains solid at room temperature, I opted instead to pipe batches of cupcakes at the festival. This worked quite well as I prepped multiple piping bags by folding over an inch of the tip and taping it back to the bag before filling them. To keep an airtight seal, I folded the opening like an accordion and wrapped it with a rubber band. Voila! As I needed to pipe a batch of cupcakes I grabbed one of the bags from the cooler, removed the tape, and cut an opening in the icing-free tip.
It was a bit hectic chatting with everyone while piping like a madwoman, but it was all worth it when mothers brought back their little tykes to tell me that their son or daughter loved the cupcakes…complete with chocolate smeared faces to prove it!
If it were not for the kids at the festival, I would have made the cupcakes more grown-up by adding a tablespoon of Grand Marnier (cognac with a bitter orange essence) to the cupcake batter. This would give us a third layer of orange flavor in addition to the zest and juice in the icing. As an added bonus, chocolate tastes good with warming liqueurs such as cognac and rum. This pairing can be compared to chocolate and chili peppers. The heat from the peppers has a similar effect as the warmth from the liqueur.
However, that will have to be for another day. To keep the cupcakes rated-PG, I had to stick to the orange zest and juice. The oils from the zest are key to giving the cream cheese frosting a bold flavor that can stand up to the dense chocolate cupcake. At the same time the citrus provides balance by brightening up the flavors. This leads to the question, would lemons work as well? Yes, lemons also have a citrus flavor and the zest has similar properties. However, lemons would not have been as successful because the bitterness of the chocolate benefits from the sweetness in the orange.
Other ways to share the chocolate and orange combination are dark hot chocolate with a splash of Grand Marnier, orange chocolate truffles, chocolate-dipped orange shortbread cookies, and orange souffle with chocolate sauce. Or how about trying a grown-up version of the PB&J sandwich? Slather two slices of bread with Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread) and orange marmalade. Slice, share and enjoy!
Emergency Blender Cupcakes
1 dozen cupcakes or 2 dozen mini-cupcakes
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder (not Dutch process), sifted if lumpy
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
3/4 cup hot water
1/2 cup canola or corn oil
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Position an oven rack on the middle rung. Heat the oven to 375 degrees (190 Celsius). Line 12 regular-sized muffin cups with paper or foil liners.
Combine the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a blender. Cover with the lid and blend on medium speed until blended. Pour in the water, oil, egg, and vanilla. Cover with the lid and blend on medium-high speed until smooth and well blended, stopping to scrape down the sides once or twice. Alternatively, combine the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk until well blended. Pour in the water, oil, and vanilla. Add the egg and whisk until blended, about 1 minute.
Pour into the lined muffin cups, dividing evenly. Bake until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center of 1 cupcake comes out clean, 17 to 19 minutes. Transfer the muffin pan to a rack to cool for about 10 minutes, and then carefully remove the cupcakes from the pan and set them on the rack to cool completely. (At this point, the unfrosted cupcakes can be covered in plastic and stored at room temperature for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month.)
The Weekend Baker
by Abigail Johnson Dodge
Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces (one package) cream cheese, softened at room temperature
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons orange zest
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 3/4 cups confectioners sugar
Using an electric mixer beat the cream cheese and butter until light and smooth, approximately 4 minutes. Add the vanilla extract, orange zest and orange juice and beat until incorporated. Add the confectioners sugar one cup at a time and beat until the icing becomes light and smooth again.
I used 1/4 cup cake flour and 3/4 cup all-purpose flour for the chocolate cupcakes to make them more tender.
Reduce baking time to 8 minutes for mini-cupcakes.
If you forgot to leave out the cream cheese and butter for a few hours at room temperature to soften them, you can soften them by carefully microwaving each one for 10 seconds. Repeating another 10 seconds until softened, but not melted.
Room temperature eggs are also important to get a good consistency for baked goods. Quickly bring eggs to room temperature by covering the uncracked eggs with hot water from the tap (do not boil the water). Let the eggs sit for a few minutes in the water before using.
I used Valencia oranges for the icing.