St. Patrick’s Day is coming up, and what better way to celebrate it than to toast with some Guinness cupcakes? That is what my friend Danielle and I thought last year, until we tried to find a bakery in New York City that sold it. After leaving a number of bakeries empty-handed, we gave up on ever tasting the boozy treat. A few days later Danielle struck Irish gold at a bakery in the Upper East Side, and we were able to celebrate the holiday like proper sugar addicts.
This year I am not leaving it to chance. Instead of scouring the city for Guinness cupcakes, I decided to make them at home. I started with my one-bowl, no-mixer, moist chocolate cupcake recipe. I like to use canola oil instead of butter to achieve an incredibly moist cupcake. Plus, eliminating the need to cream butter and sugar means that I can make this anywhere as long as I have a bowl, a spoon (although I prefer to use a whisk) and an oven. Unfortunately, most delicious frostings require a mixer so if I did not have one, I would top these cupcakes with berries and ready-made whipped cream.
I tweaked the chocolate cupcakes to incorporate Guinness, and baked batch after batch of variations. With all of the Guinness that I used, cashiers at my local supermarket probably thought I was a lush. (Just wait until I start testing ways to incorporate Tequila in my cooking…an idea I got when a friend recently brought back a bottle from her trip to Cancun.)
Guinness is known for its creamy head as well as its malt, chocolate and coffee notes. The company even created a brand identity around taking the time to wait for the foam to subside before finishing the pour. Many Guinness cupcake recipes have a cream cheese frosting to simulate the creamy head of the beer. I shucked convention and decided to go with flavor instead of texture for my version. I paired the cupcakes with caramel buttercream to highlight the bitterness of the beer. Julie, one of my cupcake taste testers mentioned that the caramel frosting tasted like espresso. That was even better because it supports the coffee notes in the Guinness.
I tried various ways to create a more intense Guinness flavor in the cupcakes, even spending 30 minutes to reduce 2 cups of Guinness to 1/2 cup before adding it to the batter. In the end the amount of extra effort was not worth it. Reducing the Guinness increased the delicious bitterness in the cupcakes, but I had lost the hint of alcohol that reminds you there is beer in this tasty treat.
Another cupcake tester, Jeniece, suggested adding espresso to the batter. That was a great suggestion, and I smacked my head for not thinking of it sooner. I usually add a teaspoon or so of espresso powder in my chocolate cupcakes and brownies–unless I am baking for kids. My sister would not appreciate my niece and nephew bouncing off the walls at 3AM! I like the combination of chocolate and coffee (think mocha). When you use only a hint of coffee, you do not taste it. Instead the coffee (or in my case espresso powder in order to maintain the ratio of wet and dry ingredients) creates a more intense chocolate flavor in the dessert.
Let me know what you think of these cupcakes as my virtual taste testers. If you would rather not be virtual, follow me on Twitter. I will be posting “taste tester tweets” telling you where and when I will be handing out nibbles of my latest treats. You will get a tasty preview of future posts and be able to provide your feedback in person.
Guinness Cupcakes with Caramel Buttercream
Makes 24 cupcakes
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons espresso powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup canola oil
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup milk
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) Guinness beer
Line two muffin tins and preheat the oven to 350F.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the canola oil and egg until well combined. Whisk in the vanilla, milk, and Guinness.
Place a fine mesh strainer over the bowl, making sure the strainer does not touch the wet ingredients below. (Or you could use a flour sifter if you have one. I just use a multi-purpose strainer to save kitchen space.) Put the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, salt, baking powder, and baking soda into the strainer. Mix the ingredients in the strainer so that they fall through into the mixing bowl. This is my short cut to evenly combine the dry ingredients and sift them all in one step.
Remove the strainer. Add the sugar and whisk the batter until all ingredients are just combined. The batter will be wet.
Fill the muffin tins 1/2 – 2/3 full. Bake for 13 – 16 minutes. The cupcakes are done when an toothpick inserted into the center comes out with only a few dry crumbs on it.
Enough to generously frost 24 cupcakes
4 large egg whites, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1 tablespoon pieces
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Place the water and 1 cup sugar in a medium saucepan. Make sure the saucepan (especially the sides) is completely dry before using. Otherwise, your caramel will seize up. Do not stir the water and sugar, only swirl it gently in the saucepan to combine. Cook the sugar mixture on medium heat until it becomes a dark amber color. Gently swirl the pan throughout the cooking process to evenly mix in any darker sugar spots, and to prevent those areas from burning (some stovetops have hot spots).
While the sugar mixture is cooking (keep a close eye on your sugar mixture), use an electric mixer to whisk the egg whites and salt until frothy. Add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and continue to beat until it reaches the “soft peak” stage. To test for the soft peak stage, remove the mixer whisk attachment and use it to scoop up some of the egg whites and hold the whisk attachment upside down (the tip of the whisk facing up). If the egg whites curl over and maintain that shape, it is at the soft peak stage. If the egg whites stick straight up into a sharp peak, you whisked it too long into the stiff peak stage. Turn off the mixer and set aside until the sugar caramel mixture finishes cooking.
Turn on the electric mixer with the whisk attachment. While it is running, slowly pour in the sugar caramel mixture. Continue whisking until the mixer bowl is cool to the touch. Keep the mixer on and whisk in the cold butter one tablespoon at a time. Once all of the butter is added, continue to whisk until the mixture is smooth, approximately 6 – 10 minutes. Add the vanilla and whisk briefly to combine.
Adapted from Vanilla Buttercream
There are two ways to measure flour for baking: the sweep and scoop or the spoon methods, which are roughly 5 ounces and 4 ounces of flour per cup respectively. If you use too much flour, your baked goods will turn out dry. Make sure you know which method the recipe creator used. When in doubt use the spoon method. I create all of my recipes using the spoon method.
Sweep and Scoop: Use the measuring cup to scoop up flour and level off the cup using a flat object such as a butter knife.
Spoon: Use a spoon to stir and fluff up the flour in the flour container. Then spoon flour lightly into your measuring cup. Do not pat the flour down or shake the measuring cup to settle the flour. You want to maintain the light and airy quality of the flour in your measuring cup. Level off the cup using a flat object such as a butter knife.