Tuesday, September 28, 2010

September's Cupcake of the Month: Devil's Food Cupcakes

Recently I came to the startling realization that I have never made chocolate frosting of any kind. In the interest of embarking on a personal journey to learn about the wonders of chocolate frosting, this month I chose Devil's Food Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache Frosting from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes: 175 Inspired Ideas for Everyone's Favorite Treat.
The cake part of the cupcakes are really fantastic: moist, yet light. Before I had a chance to make the frosting, we'd already eaten these without frosting for desert two nights in a row. And they baked up with beautiful, even, dome tops. My independent taste tester said, "Those cupcakes came out of the oven actually looking the correct shape for cupcakes. I don't think any of the others did." Which I'm pretty sure is true.

The book features five chocolate toppings: Chocolate Ganache Glaze (paired with six different recipes - possibly second only to Swiss Meringue Buttercream for topping dominance), Dark Chocolate Frosting (paired with five different cupcakes), a chocolate variation of Swiss Meringue Buttercream (paired exclusively with Monkey Cupcakes), a Chocolate-Sour Cream Frosting (paired exclusively with Graduation Day Cupcakes), and Chocolate Ganache Frosting (paired exclusively with this month's Devil's Food Cupcakes). The differences between Chocolate Ganache Glaze and Chocolate Ganache Frosting are the ratio of the three ingredients and the temperature at which each is applied. I've already lost too many hours of my life to Martha's Swiss Meringue Buttercream to bother with the chocolate variation, which just requires folding 4 1/2 oz. melted and cooled semisweet chocolate into the buttercream along with the vanilla extract. So I limited my survey of chocolate frosting to the Chocolate Ganache Frosting, Chocolate-Sour Cream Frosting, and Dark Chocolate Frosting. After trying to taste test these on three different cupcakes, I decided to take the slightly more diabetic friendly approach. As you can tell in the pictures above, I put a sampling of each frosting on top of these cupcakes. But the images below show each frosting flying solo.

The Dark Chocolate Frosting recipe is flawed. I followed it to the letter and ended up with chocolate soup. In one of the pictures in Martha Stewart's Cupcakes this frosting is piped. There's no way one could pipe the frosting the original recipe makes. I added three times the confectioner's sugar and it just barely made it spreadable, still not pipeable. Thickness aside, I got a kinda grainy consistency. This I won't blame on the recipe. The grains are definitely little bits of chocolate. I use cheapo bulk bin unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder. I didn't measure the water/cocoa powder sufficiently carefully. The water/cocoa powder mixture turned out very dry, unlike when I did basically the same procedure to make the cupcakes when it turned out very liquidy and smooth. I tried to solve the problem not by resolving the consistency of the water/cocoa powder mixture prior to adding it to the batter, but rather by beating the batter for a longer time. That said, if my water/cocoa powder mixture had been the same consistency for this frosting as it was for the cupcakes, the frosting would have been even more liquidy, so the recipe is still messed up. All that aside, this frosting tastes awesome. It's not too dark chocolate-y even though I used 73% cacao chocolate bars. Granted, some of that is due to the addition of so much confectioner's sugar. It is also glossy and pretty, which a lot of homemade chocolate frosting isn't.

The Chocolate Ganache Frosting is fantastic. Basically it's like a soft layer of chocolate on top of the cupcake. I made mine with extremely dark chocolate (the aforementioned 73% cacao chocolate bars), which makes it a bit grown up. But I bet you could use something closer to milk chocolate and make small children very happy with this decadent frosting. You might even be able to get it to just the right consistency for piping a big swirl on top of a cupcake. The tricky part is that as this cools in the fridge it gets more and more solid (though never entirely solid), so you have to use it immediately or figure out a way to warm it up to the consistency you want it. I just took it out of the fridge and warmed it in a bowl over a pot of simmering water until I could stir it to the right consistency. No problem. Like the Dark Chocolate Frosting, the Chocolate Ganache Frosting looks glossy and pretty. It's darker in color and flavor than the inaptly named Dark Chocolate Frosting.
The Chocolate-Sour Cream Frosting had the most frosting-like consistency of the three. Definitely pipe-able. I used the same suspect cocoa powder as in the Dark Chocolate Frosting and it worked out just fine with zero graininess. The downside is that it is VERY sour creamy. I used the same 73% cacao chocolate bars, which almost overwhelmed the other two. But even 73% cacao chocolate could not stand up to the mighty flavor of sour cream and cream cheese. Mind you, if you're cool with that and you want to frost a whole cake or pipe big florets on the top of some cupcakes, this one is the hands down winner. But I wonder if it's only used in one recipe in the book because the editors are put off by the flavor.
Above you can see photographic evidence of my chocolate curl fail atop, from left to right: Dark Chocolate Frosting, Chocolate Ganache Frosting, and Chocolate-Sour Cream Frosting. The recipe calls for a garnish of chocolate curls on top. The directions tell you to heat a block of good-quality chocolate in microwave for 5-second intervals, checking after each, until "just warm to the touch" before using a vegetable peeler to slice strips from the block. I tried to make a curl at room temperature, but it fell into a zillion slivers. Well, the baby was napping so I didn't want to risk waking her up with the microwave and the Santa Anas are blowing, so the thermometer in the shade on my porch said it was 107 degrees. I figured I'd bring out the block of chocolate to the porch with me while I took the other pictures of the cupcakes and it would be "just warm to the touch" by the time I was ready for my grand finale picture of the cupcakes with chocolate curls. First, the block of chocolate was not even warm to the touch before it started melting in my hand. Second, even once I succeeded in getting a curl off the block it immediately melted in the heat. I haven't mastered chocolate curls yet, but it's a big block of chocolate . . . I shall persevere.

Devil's Food Cupcakes adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes: 175 Inspired Ideas for Everyone's Favorite Treat


  • 3/4 C unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 3/4 C hot water
  • 3 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1 1/4 t salt
  • 1 1/2 C (3 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 1/4 C sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 T plus 1 t pure vanilla extract
  • 1 C sour cream, room temperature
  • Chocolate Ganache Frosting (recipe below)
  • 1 block good quality chocolate (for chocolate curls)

1. Preheat oven to 350. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk together cocoa and hot water until smooth. In another bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

2. Melt butter with sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring to combine. Remove from heat, and pour into a mixing bowl. With an electric mixer on medium-low speed, beat until mixture is cooled, 4 to 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add vanilla, then cocoa mixture, and beat until combined. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the sour cream, and beating until just combined after each.

3. Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, about 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 15 minutes. Turn out cupcakes onto rack and let cool completely. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature or frozen up to 2 months in airtight containers.

4. Use a small offset spatula to spread cupcakes with frosting. Refrigerate up to 3 days in airtight containers. Bring to room temperature before garnishing with chocolate curls just before serving.

5. Heat block of good-quality chocolate in microwave for 5-second intervals, checking after each, until just warm to the touch; do not overheat. Using a vegetable peeler, slice strips from the block, starting from the far edge of the chocolate, moving the peeler toward you, right onto the cupcakes.

Chocolate Ganache Frosting adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes: 175 Inspired Ideas for Everyone's Favorite Treat

  • 1 lb. good-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 1/3 C heavy cream
  • 1/4 C corn syrup

1. Place chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Bring cream and corn syrup just to a simmer over medium-high heat; pour mixture over chocolate. Let stand, without stirring, until chocolate begins to melt.

2. Beginning near the center and working outward, stir melted chocolate into cream until mixture is combined and smooth (do not overstir).

3. Refrigerate, stirring every 5 minutes, until frosting just barely begins to hold its shape and is slightly lighter in color. Use immediately (ganache will continue to thicken after you stop stirring).

Dark Chocolate Frosting adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes: 175 Inspired Ideas for Everyone's Favorite Treat

  • 1/2 C plus 1 T unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1/2 C plus 1 T boiling water
  • 2 1/4 C (4 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 C confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 1/2 lbs. good-quality bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled

1. Combine cocoa and boiling water, stirring until cocoa has dissolved.

2. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter, confectioners' sugar, and salt until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low. Add melted and cooled chocolate, beating until combined and scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in the cocoa mixture.

3. If not using immediately, frosting can be refrigerated for up to 5 days, or frozen up to 1 month, in an airtight container. Before using, bring to room temperature, and beat on low speed until smooth again.

Chocolate-Sour Cream Frosting adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes: 175 Inspired Ideas for Everyone's Favorite Treat

  • 1 lb. (4 C) confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 C unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 12 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3/4 C (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 18 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 1 1/2 C sour cream

1. Sift together confectioners' sugar, cocoa, and salt.

2. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat cream cheese and butter until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low. Gradually add sugar mixture; mix until combined. Mix in melted and cooled chocolate and then sour cream, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Continue beating until smooth.

3. If not using immediately, frosting can be refrigerated for up to 5 days, or frozen up to 1 month, in an airtight container. Before using, bring to room temperature, and beat on low speed until smooth again.

Previous Cupcakes of the Month:
January's Cupcake of the Month: Streusel Cupcakes
February's Cupcake of the Month: Martha's Meyer Lemon Cupcakes
March's Cupcake of the Month: Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes
April's Cupcake of the Month: Tres Leches Cupcakes
May's Cupcake of the Month: Strawberry Cupcakes
June's Cupcake of the Month: Flock of Sheep Cupcakes
July's Cupcake of the Month: Lavender-Iced Brownie Cupcakes
August's Cupcake of the Month: Cookies and Cream Cheesecakes

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Rebecca said...

What an ambitious project!

The cupcakes sound like a winner. I may have to get a cupcake carrier so I can make cupcakes more often and take them into tea.

Sarah said...

It was ambitious, but I spread it out over three days, and I might never bake again.

I highly recommend the Snapware 2-Level Cupcake Storage Carrier I mentioned back in July's Cupcake of the Month post.

I gave four of the tri-frosted cupcakes to four independent taste testers and the Chocolate-Sour Cream Frosting turned out to be the hands down winner: "The [Chocolate-Sour Cream Frosting] was a clear favorite for [Mom, Dad, and seven-year-old son]. [Three-year-old daughter] was less discerning—she dredged her little fingers through all three flavors (eating all of the icing and, as always, refusing to eat the cupcake itself) and when I asked which was her favorite said (you guessed it) 'all the flavors are my favorite in the whole gigantic world!'”

I've gotta tell ya', I'm surprised. I kinda thought the kiddos wouldn't dig any of them because of the darkness of the chocolate. Clearly I underestimated their discerning palates.