The kitchen became a veritable science lab with spilled flour, batter-scraped dishes piled high in the sink, and a distinctly sour, metallic smell resulting from simmering vinegar too long and at too high of a temperature. Note to readers: When creating your own balsamic glaze, do not rush the process, apologize in advance to all residents of the home who will likely be forced off the premises by the oppressive stench, and open every window -- even if it's winter and you will freeze. Freezing may be preferable to the smell.
But, alas, those were the good old days. This year, with my crazy work schedule, I knew I would only have time to bake one thing. After much deliberation, I settled upon the chocolate cupcakes from Molly Wizenberg's book, A Homemade Life. In the beginning of the chapter, she laments how cupcakes nowadays are "mounded high -- almost obscenely . . . with swirls of buttercream."
Upon reading that line, she had my attention in full. (See previous blog post on why buttercream creeps me out.) Wizenberg's recipe opts instead for a thin layer of melted chocolate covering the top, which sounded perfect. I tried one batch following her recipe exactly, and then tried another where I attempted to melt white chocolate chips in the microwave and add mint extract to them for a fresh, wintry flavored glaze.
It didn't work.
The white chocolate chips only liquefied slightly into a mealy sort of paste that was really hard to work with and not what I was hoping for. So, I scooped the sticky lump into the trash can and decided I could probably achieve the same effect by glazing the cupcakes with melted chocolate chips and topping them with crushed candy cane bits. This worked gloriously.
The batter itself was about the moistest and most decadent chocolate cake I have ever tasted, and the dark chocolate mint combo on top was reminiscent of those Candy Cane Joe-Joes that line the shelves at Trader Joe's each Christmas season. I couldn't have been happier.
I know Christmas is over, but that doesn't mean you can't still bake these cupcakes! And if you're not in the mood for mint, use a high quality chocolate to glaze the top and then add some sprinkles for decoration, as in the picture above.
(adapted from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg)
1 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup hot brewed coffee
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup + 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 large egg
1/4 cup safflower oil, or other mild-flavored oil
1/2 cup well-stirred plain whole milk yogurt (not low fat or nonfat)
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Line the wells of standard-sized muffin tins with paper liners.
Put the chocolate chips in a blender and grind until they become tiny shavings that are almost powder-like. Add the chocolate powder to a medium bowl and then pour the hot brewed coffee over it. Stir until the chocolate is melted and fully combined.
Next, whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, or alternatively a mixing bowl, if you plan to use handheld beaters, beat the egg on medium speed until it is pale yellow, about 1 minute. Add the oil, yogurt, and vanilla, beating well. Gradually pour in the melted chocolate mixture and beat to thoroughly combine.
If using a stand mixer, switch to the paddle attachment and add the dry ingredients all at once. Mix on low speed until the batter is just combined. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl and briefly stir to make sure all the dry ingredients are absorbed.
Spoon the batter into the wells of the muffin tins, making sure that it is evenly distributed. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the cupcakes comes out clean.
Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool for another 20 minutes before carefully removing the cupcakes. Meanwhile, get your topping and glaze ready.
Chocolate Glaze and topping
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, (or 3 oz. high quality bittersweet chocolate, such as Scharffen Berger)
1 candy cane crushed into tiny little bits
Use the above method to melt the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl, stirring every minute until fully melted.
Place the candy cane in a Ziploc bag, let all the air out, and seal it tightly. Place the bag on a cutting board, or other stable surface and proceed to bang away at it with either a hammer or a rolling pin. Keep going until it becomes a fine dust with just a few larger pieces to add color and texture.
Once the cupcakes have cooled, spoon dollops of the melted chocolate on top of them, and then use the back of the spoon to ensure it is smooth and even. Next, use your fingers to sprinkle candy can dust (or regular old sprinkles) on top of the wet chocolate for decoration.
At this point, you can either wait until the chocolate cools and re-hardens (that is my preference). Or, you can eat them while the chocolate glaze is still warm and gooey, but I warn you that doing so will require lots of napkins and a large glass of milk.