Friday, June 25, 2010

Cook's Illustrated and cupcakes

As an end-of-the-year gift, one of my advisees gave me a subscription to Cook's Illustrated magazine.  We were all envious of this young man's lunches, leftovers from dinner the night before.  (At my school we do not have a cafeteria.  I eat in my classroom everyday with my 12 seventh grade advisees.  Imagine the shocked look I got from a group of Arlésiens when I shared that fact one day over a 2 hour lunch...)  Anyway, the mom of this jeune homme loves to cook and attended my Sabbatical Chef Academy Nights Provence cooking class last winter.  I received two issues of the magazine yesterday and am already in love with it.  It goes into great, but understandable, detail about the recipes and why they work the way they do.  No glossy photos.  Black and white illustrations.  The May/June issue features Notes from Readers (example- What is Italian-style flour and how should I use it?), Quick Tips (safely storing knives in drawers by making holders out of wine corks, how to grate ginger), recipes for almost hands-free risotto, grill-roasted beef, sautéed pork cutlets, grilled tuna steaks, empanadas, braised chicken, grilled asparagus, buttermilk waffles, and chocolate cupcakes (more on this later!), a guide to garlic, reviews of supermarket vanilla ice cream and plastic storage containers, Kitchen Notes (decorating cupcakes, mapping your broiler, the perfect hard-boiled egg) and finally Equipment Corner (flour dough whisk, wine chillers).  The magazine is only 32 pages, but full of great information for even a novice like me.  The back covers are frame-worthy prints, in my opinion.
I admit to being somewhat of a magazine junkie.  I try to limit myself, with only subscriptions to Newsweek (a thank you gift for a donation to WUNC radio), Our State (the totally gorgeous magazine about North Carolina-- the July issue features "100 foods you must eat in North Carolina's 100 counties" -- Magnolia Grill won for Durham county) and now Cook's Illustrated.  The Ex-Ex's parents gave him a subscription to Nebraskaland magazine for Christmas (they moved to NC from the Cornhusker State in 1970).  (We gave them one to Our State...)  I treat myself to other magazines before car or plane trips.
Today I will make the "Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes."  Yvonne Ruperti went to great lengths to perfect her recipe, making over 800 of the little devils before coming up with the proper combination of ingredients.  I've been making cupcakes for as long as I can remember, but they have become very chic in the past few years, showing up at weddings, in French bakery windows (as photographed by Carol, Paris Breakfasts blogger) and, evidently, on Sex and the City, a show/movie I haven't ever watched.

The next day...
I had fun with these cupcakes.  I made some with the ganache filling, some without.  The ganache-filled ones sunk in the middle when they came out of the oven.  A nice little hole for more icing, in my opinion!  The regular ones baked up beautifully.

I made the peanut butter frosting first.

Then I mixed the leftover peanut butter with the leftover ganache to come up with a chocolate-peanut butter frosting.

And I made vanilla frosting.

The vanilla frosting was a bit tricky.  When I finished whipping it up with Mildred, my Kitchen-Aid mixer, it was too runny to use as frosting.  So, in desperation, I got out a whisk and just started playing with it while whining about what to do.  Lo and behold, in no time at all it firmed up quickly and turned out perfect.  As you can see, it is not a mile-high fluffy frosting, but it tastes divine.  Very smooth (melting the sugar with the egg whites is the key), not too sweet, creamy.
Aren't they pretty?

Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes with Ganache Filling
(makes 12 cupcakes)

The cupcakes can be made without the filling, if you wish, for a more traditional cupcake.  I tried them both ways.

Ganache filling
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1/4 c. heavy cream
1 Tbsp. confectioners' sugar

Chocolate Cupcakes
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1/3 c. Dutch-processed cocoa
3/4 c. hot coffee
3/4 c. bread flour
1/2 tsp.  table salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
6 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 tsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 recipe Frosting

1.  For Ganache filling:  Place chocolate, cream and confectioners' sugar in medium microwave-safe bowl.  Heat in microwave on high until mixture is warm to touch, 20-30 seconds.  Whisk until smooth; transfer bowl to refrigerator and let stand until just chilled, no longer than 30 minutes.
2.  For Cupcakes:  Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350F.  Line standard-size muffin pan (cups have 1/2-cup capacity) with baking-cup liners.  Place chocolate and cocoa in medium bowl.  Pour hot coffee over mixture and whisk until smooth.  Set in refrigerator to cool completely, about 20 minutes.  Whisk flour, sugar, salt and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.  Whisk oil, eggs, vinegar and vanilla into cooled chocolate-cocoa mixture until smooth.  Add flour mixture and whisk until smooth.  Divide batter evenly among muffin pan cups.  Place one slightly rounded teaspoon ganache filling on top of each cupcake.  Bake until cupcakes are set and just firm to touch, 17-19 minutes.  Cool cupcakes in muffin pan on wire rack until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes.  Carefully lift each cupcake from muffin pan and set on wire rack.  Cool to room temperature before frosting, about 1 hour.
3.  To Frost:  Mound 2-3 tablespoons frosting on center of each cupcake.  Using small icing spatula or butter knife, spread frosting to edge of cupcake, leaving slight mound in center.  Cupcakes could then be rolled in topping.  Place topping (such as chopped nuts) on a plate.  Holding the cupcake at its base, gently roll the outer edges of the frosting in the topping.  Or frosting can be piped, using a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain or star tip.  Starting at the outside edge and working inward, pipe the frosting into a spiral.  Sprinkle lightly with a topping, if desired.

Creamy Chocolate Frosting
(makes about 2-1/4 cups)

Note:  Cool the chocolate to between 85 and 100 degrees before adding it to the frosting.  If the frosting seems too soft after adding the chocolate, chill it briefly in the refrigerator and then re-whip it until creamy.  The frosting can be made up to 24 hours in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container.  When ready to frost, place frosting in a microwave-safe container and warm briefly on high power until just slightly softened, 5-10 seconds.  Once warmed, stir until creamy.

1/3 c. (2-1/3 oz.) granulated sugar
2 large egg whites
Pinch table salt
12 Tbsp. (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1-Tbsp. pieces
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1.  Combine sugar, egg whites and salt in bowl of stand mixer; place bowl over pan of simmering water.  Whisking gently but constantly, heat mixture until slightly thickened, foamy, and registers 150 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 2-3 minutes.
2.  Place bowl in stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment.  Beat mixture on medium speed until consistency of shaving cream and slightly cooled, 1-2 minutes.  Add butter, 1 piece at a time, until smooth and creamy.  (Frosting may look curdled after half of butter has been added; it will smooth with additional butter.)  Once all butter is added, add cooled melted chocolate and vanilla; mix until combined.  Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light, fluffy, and thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds, scraping beater and side of bowl with rubber spatula as necessary.

Creamy Peanut Butter Frosting
Follow recipe for Creamy Chocolate Frosting, omitting bittersweet chocolate, increasing sugar to 1/2 cup, and increasing salt to 1/8 teaspoon.  Add 2/3 cup creamy peanut butter to frosting with vanilla extract in step 2.  Garnish cupcakes with 1/2 cup chopped peanuts, if desired.

Creamy Vanilla Frosting
Follow recipe for Creamy Chocolate Frosting, omitting bittersweet chocolate and increasing sugar to 1/2 cup.  (If final frosting seems too thick, warm mixer bowl briefly over pan of simmering water.  Place bowl back on mixer stand and beat on medium-high speed until creamy.  Mine seemed too thin so I whisked it and it firmed up.)

Bon appétit, Cook's Illustrated and merci to the Maxfield family!

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