Since this is the inaugural post here at DessertWise I thought we would kick things off with recipe that is simple and elegant; the ultimate comfort food of desserts: chocolate cake (or in this case mini-cupcakes) with buttercream frosting. It is delicious and sure to impress on any occasion, yet easy to make. Without further adieu, let’s get baking!
Part 1: Baking the cupcake
First, we will assemble our tasty ingredients for the batter:
- Butter (softened) – 3/4 cup
- Granulated Sugar – 1 3/4 cups
- Milk – 1 cup
- Vinegar – 1 tbsp
- Flour (sifted) – 1 3/4 cups
- Unsweetened Cocoa – 2/3 cup
- Baking Soda – 1 tsp
- Baking Powder – 1/2 tsp
- Salt – 3/4 tsp
- Eggs – 3
- Pure Vanilla Extract – 1 tbsp (+/- to taste)
So, the first step is to set out the butter to soften (if you haven’t already done so). If you happen to be impatient like me, you can use the microwave to soften the butter, but be sure to use on the LOWEST power setting for 15-20 seconds. We’re not trying to cook the butter here, just soften it enough to mix with the beaters. Once it begins to soften, you can place it in a large mixing bowl and mash it with a fork to get things started.
So far, so good. Next we cream the butter and sugar together using a hand mixer until it has a light fluffy consistency. If you’re lucky and you have a fancy stand mixer, feel free to use that. As you can see from the photo below, I am not that lucky.
Next, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the butter/sugar mixture. It is important to use the sifter in order to ensure even mixing of cocoa and the other ingredients in the batter. You wouldn’t want to bite into a cupcake to find a spoon-full of bittersweet chocolate, would you? Then don’t skimp on the sifting.
Now we will combine the milk and vinegar. This may sound a bit strange to be adding vinegar to cake batter, but milk and vinegar is actually a common substitute for buttermilk. Since I rarely have buttermilk on hand, I always use this method. Feel free to use real buttermilk if you prefer.
Add the milk and begin beating this mixture on a low speed for around two minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla (if desired) and beat the mixture for about two more minutes. The batter should be fully mixed and the consistency should be thick but pourable. Feel free to sneak a taste, but remember there are raw eggs in the batter. Some of us like to live dangerously, while others not so much.
Now we are ready to bake! Go ahead and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While we are waiting, we can prepare the baking pan(s). When you are making cupcakes, or in this case mini-cupcakes, you have the choice of baking with or without paper cups. I typically use the cups, but for the sake of showing the finished product, I chose to do this batch without them. If you’re not using liners, be sure to coat you pan with non-stick cooking spray. I prefer PAM for baking, which has flour in the mix. You typically want to fill your pan 1/2 to 2/3 of the way for each cupcake. It is important not to overfill, as the batter will rise over the top of the pan and your cupcakes will be stuck together.
Once the over has reached 350 degrees, we are good to go. Place the pan in the center of the rack and set your oven timer. Cupcakes typically bake for 15-18 minutes, though cooking times for different ovens vary. Additionally, if you are making mini-cupcakes the cooking time is closer to 12-15 minutes. I typically start checking the cupcakes a minute or two early just to be sure they are cooking properly.
To check for doneness, insert a toothpick into the top of the cupcake and then remove it. If it comes out clean, you are done baking. Once removed, set your cupcakes aside for a few minutes to cool.
Once cooled, place a towel on top of the pan, and gently flip the pan over. When you lift the pan, the cupcakes should slide out onto the towel. If everything goes as planned, you should have a beautiful batch of soft, spongy cupcakes ready to be frosted. Don’t worry too much if your pan was slightly under or over-filled, as the aesthetics of the cupcake will be in the frosting.
So, what are you waiting for? It’s time for the moment of truth: the taste test. These cupcakes are so moist and sweet that they are excellent right out of the oven. However, in part two of this tutorial, we will create the frosting and these cupcakes will look as great as they taste.
Part 2: Frosting and Decoration
If you’ve made it this far then the hard part is already over. Now we just need to mix up a fresh batch of buttercream frosting and get these babies decorated. Let’s start by getting our ingredients together:
- Butter (softened) – 3/4 cup
- Confectioners Sugar – 1 lb
- Milk – 3 tbsp
- Vanilla – 1 1/2 tsp
- Cocoa – As needed
- Semisweet Chocolate – 1/2 cup (depending on number of toppers needed)
As with the baking, our fist step is to cream the butter. In order to do so, it must be soft so be sure to set it out at least 20 minutes prior to starting. Beat the butter and 1 cup of the sugar at a low speed with your electric mixer until it is fluffy.
Next add the remainder of the sugar and milk. Beat the mixture until it has a smooth consistency that is firm enough for spreading. Add more sugar to stiffen the mixture or more milk to soften it as needed. Once it is just right, add the vanilla and cocoa (if desired). If you want the full chocolate flavor I usually use about 1/3 of a cup of cocoa. However, in this instance I added closer to 1/8 of a cup as I was just looking for a light chocolate flavor and color, while keeping the vanilla flavor strong.
At this point, you can place the frosting in the refrigerator with a sheet of plastic to cover it and keep it from drying out. While the frosting is chilling down, prepare the decorator’s bag by cutting a hole at the end just big enough for the tip to come about half-way through. You can use any tip you prefer… I simply used a standard star shape. Finally, remove the frosting and spoon it into the bag, sealing the other end with a rubber band.
To frost the cupcake, start at the outside and squeeze evenly as you move in a circular motion towards the center. As you reach the center, stop piping the frosting and simple pull the bag away to create the peak.
At this point we are basically done. You could serve these cupcakes and they would look and taste fantastic, however I decided to take them a bit further by adding chocolate molded toppers and a light dusting of cocoa.
The question I’m sure you have is where to get the mold. Any craft store such as Michaels or Jo Ann Fabric should carry them, otherwise they can be found easily at an online retailer such as Amazon. Place a small hand-full of chocolate chips in a microwavable cup or bowl and microwave at 50% power for a minute. Remove the cup, stir and microwave for an additional 30 seconds. Repeat, as necessary, until the chocolate is smooth and pourable. Now fill the mold and place in the fridge for 5-10 minutes. I’ve found the easiest way to fill the mold is to pour the melted chocolate into a squeeze bottle like those you typically find used for condiments. This will allow you to be much more precise and less messy.
Next, remove the mould from the fridge and turn upside down over a paper towel. Tap lightly on the top of the mold to release the chocolate and set aside.
Now I add a light dusting of cocoa powder for aesthetics. Place a small spoon-full of the cocoa powder in a strainer and shake lightly over the cupcakes.
Finally, insert the moulded chocolate into the icing of the cupcakes as desired. And that’s it… your basic chocolate cupcakes with buttercream frosting that look and taste fantastic. Now comes the best part of making any dessert… the taste test. Enjoy!