Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Chocolate Cupcake with Peppermint Buttercream

These cupcakes are my new favorite holiday treat, and they're perfect for sharing.

Last Tuesday night in the midst of paper writing season, I came to a point where I couldn't read or write another word about Thoreau or feminist theory. I needed a productive excuse to escape to my kitchen for a few hours. I knew I couldn't call my mother for suggestions because she would have told me that what I really should have been doing was writing not baking, which was the truth, but I've always been a little stubborn. Without my normal mom-sultation, I considered a couple of different holiday treats and possible flavor combinations, and I decided to try my hand at creating cupcakes that combine two of my favorite sweets. I adapted this cupcake recipe from a chocolate cake recipe, changing the butter to oil and tweaking a few small things, and I simply substituted peppermint extract for vanilla in our regular buttercream recipe and added crushed candy canes to the top for taste and decoration.

Chocolate Cupcakes (yield: 24)
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2  eggs
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fill 24 muffin tins with cupcake papers.

Whisk dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

Add wet ingredients to the dry and mix thoroughly.

Fill cupcake papers in tins 2/3 full. Bake for 15 minutes or until a toothpick/fork comes out clean from the center of a cupcake.

Remove cupcakes from tins and let them cool completely before frosting.

Peppermint Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons half and half (could substitute milk)
3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
crushed candy canes for topping (optional)

I love frosting, but I think a little goes a long way with the sweetness of buttercream. Therefore, this buttercream recipe makes just enough to frost 24 cupcakes by spreading a layer of frosting on each rather than using a piping bag, so if you like to pipe on your icing, I suggest doubling the recipe.

After the butter has softened, cream butter in a mixing bowl until fluffy. I use a handheld mixer when I'm at school, and this takes me a good five minutes of mixing. So if you're using a handheld, don't give up on your butter; just switch hands.

When the butter is fluffy, add the powdered sugar a cup at a time, mixing on a low setting to keep from decorating your counter tops with lovely, but sticky sugar. When all 4 cups have been thoroughly incorporated, add the half and half a tablespoon at a time until the consistency is spreadable (or preferred consistency for the method of frosting you desire). Then, add the peppermint extract, mixing thoroughly to incorporate the flavor evenly throughout the frosting.

Frost cupcakes and sprinkle crushed candy canes on top of each cupcake.

I took these cupcakes to choir practice the next night as a treat after our last practice before Lessons and Carols, and when we arrived I realized that some of the candy cane color had bled onto the white icing. This did not affect the taste, only the appearance, but because of this color transfer, I suggest that you serve the cupcakes the same day that you make them.Overall, I think the few hours of writing that were sacrificed proved well worth it to my sanity and the taste buds of St. Paul's choir members.

If you try this recipe over the holidays, please drop back by and let me know how it went.

Happy baking and Merry Christmas!

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