And a killer one at that…
Who here remembers that awesome Christmas Cloud Cake I made for Christmas last year? I sure do. It’s a gorgeous layered chocolate cake, imbibed with raspberry liqueur syrup, filled with whipped chocolate ganache and coated with an amazing candy cane frosting. It was sooooo good! Instead of just crushing the candy canes and stirring them into a batch of frosting or buttercream, I actually melted the candy and turned it into a syrup, which I then used to make an Italian meringue. In other words, instead of ending up with a smooth frosting with weird crunchy/sticky/chewy bits of candy cane here and there – what I would have had if I had gone the traditional candy cane frosting route – I ended up with a super smooth frosting packed with candy cane flavor. It was delicious!
So this year, I wanted to make it again! But a little differently… Instead of making candy cane frosting, which was really just a candy cane flavored Italian meringue, I decided to make actual candy cane buttercream. Because, as you probably all know by now from reading my blog or other blogs or listening to your grandmother or your foodie neighbor, by adding butter to an Italian meringue you can make Italian buttercream!
Tatadadaaaaa! <– dramatic effect
So so so, in other words, this recipe is really, really, really easy and super duper delicious! Super duper duper… And the chocolate cupcake recipe is perfect!
You see, I like things easy. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this. I’ve talked about how difficult recipes should be easier right? I’ve told you I don’t like things complicated. Not my life, not my man, not my baking… Period! And for a pretty good while my favorite chocolate cake recipe had been anything but easy. It was complicated.
But not anymore! This is my new favorite recipe for chocolate cupcakes! It is, like I said, super easy (actually I think I said ‘super duper easy’) and incredibly moist and delicious and chocolatey. So perfect, if I may say so myself… I mean, you don’t even need a mixer! Say what now? Not even a mixer! Just a whisk, a spoon and a few bowls. Three. Three bowls… But if you’re lazy I bet you can make that two bowls.
Oh, and yes you do need a muffin pan of some sort. We’re making cupcakes here. You can’t do that without a muffin pan…
Anyway, here’s how you make my gorgeous, dreamy, dense, super chocolatey cupcakes. You first dissolve a little bit of instant coffee granules in some hot (as in: previously boiling) water. Stir, stir, stir. If you don’t have instant coffee, by all means leave it out, but it does make the chocolate flavor a bit more intense. Anyway, add sugar and stir, stir, stir again until the sugar has dissolved. Add some brown sugar and don’t even care anymore whether it dissolves or not. It doesn’t even matter. As long as the white sugar has dissolved. It somehow makes the cupcakes rise a bit better. Add buttermilk and a splash of vanilla and you’re finished with bowl number 1!
So, moving on to bowl number 2: crack an egg and add some sunflower oil. Or canola oil. Or another neutral tasting oil. Whisk for about 1 minute, then set aside.
Moving on to bowl number 3! Stir together all-purpose flour, cocoa powder (Dutch-processed!), baking soda, baking powder and salt.
Add 2 to 1 and whisk to combine. Add 3 and whisk again until the batter is smooth. Divide the batter over cupcake liners and that’s it! You’re done! Easy right? Don’t forget to bake them though…
Especially if you top them with candy cane buttercream!
What is it about candy canes? Why do they make everyone I know happy? Why do they make me so insanely (yes, insanely) happy? Well, what can I say? They remind me of Chip and Dale, and Mickey Mouse. And Pluto. And Christmas, of course…
All happy things…
Anyway, I always buy the strawberry flavored ones, so I’ve used those in this recipe. The strawberry flavored candy canes pair beautifully with the dark chocolate cupcakes. However, if you’re a fan of the peppermint flavored candy canes – and you like to eat pepperminty, chocolatey things – you can use those instead! You might want to use a little less candy cane though, as peppermint is quite a strong, overwhelming flavor. I’d say use about half the amount of candy canes if you’re going with the peppermint variety, maybe even less! Whatever you do, make sure that the total of sugar and candy canes you use to make the Italian meringue is about 260g (or a little over 9 ounces). Aka: even if you only want to use 1 or 2 candy cane you can make this recipe: you just need to use more granulated sugar.
Just one last tip on the candy canes: buy the classic red and white ones. No green and red, or even blue and red. I guess just green and white or blue and white, or even just red, green or blue would be fine too, but I don’t recommend using two-toned (three-toned if you include the white) candy canes. As the candy canes melt into the syrup, the colors will blend together. And I’m not sure a mixture of red and green (aka: yucky brownish color!) would look very pretty on top of a cupcake…
So stick with the classic red and white!
Oh wait, and one last thought on the buttercream: once you start adding the butter to the Italian meringue, it may start to look as if its separating. That’s okay. Just keep mixing and whipping and the buttercream will come together. Be patient! It’s worth it! It won’t take that long anyway… You’re buttercream will become smooth and delicious!
Oh, and always, always, serve buttercream at room temperature! Cold buttercream is no good!
Can’t wait for Christmas!
Please note: this buttercream contains raw eggs. This does not bother me in the least, and I have never gotten sick from eating raw eggs, so I encourage you not to worry about it either if you’re healthy. The risk of becoming ill from eating raw eggs is actually very low. However, it is generally recommended that products made with raw eggs – even delicious cupcakes like these – should not be served to kids under the age of 5, pregnant women, the elderly, or sick people.
- 120ml (or ½ cup) boiling water
- ½ teaspoon instant coffee granules
- 145g (or ⅔ cup + 2½ teaspoons) granulated sugar
- 120g (or ½ cup + 2 teaspoons, packed) light brown sugar
- 130ml (or ½ cup + 2 teaspoons) buttermilk
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 60ml (or ¼ cup) sunflower oil (or canola oil)
- 1 large egg
- 100g (or ¾ cup + 2½ teaspoons) all-purpose flour
- 80g (or ½ cup + 3 tablespoons) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- pinch of salt
- 130g (or ½ cup + 2½ tablespoons) granulated sugar
- 130g (or 4.5 ounces) candy canes, about 12 medium-sized candy canes*
- 45ml (or 3 tablespoons) water
- 2 egg whites
- 120g (or ½ cup + 1½ teaspoons) unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature
- crushed candy canes to decorate
- Preheat the oven to 175°C/350°F (standard oven setting) and line a 12-cup muffin pan (or 2 6-cup muffin pans) with cupcake liners. This recipe will make 10-12 cupcakes.
- In a small heatproof bowl, combine the coffee and boiling water. Stir to dissolve the coffee. Add the granulated sugar and stir until completely dissolved. Adding the sugar will also cool the coffee. Add the brown sugar and stir to incorporate. The brown sugar won't dissolve completely, but that's fine. Stir in the buttermilk and vanilla.
- In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the egg and oil until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. It will kind of look like mayonnaise. Whisk the wet ingredients (the coffee mixture) into the egg mixture until the mixture looks smooth.
- In a small bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and whisk until smooth. Divide the batter over the cupcake liners, filling them about three-quarters full with batter. Place on a wire rack in the middle of the oven and bake for 20-22 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of one of the cupcakes comes out clean.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes before turning them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, candy canes and water. Place over low heat, stirring with a metal spoon until the sugar and candy canes have completely dissolved. Stop stirring and crank the heat up to medium-high. Allow the mixture to come to a boil.
- n the meantime, add the egg whites to a medium-sized, heatproof bowl and mix (with a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment) until foamy and the whites are almost able to hold soft peaks.
- Once the syrup is boiling, clip on a candy (or sugar) thermometer.
- Cook until the syrup reaches 116°C/240°F, then take the pan off the heat and slowly drizzle the hot syrup into the bowl with the foamy egg whites, mixing continuously to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Don't pour the syrup onto the whisk, or the syrup may splatter against the sides of the bowl (or into your face!). Instead, aim for a spot close to the whisk.
- Once all the syrup has been added, keep mixing until the bottom of the bowl feels cool to the touch and the meringue has completely cooled.
- Once the meringue feels cool, you can start adding the butter one cube at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once you've added all the butter, the mixture may start to look as if its separating. Don't panic! Just keep mixing and whipping and the buttercream will magically come together and become smooth and gorgeous.
- Once the buttercream is smooth and fluffy, make sure the cupcakes have completely cooled. If the cupcakes are even a tad warm, the buttercream will melt! Frost the cupcakes any way you like. I used a large closed star tip and a piping bag (duh!).
- Cupcakes are best served the day you make them (in which case you can keep them at room temperature), but they can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. If the cupcakes have been stored in the fridge, allow to come to room temperature before serving (this takes about 1 hours in a warm kitchen).
- Decorate with a sprinkle of crushed candy canes just before serving.
** The candy cane buttercream is made with Italian meringue. Although this meringue is made by pouring hot sugar syrup onto egg whites, the syrup is not hot enough to pasteurize the egg whites. Therefore, it is recommended that you not serve this buttercream to kids under the age of 5, the elderly, pregnant women or sick people.