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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Chocolate Cupcakes!

Cake and Cupcake Part II:

For, me cupcakes are a reason to celebrate. This is not the same thing as saying, "cupcakes are perfect at celebrations" or "I always celebrate with cupcakes". No, not even close. Cupcakes, being the cutest and most adorable cakes around, are a reason to celebrate! On my list of most adorable things cupcakes rank somewhere between piglets, bears and spicy gumdrops.

This recipe was originally an old fashioned chocolate cake of undisclosed size. I found it huddled in a large Tupperware bin of clippings and magazine pages belonging to my Mother. She typed it out (on her typewriter) in High School and somehow it has managed to stick to her traveling menagerie of recipes since then. But, because I just had to make cupcakes I simply halved the recipe and stuck it in cups. It worked perfectly!

I'm not totally sure when my cupcake condition (and it is a condition) happened but it was some time after I graduated. It probably didn't help that within 6 months after moving home a gourmet cupcake shop opened up not a block from where I work and live. Then there was that trip to Charleston where King Street wooed me with, among other things, the cheekiest little cup-cakery, "Cupcake". My profile picture is of the two chocolate covered strawberry cupcakes I, my very sweet companion and one amiable seagull, enjoyed well before 11 am on a bench around the corner.

But what makes cupcakes cute!? Size for one. Shape, of course, but even a droopy, lumpy cupcake is still cute in a "only-your-mother-could-love it" sort of way; even the most unfortunate cupcake is still delicious! But, let's pretend all of our cupcakes turn out perfectly each and every time and we never have the need to frost away imperfections. How do you guild the lily that is the easiest, springiest chocolate cupcake? Let's start at the beginning. I don't expect any of you to have gone out and purchased that off-set spatula I told you about, much less a piping bag and very large star tip. So, let's start from the basics. Piping can be done with a Ziploc bag very cheaply and easily. I suggest a quart or freezer bag because they are heavier than sandwich bags and less likely to burst a seam and squirt out frosting. Doesn't that sounds cute, though?

Right, piping. I like to place the bag in a large mug or measuring cup and fill accordingly. Tilt the bag on a angle, so that a corner is pointing into the bottom of the cup, and fill it up. Seal the bag, leaving a small corner open to allow air to escape. I like to hold the bag in my non-dominant hand, twisting with the other hand until the icing is squeezed into the corner and conical in shape. Snip the corner of the Ziploc and you are ready to pipe. Applying pressure to the bag from the top pushes icing out of the "tip". Rocket science, yes?

If that piping bag sounds a bit too scary at this stage just use a butter knife to smooth the icing onto your cupcake. For a finished bakery appearance hold the knife almost parallel to the cupcake and skim the edge.

For the swirls: I put two drops of blue food coloring on opposite sides of a zip lock bag (repeat with red). Of course, this can be done with any colors. Also, bear in mind this is the super cheap, beginner way of piping a swirl frosting. That doesn't mean it is any less adorable! Fill the bag with frosting and then pipe a large swirl onto the cupcake. Always start from the outside and work towards the center. If you mess it up just smear a knife around the cupcake to give it a tie die effect. If you really botched it just pour some sprinkles onto a plate or into a bowl and press the cupcake into them, rolling your wrist slightly to coat the sides and edges. I can tell you from experience, there isn't anything that can't be fixed with sprinkles; except maybe really cute cupcake liners.

Makes 1 dozen
(You should have all of this in your kitchen already!)

1 cup flour, all purpose
2 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 cup cold water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup mayonnaise

1. Preheat to 350 (325 if your oven cooks hot like mine). Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.
2. Sift the dry ingredients.
3. Add the wet ingredients and mix until moistened. Using an ice cream scoop, fill the liners 3/4 full.
4. Bake the cupcakes for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick (or very sharp knife) inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean. There should be no gooey residue left on it and the cupcake should spring back when gently tapped with your finger.
5. Cool the cupcakes before icing.

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