Chocolate Overload Cupcakes

DSC_2280aRECIPE: This is the second time I’ve made this recipe, and I was keen to experiment with the method to see if I could improve it. The first time I made it I followed the recipe and the cake turned out a bit grainy and dry. I didn’t adjust the quantities of ingredients this time, but instead of mixing all the dry then adding all the wet in one go, I used the more traditional method of creaming the butter and sugar first. I then added the egg and vanilla and the remaining wet ingredients before blending in the dry. I didn’t cream it for long, as I didn’t want to incorporate too much air and end up with a cake that was too fluffy and unable to carry the weight of the frosting. The outcome was a much better textured cake. I always use patty pan cake tins rather than muffin tins because in my experience a smaller cake is much more appealing to people. In the smaller size you will get 24 cupcakes. The recipe has US measurements that I had to convert to grams.

COMPONENTS: I adjusted the method for the cake, but didn’t change anything else. The ganache is straightforward but you are likely to have some left over. Either halve the recipe, or save spare ganache for other recipes (there’s lots of ways to use it) or as a chocolate topping for ice cream that sets in a firm shell. You will note that the chocolate frosting uses shortening as well as butter. I noted this as a benefit in a previous post about gingerbread cupcakes as it helps to stabilise the frosting. You’ll also have spare frosting, unless you like to pile it as high as your cake. I prefer more cake than frosting, and don’t forget there’s ganache as well, so it’s already quite sweet!

ASSEMBLY: I cooled the cakes to room temperature, cut out their tops then added a teaspoonful of warm ganache to each. I put them in a fridge to set the ganache before adding the frosting, which would melt otherwise. The other time I made these cupcakes, I added a malteser to the frosting as a topper, which added a nice bit of crunch. Chocolate sprinkles or some form of tempered chocolate would be good too.

IMPRESSION: Great recipe, especially with the more traditional method for the cake that I described above. Went down a treat at work!

Recipe from Life Love and Sugar by Lindsay

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Gingerbread cupcakes

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RECIPE: I was testing recipes for wedding cupcakes and wanted something a bit different from the usual. This recipe was easy to follow and everyone raved about the results. They’ve got a great gingerbread flavour with the molasses creating strong undertones that make them really interesting (and tasty) to eat. The heat of the ginger is balanced nicely by the maple cream cheese frosting. If you’re converting the US measurements, write them down so you don’t accidentally use a wrong measurement halfway through. I topped the cupcakes with gingerbread hearts that I made from a Bourke Street Bakery recipe – any recipe would probably do.

COMPONENTS: The cake is very light and fluffy, and the first time I made it the cupcakes collapsed a little when I added the toppings. I possibly could have prevented this by creaming the butter and sugar for less time. It’s also important to cool the cakes in the tin for long enough that they firm up and don’t break apart during removal. Making the buttercream was straightforward, but it needs to be kept cool. If it’s a warm day, it might be necessary to cool it part way through so it doesn’t separate.

ASSEMBLY: The buttercream has no stabiliser (typically egg), so melts really quickly. It needs to be cooled before applying, and kept cool. I had terrible trouble with what is called ‘broken’ buttercream, which happens when it is too hot or too cold. Some recipes use either vegetable shortening, lard, or egg in some form to stabilise the buttercream so it’s better able to cope with the heat. I’ve tried all these methods and they are all an improvement. The gingerbread hearts were prepared well ahead of time and stored in a plastic container.

IMPRESSION: Great recipe once you get the techniques right. I’d consider swapping some of the butter for shortening, just to help stabilise the buttercream in hot weather. The gingerbread hearts made a great crunchy ‘topper’ for the cupcakes. They were a big hit!

Recipe from A Taste of Home (with US cup sizes)

Fraisier

RECIPE: This is another pretty cake I had admired from the Great British Bake Off. The recipe for Fraisier seems to vary a bit. The traditional version uses a genoise sponge, an alcohol flavoured syrup, fresh strawberries and crème pâtissiére, topped with almond paste; however, the type of sponge can vary and it can alternatively be topped with meringue and glaze or simply dusted with confectioners’ sugar. My recipe used a ladyfinger sponge cake, but I substituted a spare joconde sponge that I had frozen after making L’Opera. The recipe also used a more complicated mousseline cream, which was delicious: you mix an Italian meringue with an egg yolk buttercream and then blend this combination with a crème pâtissiére. I’ve noticed some recipes use gelatine.

COMPONENTS: I can’t comment on the cake, but otherwise there were a lot of steps, especially compared with other recipes for Fraisier. You had to liquidise the sugar and heat it to 118 degrees Celsius for both the Italian meringue and the egg yolk buttercream, which is a step that requires constant attention and careful timing. It all came together well though. My mousseline cream was soft, even after being in the fridge for an hour or so, and this affects the assembly of the cake. I can see why other recipes use gelatine. I probably should have spread the meringue a little thinner on the top of the cake – the recipe doesn’t say how thick and I realised afterwards it would have been better at 2mm instead of 5mm. It’s a finishing trim rather than a full component of the cake. My apricot glaze needed to be thinner; it sat on top of the cake instead of flowing over it. The recipe said to sprinkle sugar over the strawberries before adding the rest of the cream. The cake was very sweet, so this step really wasn’t necessary.

ASSEMBLY: This was definitely the hardest part of making this cake and can really impact the finished look, which is why mine (above left) is nowhere near as pretty as the picture from the recipe (above right). You really need your sponge to go right to the edges of your tin mould. In hindsight, I wish I had cut smaller cakes and then assembled them in the cutters, just so the cake went right to the edges. The mousseline cream is soft, so even if you line up your strawberries with the edge of the cake, the cream will push them out from between the cakes. I had major overflow issues! I could only get huge strawberries so had to cut them in half. The cake will be flatter and more stable with consistently sized strawberries. See my post on L’Opera for tips on getting flatter cakes.

IMPRESSION: The taste was great, but it didn’t look at all like it was supposed to. I may try this again one day because there were multiple aspects I need to work on, but maybe with a different recipe. I think I’ll try Mary Berry’s, although I’d still use Felder’s finish of the meringue and glaze, which has the potential to look amazing.

Recipe from Patisserie by Christophe Felder.

L’Opera

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RECIPE: I had some chocolate ganache left over from another recipe, so L’Opera seemed like a good option. Opera Cake is joconde sponge painted with coffee syrup and layered with coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache, and topped with a chocolate glaze. While you might expect this cake to be a sugar-overload, it had a light coffee flavour that worked well with the light sponge. It’s kind of a French version of Tiramisu. I halved the recipe, and still had a LOT of cake. If you’re halving a recipe, it’s not a bad idea to write the halved amount in pencil on your recipe, so you don’t forget halfway through…

COMPONENTS: I was pleasantly surprised that all the components of this cake were easy to prepare. Having your butter at ‘room temperature’ for buttercream means about 20 degrees (not the temperature of my kitchen, which is often 30 degrees!). In the process of halving the recipe, I added the full amount of sugar to the egg whites. I discovered that it’s not possible to bring additional egg whites to a soft peak and add them to a meringue – the air went out of the whole lot very quickly, so I had to start the eggs again, made the full recipe for the cake component and ended up with some spare joconde for the freezer.

ASSEMBLY: To get an even sponge layer, flip the sponge onto a flat surface lined with baking paper so that both sides are flattened. To get a much sharper finish than I achieved, place the top layer of sponge on the cake upside down so the flattest side is up. Use a palette knife to flatten a thick layer of buttercream, then cool before adding the glaze.

IMPRESSION: I loved this surprisingly easy cake for the light coffee flavour and light texture, didn’t find it difficult and would definitely try it again, and it even freezes well.

Recipe from Patisserie by Christophe Felder.