Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mini chocolate cupcakes and some weird frosting

Party time!

I have a confession to make: I really don't have much of a sweet tooth. If I have to choose, I'll take savory over sweet any day of the week. My husband DOES have a sweet tooth, but he doesn't enjoy eating the same thing more than once. Consequently, I don't end up making desserts very often. Most recipes just have a bigger yield than what we're able to consume.

But desserts are really fun to make and prepare and serve, so whenever a recipe has caught my eye, I find myself looking for excuses. The one-year anniversary of Anvil Bar & Refuge seemed like just such a perfect occasion, and the timing was excellent as I had just spotted a recipe over on The Pioneer Woman Cooks called "That's the best frosting I've ever had."

Remember: not a big sweet tooth. I like cake and frosting, but I seldom find a frosting that I really enjoy for more than a few bites. But, this recipe intrigued me. For one, it has flour in it, which is pretty weird. For another, probably due to the flour, it apparently ends up light and fluffy like whipped cream, instead of dense and heavy like buttercream.

The makings of some tasty cupcakes

The Pioneer Woman recommended pairing this frosting with her chocolate sheet cake, and I complied. This may in fact be the simplest cake recipe I have ever had the pleasure of following: Combine flour, sugar, and salt. Melt butter over the stove; stir in cocoa and then top with boiling water. Remove from heat; add to flour mixture; add buttermilk (I made my own by adding vinegar to regular milk), eggs, and vanilla. Stir to combine. Bake. DONE. Seriously, it's that simple. I didn't even have to break out my KitchenAid.

Since the anniversary party was going to be a big gathering with a lot of people, I knew I wanted to make cupcakes, as opposed to a sheet or layer cake that would have to be cut. And, since I had recently confiscated the mini cupcake tins from my parents' house, I decided to give them a whirl.

In the oven!

This turned out to be a great plan. Yes, having to fill each little cup several times over was a bit labor-intensive (my little 4oz Oxo measuring cup was awesome for this), but the positives outweighed the negatives: I got 66 mini cupcakes out of one batch of batter, and they baked far more consistently than full-sized ones do (and only about 12 minutes per pan).

Looming cupcakes

So. Remember that weird-sounding frosting? With the flour in it? Turns out, it is weird! But it ends up tasting good, so bear with me.

First, you basically create a roux, heating milk and flour together and stirring until it thickens. Now, I may have made a mistake here. It never really seemed to thicken. Also, I abandoned the pot momentarily and some of it...congealed on the bottom. I had to fish this stuff out before proceeding. Anyway, you let this mess cool to room temperature, and then stir in vanilla.

Meanwhile, cream butter and sugar. I love you, KitchenAid. When the milk/flour/vanilla combo is room temp, add it to the butter and sugar, and beat it until it resembles whipped cream.

Sounds simple enough, yes? Well, it turns out that the comparison to whipped cream is more on than just the end result. I had to beat this sucker on high for a seriously long time before it came together. None of the reviews or directions I read said anything about this, and so I kept second guessing myself. The stuff was wet and ugly-looking, and the granulated sugar the recipe calls for still tasted gritty.

Weird lookin' frosting
Uh, so, what's up with this stuff?

But I persevered, keeping in mind the whipped cream thing as well as my assumption that the sugar probably needs enough time to dissolve in the liquid. I kept at it. The sugar dissolved, but the frosting still seemed kind of liquidy. I put it in the fridge, but that only caused the liquid to separate out. So, I just kept beating it...and eventually, it did actually come together. It was still a bit wet, and it didn't look especially pretty going onto the cupcakes, but it did actually taste quite good. If I make it again, which I plan to, I'll beat it for a longer time. It is sweet, but because it's so light it's not too much too handle. Plus, since I was doing the frosting, I got to put on as little as I wanted!

The only close-up

These cupcakes turned out really well; everyone seemed to enjoy them. There weren't any left for me to take home, which I think pretty much says it all.

Update: Since I originally drafted this post, I tried both the cake (this time in sheet cake form) and the frosting again. The cake was still perfect and wonderful. The frosting? Still weird. The roux actually thickened this time, so I was hopeful, but ultimately ended up wet and ugly.

Weird frosting

...but delicious

It still tasted good, so I may give it one more shot; I think perhaps I over-beat it. Let me know if you try it and have better luck!


Fulmer said...

I'm not really much of a cupcake fan even though I do have a serious sweet tooth. Your mini cup cakes were perfect. Firm enough to hold the frosting, which was thankfully not too sweet (a common pitfall). Thanks for sharing.

Ayn said...

Thanks, and you're welcome!

apronless said...

your cupcakes are so pretty and smooth on top! mine never turn out that way.

do you think the frosting curdling has something to do with the vinegar? I dont know about the difference in acidity between buttermilk and vinegar, but maybe that has something to do with it.

Ayn said...

When I've made full-sized cupcakes, they haven't turned out with nice tops. It's the magic of the minis!

That's a worthwhile point about the vinegar; if I give it another go I will use actual buttermilk and see if it makes a difference. Thanks!

Ayn said...

Hah, I just remembered: no vinegar or buttermilk in the frosting. That's in the cake. Frosting uses just plain ol' milk. So, not the answer to the mystery of the curdled frosting. =/

I didn't use whole milk, but would that make this sort of difference?

Jenn said...

It's over beating! The same thing happened to me last week. One minute it was looking smooth and next minute it's lumpy. I looked it up and basically, the cream starts to turn to butter when over beaten. So even though you have the butter already in there, the milk is kind of in that in-between stage.

Ayn said...

Thanks for the comment and confirmation, Jenn! That's what I suspected. How do I make sure I don't over beat it without ending up with gritty sugar, though? I'll just have to keep trying!

baby cribs said...

The cupcake is beautiful even without the frosting! I like it so much!

Jenn said...

See, this frosting recipe is kinda funky. The flour is throwing me off. Usually, to avoid any grainy-ness with sugar, I'd add it in in about 4 different stages, whipping in between until its good an combined. This, rather than putting all of the sugar in at once. Good luck if you try again!