Rich Brownie Cupcakes with Candy Cane Buttercream
Well, apparently that last post took a lot outta me. It did take me something like a bazillion hours (roughly) to put together, so a brief blogging hiatus would be expected. But here I am, a full two weeks later, writing my next post. Where-oh-where did the time go?
To be fair, I've had quite a bit going on. In addition to the card-sending, house-decorating, and gift-shopping activities that generally come along with the holidays, we hosted visitors for 5 days at our home. Eric just completed his third go-round in the oh-so-hip sounding Las Vegas Rock 'n Roll Marathon, and his parents were in town for the occasion. Well, to clarify, his mom ran the marathon too. I know. Impressive.
In fact, as of now, I think that I have the clear distinction of being the only family member on Eric's side who has never run a marathon. His dad ran a little race called the Boston Marathon a few years back. His sister has run in her fair share of 26.2 milers too. He has a cousin who is a triathlete, not to be confused with the cousin who is a Marine or the one who was once sponsored by a running shoe company. Sheesh! I'm surprised that I wasn't required to run timed sprints before Eric was permitted to marry me :)
I would love to be able to run a marathon, or even a half, but I've never been much of a long distance runner. That whole training-in-Las Vegas-in-115 degree-heat thing is kind of daunting too. Who knows though? Stranger things have happened. Not many, but a few. I do love the idea of being able to eat whatever I want and not gain an ounce during training though.....hmmmmm.
The night before the marathon, we hosted a big carbo-loading dinner at our home, complete with lasagna, bread, and the works. When the conversation turned to marathon running war stories, most of which ended with "Well, I blew out my knee as a result and never ran again.....But good luck tomorrow, guys!", I happily excused myself to get dessert ready.
We haven't done much holiday entertaining this year, so I was happy to have an audience for my latest cupcake creation. Chocolate is always a safe bet with a crowd, but I wanted to try something a bit different from my usual chocolate cupcake. I figured that, since the runners would be burning something like 5500 calories the next day, they could afford to eat something more indulgent. The base of this cupcake is similar to a fudgy brownie, meant to be slightly undercooked. The minty buttercream is not only festive, but it provides a nice refreshing contrast to the rich brownie. I believe that it was this cupcake that helped Eric to shave 20 minutes off of last year's marathon time. You're welcome sweetie! Here are a few extra tips for making these minty-chocolate treats:
- As noted below, the brownie cupcakes are meant to be fudgy as opposed to cakey. An inserted toothpick should still emerge with a few moist crumbs attached. The cupcakes are also great served after chilling for a few hours, but add the frosting after chilling.
- To create the red and white candy cane "swirls", as seen in the photos, you will need red food coloring, a piping bag, a small paint brush, and a large star tip for piping. Dip the paint brush into the food coloring, and paint a stripe on the inside of the piping bag, running from the bottom to the top. Paint three more stripes, so that you have one on each quadrant of the piping bag. Carefully place the buttercream into the bag, trying not to disturb the stripes. Pipe the buttercream in swirls onto the cupcakes.
- An alternative to topping the cupcakes with peppermint candies would be to add brownie cut-outs, such as the one in the photo at the top. When filling the cupcake liners with the batter, reserve enough batter to make about a 1/2-inch layer in a small, foil-lined baking pan. Bake this layer along with the cupcakes and allow to cool (chilling for several hours helps too.) Using small cookie cutters, cut shapes from this layer and place them on top of the buttercream.
Rich Brownie Cupcakes with Candy Cane Buttercream
Makes about 24 cupcakes
For the cupcakes
10 ounces butter
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
6 large eggs
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
For the Candy Cane Buttercream
12 ounces butter, softened
4 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces white chocolate, melted and cooled to lukewarm
3-4 tablespoons heavy cream
1-2 teaspoons peppermint extract
Red food coloring (optional)
Prepare the cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line two 12-cup cupcake tins with paper liners. In a medium saucepan set over medium-low heat, melt the butter and the chocolate, stirring frequently. Transfer the chocolate mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary after each addition. Beat in the sugar until the mixture is thick and smooth. Beat in the vanilla.
Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon into a medium bowl. Add the cocoa mixture to the batter, beating on low speed until combined. Scoop the batter into the lined cupcake tins, filling each cup about 2/3 full.
Bake the cupcakes for 22-26 minutes, until the tops are puffed and firm and a toothpick inserted into the center emerges with moist crumbs attached (it should not be completely clean--the brownies are meant to be fudgy.) Let the cupcakes cool for 10 minutes in the pan and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
Prepare the buttercream: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter with the confectioner's sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Beat in the cooled white chocolate until well combined. Add enough of the heavy cream until the buttercream reaches your desired consistency for piping or spreading and beat on high speed for 1 minute more. Beat in 1-2 teaspoons peppermint extract (depending on how strong you want the peppermint flavor to be.) Color with red food coloring, if desired.
Pipe or spread the buttercream decoratively onto the cupcakes and top with a peppermint candy or crushed peppermint candies (for extra decorating suggestions, see the tips above.)