Monday, August 25, 2008

Baking for company: Cinnamon cupcakes with chile-chocolate buttercream


As I mentioned before, the boyfriend and I had dinner guests on Friday night. I'm still getting the hang of entertaining, so I wanted to make as much in advance as I could. So Thursday I set aside the afternoon to tackle this intriguing sounding cake recipe from Food and Wine (natch).

Ingredients

Cake - this recipe yielded 22 cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for buttering the paper
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour cream

Frosting - if you're making cupcakes, halve this recipe!

  • 5 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 pound confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder (I substituted valle de sol chile pepper)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 5 ounces white chocolate, melted and cooled
Directions
  1. Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper and butter the paper. Dust the pans with flour, tapping out the excess.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour with the cake flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter with the sugar at medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs and vanilla until incorporated. In 3 alternating additions, add the dry ingredients and sour cream, scraping down the side of the bowl between additions.
  3. Scrape the batter evenly into the prepared pans. Bake the cakes on the lower and middle racks of the oven for about 30 minutes (for cupcakes, only 20 minutes was needed), until golden and springy and the edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer the cakes to racks and let cool for 15 minutes, then turn the cakes out and let them cool completely. Remove the parchment paper.
  4. Meanwhile, make the frosting: In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter until creamy. At low speed, beat in the confectioners’ sugar. Increase the speed to high and beat until fluffy, scraping down the side of the bowl, about 2 minutes longer. At low speed, beat in the cream, vanilla, cinnamon, ancho chile powder and cayenne, then gradually beat in the bittersweet and white chocolate. Scrape down the side of the bowl and the paddle, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light, 3 minutes longer. Using a wooden spoon, vigorously beat the buttercream for 30 seconds to deflate any air bubbles.
  5. Place one cake layer on a plate and spread with 1 cup of the frosting. Top with the second cake layer and spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides. Refrigerate the cake for at least 30 minutes. Bring to room temperature before serving.

MAKE AHEAD The cake can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. The buttercream can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. Return to room temperature before using.

As per usual I couldn't find everything I needed at one grocery store. Why is that always the case? Whole Foods didn't have ancho chile pepper, and I couldn't bring myself to schlep to Kroger, so I did some research and decided that my valle de sol chile pepper could substitute for ancho. Once I got home I realized the recipe called for 5 whopping sticks of butter in the icing. Great googly moogly, that's a lot of butter! So instead I made a last minute switch to making cupcakes so I could get away with making half the icing.

For some reason all of my baking makes an unholy mess, but this was my messiest experience yet. The recipe called for mixing the cake's dry ingredients in with the wet ones at medium speed. I learned the hard way that you should start much lower and work up to medium. Going directly to medium speed results in a mushroom cloud of flour which effectively covered parts of my kitchen that had nothing to do with the baking process. I had to wipe down my olive oil and balsamic bottles, my frying pans, you name it - anything in a 5 foot radius was covered in white powder. I even managed to track flour footprints onto our kitchen rug, which the boyfriend found hilarious and snapped a shot of.

It didn't occur to me until almost too late that cupcakes would take less baking time so I got the first batch of 16 out just in time at around 20 minutes. The second batch of just four cupcakes using the remaining batter were checked starting at 15 minutes.

We had to dash out to dinner before finishing icing the last couple cupcakes so the icing went in the fridge. This icing gets really hard in the fridge, so you have to let the icing sit out for at least 15 minutes before you can spread it. Same goes for the refrigerated finished cupcakes. We've been letting them sit out for at least half an hour before being served, and they are much moister that way.

The resulting cupcakes were pretty damn good. Cinnamon cake isn't as eyes-roll-to-the-back-of- my-head delicious as something more chocolaty would be, but it was a nice change and paired wonderfully with the spicy icing. I love Mexican spicy chocolate, which is what attracted me to this recipe, and this recipe definitely lives up to that standard. You could definitely add even more chile pepper/cayenne to kick this up even more. As it was, this was just mildly spicy adding a layer of flavor to an otherwise traditional buttercream.

Delicious! Alas the mess was so egregious that the boyfriend has requested that I take a baking break for a bit, so my baking exploits will be on hold until I entertain again. Fortunately the cupcakes were a hit with the boyfriend's office-mates and my guests. My friend helped himself to 2.5 cupcakes, so I must have done something right!

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