Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ina Garten's Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Hazelnut Buttercream

The other day I offered to bring cupcakes to work for a co-worker's last day celebration. Volunteering for this duty turned out to be fortuitous on many levels as I'll explain below, but let me tell you that these bad boys turned out to be a frabjous (word of the day on my Droid dictionary app) treat enjoyed by all. Moist and chocolatey, they're a great thing in a small package, somewhere smack in the middle of cake-like and fudge-like, which is a description so often used to describe brownies. They're moist AND light without being dense. In fact, because the chocolate in this recipe comes from Hershey's syrup and uses only one cup of flour, the batter was much thinner than I expected,* but they came together just fine.

The cupcake trend--shops galore, cupcakes in lieu of wedding cakes, etc.--has more than worn out its welcome in my book. But because I get so tired of being subjected to the many store bought items that come into the office, and because the person leaving was someone I'd worked with closely over the last few months, I wanted to make the gift a bit more personal, and so I volunteered.

Mind you I was more than a bit tired perusing my cupcake repertoire after dinner the other night because I'd been out to the Washington Nationals' penultimate home game the night before in which they beat the Phillies the day after the Phillies beat the Nats to clinch the NL East title. I only had enough mojo to settle on a cupcake recipe of Ina's though I did not intend to make the chocolate ganache frosting (video here) she recommended to go along with them and couldn't even make her peanut butter frosting as we were out of peanut butter! Since my partner Brian warned me (correctly) that tahini might not be a good substitution for the peanut butter in this instance, I had to find an alternative that was quick and easy and wouldn't use an excess of butter since most of mine was frozen. I was too tired to find a frosting recipe to go with but resolved to find something on the web that would use chocolate hazelnut spread, i.e. Nutella, and went to bed, planning to get up at 5:00 the next morning to start baking. (Personally, I've always done better getting up early rather than staying up late when I need extra hours to get something done.)

Very often when I offer to bring something to share it's because I've a benign ulterior motive to make use of something at home that I have in excess or that I want to use before I forget about it and it ends up at the back of the cupboard, expiration date long since overdue! I went a bit crazy at Chocolate World at Hershey Park over the summer and hadn't used any of the special dark cocoa powder I'd purchased, not to mention the cinnamon chips! But the clincher for me was that this particular cupcake recipe uses neither cocoa nor melted chocolate but rather chocolate syrup, Hershey's recommended.

As it happened, I'd also purchased Hershey's special dark syrup and was dismayed upon first using it and looking at the ingredient list that it's sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. "Corn sugar" is not something we consume unless it comes with the corn itself, so I was more than happy to use up almost all of this chocolate syrup to make cupcakes for my co-workers. I'd never seen this particular type of chocolate syrup anywhere before which made me buy it, and according to some of the reviews on Amazon, it's apparently hard to find and somewhat expensive (I think I paid $3-$4 for 22 ounces). Even Wal-Mart won't tell you what the price is unless you're willing to go to one of their stores with the UPC in hand!

Reading some of the reviews, I wonder now if it was this special dark syrup that made the cupcakes so delicious. One person said of this syrup that it's "chocolate syrup for adults. It is not overly sweet, with a rich chocolate taste, but not bitter as you usually imagine dark chocolate to be." That is exactly how my cupcakes tasted. So I was definitely pleased that I was able to use up nearly all of this special dark syrup and I'm sure it made better cupcakes than the canned version of the syrup recommended by Ms. Ina.

Deciding to use the chocolate syrup and to make Nutella frosting were based on a similar line of thinking on my part of wanting to "eat down the fridge" as it were. I've always loved Nutella, especially after a trip we took to the Netherlands a few years back for a bike trip and learned to appreciate how the Dutch and other Europeans use it to spread on bread and bananas for breakfast and snacking just as we Amerians do with peanut butter. But the chocolate hazelnuttiness of it all just makes it seem so much more sophisticated! Still, I have been known to let it languish on the shelf and one time had to throw a jar away as it smelled and tasted way off. I think people let items in the pantry, fridge, and spice rack accumulate for fear that when something is needed it might mean a trip to the store. This "bird in the hand" mentality--which I first heard from my grandmother I'm sure--leads to holding onto things rather than letting them go so new things can come into your now opened hands. Besides, I know that I have a well stocked pantry/fridge/spice rack so I'm just not afraid of making substitutions.

In looking for the Nutella frosting recipe I found a website dedicated to this foodstuff that had numerous recipes in honor of World Nutella Day on February 5th each year. Who knew of this annual commemoration and didn't tell me? I've already marked my calendar though! I found one frosting recipe that only used 5 tablespoons of butter, a cup of Nutella, and a cup of confectioners sugar, as opposed to other recipes that used more sugar and butter. However, it also called for cream which I didn't have. Thanks to the internet, I learned that cream can be substituted in a recipe by using butter (I ended up using the whole stick) and whole milk. Voila!

As it happened, a friend gave us another brand of chocolate hazelnut spread that requires refrigeration so I was all too happy to use up all of the Nutella on hand plus more than half the jar of the other spread, which means I'm nearly ready to buy new when I see it on sale or I see another brand that I might like to try. So, here is my take on one of the many Barefoot Contessa cupcake recipes with Nutella frosting on top just for fun.

Chocolate cupcake by way of Hershey Park and Nutella.

Chocolate Cupcakes Made with Hershey's Special Dark Syrup

Makes 12 [my recipe produced 16 cupcakes actually*]

1/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
11 fluid ounces chocolate syrup (recommended: Hershey's)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour

  • Line muffin pans with paper liners. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  • Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time. Mix in the chocolate syrup and vanilla. Add the flour and mix until just combined. Don't overbeat, or the cupcakes will be tough.
  • Scoop the batter into the muffin cups and bake for 30 minutes, or until just set in the middle. Don't overbake! Let the cupcakes cool thoroughly in the pan.
Nutella Frosting
Courtesy The Unrepentant Carbivore for World Nutella Day
Makes more than enough for 16 cupcakes

1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup Nutella
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature [I used a whole stick...]
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup heavy cream [...and used 2 tablespoons whole milk instead of the cream]

Place the confectioners' sugar, Nutella, butter, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work. Add the cream and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.

* Egads! The cooking time to bring this chocolatey magic together was 15 minutes longer for me than the recommended time. But that's because I printed this recipe in 2006(yes that means I'd banked this recipe for four years!), and my printout says 16 ounces of chocolate syrup. However, on the FN website today 11 ounces of syrup is in the recipe. No wonder my batter was so fluid and I got four additional cupcakes out of the recipe! I even had to increase the oven temperature for the last 15 minutes and was going to therefore recommend 350 degrees for the duration rather than 325. However, with less syrup in the batter, the cupcake batter won't be so wet and might finish baking in 30 minutes. Still, no one complained about the results, which were more than worth the time and effort.