Although it's nearly summer, I'm not the type of girl to fret over whether or not I'll fit into my short shorts and bikini tops. Instead, I'm the type of girl who will pair a pastrami sandwich (with saurkraut!) with an entire package of Tate's butterscotch pecan cookies and then reach for some Talenti's sea salt caramel gelato for dessert... In case you were wondering about my Memorial Day meal, there ya have it!
Despite my sweet tooth, I've never been much of a baker. I find the whole process to be too scientific, and to be frank I'm far too impatient for all that precise measuring. I'd much rather toss in a dash of this and a pinch of that and then adjust things according to how it tastes and baking just doesn't afford this luxury. So you can imagine my surprise when, one cold morning this past January, I found myself dreaming up a recipe for chocolate cupcakes. I was going through a salty+sweet kick and really wanted to make something decadent using semisweet chocolate and these rosemary sea salt flakes I had just scored from the market. I consulted my Joy of Cooking cookbook and nearly fell over at the recipe for chocolate cupcakes: not only did the instructions state that everything needed to be 70°F or some crazy nonsense but they also stated that I'd need to whip the egg whites before adding them to the batter. WHAT?! Ain't nobody got time for dat!
So I put down the cookbook and very swiftly backed away... right to my local pub. Now, before you brush me off as a fat kid with a drinking problem, let me tell you that my favorite bartender, Mel, is also a trained chef with a speciality in baking. She makes some of the most divine backed goods, and she speaks of making them with such ease, so I just knew that in addition to providing me with a beer to ease the baking pain, she'd be able to provide me with some sound advice. And she did.
When you resign to baking anything from scratch, you just have to accept the fact that it's not going to be the simplest thing you've ever done, especially at first. However, the end product is (hopefully) going to be something to brag about! Oh, and that 70°F nonsense? Well, that basically just means your ingredients perform best at room temperature.
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 c brown sugar, packed
2 eggs, separated
1 tbsp vanilla
2 tsp cayenne1 c buttermilk
1/2 c sour cream
4 oz semisweet chocolate
1 tbsp brewed coffee
1 3/4 c flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350°F and either line your cupcake pans with paper liners or lightly grease them with butter and flour.
Begin by melting the chocolate using a double boiler. If you do not have an actual double boiler, you can make one by placing a smaller pot inside a larger pot of boiling water. Place the chocolate in the smaller pot, and stir continuously until the chocolate melts completely. Remove from heat. Then use a whisk to whip together the sour cream, buttermilk, coffee, and melted chocolate. Take this time to also sift together the dry ingredients.
If you have the option, use the paddle attachment for your electric mixer. On high speed, cream the butter and sugar for about 5 minutes or until the mixture becomes light and fluffy like in the photo. Decrease the speed and add the egg yolks, vanilla, and cayenne. I also added about 1 teaspoon each coriander and cumin because life is about the spice and I like to take risks. In hindsight, I would probably have omitted the coriander as it was admittedly a bit intense. Beat the mixture on high for a few minutes just to blend it all. Reduce the speed to low and add 1/3 of the chocolate mixture, beating until blended, then add 1/3 of the flour mixture. Continue to add the chocolate and flour mixtures alternately in thirds until gone. Beat until blended. Meanwhile, using a hand mixer, whip the egg whites just until peaks start to form. Then fold the egg whites into the batter. **If this is a major stopping point for you in this recipe, let me first say that I don't blame you (see: above). However, don't give up! You could also just add the eggs whole with the vanilla and cayenne and skip whipping the egg whites; the cupcakes will just turn out a little less fluffy.
Divide the batter amongst the cupcake pans, filling each cup about halfway. Bake for about 12-15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Chocolate Meringue Icing
1/2 stick butter, room temperature
1/2 c sugar
2 egg whites
2 oz semisweet chocolate, melted
1 tbsp vanilla
Using the whisk attachment of an electric mixer, cream the sugar and butter on high speed until the mixture becomes light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Reduce the speed and add the chocolate and vanilla. Beat until blended. Add the egg whites and whip on high until the mixture becomes lighter in color and fluffy. Then let chill in the refrigerator until the cupcakes are cooled completely.
After frosting the cupcakes, I sprinkled them with the rosemary sea salt flakes. Then I placed the cupcakes in the refrigerator to set overnight... I plan to experiment with the frosting in future recipes as this icing unfortunately turned out more runny than meringue-y, although it did taste okay.
Well, that's my baking adventure... I wish you luck with your own! And feel free to share your favorite salty+sweet combination with us in the comments below! :)
p.s. The cupcake recipe was adapted from Joy of Cooking as well as here.