October 18, 2013

Brain Cupcakes

It's hard to believe, but Halloween is almost here! Making a recipe with the perfect balance of festive but not too creepy is always a challenge, so this year I decided to go with cupcakes. How scary can cupcakes be? You can use any recipe you want; I chose chocolate, my favorite, as the cupcake and a plain (but still delicious) vanilla buttercream frosting. Feel free to change the flavor of the icing, but I recommend sticking with a buttercream with a splash of extract for flavoring. If you want these to look like brains, you want a colorless base frosting that you can color to the desired shade of pink. Perhaps the one exception to the simplicity rule would be adding raspberry puree or some other pink addition. 

But let's talk cupcakes. Like I said, I love chocolate cupcakes, and these are twice as good because they are double chocolate cupcakes. That's right; there's cocoa powder AND melted chocolate (and you can even add some chocolate chips at the end to make triple chocolate cupcakes). I also add some coffee to boost the chocolate flavor. The cupcakes won't taste like coffee, but they will have a stronger chocolate flavor with a hint of bitterness to counter the sweetness of the cupcake and the frosting. Using hot coffee further improves the taste of the cocoa powder in particular, but just make sure you cool the mixture down before adding the eggs and other ingredients. 

On the topic of eggs, don't combine the eggs and the vinegar directly. The eggs will clump up and it is really quite unappetizing. The vinegar is a necessary ingredient for texture and balancing acidity, however, so just stir it in last. The final potentially odd ingredient in the cupcake batter is the flour. It's not your typical all-purpose flour; I like to use bread flour. You might notice that there isn't much of it, but bread flour has a higher gluten content to provide a slightly sturdier cake, reducing the amount needed in the recipe.

1/2 Cup Chocolate Chips
1/3 Cup Cocoa
3/4 Cup Hot Coffee
3/4 Cup Bread Flour
3/4 Cup Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
6 T Oil
2 Eggs
2 tsp Vinegar
1 tsp Vanilla

Heat oven to 350F. Line muffin tins with paper cups.

Combine the chocolate and cocoa in a large bowl. Add the hot coffee and whisk until smooth. Chill to cool completely. Combine the flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda. Whisk the oil, eggs, and vanilla into the cooled chocolate mixture. Add the flour mixture and vinegar.

Spoon the batter into the cups. Bake until cooked through, 16-18 minutes. Cool.

Once the cupcakes have cooled, it's time to decorate. My frosting recipe couldn't be easier, and you can always use a different extract instead of vanilla. The amount of milk and powdered sugar varies depending on the day (particularly the humidity), but the basic ratio is generally about the same.

1 1/2 Sticks Butter
3 Cups Powdered Sugar, Sifted
1/2 tsp Vanilla
2 tsp Milk

Beat the butter in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until fluffy and light. Gradually add the powdered sugar, then beat in the milk and vanilla. Add a few drops of pink or red food coloring until it reaches the desired shade.

To frost the cupcakes, I start by spreading a thin layer of icing on the top of each one. It gives the brain something to stick to and covers any spots you might miss later so that you can't see the cupcake underneath.

I then use a #12 tip (just a plain round tip; you can always cut a hole in a plastic bag instead) to draw two straight lines down the center of each cupcake to represent the crease in the brain.

Finally, I use the #12 tip to draw squiggles on each side of the straight lines. I only did one layer on each side, but you can pile some more on top to give it a more cloud-like or 3D appearance.

That's it! You can paint some raspberry puree in some of the crevices for a more gruesome look or play around with different shades of pink and purple icing. If brains aren't your thing and you want a different Halloween cupcake idea, check your inbox soon!

Makes 12
Cupcake recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated

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