Since I am currently reading Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life – and writing her food blogger fan mail – I decided it was only appropriate that I also try one of her recipes. Kenny and I finished our six-week childbirth class on Sunday, and I wanted to make a dessert to celebrate. With this also being the week that the baby hit 37 weeks (full term!), as well as the end of the WordCount Blogathon, there were quite a few other reasons to celebrate too.
Flipping through the A Homemade Life, I came across an easy recipe for vanilla bean buttermilk cake. Served with glazed oranges and creme fraiche, Molly’s cake is a bit sophisticated, the type of dessert you’d serve at a proper dinner party. It sounded delicious, but I wanted a cake that was more sloppy and decadent.
So I made the vanilla bean buttermilk cake into cupcakes, and whipped together a deep chocolate frosting to top them off. This frosting is closer to a ganache than a buttercream with a deep chocolate flavor. It’s thick and runny too, a glossy icing that I spooned over the top of the cupcakes and let run down the sides and onto a cookie sheet in messy brown waves.
These cupcakes are kind of like pregnancy, I think – a bit messy along the way, but with an end result that’s worth it.
This is a simple cake that would taste lovely baked in a loaf pan and served on its own. If you decide to make cupcakes and you accidently overfill the liners, the cake is also good crumbled, mixed with peanut butter icing, and turned into cake balls, if you like them. (I can attest to this, as I overfilled my first batch of cupcakes.)
But this rich chocolate frosting makes the cake even better. I don’t recommend substituting milk chocolate for the bittersweet chocolate; the end result will be much too sweet. Because the frosting is not stiff like a buttercream, it dries into a smooth finish after being spooned on the cupcakes. Refrigerate the leftovers and eat straight out of the container for a sweet treat with a texture that’s a cross between frosting and sauce.
This recipe makes about 17 cupcakes.
4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup buttermilk (I used whole milk buttermilk)
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
2 cups all-purpose flour, lightly sifted with a whisk
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
FOR THE CAKE: Set your oven rack in the center and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with cupcake liners. (I baked my cupcakes in two batches.) In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and a 1/4 cup of the buttermilk, and set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or a large bowl if you want to use a hand mixer), add the sugar and the seeds of the vanilla bean. (To extract the seeds, use a knife to split the vanilla bean in half, then drag a spoon down each side to scrape away the seeds.) Rub the seeds into the sugar with your fingers. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, and beat on low speed briefly, just to combine. Add the pieces of butter and the remaining buttermilk, and beat on low until the ingredients are moist. Increase the speed to medium and beat until the batter is thick, smooth, and well-combined, about 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl and beat for an additional 30 seconds. “The batter should be thick but airy, very pale and smooth,” Molly writes.
Spoon the cupcake batter into the prepared muffin cups until they are about half full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcakes comes out clean and the tops are a light golden brown.
FOR THE FROSTING: Chop the chocolate into small pieces, place in a medium-sized bowl, and set aside. In a small saucepan, put the milk and sugar over gentle heat, stirring frequently until the sugar has dissolved. Then increase the heat and boil the milk and sugar rapidly for 1 minute. When the mixture looks syrupy and glossy, it’s ready. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the milk/sugar syrup over the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is melted, then add the butter and vanilla extract. Stir until the butter is melted. Let the icing sit until cool, stirring it occasionally. Then transfer the icing to a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and beat on medium speed until it gets very thick. (I beat my icing for a long time, at least 10 minutes.)
FOR THE CUPCAKES: When the cupcakes have cooled, place them on a cooling rack with a cookie sheet underneath. Spoon the chocolate frosting over the cupcakes and let it slide down the slides of each cake. Be generous. Top the cupcakes with coarse sugar for a nice crunchy texture. Cool the cupcakes in the refrigerator, so the icing firms up a bit.
What’s your favorite dessert for a celebration? If you have a recipe to share, please do.