This past Sunday afternoon, I was seized by the urge to bake something for the office. I wanted something more than cookies, but nothing too fancy, and I'd had my eye on this Barefoot Contessa recipe for a while. Homey and simple yet utterly decadent, it seemed like just the thing.
First though, I tried a little experiment. You may have seen or heard of the Weight Watchers "one point cupcake" - a concoction of - are you ready? Cake mix and diet soda. Yes, two chemical tastes that taste great together. Or not. I was curious, but really, I should have known better. I have never been much for "fat free" this or "low fat" that. The finished product actually looked pretty good and it had a nice crumb - but it tasted just like Snackwells. Remember those? Enough said - the whole batch went in the trash. Which I felt a little bad about, but there was nothing else I could do with them.
Since I had a feeling that might not work, I already had the butter softening for this recipe. Flour, sugar, coffee, buttermilk, creme fraiche, Valrhona cocoa - now that's more like it. I whipped up the frosting using natural crunchy peanut butter, powdered sugar, softened Plugra butter, and an unopened container of soft cream cheese that I happened to have sitting in the fridge. A dash of salt, a dribble of vanilla... yes, indeed.
The cupcakes baked up just lovely, with a moist crumb and deep, not-too-sweet chocolate flavor. The frosting was delicious too, though if I had it to do over again - I might have used a little less peanut butter, and I would use smooth. I decorated mine with a few chocolate chips, but some chopped peanuts would work too. They were a big hit at the office, and I really enjoyed the two I saved. I think they lasted a whopping forty-eight hours in the freezer.
Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting
adapted from The Barefoot Contessa
makes approximately three dozen cupcakes
2 1/4 sticks unsalted organic butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown or demerara sugar, packed
3 extra-large organic free range eggs, at room temperature
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, shaken, at room temperature
1/2 cup creme fraiche, at room temperature
1/4 cup plain lowfat organic yogurt, at room temperature
1 Tablespoon Medaglia de Oro instant espresso, mixed with
3 Tablespoons water (or use strong brewed coffee or espresso)
2 1/2 cups plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose organic flour
1 1/2 cups good cocoa powder (I used 1 cup Valrhona and 1/2 cup Scharffenberger - since I didn't have quite enough of either.)
2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda (not powder)
3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and two sugars on high speed until light and fluffy, approximately 5 minutes. Lower the speed to medium, add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream, and espresso mixture. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. On low speed, add the buttermilk mixture and the flour mixture alternately in thirds to the mixer bowl, beginning with the buttermilk mixture and ending with the flour mixture. Mix until blended. Fold the batter with a rubber spatula a few times to be sure it's completely blended, but don't overbeat the batter.
Divide the batter among the cupcake pans, filling them to between 2/3 and 3/4 full. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, remove from the pans, and allow to cool completely before frosting.
Peanut Butter Frosting
1 cup natural style organic peanut butter*
1 1/3 cup organic powdered sugar
8 oz cream cheese at room temperature
6 Tablespoons organic butter, soft but not melting.
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 tsp kosher salt
Beat the peanut butter and powdered sugar together until the sugar is incorporated and the peanut butter starts to become creamy and lighten in color, about one minute. Add the cream cheese and butter, vanilla and salt, and whip until light and fluffy.
Makes enough to frost three dozen cupcakes, with a little left over.
* the original recipe, which can be found here, called for 1/3 of a cup of whipping cream, which I did not happen to have - hence the addition of the cream cheese, and a little extra bit of butter. When I had whipped that up (using the 1 cup of peanut butter called for) I had just a little bit left in the jar - so I decided to whip that in too. If I had it to do over again though, I probably wouldn't. The frosting tasted great, but was a little bit sticky. This is probably nitpicking, but still - I think you should know ;-) LATER EDIT - I later found out that the reason frosting recipes call for non-natural peanut butter, is so the oil doesn't separate out - which may be the reason these came out so shiny. It's not really a flavor issue, but it might be an aesthetic one - so feel free to use Jiffy or Skippy here if you prefer.