It was 60° on Friday. It’s December. It’s really hard to get into the Christmas spirit when the weather feels like we’ve skipped about 5 months. Fortunately, I planned Christmas activities for the weekend anyways. And now it’s snowing! It all works out.
Anyways, today I had some friends from college over for a Christmas brunch. This involved lots of baking last night, and lots of real cooking this morning. But with my forest of paper trees and Straight No Chaser to get me through it, it was impossible not to feel Christmas-y. Side note: if you haven’t listened to their Christmas album, you’re missing out. It has some of the classics, but without trying to make them sound like the originals. Wicked awesome.
So as I browsed through recipes and websites to find a good crowning dessert to my brunch, I was stuck. I was serving a lot of stuff with cinnamon and nutmeg and those sorts of spices, but I didn’t particularly want that to carry into the dessert as well. I also wanted to make something a little more pretty than cookies. So in my website hunt, I came across another blog, The Pastry Affair, and it had the perfect solution: Chocolate Candy Cane Cupcakes. They were chocolate, which is always good, and mint, which finishes most meals well. And they are really cool looking. An all-around win.
First up, you have to actually make the chocolate cupcakes. They recommended just using a box mix, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that if I was going to post to the blog. So I used another chocolate cupcake recipe from their blog, which has now possibly become my favorite.
Whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and baking powder.
Add the eggs, coffee, buttermilk, vegetable oil and vanilla extract to the same bowl and beat until well mixed. This recipe is one-bowl baking at its finest. No pretending that it matters if you add flour to liquid or anything like that. It cuts right to the chase.
Another side note: I just used coffee from my Keurig. I have a mini Keurig, and when I made the cup, I then started second guessing whether it actually made a full cup (as in 8 oz), so I measured it. I now know that my Keurig is not cheating me – it makes an 8 oz cup. That was a satisfying discovery that I felt I needed to share.
The coffee also gives the finished cupcake a much more complex flavor than your run-of-the-mill box mix, which was pretty cool. I was a fan.
Anyways, the batter will be very liquidy, which makes the scooping-into-cupcake-tins action very challenging. I used a ladle to start, but eventually just settled on a spoon. It was messy, but I had no better method. Fill the lined cups about 2/3 full.
Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes, such that a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. I have a single cupcake tin with only 6 spots, so this baking took a very long time for me. But I did end up with more than 2 dozen cupcakes, which was pretty good. Let them cool completely on a wire rack.
For once, I was patient and did let the cupcakes cool completely. This was mostly due to the fact that I didn’t finish baking them until around 10pm and you really shouldn’t frost cupcakes a day in advance if you want them to look good. Fast forward to this morning: time to make the frosting.
In a large bowl, beat the butter until smooth. If you have a stand mixer, I highly recommend you use that. My hand mixer has two speeds: high and higher. I also wasn’t totally sure it was going to survive the stress of beating two sticks of butter, but we got through it.
Then, add vanilla extract, salt, and peppermint extract and continue beating. This may be the first time I’ve used salt on my blog – I usually leave it out, but I figured that with the other extracts being added to the frosting, it might counteract the intensity a little bit, so I kept it in.
Next, add the confectioner’s sugar and heavy cream little by little, mixing after each addition. I did this by adding about a quarter of the box of sugar and one tablespoon of heavy cream at a time.
You may have to add a little extra heavy cream to get the consistency right – the frosting should be stiff but pliable, if that makes any sense.
Now comes the fun (and extremely innovative) part: striped frosting! I loved this for so many reasons. The cupcakes look awesome, I got to play with my cake decorating stuff, and it kind of looks like blood for awhile, which is morbid but funny when you’re by yourself icing cupcakes to give to your friends later.
So what you do is dip a toothpick in red food coloring gel (has to be gel, not liquid – you don’t want to mess with the ratios and consistency of the frosting) and draw three lines up the inside of a pastry bag. It should look something like this:
Then, use a spatula to add the frosting to the pastry bag, making sure not to scrape the sides. You also shouldn’t try to fit all of the frosting in at one time. I made that mistake, and was oozing frosting out of the top into my hand the whole time, which really just resulted in me eating far more frosting than I was intending since I had to keep cleaning off my hand.
This is the part where it looks bloody:
I used a 2D tip and just swirled the frosting on top of each cupcake to cover. I was going to use my cupcake pedestal, but that seemed like too much effort and I had a quiche in the oven. They looked pretty awesome at this point in the process, even without the final step.
Finally, sprinkle the pieces onto the top of the cupcakes. When you get lazy/if you aren’t photographing them for a website, it’s just as easy to put the candy cane pieces on a plate and smush the cupcake upside down in the pieces to coat. But that doesn’t look quite as nice as this.
Chocolate Candy Cane Cupcakes
For the cupcakes:
- 1 3/4 cups flour
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 3/4 cup cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup strong black coffee
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For the icing:
- 1 cup butter, room temperature
- 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons peppermint extract
- 1 box confectioner’s sugar
- 4-5 tablespoons heavy cream
- red gel food coloring
- 4 crushed candy canes
For the cupcakes:
- Whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and baking powder in a large bowl.
- Add the eggs, coffee, buttermilk, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract. Beat until well mixed.
- Spoon into lined muffin tins to fill 2/3 of the way. Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Cool completely on wire rack before frosting.
For the icing:
- Beat butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy.
- Add vanilla extract, salt, and peppermint extract, beating until well combined.
- Beat in confectioner’s sugar and heavy cream a little at a time until smooth. Add more sugar or cream as necessary to reach the consistency of stiff yet pliable.
- Use a toothpick to paint three lines of red food gel up the inside of a pastry bag with a 2D tip. Add the frosting to the bag using a spatula and being careful not to scrape the sides of the bag.
- Pipe icing onto cupcakes in a spiral to fill the top. Sprinkle with crushed candy canes.