"I have measured out my life with coffee spoons."
~T. S. Eliot
My daughter, the middle child, was very adamant about one detail for her third birthday party: pink cupcakes. For six months she would point out things that were pink and declare that that was the proper pink for her cupcakes or she would exclaim that a particular cupcake - in a store or bakery - would be perfect if it were only pink. And she worried over it. She thought that somehow I would forget this important detail, that I would make her fruit cake or bran muffins or something not pink.
Of course I made her pink cupcakes. Strawberry cupcakes. Very pink strawberry cupcakes. With ice-white frosting and pink sugar sprinkles. And they were good. Damn good.
But this post is not about those pink cupcakes.
This post is about cupcakes inspired by the pink cupcakes.
I have flirted with the idea of coffee frosting for quite sometime. It was something that had an abstract appeal, but an idea I never pursued. For some reason the baking of 48 pink cupcakes took that abstract thought and made me want to make it a reality. Not only would I make coffee icing but I would make coffee cupcakes. (I have no idea why baking a bunch of cupcakes made me want to make more cupcakes, but there you go...)
It was not an easy task.
I didn't want just a coffee-flavoured spread on top of a regular yellow cupcake. No. The whole experience needed to be coffeesque. From creamy top to fluffy, delicate bottom I wanted these to be all about the coffee. But in a balanced way.
My first try was a disaster. I ended up with misshapen brownie-textured muffins that fused to the pan. Tasty though.
My second try was a bit better. The cakes rose beautifully, turned a gorgeous brown, and proceeded to collapse in on themselves like some dying star. I could fill the black hole cakes with something and call them dessert cups. But they were worthless as cupcakes.
Third times a charm they say.
I abandoned my usual cupcake stock recipe and I went chiffon.
If you are unfamiliar with a chiffon cake they differ from a traditional cake by replacing butter with vegetable oil. Of course it is impossible to beat enough air into oil to achieve the lightness of butter so, like a foam cake, beaten egg whites are folded into the batter to give the cake a soft, fluffy texture. The high oil and egg content makes for a very moist cake that does not harden or dry out as much as traditional butter cakes.
The results were amazing.
Mocha Coffee Cupcakes
4 oz cake flour*
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup hot water
1 1/4 -ounce cocoa powder
1 1/2 Tbs instant coffee powder
5 large eggs
6 oz sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
Preheat your oven to 325º F and line 24 muffin tins with paper liners.
In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
In a small bowl combine the hot water, cocoa powder, and instant coffee. Whisk to thoroughly combine.
Separate your eggs and put the egg yolks and five ounces of the sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer.
Whisk on high until the mixture becomes pale yellow, about two minutes.
Add the cocoa mixture, vegetable oil and vanilla and mix. Add the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt) and whisk just to combine.
Set this coffee-chocolaty goodness aside.
Place the egg whites and cream of tartar into a clean bowl and whisk on high until it becomes foamy. Decrease the speed to low and slowly add the remaining ounce of sugar. Once it's all combined, increase the speed back to high and continue to beat until stiff peaks form, approximately two minutes.
Take about a third of the egg whites and add it to the chocolate batter, whisking it until well combined.
Add another third of the egg whites and mix gently but completely.
Add the remaining egg whites and gently fold them into the batter. (It's OK if there are white streaks in your batter. This is preferable to over-mixing the egg whites.)
You should have a super cream, fluffy batter.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared muffin cups.
This task is made infinitely easier if you have a variety of sizes of dishers. They make almost any batter task easier and less messy.
Place the filled muffin tins on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from the oven to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before frosting.
*Cake flour is important in when making a chiffon. But you probably don't have any on hand. No worries, it is easy enough to make a substitute. All you need is all-purpose flour and cornstarch.
Take one cup of all-purpose flour and remove two tablespoons. Take two tablespoons of cornstarch and add it to the all-purpose flour. Now sift it. And sift it again. And again. And again. And one more time. You have to make certain that the flour and corn starch are mixed together thoroughly and sifting it five times will help do just that.
Coffee Buttercream Icing
6 oz unsalted butter, room temperature
2 oz shortening
1 whole egg, room temperature
1 lb confectioners' sugar
1 Tbs milk, room temperature
1 Tbs instant coffee powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
In a small bowl combine the vanilla, milk and coffee powder. Set aside. Put the butter and shortening into the bowl of a stand mixer and, using the paddle attachment, cream on high until light and fluffy, approximately 4 minutes. Add the egg and beat until well combined, approximately 1 minute. Turn off the mixer and add 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar. Mix on low - unless you like powdered sugar all over your kitchen - until combined. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Repeat, adding powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, until all of it has been combined. Add the vanilla-coffee mixture and continue to beat until the icing is light and smooth, approximately 2 to 3 minutes.
If the icing is too thick you can add milk, a teaspoon at a time, to relax it a bit. If it is too liquid you can add more powdered sugar, a tablespoon at a time, to thicken it.
Now you get to ice your cupcakes.
I used a icing bag, but icing the cupcakes with an icing spatula will work just as well.
I added some sprinkles by putting some coffee beans and cocoa nibs in a hand mill and grinding them over the iced cupcakes.
These cupcakes are very light and delicate and full of flavour. The coffee-falvour is very evident, but not over-powering and these pair well with coffee (Go figure!) or tea.
Enjoy! And if you give these a try let me know how they turned out.