Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Meditation Baking aka Mint Chocolate Cupcakes

Last night I had a weird feeling of being at a crossroads, an annoying, gnawing little feeling that that I just couldn't quash. I felt it the previous night too, but it was gone when I awoke, nonexistent as I went through my day only to return again last night leaving me once again agitated with a lot of nothing on my mind. I think I know what it is but it's something I don't really want to say aloud, not just yet. So I take my mind off it and bake.

Baking is not my favorite form of cooking by any means but its something I've forced myself to do. I can't even remember the first time I set aside bisquick to make homemade biscuits but I can only imagine it was when I had a lot on my mind. Baking is stressful, but in itself, in it's precise and exact rules, it becomes a stress reliever, a setting aside of individual thought and following method alone. Worrying about a cake rising to be light and fluffy or concentrating over the correct crumb of flour to fat in a pie dough, the constant spooning and measuring, the leveling off that just washes away my worrying about the job, stressing over finances, crying over boys who don't deserve it. Baking fixes all that, at least temporarily. But I'm also left with something tangible, and delicious, for all my effort.

Let me be clear that I'm not baking to satiate an emotional hunger. I am not much of an emotional eater anyways. And it's not even the end result that's nearly as satisfying as the process, with flour covering my counters, my clothes, my hair. Dirty measuring utensils, batter stained bowls. Listening to a great album, dancing around my kitchen, my lovely apron splayed out like a square dancers dress. I don't even care that much for sweets anyways and tonight, chocolate cupcakes, no thanks. I bake if only to ease my mind, clear my head, accomplish something delicious that I've never done before just to see if I could. And then let my co-workers and a certain handsome mister be my ultimate critics.

Mint Chocolate Cupcakes
3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 c. cake flour
2/3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. plus 2 Tbl packed light brown sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup plus 2 tTbl buttermilk
3/4 tsp peppermint extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners, if you have more than one 12-cup muffin tin. I found the recipe made approx 16 cupcakes.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the cocoa powder and 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water to form a paste; set aside.

3. In another bowl, sift together the cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

4. In the bowl of an electric mixer (I just used my trusty handheld), mix the sugars with the butter on medium speed until they are well combined with no pieces of butter visible. Add the cocoa paste and once this is well combines, add the egg and egg yolk. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. In three additions each, add the buttermilk and peppermint extract, alternating with the flour mixture.

5. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling them 3/4 full. Bake, rotating the tins halfway through, until the cupcakes spring back to the touch and a tester inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out mostly clean. I baked mine for 20 minutes and found that was almost too long, so I'd check at 15, and then every 2-3 minutes after.

Mint Cream Filling
1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
2 heaping tsp. powdered sugar
1 tsp peppermint extract

1. Combine cream, sugar and peppermint in a cold bowl (I set my bowl and whisks int he freezer for a few minutes, as it helps whip up the cream faster). Beat on medium speed to soft peaks. Put the cream into a pastry bag fitting with a small tip.

2. Using a paring knife, make a small cut at the bottom of each cupcake, through the paper, to insert the tip, approximately  1 1/2 inches into the cupcake. Gently squeeze the bag while holding you fingers over the top of the cupcake. When you feel a slight pressure on the top, stop filling. As you can see above, I was a little too eager with a few and they burst on top. Repeat with each cupcake.

Chocolate Ganache Icing
2 oz. semi sweet chocolate, chopped
2 tsp. cocoa powder
1/2 c. heavy cream
2 Tbl corn syrup

1. Place chocolate and cocoa in a small mixing bowl. Set cream and corn syrup in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Pour over the chocolate and stir until melted and shiny.

2. Carefully dip the top of each cupcake into the ganache and gently shake to remove any excess. Return to wire and let set for 30 minutes. Cupcakes can be kept in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

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