Monday, September 7, 2009

Chocolate Cupcakes with Cafe au Lait Buttercream

Progress has been made in regards to chocolate. I made morechocolate cupcakes, adapting a pretty basic King Arthur Flour recipe, in my quest for the Best Chocolate Cake recipe, ever. I was pretty pleased with my results--not pleased enough to offer you the recipe, not just yet--and I thought they were a good starting point. I still have some more experimenting to do before I'm quite done. I chose to use a variation of the "ribbon" or "genoise" method for this cake. If you're not familiar with it, it's very simple--the eggs and sugar are whipped together, instead of butter and sugar. When they become volumious and light. Separately, cocoa, oil, vanilla, and hot water are mixed to make the liquids in the cake. Mixing cocoa with hot water or another liquid or fat will bring out its flavor much better than mixing it into dry ingedients. Then, the dry and wet are mixed in alternately. As a final step, I whipped half a cup of cream ( a trick picked up from Shirley O.) and folded that in.
I knew they were going to be tasty, but the texture was the thing that surprised me the most. They had an incredibly fine crumb! Very tight and uniform, almost like a pound cake. The texture was incredibly tender and light, delicate really. Here, take a look:

So I was pleased, but not quite sure it was what I wanted for the cupcake. I wanted sort of that old-fashioned feel--and this cake was almost too refined. It would be fantastic for a fancy torte, and I made an extra small 5" round cake. The layers split beautifully. But again...not really what I wanted. I want a bit coarser crumb. Not a tough texture, but something more...well, more like the muffins I made, if that makes any sense. I just realized that as I sit typing. The texture of the Pear and Walnut Cream Muffins I made over on Baked By Anna is exactly what I am looking for. Something so soft and light you are tempted to just shove the whole thing in your mouth. Perhaps I should go back to the dump and stir method for chocolate cakes., and treat them like muffins. They defy all the rules of the Cake Formulas, anyway, so I have a difficult time figuring out what is going on in there. I'll be changing the mixing method, but I'll also be tinkering with the recipe just a bit. (If you click that, and it's not a link yet, I am working on it right now.)

I also tried out a new buttercream recipe. I couldn't make up my mind about what to frost them with. The baby was fussy and I didn't want to commit a pound of butter to a Swiss Buttercream I wasn't sure I'd be able to pipe. I considered chocolate glaze, but I really didn't have a chance to make these as pretty as I'd like. And chocolate gets everywhere.
There was an interesting new recipe in Bakewise I'd had my eye on. I have never in my life heard of a creme anglaise buttercream before, and didn't see how it was even possible. Also, it was coffee flavored, which my regular readers will know I am not crazy about. But I know the rest of the world likes coffee and chocolate together, and I keep telling myself I should try to develop an appreciation for the flavor.
The buttercream goes like this: step one, make a creme anglaise. A creme anglaise is a thin custard, and is really the same thing as an ice cream base. Basic custard technique is used here. Four egg yolks were whipped a bit with 3/4 cup of sugar. A little less than a cup of milk (207 ml) is heated to boiling, then 1/4 cup of crushed coffee beans are steeped in this for about ten minutes. The milk is strained, brought to a boil with another 1/4 cup of sugar, and the eggs are tempered and returned to the pan briefly. Another trip through the strainer, into a bowl with an ice bath underneath, and the flavorings are added--I chose vanilla and Frangelico, my favorite liqueur.
Now, you have a fantastic creme anglaise sauce. This can be used to serve with desserts--wonderful with angel food cake--or chilled and churned to make ice cream. But to make this into a buttercream, you need butter. 3 sticks (1 1/2 cups/339g) to be exact. Cool butter, whipped until fluffy. Add the custard slowly, and beat until it looks like frosting.
This is the most buttery buttercream I have ever, ever had. It's nothing like the Swiss Meringue Buttercream, which is my favorite--this is dense, rich, silky, and totally indulgent. When you eat SMBC you can almost forget that there's a pound of butter in there. With this, it's impossible. You taste the butter, and then get this wonderfully subtle, creamy background flavor of coffee, along with vanilla and hazelnut. It has converted me, the one who hates coffee. I seriously considered making it into ice cream and making a different frosting. I kept sneaking little tastes of the custard before I whipped it.
The downside? It's basically whipped butter! You have to work fast, because too cold, you can't spread it or pipe it. Too hot, and it begins to melt. You just have a window of a few degrees to make it, then get it onto your baked good of choice. And when you serve it, it must be brought out beforehand, but not too much. As delicious as it was, I'd only make it again if I needed it for a breakfast buffet, or as a topping for bagels or scones. It would be insanely good at a tea., perhaps with a bit less sugar. As a frosting? Kind of tricky. But do make the anglaise--oh, that technique of crushing coffee beans and infusing milk will definitely be making another appearance here, perhaps as a yummy custard filling.

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