Saturday, September 5, 2009

On Chocolate

Cute, huh? Yep...they were adorable, taken to my son's preschool class for his 4th birthday this last week. Teeny little chocolate cupcakes, adorned with a pillowy meringue frosting and sprinkles. The chocolate cupcake underneath was an experiment, the first of my attempts to create a recipe for my own personal best chocolate cupcake. Unfortunately, this wasn't the one. Here's the dirty little secret inside of the cupcake:

Oh, they tasted yummy. Moist, kind of a soft and springy texture...not exactly what I was hoping for, though. I used the other half to make a cake layer for ice cream cake, and found that to be a better fit for the cake's unique texture.
Most chocolate cake recipes leave me wanting more. I have a couple I like, one being King Arthur's Sourdough version--but it's a tricky process that requires advance planning if you don't always have starter out. Also high up on my list, and the one I use most often, Cook's Illustrated's Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake, but it's also fussy and easy to screw up.
There are sour cream chocolate cakes, and buttermilk. Cakes that use real chocolate, and those with just cocoa. Dutched and natural cocoas (I prefer Dutched to natural a thousand times over for flavor.) There are Chiffon cakes, angel cakes, creamed cakes, reverse-creamed cakes a la Beranbaum, and brownie-method cakes. Fudgy, or light, flourless, and eggless. It seems an infinite number of ingredients, methods, and variations.
Of course, to start to narrow it down you have to consider your end result. What do you want in a chocolate cupcake? Dense and brownie-like? Light and fluffy? A mouthful of fudge?
I think, for a chocolate cupcake, it should be classic. I want a cupcake like those of my youth--moist enough to squish on the end of a fork, like those old Duncan Hines commercials. (I have made many a boxed cake mix, as a kid.) Totally intense chocolate flavor, whether it's a milk or dark style. Light, but fudgy. (Is that possible?)
Cook's Illustrated had the same cake in mind, which is why I usually use their recipe, but it has its flaws. I think a chocolate cupcake should also be somewhat simple and idiot-proof--because that's part of the joy of a cupcake. Who wants a fussy, difficult process every time you need to whip up a batch for a bake sale? I almost cringe every time I want to make a chocolate cake, because I will always make the best one I know how to--even if it's a pain in the ass.
I am sitting here tonight wondering if I should make the Chocolate Butter cake from the Cake Bible, just to compare. Or Shirley Corriher's Deep Dark Chocolate Cake. Not to use as my own, no--that's not what this blog's about. This is a process for me, trial and error, as I create my own recipes, not just copy someone else's. It's intended to teach me and anyone who's listening about how to create a cake/cupcake recipe that's exactly what you want, and how it works. Not every post here will have a recipe, because it's just as much about the experiments as it is the end result. It's a Project. So I continue working on chocolate...stay tuned.

Or if I should just take a break from chocolate and move on to something different, like Pumpkin, considering the season. But then, isn't it always chocolate season? At least here it is. I have some Dutch Cocoa on its way here, so I need to make up my mind.

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