Not-So-Sweet Cupcakes.

As I’m writing this it’s sunny and warm and pretty much dazzling outside, and I think the only proper way to celebrate is with cupcakes, ideally these.

Some people think the whole cupcake craze is over and that its heyday is a thing of the past, but I honestly don’t care.  Do I prefer a full-blown cake?  Certainly.  Does  that mean I won’t ever make cupcakes?  Of course not.  I mean, what’s there to hate?  They’re perfect single-serving desserts that you can eat with your hands.  In my mind, that’s pretty ideal.  Give me the chance to forgo silverware and I’m all over it — in spite of the fact that I highly value table manners and etiquette in general.  There’s a time and a place for everything, and sometimes it’s fun (and appropriate) to get a little barbaric.  For example, you’d never see me cut up a piece of pizza with my fork and knife; it’s hands-on food, and I say the same for the perhaps-overexposed cupcake.

What’s tricky about the cupcake, apart from putting aside propriety and cutlery, is avoiding both dryness and superfluous sweetness…  which is why this recipe is so great.  Yes, it calls for one and a half cups of sugar, but that’s spread out over twenty-four cupcakes.  And sure, you have to be on alert during the baking process so you don’t overbake the cakes, but you’d want to do that anyway, right?

For me, the hardest part is the topping — I have yet to perfect my frosting-smoothing technique, not to mention that so many frosting recipes out there are too damn sweet and oftentimes also too damn rich.  You might not think that a glutton like me would be into moderation, but when it comes to desserts I most definitely am.  I have no problem with foie, with Hollandaise, with cheese on everything in sight; desserts are another matter.  I want them to be full of flavor, but light.  I want them to end the meal on a sweet note, but one that’s not too sweet.  And, ideally, I want there to be chocolate.

This cupcake fits the bill, especially if you drizzle a white chocolate glaze over the top.  Keep in mind that this is extremely messy to do.  The white chocolate gets everywhere, so if you have a raised rack to place atop a baking sheet, I highly recommend setting your cooled cupcakes on that during the glazing process.  Otherwise you will end up like me and have white chocolate fingers and cupcake liners* bathed in white chocolate.  Which might not be a bad thing.  Just like these cupcakes.

Chocolate Cupcakes, adapted by Suzanne Lenzer for Bitten from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts

Makes twenty-four cupcakes

for the cupcakes
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
5 1/3 ounces sweet butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 cup milk

  1. Heat the oven to 350° and line 2 6-cup muffin tins with cupcake liners. Sift together the flour, soda, salt, and cocoa powder and set aside. Use a standing mixer or hand-mixer to cream the butter. Add the sugar and vanilla and mix to combine. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each one until smooth.
    On the lowest speed, alternately add the dry ingredients in three additions and the milk in two. Beat only until smooth and fully combined, you don’t want to overwork the batter.
  2. Scoop the batter into the prepared pans filling each about two-thirds full (don’t bother to smooth the tops — the batter will level itself as it cooks). Bake the cupcakes for about 25 minutes, or until the tops are puffed and spring back when lightly pressed. Be careful not to overbake the cakes, but know that if you take them out too early they may sink a bit. Cool the cakes in the muffin tins for about 5 minutes and then remove them to a rack and let cool completely.  The cakes can be made a day in advance and refrigerated (they actually get better) or frozen in an airtight container.

White Chocolate Glaze
Makes more than enough for twenty-four cupcakes

8 ounces white chocolate, cut into small pieces
¼ cup light cream

Place white chocolate pieces in medium heat-proof bowl. Heat cream in a small saucepan over medium heat to a gentle boil. Pour cream over white chocolate and whisk slowly until incorporated and smooth.  Use immediately.

* You can’t tell by this picture, but I used skull-patterned cupcake liners, a Christmas present from my friend Darlington, who knows of and appreciates my love of skulls.
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