This one’s for my boys—Colin, Duncan and Alasdair—who came out to visit me just over a year ago while on a trip around California. Col and Dunk are two of my favorite people in the world, and Alasdair is right up there too. We got to know each other during my time in London; Colin and I would go to movies and dinner together while Dunk was off shooting another Channel 4 television programme. Yes, I spelled that the English way, thank you very much. Those are times I still cherish! When Dunc was in town we’d have dinner at each other’s houses or attend fabulous parties hosted by our various fabulous London friends, of whom I miss very much. Sigh…
I got to see Alasdair infrequently when he was in town from Switzerland, where he moved to be part of the World Health Organization. I think. All I know is that he is a doctor in great demand in places where AIDS is an epidemic. And on top of that he’s super fun.
Of course I had to invite them over for dinner, and because I’d been bragging so much about cupcakes, I made some for them. Cupcakes, until very recently, were not a popular treat over in the U.K. They are mainly an American thing, and when they do make them over there, they are small ones, mainly for children’s parties and they call them “fairy cakes“.
I like to call these “adult” or even “manly” cupcakes, because although they are small cakes with frosting on top, they have a flavor profile that caters to a more sophisticated palate. And The Husband says that the frosting tastes as good as his Nana used to make, and that’s good enough for me.
The boys loved them too, and even finished them off at the top of a mountain somewhere—near Palm Springs, I think, when they got an unexpected bout of snow. Dunk specifically requested these be posted in the Tiny Kitchen Stories blog, so naturally, they’re dedicated to them. They are also The Husband’s second favorite, next to my vegan lemon-custard-filled lemon cupcakes. Those are best in the summer, but these are great for a winter treat—not that we’ve had a winter here in California this year. Thanks, La Niña! I like a little bit of rain, now I’m back from London!
These recipes are adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes cookbook, but she doesn’t put the two together, which I think is a shame. I experienced the stout/chocolate flavor combination from an ex-boyfriend, who will remain nameless because even though he’s a very talented chef he broke my heart and doesn’t deserve to have his name in this blog. He did, however, make a delicious chocolate tart with stout ice cream. But these cupcakes are better.
(Dunc, you may need to buy some American cup measures to make these. I’ll try to weigh everything next time for you!)
Chocolate Stout Cupcakes (makes 24)
3-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1-3/4 tsp baking powder
1-1/4 tsp sea salt
1 Tbs ground cinnamon
1-1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cups vegetable oil (not olive)
1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
1-1/4 cups unsulfured molasses
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
2 large whole eggs
1 egg yolk
The zest of one orange
The juice of one orange
1-1/4 cups (10 oz.) Young’s double chocolate stout
First of all, only used freshly grated nutmeg and Young’s chocolate stout. You can use Guinness in a pinch, but it won’t be quite right. And there’s no substitute for the nutmeg, so don’t even try it.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line your cupcake tins. I like using the gold or silver foil ones on these; it looks so nice against the dark brown cupcake. Whisk together all the dry ingredients (except the sugar) in a bowl and set aside.
In your electric mixer bowl and using the paddle attachment (you’re using a Kitchen Aid, right?), add the butter and sugar; cream together. Then add the oil, molasses, eggs, yolk, orange zest, orange juice and stout on medium-low speed. Mix until just combined, then add the flour mixture, also beating until just combined.
Fill your cupcake tins about 3/4 of the way full, and the best tool for this is an old-fashioned ice-cream scoop as shown in the photo. Really, nothing beats it. I put these in for 9 minutes, switch the trays from top to bottom, then bake for another 9 minutes. If a toothpick comes out clean after those 18 minutes, you’re set. Otherwise, go at 1-minute intervals until done, but usually 20 minutes is the maximum time needed.
If you have those snap-lock containers, these last for about a week. If not, they’ll go stale super quick.
You can do the whole “stout glaze” thing that Martha does, but you’ll have to ask me for the recipe in the comments, because I recommend you use the one below:
Chocolate Swiss-Meringue Frosting
Okay, this frosting makes me panic every time, so I’m warning you now. You’ll get through the laborious task of adding the obscene amount of butter, and it will look like a curdled mess. You might feel like crying. You may swear a blue streak. Usually I do both, then consult the oracle of the interweb and realize that I just have to keep the beater going for about 2 full minutes on medium-high and it will come together.
Also, please use the superfine baker’s sugar for this. It makes your life a lot easier. Please see notes below if you use regular sugar. Please don’t use any cool organic natural sugar that’s a lovely brown color either. This calls for white sugar, bakers!
I usually save the egg yolks and put a few in the dog’s dinner every night, which she enjoys very much. You can do what you like with them.
5 large egg whites
1 cup plus 2 Tbs sugar (see note above)
1 lb (4 sticks) unsalted butter (the best you can buy!)
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (again, the best. Not that artificial stuff.)
7 oz. dark chocolate (at least 70%)
Start by heating your chocolate in a double boiler. Chop or break up the chocolate, put it into a bowl on top of a simmering pan of water. MAKE SURE the bowl does not touch the water, or your chocolate will go all funny. Once it’s melted, set it aside, but don’t throw out the water, as you’ll need it in a minute.
This you really need a Kitchen Aid-style mixer for with a metal bowl. I guess you could heat it in another bowl and then put it into your mixer, but I’ve never done it like that. Let me know how it goes if you try it. Put the sugar and the egg whites into the metal mixing bowl and put it over a pan of simmering water. Whisk it together constantly while it’s over the heat. After about 2 minutes, pull up some of the mixture and rub it between your fingers. If it’s still grainy, keep going. Your aim is to melt the sugar into the egg whites; this is why you want the superfine sugar.
Once that’s done, put the bowl onto the mixer with the balloon whisk attachment and mix it on medium-high speed until stiff, but not dry, peaks form. Continue mixing until it’s super glossy and smooth, about 5 minutes. (NOTE: if you used regular sugar and the bowl is still quite warm, you need to do this for 10 minutes.)
Turn it down to medium low and start adding the butter, one tablespoon at a time. This is boring. And a little off-putting, really, when you see how much butter is going in. But don’t rush it, make sure that every tablespoon gets incorporated before throwing the next in. Once you’ve put it all in, if it looks like three-week-old milk, please see notes above.
If it doesn’t, bravo! Now add the vanilla and the chocolate, which should be cooled perfectly for adding now that you’ve been doing the butter thing for ages. Et voilá! You should have some of the most delicious frosting on the planet. Use immediately if possible, because when this stuff refrigerates, those eggs make it rock hard. You’ll need to defrost it for at least an hour for it to get to room temperature and useable again.
The sucky thing is that this frosting makes ALMOST enough frosting for all 24 cupcakes. But if you make a double batch, no one will complain, trust me. The Husband has eaten it out of the freezer, chopping away at it and eating it like ice cream. I kid you not.
And sorry, I haven’t found out a way yet to veganize this frosting. Any suggestions gratefully received.