Traveling the world through cuisine

Let Them Eat Cake

Marie Antoinette

I started drooling and fantasizing over what kind of cake to make for my boyfriend. Ironically, we both celebrated our birthdays last week. I thought to myself, “Should I make a simple white (vanilla) cake with buttercream frosting? Or what about a devils chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting? Or even better what about chocolate cupcakes with chocolate buttercream frosting ?” MMM cupcakes- the perfectly portioned diminutive morsels of heaven that just come in about every flavor combo imaginable.

Now you might be wondering, as I did, where cake originated from? Well, in classical Roman culture, “cakes” were flat and round and made with flour containing nuts, leavened with yeast, and sweetened with honey. These were served at special birthdays. In early Europe, the words for cake and bread were virtually interchangeable; the only difference being that cakes were sweet while bread was not.

*Yawn* This sounds quite lackluster. A far cry from the decadent toppings, fillings, and choices we now have. I imagine the cakes to look something similar below, this is obviously not a picture from the Roman Empire.

Roman Empire cakes

During the 17th century, the birthday cake took on more or less its contemporary form. However, these elaborate cakes, which possessed many aspects of contemporary cakes (such as layers and decorations), were only available to the very wealthy. Birthday cakes became more and more proletarianized as a result of the industrial revolution, as materials and tools became more advanced and more accessible.

Fast forward to modern times, the biggest food trend amongst the sweets world is the cupcake. A cupcake (the common US, Canadian, South African and Australian term) or fairy cake (the common British and Irish term), is a small cake designed to serve one person, frequently baked in a small, thin paper or aluminum cup. They can be literally cupped in the palm of your hand.

Cupcake boutiques are sprouting up on every urban street corner from the Sprinkles empire (by the way, when the heck are they finally going to open their Gold Coast location???), Cupcake Café- NYC, and Magnolia Bakery to local (Chicago) chains such as Swirlz Cupcakes and Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique.

Death by Chocolate Cupcakes

Death by Chocolate Cupcakes


For Cupcakes:

  • 3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup hot water
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour cream, room temperature

For Ganache Frosting:

  • 1 pound good-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 1/3 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup

(Makes 4 cups)


Directions for Cupcakes:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk together cocoa and hot water until smooth. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  2. Melt butter with sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring to combine. Remove from heat, and pour into a mixing bowl. With an electric mixer on medium-low speed, beat until mixture is cooled, 4 to 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add vanilla, then cocoa mixture, and beat until combined. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the sour cream, and beating until just combined after each.
  3. Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three- quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 15 minutes; turn out cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months, in airtight containers.
  4. To finish, use a small offset spatula to spread cupcakes with frosting. Refrigerate up to 3 days in airtight containers.

Directions for Frosting:

  1. Place chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Bring cream and corn syrup just to a simmer over medium-high heat; pour mixture over chocolate. Let stand, without stirring, until chocolate begins to melt.
  2. Beginning near the center and working outward, stir melted chocolate into cream until mixture is combined and smooth (do not overstir).
  3. Refrigerate, stirring every 5 minutes, until frosting just barely begins to hold its shape and is slightly lighter in color. Use immediately (ganache will continue to thicken after you stop stirring).

Quick Notes

For the frosting it can be tricky achieving the perfect consistency. If the frosting becomes too firm to spread, reheat in a bowl over a pan of simmering water until it begins to melt around the edges, then remove from heat and stir until smooth.

Tags: cake, cupcake, dessert, frosting, American

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