Okay: despite what I've said in the past about pie being suitable for birthdays (and don't get me wrong, it is), there is something super special about cake. Specifically, cupcakes. Remember when you used to bring in cupcakes or brownies (made by mom, of course) to school when you were a kid? No? Just me? Well, think back to your best birthday party: mine was probably my 5th, which was Little Mermaid themed (of course), complete with an amazing cake (okay, not cup-version, but still great) and even an Ariel piñata. Which actually gave me nightmares for weeks, but that's another story.
ANYWAY: the point here is that cake marks the occasion. You are a year older. You have learned a lot, probably, grown up, had experiences and made choices. Now, we reward you (or console you?) with dessert. Nothing has ever made more sense to me.
On a kick to make treats for my gluten-free friends, I decided to take my hankering to bake and use it to create a birthday treat like no other: chocolate stout cupcakes. Inspired by none other than Smitten Kitchen's Deb Perelman because I knew I could count on her for something decadent: next time, these.
I'm just going to put this out there: these are the best dessert I've ever made. I'm just saying it. There is it, in the universe. They've got a little extra flair (I'm looking at you, ganache filling), but what makes these a winner is the cake texture. It's exactly what I hope for every time I bite into a cupcake (which, if you know me, has been a lot of times) - it's airy and soft, full of chocolatey flavor and a hint of sour from the stout. They're perfect. Ganache or not, buttercream or not, I could just eat this cake plain.
But, since the point of a cupcake is to top it off with some cute frosting spritzes, for this recipe, you'll need:
For the cake
1 cup stout (Guinness is recommended, but any stout will do)
1 cup (2 sticks) of organic butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoons sea salt
2 large organic eggs
2/3 cup organic sour cream
For the ganache filling
8 ounces dark or bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup of organic milk (I used 1%, but anything other than skim is fine)
2 tablespoons organic butter
For the buttercream frosting
3 to 4 cups powdered sugar
1 stick of organic butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 to 4 tablespoons of organic milk
To start, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line your cupcake tins with paper liners (this batter will make about 20-24 cakes, depending on the size of your pans). In a small saucepan, bring your stout and butter to a light simmer over medium heat. Add in your cocoa powder and whisk together until smooth - remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, whisk together your flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk your eggs together on medium speed. Add your sour cream and continue beating until combined. While still whisking, add your stout/butter/cocoa mixture to your eggs and sour cream. Once mixed together (about one minute), slowly add your flour mixture in 2 to 3 increments. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold together to combine the ingredients. Add your batter to the prepared pans, filling each liner about 2/3 of the way. Bake for 17-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
While your waiting for the cupcakes to bake, it's the perfect time to make your ganache. (Or, if you're like me and making these cupcakes at six in the morning, what, to have coffee.) Add your chocolate (broken up or chopped) into a medium sized heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan, heat your milk and butter until simmering - remove from heat and pour over your chocolate, allowing the milk/butter to melt the chocolate. Whisk together until smooth, then set aside to cool. (Deb says you can cool this in the refrigerator as long as you remember to stir it every ten minutes. I had a lot going on that day, so countertop cooling was the way I went.)
When your cupcakes come out of the oven, cool completely on wire racks. Once fully cooled, using an apple corer or 1-inch cookie cutter (what kind of cookie is 1-inch, I'd like to know), take out the center of each cupcake. The trick is to go about 3/4 of the way down, but not completely through to the bottom so that the filling stays put. Once all your cakes have been cored and the ganache is cooled, pipe some ganache into the center of each.
For the frosting, begin by whipping your butter in the bowl of a stand mixture until airy and light. Add your powdered sugar (sift it first if it seems a little lumpy) one tablespoon at a time - I know it seems like that might take forever seeing as you may need up to four cups. But trust me, it lets you figure out how your icing is doing without adding way too much sugar from the beginning. About halfway through adding and incorporating your sugar, add your milk. Your frosting will have started to thicken up and the milk will make it a little runny again, but that's okay. Keep adding sugar until you've reached your desired consistency. For me, that was about 3 1/4 cup, but it will vary a little for everyone.
If you've got a piping bag (which, if you used it for the ganache already, then you do), these cupcakes are the time to bust it out. They're already so tasty, they definitely deserve a little festive swirl (or star or spritz) of frosting. (Here's to you, Andrew!)