One of the first things I thought of when I found out the theme for this month’s challenge was wine. When I went to the wine tasting with my mom a couple months ago, we tried this one red wine that tasted just like black cherries and would be excellent with dark chocolate. I couldn’t get my hands on the exact brand, but was able to find out that it was a French Merlot, so I found something myself.
I learned at the tasting that what I don’t like about most reds is the taste of tannins, and that their presence is usually indicated by references to an oaky taste in the description of the wine. This wine had nothing like that in its description, and in fact boasted its black, berry-like flavor with hints of spices and vanilla. Plus, will you just LOOK at that fantastic label? It’s so cute and embossed and stuff! I just want to ride that little bicycle ALL OVER Paris! Also, it was cheap…perhaps a bit too cheap; the taste was similar to what I remembered but the flavor was a little weaker and it just tasted cheaper. Overall, though, not bad as wines go (plus I love that warm tingle and lightheadedness you get from just one sip!…or is that just me?).
I already had the cupcakes themselves baked up, as they were really leftovers from the coconut batch I made. The cake recipe is really just amazing, so I was glad to be able to try something else with it. If you love moist, dark chocolate cake that isn’t very sweet or overwhelming, this is your recipe. So dark they’re almost black, and a perfect backdrop for a beautifully colored frosting.
Ah, frosting. That’s one of my weaknesses. After much deliberation as to how I was going to incorporate the wine into something beautiful enough to top the dark little cakes with (though I had figured out the presentation pretty much right away), I decided to bite the bullet and take my first shot at buttercream. I had originally wanted to do some kind of wine-chocolate sauce, maybe some kind of reduction, but I was having a heck of a time finding any wine sauces that weren’t savory. So, I looked up the series on buttercreams that Joe Pastry did (he kicks serious ass…I need to go through the rest of his entries for more valuable learning) and chose the French buttercream. He does say it’s his favorite for cupcakes, and after all, the Merlot was French. I decided to cook the wine down a little with some spices and use that as my flavoring, with a little red food coloring to boost the redness and a little cocoa powder to balance out the liquids and round out both the color and flavor.
The result was nothing like any frosting I’d ever had, and is just plain incredible with the cupcakes. Z still prefers the coconut, but enjoyed the one we shared earlier. I like the subtlety of the flavors, and the fluffy frosting with the moist cake feels very fancy. I guess I’m just still used to frostings made with margarine (I grew up in a healthy-eating family…I still eat healthy but I know what’s important when it comes to dessert!), so it was an odd sensation to NOT have a greasy feel in my mouth after tasting the frosting. It just melted away. Mmmmm…
Chocolate Merlot Cupcakes
2 cups boiling water
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter, softened
2 1/4 cups white sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350. Whisk water and cocoa together until smooth, then place in refrigerator until room temperature. Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in eggs one by one and mix in the vanilla. Add the flour and cocoa mixtures alternately, in fourths. When fully combined, pour the mixture into lined cupcake pans (no more than 3/4 full) and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick or fork inserted into one comes out just clean. Allow to cool to room temperature while you make the frosting.
French Merlot Buttercream:
1/2 bottle French Merlot
1 stick cinnamon
About 10 whole cloves
6 egg yolks, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup water
1 lb. unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 tsp vanilla extract
A few drops of red food coloring
A couple pinches of unsweetened cocoa powder
Place the wine, cinnamon and cloves into a small saucepan and cook over medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until reduced by 1/3 to 1/2. Set aside and allow to cool. Place yolks into a mixer bowl and, using the wire whip attachment, whip on high until light in color and foamy (about 5 minutes). While it’s mixing, combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, and bring to 238 Fahrenheit. Immediately pour the sugar syrup into a Pyrex liquid measure. With the mixer off, drizzle the syrup into the yolks gradually, mixing intermittently until fully incorporated. Whip until cooled to room temperature, then switch to the paddle attachment and add butter a bit at a time, mixing each chunk in fully before adding the next. Beat the mixture until light and fluffy. Add vanilla, about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of the wine, food coloring and cocoa powder, mixing each one in well before adding the next ingredient. Spoon frosting by fourths into a pastry bag fitted with a star or round tip and decorate your cupcakes however you like. Chocolate jimmies look really nice.
I might try to get a couple of these out to people, but I really like them so who knows. I actually wish I had a whole 24 to frost, since I had leftover frosting. Once voting is open, you should totally vote for it at No One Puts Cupcake in a Corner. I’ll let you know when.
This month, I’m competing for some awesome stuff from my fellow (albeit more successful than I) Etsians (I think that’s correct…) Betty Turbo, Lot of Sprinkles, and Cakespy. (Note to self: GET ON SOMETHING FOR THE SHOP THAT PEOPLE WILL WANT TO BUY AND IS GOOD ENOUGH TO OFFER AS A PRIZE.) Also, there are cake-themed pincushies from Sweet Cuppin Cakes Bakery and Cupcakery Supply!
Corporate Sponsor Time!:
HEAD CHEFS by FIESTA PRODUCTS, http://www.fiestaproducts.com, HELLO CUPCAKE by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson, http://blog.hellocupcakebook.com, JESSIE STEELE APRONS http://www.jessiesteele.com; the CUPCAKE COURIER http://www.cupcakecourier.com; TASTE OF HOME books, http://www.tasteofhome.com. Iron Cupcake:Earth is sponsored in part by 1-800-Flowers, http://www.1800flowers.com