December 4, 2012

Chocolate and spice

I've never been a fan of gingerbread or baked goods heavy with holiday spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves.  But a couple of years ago, I tried Martha Stewart's chocolate gingerbread cookies (they're her favorite holiday cookie) and they made me re-evaluate everything because I love those cookies!  They're on my short list of must-bake holiday treats.  I only make them during Christmas and at this time of year, I crave that cookie's combination of spice together with melted chocolate in their "slightly crisp on the outside/super soft-chewy on the inside" form...
Needless to say, a batch of those cookies will make an appearance in my kitchen soon.  In the meantime, I thought I'd try something new but in the same vain.  These chocolate spice cupcakes caught my eye because they are very similar to those spectacular (and rather unusual) cookies with their combination of chocolate and spice.

These upside down cupcakes don't have a ton of fat in them - 5 tablespoons of butter for a dozen cupcakes in the recipe.  The moisture comes from a good dose of molasses.  That, along with ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, make them flavorful, but not rich.  The richness comes in the form of the chocolate ganache coating - the best part of this happy combination, I think.  I like any recipe that gives me an excuse to stir up some rich, velvety chocolate ganache.
Admittedly, I didn't find these little chocolate spice cakes quite as addicting as  the cookies, partly because those have the advantage of melty chocolate goodness warm from the oven, which is how I like to eat them.  But I did enjoy them and think they make a nice holiday treat.  The warm spices are clearly present without being overwhelming, and they taste particularly good with that ganache glaze.  My son loved the "frosting", which he called "the best kind in the world" (that's my boy!) but didn't love the flavor of the cake itself.  Maybe these are better suited for grown-up palates because when a little one sees something that looks like a chocolate cake, he probably expects and wants just that without the spicy surprise.
Do you wonder why these cupcakes are turned upside down?  Why not just make them regular cupcakes with ganache frosting on top?  I wondered the same myself and thought about doing it that way but on second thought, the upside down effect seems appropriate somehow.  This presentation gives these slightly more "mature", little bit more complex, holiday cakes a bit more sophistication and more of a grown-up look.  It makes a fine dessert during the holiday time when meals are a little extra special. 

I didn't buy candied ginger to top these little cakes with like Martha suggests since I don't like them (too blunt?).  Visually, a topping looks very nice though.  I made a festive version for my little one (sprinkles always do the trick) and topped mine with a few grains of sea salt, mainly for that snow-capped look as opposed to taste.
I hope you're enjoying your holiday baking and/or eating, whether you're sticking with old-favorites or trying something new!

The recipe for these cupcakes is listed below.  The star of the show comes in the form of those warm holiday spices and a good amount of molasses.  It's time to make sure you have these ingredients on hand at this time of year. 
An unusual step in this recipe was mixing the baking soda with some boiling water and adding that mixture into the batter.  I'm not sure what particular scientific reason would explain that but I'm sure there's a logical reason.  once all the ingredients get mixed together, the batter is a bit lumpy and relatively thin.
Since we're not using cupcake liners and you want to turn these cakes out intact, make sure to generously butter (not spray with cooking spray) the muffin cakes and coat them evenly with cocoa powder.  

The cupcakes come out moist but I did not have any problems turning them out intact.  Run a small offset spatula or use a blunt knife to loosen the cupcakes and lift them out.  They baked up with more of a dome than I expected.  Just press them down a bit when you invert them (the top is moist and sticky).
My favorite part is the ganache glaze.  It's your regular, simple ganache mix of cream and chocolate, with a little corn syrup added for shine.  I let it sit just slightly so it thickens but is still fluid enough to spoon and glide over the cupcakes.  I want a thick coating on it but not so much that it hardens and the chocolate won't glide over the cakes.
Load up the ganache!  Notice I just laid a sheet of wax paper under the rack for easy cleanup.

The chocolate-spice cakes are ready for presentation.
After making these, I was inspired to make a regular chocolate cake with ganache frosting (picture below) using some yogurt and cream I had in the fridge.  I went with a small, 6-inch, cake but two layers so I could accomodate more ganache frosting.  I made it on a Friday for an at-home date night dinner with my husband, with leftovers into the weekend (it keeps well and stays moist for days).  It's the holidays and I figure there's no such thing as too many cakes or too many treats around Christmas!
Something a bit more classic:  Chocolate cake with ganache frosting


Chocolate-Spice Cupcakes with Ganache Glaze
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

- Makes 12 cupcakes -

For cupcakes:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter (plus more for the pan), at room temperature
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder, plus more for the pan
1 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup boiling water
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (freshly grated, if possible)
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2/3 cup unsulfured molasses

For chocolate ganache glaze:

5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon light corn syrup (for shine)

Optional garnish: candied ginger, finely diced

Very generously grease a standard muffin tin with butter and dust with cocoa powder, tapping out excess (I would not recommend substituting with cooking spray in this case).  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Stir baking soda into boiling water.  In another bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

In the bowl of a standmixer, cream butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy.  Beat in egg.  Add molasses and baking soda mixture, and beat until combined.  Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.  Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture.  Beat until well combined.  The batter will look a little lumpy.

Divide batter evenly among the 12 prepared cups.  Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until a cake tester inserted into the cakes come out clean, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Transfer the muffin tin to a wire rack and let cool for about 15 minutes.  Gently run a small offset spatula around each cupcake and remove them from the tin.  Invert them onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the ganache, set chocolate in a heatproof bowl.  Bring heavy cream and corn syrup to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.  Pour hot cream over the chocolate.  Let mixture stand for a minute or two until chocolate begins to melt.  Then stir mixture with a rubber spatula, beginning in the center and working your way out until ganache is smooth and glossy.  Let the ganache sit for a bit, stirring occasionally, until it thickens slightly but is still fluid (don't let it sit too long or it will be too thick to spread; you'll need to gently reheat the ganache if that happens). 

To glaze the cupcakes, spoon ganache over inverted cupcakes set over a wire rack with a baking sheet or some wax paper set underneath.

Store cupcakes in an airtight container, in the refrigerator, for up to 3 days.  Bring to room temperature and garnish with candied ginger (if using) before serving. 


  1. I'm with you--I am not always into the spicy desserts popular at this time of year. But, this does sound interesting for an adult get-together. :)

  2. Yes, it's like pumpkin spice. I usually stay away from that sort of thing. I plan to make a batch of those chocolate gingerbread cookies by the end of the week...very excited! : )



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