I hope by now everyone has done their last-minute shopping and is taking it easy. It’s the 24th on this side of the globe and I feel positively giddy! The time is near for gathering round the Christmas tree after a hearty dinner, then the gifts will be passed around over and above the chatter of excited family members. I always imagine my family opening gifts around the cozy fireplace, except that having one is vastly impractical when you live here in the Philippines. (In reality, we gather around the area where the cold air from the air-conditioning is most felt.) I always love that moment when we’re all together, swapping stories over the sound of gift wrap being torn, and the looks on everyone’s faces when they receive their gifts. I for one always obsess over getting the right gift for a particular person, because I’m very sentimental and I always want my gifts to mean something.
These Chocolate Peppermint Cupcakes are my virtual gift to you all this year! I like to share, especially around this season, and if only I could work some magic to allow every person who reads this entry to reach into the screen and take a cupcake, I really truly would.
These cupcakes are the perfect blend of Chocolate Cupcake and creamy Peppermint Buttercream. I imagine people have several ideas about how Christmas tastes like, but I can tell you truthfully that this has to be one of them. The added bonus of chopped candy cane sprinkled on top is reminiscent of eating minty pop rocks. I recommend you go the distance and add them in! The really interesting part about this cupcake is the array of textures, starting with the cake that is moist and soft, the buttercream that is oh-so-heavenly fluffy and minty, and finally, the crunchy explosiveness of the candy cane rounds up the experience. Festive cupcakes if I ever did see any!
This was my first attempt at a Swiss Meringue Buttercream and quite frankly it was a breeze! I don’t know what got me so scared, because now that I’ve discovered how to make it, I can tell you this will be the first of many many recipes involving this type of frosting. It is just so different, and arguably a lot better than regular sugar-filled frostings. Everyone I sent these cupcakes to kept raving about how good they were about 80% more than they normally rave about the cupcakes I make, and I suspect it’s the buttercream that has them gushing.
I think the most important thing to remember to ensure success is to add your butter 2 tablespoons at a time and wait until it fully incorporates before adding the next square. Also, simply keep mixing until you get that shiny, lovely, and thick buttercream. Don’t stop just because it looks odd. If it’s too soupy and has no body, pop it in the fridge for a bit to firm up and continue mixing. I would love to make a how-to post about this but I am not experienced enough to do so, so maybe next time? Meanwhile, I can point you to a wonderful post that helped me overcome my fears.
Chocolate Peppermint Cupcakes
adapted from Cake and Allie blog | Makes about 24 cupcakes
For the cupcakes:
2 cups boiling water
1 cup cocoa powder
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour *
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups white sugar
4 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract **
For the buttercream:
6 large egg whites, room temperature
1 3/4 cups plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
2 teaspoons peppermint extract **
red gel (no taste) food coloring
chopped candy cane pieces
1. Make the cupcakes: In a medium bowl, pour boiling water over the cocoa powder and stir until smooth. Let cool for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°F (180°C) and line 2 muffin tins with cupcake papers.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in eggs, one at a time, until the mixture is consistent and pale yellow. Mix in the vanilla and peppermint extracts.
4. Working in 2 batches, blend in the dry ingredients and cocoa mixture alternatively; starting and ending with the dry ingredients.
5. Fill cupcake papers 2/3 of the way full and bake for 16-20 minutes, or until cupcake is set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
6. Make the buttercream: Slice your butter into 2-Tablespoon-sized squares (four squares per stick of butter). Place some water in a small pot and let simmer. The water should not be too high that it will touch the bottom of the mixer bowl when it is set on top.
7. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together egg whites and sugar. Set bowl over the pot of simmering water and whisk constantly until the sugar dissolves. You’ll know it’s ready when you can no longer feel the graininess of the sugar when you rub a small amount of mixture between your fingers. (Don’t worry, it won’t burn you. This is a good way to test if your egg whites are ready for the next stage.)
8. Transfer the bowl to the stand mixer and use the whisk attachment to beat the egg whites into stiff peaks, about 10 minutes. The bowl should be cool to the touch before you move on.
9. Switch over to the paddle attachment and set the mixer to medium speed. Add the sliced squares of butter one at a time (or 2 Tablespoons at a time), letting it incorporate before adding another piece.
10. Turn the mixer up to medium-high speed and beat until the frosting comes together. (This will take a while. Normally the frosting will curdle once the butter is added, but simply continue mixing and it will soon turn into a gorgeous shiny buttercream. If it’s too soupy and has no body, pop it in the fridge for about 10 minutes to firm up, then continue mixing. The buttercream should look like the photo on your right below.) Mix in the vanilla and peppermint extracts.
11. To frost: *** Place your piping bag, fit with a large star tip into a tall glass. Using food color and a brush, paint three separate lines inside the piping bag, like this. Place the buttercream inside carefully and pipe a few test swirls until the frosting comes out both red and white. Pipe cupcakes as desired.
12. When ready to serve, sprinkle cupcakes with crushed candy cane pieces.
* I substituted 3/4 cup with whole wheat pastry flour.
** If using peppermint oil, you may want to cut down by half the stated amount because the oil has a stronger minty flavour.
*** Though I find the process I’ve shared above a lot easier (I tried both ways and this is my conclusion), here is an alternative way to frost from the original instructions: Place half of the buttercream into a small bowl. Set aside. Using the remaining half of frosting in the stand mixer bowl, mix in red food coloring. Place your piping bag, fit with a large star tip into a tall glass. Place the white buttercream in one side and the red buttercream in the other. Pipe a few test swirls until the frosting comes out both red and white. Pipe cupcakes as desired.
Well, I won’t keep you long. I just wanted to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas filled with the warmth and joy of family and friends, and of course, good food!