My heart broke a little last year when I heard Hostess was declaring bankruptcy and ceasing operation. No more Twinkies, no Snoballs … no more Cupcakes with their characteristic squiggle line. What was a girl to do? These were the treats of grade school field trips, the only time my mother would buy them and slip one into my lunch sack as a special treat. I would jealously protect that bag on the bus, making sure those bratty boys didn’t sit on it and squash my treasure. At lunch, I’d almost always go for the cupcake first, pulling off the hard chewy icing for later. I’d suck out the crème filling before devouring the cake and finish with the treasured icing. It was how things were done. C’mon, I know I wasn’t the only one who did this.
While pouting over the demise of Hostess, a friend asked an honest question. “When was the last time you actually had a Twinkie or Cupcake?” Um. I honestly had no idea. It had been years upon years. It appeared that I, among us all, was part of the reason sales were down, poor management aside. Whoops. But the truth is, when I outgrew field trips, I outgrew those cupcakes. This became especially true once I learned how to make my own cupcakes, fresh and deeply chocolate without all those unpronounceable ingredients. Mine were just better. Sorry Hostess.
I’ve never been fully onboard with the cupcake craze of the last few years. There are simply too many crappy cupcakes out there and too many other things I like better. Like pie. To make a great cupcake you need to understand one principle: it needs to be moist. A good butter-based layer cake recipe doesn’t necessarily make a good cupcake. The two are not interchangeable. I’m continually amazed at how many people, professional bakers even, do not understand this seemingly basic tenet.
I’ll be honest: this is the best chocolate cupcake recipe you’ll find. I don’t toss those words about lightly. It’s deeply flavored and incredibly moist and will stay that way for a day or two. I learned the recipe while a pastry cook at TRU; for reasons no one can quite remember, we called it “German” cake which is strange because there’s nothing German or “German chocolate” about it. It’s just what it was called and was our standard chocolate cake. I guarantee if you come across this recipe, and you will, you can trace its origins back to Executive Pastry Chef Gale Gand because every one of her cooks still uses it. Now, we typically refer to it amongst ourselves as “the” chocolate cake and instantly nod in recognition. I’m not even sure where she got it but if I recall, it was from one of her bakers at a long ago bakery. When you find a good recipe, you keep it and we all have.
To make this a Hostess-like cupcake, you need a “crème” filling. I’ve made at least 50 different kinds – fancy ganache and homemade marshmallow crèmes and nothing quite fits the bill like a super sweet version made with purchased marshmallow crème, vegetable shortening and powdered sugar. Not my usual ingredient repertoire but it works. Anything fancier seems out-of-place. To get it in there, you need a cavity of some sort and an apple corer works perfectly. There’s no need to shell out good money for a fancy cupcake corer (yes, they exist.) You likely don’t use the corer anyway so let it see some daylight. It works perfectly.
The chocolate glaze doesn’t quite have that same strange bendy, plastic-y quality but it tastes a lot better. A simple dark ganache is applied with a little dip and twist of the wrist action. To get a nice smooth coating, and I don’t always manage that, you need a smooth topped cupcake. The glaze won’t necessarily hide the flaws so trim the tops as needed. Also, the ganache needs to be just the right temperature and consistency – liquid enough to coat but thick enough to hold. Play around and you’ll discover what that is for you.
Of course a Hostess cupcake needs those traditional curlicues – pipe a squiggle of royal icing on top and let it set and you’ve created something close but better than the original. You’re welcome.
On this blog four years ago: Fresh Paczki (Polish jelly doughnuts for Fat Tuesday. Or anytime.)
On this blog three years ago: Chocolate Ganache Tart
On this blog two years ago: Chocolate Malt Pots de Crème
On this blog one year ago: Chocolate Snacking Cake
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: DOESN’T GET MUCH BETTER. First off, you’re recreating a childhood favorite, which is just delightful for everyone involved. Second, there’s enough to this recipe that makes it just project-y enough without becoming overly annoying. Lots of little steps and multiple recipes but nothing overly difficult. Third, there are built-in treats for the cook as you alone get to eat the hollowed out cake cores. Always a bonus.
HOMEMADE CRÈME FILLED CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES WITH DARK CHOCOLATE GLAZE
makes 15 regular cupcakes or 7 jumbo cupcakes
A quick note on these photos. I inadvertently grabbed some jumbo cupcake paper liners I have stashed in a crowded cabinet and made some fairly large beauties. They were great, if a bit excessive. The recipe yielded about 7 at this size but with standard cupcake papers you should get over a dozen, easily.
for the cupcakes:
¾ cup + 2 Tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup + 2 Tablespoons Dutch process cocoa (such as Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa)
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
½ cup whole milk
¼ cup vegetable oil
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup boiling water (in the microwave on high for 3 minutes)
Crème Filling (recipe below)
Dark Chocolate Glaze (recipe below)
Royal Icing (recipe below)
- Preheat oven to 375°F and place rack in the lower third of the oven.
- Line muffin tin(s) with paper liners.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer, sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
- Add the sugar to the bowl and whisk to combine.
- With the whisk attachment on low-speed, add the eggs and milk; mix to combine. Scrape.
- Continuing on low, drizzle in the oil and vanilla extract. Scrape the bowl and mix to combine.
- On low, drizzle in the boiling water and mix until smooth, scraping the bowl once or twice. The batter will be very liquid and is easier to manage if you transfer it to a measuring cup with a pour spout.
- Fill the paper liners ¾ full.
- Bake until the tops are just firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes.
- While the cupcakes are baking, make the crème filling and the chocolate glaze (see recipes below.)
- Remove cupcakes from pan and let cool completely on rack before icing.
- To fill: with an apple corer or a paring knife, core out the center of each cupcake, twisting gently and carefully to create a nice, even and hollow hole all the way to the bottom of the cake.
- Pipe the crème filling into the hollow core until just full – do not overfill.
- To glaze: If the ganache is soft: carefully turn the cupcake upside down and dip into the ganache, letting the excess drip back into the bowl. If the ganache is firm: warm in the microwave in 10 second bursts or spread as is with an offset spatula over the top of each cupcake making sure to carefully cover the crème center
- Chill to let ganache set.
- If desired, pipe a royal icing squiggle on top to mimic the those classic curlicues.
1 (7 oz) jar marshmallow crème
½ cup vegetable shortening
1/3 cup powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon vanilla
- Whip the marshmallow crème, shortening, powdered sugar, salt and vanilla until nice and fluffy.
- Transfer the filling to a piping bag fitted with a large open tip – about ½”. A tip isn’t necessary but it does make it easier to completely fill the cavity in the cupcake.
- Can be made several days in advance; keep tightly wrapped at room temperature.
DARK CHOCOLATE GLAZE (GANACHE)
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
½ cup heavy cream
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
- Place the chocolate in a stainless-steel or glass bowl.
- Heat the cream and butter until just boiling, then pour over the chocolate; cover the bowl with plastic wrap, give the bowl a shake to fully submerge the chocolate and let stand for 5 minutes.
- Remove the plastic wrap and slowly whisk until smooth. If the chocolate isn’t fully melted, place the bowl over a pot of simmering water or zap in the microwave in 30 second increments at 50% power until smooth.
- Stir in the vanilla; let stand at room temperature until cool but still glossy and liquid.
1 egg white
1 ¼ cups powdered sugar + more as needed
1/8 teaspoon lemon juice
- Place all ingredients into a mixing bowl and beat until stiff peak and the icing is thick and glossy.
- Royal icing will keep in the refrigerator for 1 week or in the freezer for up to 1 month. Rewhip before using – the icing may need to be thinned with a little water.
- When ready to use, transfer freshly whipped icing to a paper cornet or a piping bag fitted with a small open tip. Before piping, test to make sure the icing is thick enough to hold its shape when piped. If not, rewhip with additional powdered sugar.