I know I promised a non-dairy series in my last post. I still intend to deliver on that, but time always marches on revealing new paths. Feel free to protest. This is the United States after all.
Tangential trajectory for today: Cupcakes and Labor Day.
Today we celebrate the economic and social contributions of our workers with a day of rest and parties. It’s also the symbolic end of summer, picnics, and BBQ season. (Of course we Californians barbeque and surf year round.) Ladies stop wearing white, and the new school year begins if it hasn’t already. Fall begins to sneak in cooler mornings, and the skies fire up and darken earlier each evening.
Cupcakes are the perfect dessert for picnics and barbeques. No need to fuss with utensils or plates. You can grab one on your way to the three-legged race. There are many reasons one shouldn’t eat cupcakes, but I can think of one very good reason we should: Carpe diem!
My Aunt Rose has a framed saying on her kitchen wall. At the top in big letters it declares, “Calories don’t count if…” followed by a long list: if it’s a holiday, a birthday, it’s homemade, etc. This definitely influenced my eating philosophy. I try to eat healthy on a day-to-day basis, but I do believe calories shouldn’t count if it’s a special day, and someone cared enough to make something special to share.
Oh look, today is Labor Day, a holiday! And what could be more all American than chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter-potato chip frosting? Not much, really. Cacao beans, peanuts, and potatoes are all native to the Americas.
Back up a sec, did she just say potato chips on cupcakes? Yes, yes I did. You know deep down a salted crunch goes perfectly with peanutty frosting and chocolaty baked goodness. Maybe not so deep down if you’ve ever been intrigued by bacon cupcakes, or salted caramel.
These cupcakes came to life a few months ago when I set out to make a dessert using potato chips. I began by choosing a classic flavor combination known to play nice in both savory and sweet applications: chocolate and peanut butter. My first concept was a chocolate tart topped with peanut butter frosting and crushed kettle-cooked potato chips.
I tweaked my favorite chocolate sheet cake recipe from Cook’s Illustrated’s New Best Recipes by using more chocolate, and Greek yogurt instead of buttermilk. I wanted a denser cake, and it worked pretty well if a bit dry. I baked it in two round cake pans instead of a 9×13 to get a thinner cake. I debated on layering, but didn’t want to be ridiculously excessive so I opted to use only one layer.
Besides experimenting with the cake texture, there were two minor problems. First up, leftovers. Unless you have the perfect-sized group, it is difficult to (physically) eat the whole tart at once. Surprisingly, sogginess was not the issue. However, the chippies staled in less than a day. Cupcakes were the obvious solution; they’re single serving and can be topped with chips just before eating.
The second minor problem, kettle chips aren’t salty enough for a good contrast. I compensated by sprinkling the cake with a little sea salt. This worked well, but I decided to try saltier chips next time.
The second time I tried this dessert was for my in-laws annual 4th of July block party. The cupcakes were nicely portable, and Lay’s potato chips were perfectly salty, but I still wasn’t thrilled with the cake. I tweaked the chocolate sheet cake again using plain yogurt instead of Greek yogurt because it has more moisture, but the chocolaty-ness was deeper in the Greek version. Back to the drawing board!
Today, I tried a different chocolate cake recipe, this time Cook’s Country’s homemade version of a Hostess Chocolate Cream Cupcake. I wanted a dense, not too sweet cake with dark chocolate flavor. In other words, the polar opposite of a cake mix. I was intrigued by this recipe’s technique of “blooming the cocoa” with boiling water. It calls for much less chocolate than my favorite sheet cake, (only 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate & 1/3 cup cocoa powder versus 8 oz semisweet & ¾ cup cocoa powder) but I hoped this blooming method might make up the difference. Also, I liked the sugar ratio of the chocolate cream cupcakes better – ¾ cup sugar to 1 cup flour v. 1 ½ cups sugar to 1 ¼ cups flour.
They were fun and simple to make. Before even tasting, my three year old said, “It smells like chocolate cupcakes! This is the yummiest thing I ever ate.”
“Mommy, it’s kind of gooey.”
To top them off, I did a new take on my peanut butter frosting. It was a bit too rich, so I cut the cream cheese, butter, and some of the sugar. I was happy with my new version, much more peanut flavor. Chopped salted peanuts would be a great way to boost the peanut flavor even further.
Peanut Butter Frosting, Take II
½ cup creamy natural peanut butter (I used Earth Balance)
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
5 Tablespoons milk
Blend all ingredients in a food processor, just until smooth. This makes enough for about 16-18 cupcakes.
Don’t forget the potato chips! Put a handful of chips in a small bowl and crush them up with your fingers. Press the frosted cupcake into the chips, and fill in the gaps with more chip crumbs. Eat immediately, napkins optional.
Despite what they say, just one is more than satisfactory.