Grown-up Hostess CupcakesPosted: 10 May 2011
I’m not CRAZY about cupcakes. I like cupcakes, but some things bother me about them. The kind that you can buy in a grocery store are dry cake with overly sugary frosting. I dislike when there’s more frosting than cake, or when a regular-sized cupcake is made so tall with frosting that you can’t bite into it without getting frosting on your nose. Cupcakes can be really, really good. They can also be, and I find this to be true more often than not, sub-par and not worth the calories. I don’t know if that makes me a cupcake snob, or just not a giant cupcake fan. I can tell you that if you put a Crumbs cupcake in front of me like this one, I will devour it with relish and joy. But put a package of Target bakery mini-cupcakes in front of me and I’m more likely than not to pass on them. For the record, Starbucks’ red velvet cupcakes are not super delicious either. And I know it’s tantamount to sacrilege, but the cupcake I had at Magnolia bakery wasn’t that great either. It looked cute, but next time I’ll just head straight to Crumbs. I really love that place.
So where am I going with this? Cupcakes. I think that unless you have a really great bakery that provides you with all the dreamy cupcakes you could ever want, you probably need to make them yourself for them to be any good. I don’t do it often because cupcakes tend to be labor intensive and this lady works all week. It’s hard to rationalize baking something so time consuming except for special occasions. Since Easter (aka Ham and Cheesy Potato Day) qualifies as just such an occasion, I decided to bring out the big guns and try my hand at one of Andrea’s cupcake recipes. Altering it, of course, to fit my fancy.
As a kid, we live about six blocks from one of those Wonder Tastee outlets where you could get Hostess fruit pies and cupcakes in bulk. Actually, they still just came one pie to a pack but they always had a lot of them so you could stock up. My favorite were the blueberry fruit pies. I’m pretty sure they’re still my favorite. Even now, as a grown up who does her best to avoid overly processed food, those damn fruit pies call to me. For Senor, it’s the iconic Hostess cupcake that pulls him in. I haven’t had a (delicious and sinful) Hostess fruit pie (wrapped in an inexplicably crisp wax paper wrapper) in years. But every so often, Senor falls to the hypnosis of the squiggly frosting-ed cupcakes. Usually when this happens, we split the twin pack. And each time we gulp them down in two bites, look at each other and exclaim, “You know, those really aren’t very good are they?” They’re so enticing with their smooth chocolate frosting, the promise of creamy filling and the perfectly round little cakes. But when you bite into them….they are dry, the cream filling is disappointing and even though you get an even distribution of frosting, that frosting tastes like plastic wrap. Still, they’re delicious in a way that only childhood snack foods can be. And the fundamentals are sound…chocolate cake, filled with creamy filling, topped with an even layer of frosting. Perfect no?
Crumbs makes a grown-up version of the iconic Hostess cupcake. My friend ate one when we were in New York last summer and it was like a little planted seed in my brain about making my own version of the cream-filled chocolate treat. Andrea’s genius blog of course, enabled my efforts in this venture. I knew I’d be making these within days of reading the post. Senor anxiously awaited the final results and revealed to me later that he’d been worried. What if they didn’t taste close enough to the ‘real’ thing? Is it possible to take an indulgent childhood food that tastes, mediocre, and turn it into a decadent grown up dessert that still satisfies your childhood yearning? Is this maybe too deep of a question for a simple cupcake? Should I stop?
Well, in case you were worried, these lived up to the expectations and were widely received as a delicious success. How can you improve on a homemade Hostess cupcake? Make the filling a cream cheese base, obviously. The best part about these is that separately, the individual parts are really just okay. The chocolate cake is fine. The ganache topping is dark and heavy. The filling is thick and sweet. But some sort of magical voodoo occurs when you combine all three and you get an absolutely perfect cupcake. So if you can resist, I recommend you don’t dip into the frosting, cake, or filling on their own. Wait for the assembled product, I promise, it’s worth it.
A few tips for making them. Make the cupcakes ahead of time and freeze them before gutting, filling and frosting. Keep frozen until you’re ready to serve. Or eat them frozen. Trust me, totally delicious like a cream-filled dark fudgesicle. Make up an assembly line for these little buggers so you can gut them all, fill them all, frost them all, decorate them all, etc. The filling and frosting can both be made ahead of time and refrigerated. If you don’t have pastry bags, fill a gallon sized Ziploc bag for filling the cupcakes and cut off one of the corners. Do the same with a sandwich bag for the piping, cutting off just a small piece of the corner. And of course, make sure you eat one before letting anyone else try them. Otherwise, you might not get one.
Grown-up Hostess Cupcakes
Adapted from Can You Stay for Dinner’s recipe
Makes 24 cupcakes
6 ounces semisweet baking chocolate
1 cup brewed coffee or tea
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup oil
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/3 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup cocoa powder (unsweetened)
2 cups granulated sugar
Turn your oven to 325º.
Place your semisweet chocolate into a heat-proof bowl and pour hot brewed coffee or tea over it. The original recipe called for coffee but we didn’t have any at our house. Instead, I brewed two bags of Hot Cinnamon black tea in one cup of hot water. It did its job and with either option, the flavor of the liquid is not detectable in the batter. I’ve also made these with coffee and really, delicious. But you can’t taste either one so if all you have is tea, go for it.
Let the hot liquid and chocolate stand for a few minutes, then stir together with a fork until it’s completely melted.
In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat the eggs, sour cream, oil and vanilla and mix until well combined and slightly frothy.
Slowly pour in your chocolate a little at a time while beating. Mix until well incorporated, on a medium-low speed.
Add your dry ingredients and mix until just combined. DO NOT OVER MIX.
Pour the batter into medium-sized muffin liners in your muffin pan. If you don’t have a nonstick pan, you may want to grease the top of the pan to keep the cupcake tops from sticking. Fill 3/4 of the way. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the middle is set. Let them rest for 30 minutes before removing.
Freeze the cupcakes to make assembly easier. I also like to eat them frozen.
Cream Cheese Filling
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
1 Tbls. meringue powder (optional)
Beat the ingredients together on high until light and airy. Refrigerate until ready to use. Place in a 16 oz pastry bag for easy filling.
1 cup heavy cream
9 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate
2/3 cup light corn syrup
In a sauce pan, combine all ingredients over medium heat until melted. Stir as you heat to keep from scorching and to incorporate. Once melted and smooth, remove from the heat and let cool for 30 minutes before using. At this point you can also refrigerate the frosting for later use.
How to assemble
Once cool, place the cupcakes in the freezer. Let them freeze for at least 20 minutes. The longer you can leave them in the freezer, the easier your filling and decorating task will be. By freezing them, you let them firm up. This way, when you’re cutting into them and frosting them, you won’t have little crumbies falling all over.
Take out the cupcakes. Using a small, sharp knife, cut a round chunk out of the center. Make sure it’s a deep chunk, but that it doesn’t go through bottom of the cupcake.
Once you have all twelve of them gutted, stick them back in the freezer. Alternately, you can do this a day ahead of time. I like to make the filling and frosting on assembly day.
While they hang out in the freezer, get your filling ready. Fill your pastry bag with cream cheese filling. No need for a tip at this point since you’re just going to be filling the cupcakes.
At this point you can take out your frosting as well. Give it a few good stirs to make it nice and smooth, then set aside.
Pull your cupcakes out of the freezer. Fill each one with cream cheese filling. You want to fill them so the filling is even with the top of the cupcake.
Once you have the cupcakes filled, spread on the frosting. You don’t have to make it perfectly smooth, but try to make it an even thickness across the top. I used a spatula and smoothed the top. To get the authentic Hostess look, spread the frosting down over the edges of the cupcakes.
When they’re all frosted, turn back to your pastry bag filled with cream cheese filling. Add a small metal decorating tip to the pastry bag and pipe the iconic squiggly line of white frosting across the top of each cupcake.
After you have them all filled, frosted and piped, stick them back in the freezer until you’re ready to eat them. They will thaw quickly (less than 30 minutes) and they are DELICIOUS frozen. I actually prefer them slightly frozen.
Under no circumstance should you take the cupcakes out of the freezer to ‘take pictures only’ and then cut the cupcake in half. You’ll realize that you can’t possibly put it back in the freezer like that and you’ll end up eating it for breakfast. Not that it’s a bad thing. I’m just warning you. It will happen.