The first time I tried a Mexican chocolate cake was on my brother's birthday in Minneapolis several years ago. I was sold from the first bite. Especially if you use dark chocolate, the deep, rich sweetness helps to keep the chiles and spices from being too overpowering. Unfortunately, when I tried to replicate the cake later, I couldn't find any recipes with the deep, smoky flavor I wanted. I started playing around in the kitchen, and eventually came up with a recipe of my own.
This recipe was my third cupcake contribution to mom's surprise birthday party this month. Not only did these fit the Mexican theme; they also provided a good contrast to the flavors of the other desserts (Tres Leches Cupcakes and Bananas Foster Bread Puddings). Because no one was manning the dessert buffet, I tried my best to make it very clear to party guests that they were in for a spicy cupcake. I drew red, firy lines around the words on my placecard, and just in case there was any remaining doubt, I wrote "Hot! Hot!" in various places. I won't name names, but some people don't always read my (painstakingly hand-printed) place cards, and a certain uncle of mine was rather surprised when he bit into what he thought would be an innocent chocolate cupcake. He spent the rest of the party talking about "Megan's weapons-grade chocolate cupcakes." (Come to think of it, maybe that would be a good name for these cupcakes!)
Now, I'll give my uncle the benefit of the doubt - my current recipe has been honed and adjusted over the last few years, and I think it has gradually gotten hotter. I use chipotle chiles in adobo sauce for a deep smokiness as well as ancho chile powder and cayenne for an initial punch. Naturally, feel free to tone back the spices if you're feeling a little risk-averse, or if you are serving them to someone who doesn't like hot foods. Then again, you never know - my dad, lifelong hater of spicy food, ate a whole cupcake at mom's birthday party without ever noticing the chiles and was quite surprised when I later told him what he had eaten.
Of course, that might have had something to do with his beverage consumption...
Chocolate Chipotle Cupcakes
1 c unsalted butter
2 high-quality chocolate bars with chilis or chipotles
2 tbsp dark cocoa powder
chipotles in adobo sauce (these are typically sold in a 7-oz can)
2 c cake flour
1/2 tbsp baking soda
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp ancho chile powder
1/2 tbsp or more cayenne
pinch of salt
2 c granulated sugar
2 eggs, separated
1/4 c buttermilk
1/4 c heavy cream
1/4 c strong brewed coffee
2 tbsp vanilla
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350F. Line 2 muffin tins with lining cups, then lightly grease. It's best to have an extra muffin tin ready just in case - this recipe usually makes around 32 cupcakes.
Open the can of chipotles in adobo sauce, then take a few chiles out and puree. I usually use three large chiles or four small ones, but this is really up to you. The chiles add a hot, smoky flavor so don't go overboard if you don't want the cupcakes too spicy!
After pureeing, you should end up with about 2 tbsp of chiles.