Thursday, July 22, 2010

Recipe: Chocolate Chipotle Cupcakes with Cinnamon Buttercream

I realize what I'm about to say could be offensive to some of you, but I feel like most chocolate cupcakes are just kind of... uninteresting. They can get a little too rich for me, and if they are overly sweet, I get bored and don't want to finish them. Cut that sweetness with the hot, smoky flavor of a chipotle chile, on the other hand, and I'm completely on board.

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.

The most exciting part of this process was getting to use my sister's 
Magic Bullet to puree the chiles. As seen on TV! Woo hoo!!

Chop chocolate bars roughly, then melt with butter in a double boiler over medium heat.

My double boiler = glass bowl set over saucepan 
containing an inch of water. Hey, it works.

Stir in the cocoa powder. Add the pureed chipotles, then whisk until smooth.

Remove chocolate from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, chile powder, cayenne, and salt in a large bowl. 

Whisk egg whites until soft peaks form. In a separate bowl, whisk together sugar, egg yolks, buttermilk, cream, coffee, and vanilla. Fold in egg whites by hand, being careful not to overmix.

Add wet mixture into dry mixture, stirring by hand to avoid deflating the batter.

Stir in melted chocolate, then fold in chocolate chips.

Mmm... look at that thick, creamy, chocolatey batter!

The batter will be very thick , so use a large spoon to fill muffin cups. Because the cupcakes will rise and expand considerably when baking, take care to fill tins no more than 1/2 to 2/3 full.  Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Clearly, I did not take my own advice about
filling the cups no more than half full...

The batter may fall somewhat during baking, leaving a small divot in the center of each cupcake. That's OK - you can hide it with frosting. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely on racks before icing them, at least 30 minutes.

Cinnamon Buttercream
1 c unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 c powdered sugar
3-4 tbsp cinnamon (you can use 2 tbsps for a less pronounced flavor)
1/4 tbsp vanilla
pinch of salt

Beat the butter in an electric mixer until light and creamy. With mixer running, add in 1/2 cup of powdered sugar, half the cinnamon, vanilla, and salt. Mix until combined, then taste. Continue to add sugar 1/2 cup at a time until frosting achieves the desired level of sweetness. Taste again and add the rest of the cinnamon if you wish.

Don't forget this frosting will be counteracting the spiciness of the
cupcakes, so it's OK if it's a little on the sweet side.

If you have pastry bags and cake decorating tips, by all means, knock yourself out. However, if you are like me and do not possess fancy kitchen items, you can still make your cupcakes look pretty with a simple ziploc bag. 

Empty your frosting into the ziploc bag with a spatula. Press all the extra air out of the bag, then seal. Carefully snip off one small corner of the bag, then press all the frosting toward the bottom and roll up the bag like a tube of toothpaste. Holding bag in both hands, squeeze the frosting toward the open corner and voila! Now you can pipe frosting like a pro!

Well, sort of. I mean, you can only do SO much with a ziploc bag.

But still pretty!


  1. Is that a Magic Bullet that you are using? You were either at Jodi's house or on an infomercial when you were making these...

  2. Yes! I was so excited when Jodi pulled out the Magic Bullet, I got a little confused and thought I was appearing in an informercial. Oh well.

  3. Megan! I keep on forgetting to tell you: I am pre-ordering at least a dozen of these for my birthday. I will repay you in fabulousness. Thanks!