Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Back to basics

I recently had a breakdown with my chocolate cupcakes – they simply wouldn’t rise in the middle of the cake. I found this really hard to understand, because this is a recipe I have been using for years, and I was convinced I knew it like the back of my hand.

I had one batch of chocolate cupcakes dip slightly in the middle of the cake and I thought nothing of it. But the following week I was in a serious hurry to cook a batch of chocolate cupcakes to fill a café order. Imagine my horror when I took the tray out of the oven to find all but two cakes with massive great holes in the middle – and I knew I had accidentally put double the amount of bi-carb soda in the mix, so there was no reason for them to sink.

I took my recipe book to bed that night and studied the directions very carefully. The base of the recipe is a chocolate syrup made out of water, cocoa, sugar and butter. It also calls for bi-carb soda, which aerates the mix. But I had been leaving that out of the process until much later because I was convinced it caused the mix to boil over the sides of the pot.

I decided to go back to basics with my next batch of chocolate cupcakes. I followed the recipe to the letter and found the mix had reverted to the thin batter I used to see this time last year, instead of the thick batter I’d been getting lately. I divided up the mixture and found, to my surprise, that I got 16 cupcakes out of the batch instead of the 12 I’d been getting. This was very encouraging.

With the cakes in the oven, I settled down on the kitchen floor to watch them bake. Yes – I am that dedicated to my baking! I was delighted to see that each cake was rising to the level of the Confeta cup – one in particular seemed to be rushing ahead (thanks to a very uneven temperature in my oven, no doubt). When the timer bell rang, I whipped my chocolate cupcakes out on to the bench and, lo and behold, cupcake perfection!

The moral to this story is simple – even if you think you’re an expert at what you’re doing, sometimes true kitchen alchemy means sticking to the original recipe. That being said, I’m not publishing the recipe for those cakes – it’s a commercial secret! What I will give you though is a recipe for semi-ganache, an excellent icing for chocolate cake.

100g dark cooking chocolate (choose good quality for the best results)
67g salt reduced butter
1/2 cup icing sugar

1. Melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave for one to two minutes. Do not over heat or you’ll scorch the chocolate!

2. Mix the choc/butter mix until well combined then add the icing sugar. Combine all ingredients then transfer into the bowl of your Kitchenaid (or some other inferior mixer!).

3. Beat with the whisk attachment until the icing thickens. Remove and spread or pipe onto your cake. Do not over handle! This is a very small batch and will cover only two or three cupcakes. A larger batch will make an excellent filling for a chocolate gateaux. However, I would increase the batch size to more than four times what's shown here (eg 400g chocolate et al).

Note: I used 76% cacao cooking chocolate in this recipe. It's commercial grade. If you can't get that, go for Plaistowe 64% cacao. Or if you live in the Sydney CBD area, stop by the Lindt Concept Store (http://www.lindt.com.au/1/4.asp) and pick up a huge bag of cooking chocolate from them. The service might be lacking, but the chocolate isn't.

Extra Note: I found this recipe behaved completed different the second time around to the first time I made it. If the icing isn't thickening for you, add a little extra icing sugar a tablespoon at a time. But remember, once it thickens up it will set quickly so get it onto your cakes ASAP.

No comments: