Bourbon & Chocolate Cupcakes
The pungent scent of whisky and soon-to-be-discarded cigarette butts fill the heavy air in the small, run down old warehouse. Chatter, a hundred separate conversations, carry through the otherwise silent open space. Anticipation builds and chants from old friends begin as a bass drum is checked, an amp turned on and the screech of a poorly placed mic screams through the stacks of speakers. The house lights dim to a candle-like glow; a few strategically aimed, colorful spotlights illuminate the stage as the five young men taking their places at their favorite instruments.
Nonsensical chatter and encouraging chants stop in an instant as the quiet, slow intro to a three-year-long perfected song is started. The song begins to build and the small crowd is pulled in closer. The dark, grungy room is filled with the progressive instrumental rock of a young band taking the stage for the first time. Friends, family, strangers, kind listeners, curious passerbys fill the audience. The crowd builds as the idiosyncratic sounds of Enloom entice ears. Years of work, practice, composing, recording and planning pay off in a spectacle of a first show.
An hour and a full set passes. The calming, worldly and ethereal music is replaced with an enthusiastic ovation. A life time of chasing a dream has started to come true in a moment of celebrating new and once unheard music. I watch from the back of the room as my brother and his friends – together a band I have spent the last three years watching work hard – enjoy their moment.
The next morning my time is filled with the busy work of one of my own creative pursuits as I construct and assemble a new recipe, a recipe devised just for the band in celebration of a milestone. I carefully arrange the eclectically decorated cupcakes on an old, passed-down silver platter and take the short trek through my kitchen, out the laundry room and around the short hall into the recording studio amended to our home. I step into the room filled with the equipment that littered the stage the night before – a room that was once a mere garage (the garage that started it all nearly a decade ago).
The cold, oil-stained cement floor now replaced with sound absorbing carpet; bare, open walls and a garage door replaced with custom-built soundproof, eight-inch-thick walls, lined with sound absorption and diffusing panels. Where my jeep once sat now lies a pair of drum sets. The evolution of this large room mirrors the evolution of my brother’s band providing the perfect metaphor – from garage to studio; a garage band turned something far more impressive.
I glance at my watch as I set the plater of cupcakes down; eight AM must be too early for the boys who surely were up all night celebrating. I keep quiet as I leave the room, trying my best not to wake up the four members who nap scattered about the room, or to distract the fifth – who like me seems to need no sleep – as he works away at a computer with his headphones on, surely composing or fixing some new song.
I head back to my own studio – my kitchen -, a small gift left behind for the boys. I bite into the one cupcake left for me. Dark, rich moist chocolate cake surrounds the spicy bourbon filling, both topped with a sweet, marshmallowy italian meringue frosting that melts in your mouth. Three distinct flavors and a cascade of textures come together in perfect harmony. I finish the scrumptious cupcake and am left wanting more – not unlike the night before as I, along with the crowd, chanted for an encore. I sneak back into the studio and take one more cupcake – surely they won’t miss just one -, carefully darting out of the room before anyone notices.
Bourbon Cream Filled Chocolate Cupcakes with Italian Meringue
This recipe will yield about 18 normal-sized cupcakes. Despite each part of the recipe being fairly simple, I’ve labeled this recipe as difficult because of the amount of specialty tools required (stand mixer, pipping tips, kitchen torch) and the number of elements and steps in the preparation of these cupcakes.
Assorted large piping tips
1 batch Dark Chocolate Chip Cupcakes (recipe below)
1 batch Bourbon Pastry Cream (recipe below)
1 batch Italian Meringue (recipe below)
1. Prepare the cupcakes, pastry cream and meringue according to the instructions. Once the pastry cream has cooled and set, place it in a piping bag with a classic circle opening. Place the meringue in a piping bag(s) with a tip(s) of your choice. I used the open star, closed star and circle piping tips – so I could have a few different styled cupcakes. Set each aside of the piping bags aside.
2. Once the cupcakes are completely cool, cut out the center of each cupcake using the pairing knife by cutting on a bias (you will be cutting out a cone from the center of cupcake). Take care not to cut all the way down to the bottom and be sure not to cut any closer than 1/4 an inch from the edges, otherwise the cupcake could collapse. Reserve the cones you cut out.
3. Fill the empty space in the cupcakes with the bourbon pastry cream, leaving about an 1/8 inch space on top. Cut 1/8″ off the top of the cut out cupcake cone and place it on top of the filling.
4. Pipe the italian meringue onto the top of each cupcakes using a tip of your choice.
How To: For a spiral frosting top: use the circle piping tip and pipe from the outside, moving in as you make a circle around the top of the cupcake; pull up slowly once you make a complete circle around the cupcake; this should make a cone of spiraled frosting onto of the cupcake.For the open star tip: Place the tip 1/2 an inch above the cupcake top and pipe the icing keeping the tip in place until the star starts to grow larger than the tip itself. Start to slowly pull the piping tip up only after the icing has formed a disk nearly as wide as the cupcake top. Once finished pull up quickly to form a peak. Twist as you pull for a spiraled look. For the closed star tip: Place the tip 1/2 inch above the cupcake top and pipe the icing while you slowly turn the cupcake in your hand, keeping the tip the same distance above the cupcake until a disk has formed nearly as wide as the cupcake. Pull the tip up slowly at first, then speeding up to create a peak. You can leave the cupcake stationary to achieve a non-spiraled affect.
Tip: Most importantly just have fun here; cupcakes don’t need to – and shouldn’t – look perfect.
5. Once you have piped the cupcakes use your kitchen torch (or a propane torch if you’re like me) to create the burned/colored effect, taking care not to leave the torch in once place too long as it could burn and blacken the meringue. Also take care not to burn the paper cupcake liner.
How to: For a darker contrast put the torch on a higher setting and quickly torch the peaks and ridges, avoiding the valleys. For a more even golden burn, use a lower setting and take the time to gently flame both the ridges and valleys.
6. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for a day or two.
Chocolate chip cupcakes: These cupcakes use finely chopped dark chocolate that will partially melt into the batter and leave small chocolate chips throughout the batter. If you’re not a fan of very dark chocolate you can substitute a sweeter chocolate. If you’re not a fan of chocolate chips in your cupcake you can leave the 4 ounces of chocolate out all together.
Dark Chocolate Chip Cupcakes
This recipe will yield 16 normal-sized cupcakes.
Fine mesh sieve
Stand mixer with flat beater or
Large bowl and wooden spoon
3 ounces unsweetened cocoa powder
5 ounces all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces unsalted butter
10 ounces sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk
4 ounces 99% cacao bar, finely chopped
1. Preheat an oven to 350°F. Line a cupcake pan with paper liner cups.
2. Sift together the cocoa powder, flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
3. Cream together the sugar and butter, in a separate bowl, until light and fluffy.
4. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and mix in well.
5. Add half of the dry mixture to the butter and egg mixture and mix in well. Add all of the butter milk, mixing well. Add the rest of the dry mixture and mix until the batter comes together and is homogenous.
6. Spoon the batter into the prepared cupcake pan, filling each cup just barely to the top (for a cupcake with a small muffin top; leave 1/4 an inch space if you want a cupcake without a muffin top).
7. Bake the cupcakes in a preheated oven 22 to 26 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
8. Cool the cupcakes on a wire rack until completely cool.
Bourbon Pastry Cream: Since this pastry cream uses corn starch in the mixture you don’t have to worry about cooking the eggs if the mixture is heated too hot. Be sure to stir constantly though otherwise the pastry cream could become lumpy. Be sure to cool the pastry cream completely before using. If you’re not a fan of bourbon you can replace it with any liquor of your choice.
Bourbon Pastry Cream
This recipe will yield about 2 cups of pastry cream and is adapted from a Bo Friberg recipe.
Wooden spoon or whisk
1 1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean
2 ounces sugar
1 ounce cornstarch
2 whole eggs
1/4 cup bourbon
1 ounce unsalted butter
1. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, scraping the seeds out into the heavy bottomed pot. Place the seed pod in the pot too and add the milk. Bring the milk to the scalding point.
2. While you are heating the milk, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, eggs and bourbon in a separate bowl. Set aside.
3. Once the milk is at the scalding point, pour 1/3 of it slowly into the egg mixture, whisking constantly to temper the egg mixture.
4. Once tempered pour the egg mixture into the pot with the remaing milk. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue to cook the mixture for another 30 seconds after it has started boiling, stirring constantly.
5. Remove the pot from the heat and remove the vanilla bean from the pastry cream. Add the butter and stir until the butter has completely melted.
6. Cool at room temperature before chilling it in the fridge. Cool the mixture for at least an hour.
Italian Meringue: Italian meringue is a particular type of meringue which incorporates boiled sugar so that it can be used without further cooking. Because the boiled sugar has to be added at a particular temperature, you will need a candy thermometer or a basic understanding of what sugar boiled to the soft ball stage looks like. You will also need a stand mixer as italian meringue requires you to begin whipping the egg whites while the sugar is boiling. It also requires constant whipping at high speed while the mixture cools, which can take up to 20 minutes. You should not substitute another type of meringue for the frosting in this recipe. For more information on italian meringue visit this post.
This recipe will yield 2 1/2 quarts of meringue, enough to frost 16 cupcakes. This is a Bo Frigberg recipe.
Heavy bottomed pot
8 (1 cup) egg whites
6 ounces corn syrup
12 ounces sugar
1/2 cup water
1. Pour the egg whites into the stand mixer bowl, set aside. Keep your stand mixer near your stove because you will need to keep an eye on both after step 3.
2. Add the corn syrup, sugar and water to a heavy bottomed pot and bring to a boil over high heat.
3. Once the sugar reaches 230°F, begin whipping the egg whites at high speed. Continue boiling the sugar as the egg whites are whipping. Watch the egg whites to ensure they don’t whip past the thick, pre-soft peaks stage.
4. Once the sugar reaches 240°F, or the softball stage, remove the sugar from the heat. Turn the mixer to medium and very slowly pour the sugar into the bowl of egg whites in a constant, thin stream. Make sure the stream falls between the side of the bowl and the mixer attachment (if the sugar hit’s the whisk it will cause it to lump in the meringue).
5. Once all of the sugar is added, slowly bring the mixer back to high (you may need the splash guard installed for this step). Whip the eggs on high until they are cooled and have formed stiffed peaks. This could take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes or longer. Besure to whip the eggs completely to stiff peaks otherwise they will sag when used as frosting.
6. Once the meringue is cooled and finished whipping, set aside. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.