Valentine's Day is virtually synonymous with all things chocolate. That's one BIG plus it has going for it...in my book. While I'm definitely not one to buy into the commercialization of this annual Ode to Love, a touch of chocolate never hurts. And these little refined cakes make the perfect offering.
A good cake flour and unsweetened cocoa powder get jazzed up with a bit of instant espresso in these gems, giving them just a hint of coffee flavoring. This not only enhances their chocolatey goodness but also provides an essence of sophisticated taste. The batter whips up easily and has a light, moist structure when baked... making it quite easy to ignore any thoughts of added calories.
And the frosting? Well, it's like whipped velvet. It's ultra light, extra smooth, and subtly sweet, so you can confidently pile it on high without any risk of going overboard. It, too, has a touch of espresso mixed in. And, most importantly, mascarpone cheese! This soft Italian cream cheese is very mild and light...perfect for ensuring a subtly sweet, airy pillow of frosting.
The cakes, of course, are dressed for "the occasion" in pretty papers, and are topped with little shavings of semi-sweet, dark chocolate...an apt finish for a perfectly sweet nod to this February day.
Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Coffee Cupcakes with Chocolate-Mocha Mascarpone Frosting
adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe (April 2009)
Makes one 9-inch, 2-layer cake to serve 10 to 12*; or 48 mini cupcakes and 8 regular cupcakes (with enough frosting for either)
2 cups cake flour (I used King Arthur unbleached cake flour blend, found at Whole Foods)
3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Ghirardelli's)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups (packed) golden brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
3 teaspoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 3/4 cup hot water
1/2 to 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chip morsels**
1/2 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 1/2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream, divided
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 8-ounce containers chilled mascarpone cheese
chocolate shavings (I used Scharffen Berger semi-sweet dark chocolate)
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place paper liners in muffin tins.
2. Sift cake flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside.
3. Using an electric mixer, beat butter until smooth. Add brown sugar and beat until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs one at a time. Mix in vanilla. Then add flour mixture in three additions, alternating with buttermilk in between. Beat mixture until all additions are well incorporated. Gradually add in hot espresso-water mixture. Beat until smooth. Fold in chocolate chip morsels.
4. Ladle batter into cupcake liners in muffin tins (3/4- to 4/5- full). Bake until tester inserted in center of cupcake comes out clean...approximately 20 minutes for mini cupcakes; 25 minutes for regular cupcakes. Remove from oven and place paper-lined cupcakes on wire rack to cool.
1. Sift cocoa powder into a large bowl. Add espresso powder. Bring 1 cup cream to boil in a small saucepan. Slowly pour hot cream into cocoa mixture and whisk until cocoa is dissolved, about 1 minute. Add in remaining 1/2 cup cold cream, along with sugar, and stir until sugar is well dissolved. Chill mixture in fridge for at least 2 hours. (Can be made one day ahead; keep covered and chilled until ready to proceed with step #2.)
2. Add mascarpone cheese to chilled cocoa mixture. Using an electric mixer, beat on low speed until well blended and smooth. Increase speed to medium-high and continue beating until medium peaks form when beaters are lifted, about 2 minutes. (Do not overbeat mixture or it will curdle.)
3. Spread frosting over cupcakes (be generous!). Using a vegetable peeler, drop shavings of dark chocolate over top of each cake. Keep cupcakes chilled. Remove from fridge and let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes before serving.
* To make a 9-inch, 2-layer cake, use pans with a 2-inch side. Generously butter and dust each pan with flour, tapping out any excess. Line bottom of pans with parchment paper. Divide batter between pans and bake until tester inserted in center of cake comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool completely, invert and remove parchment before frosting. Apply frosting between layers and a thin coat over entire cake, chill for 10 minutes. Once chilled, continue with final coat of frosting (again...be generous!) Top cake with chocolate shavings.
** Add amount of chips you prefer. If making standard-sized cupcakes or layer cake, use regular chocolate chip morsels. For mini cupcakes, use mini chocolate chip morsels. Also...it helps to coat chips with a bit of flour prior to adding them to your batter to avoid having them sink to the bottom of cakes during baking.