From the end of May 2011 to mid-December 2011, I was conducting my dissertation field work in the mountains of Wyoming. Field work has its moments, but it is usually filled with lots of missing friends and loved ones. It turned out that I would not have any data collection during October, so I decided to head back to St. Louis for the month. This meant not only awesome Halloween times in St. Louis, but that I would also be in town for my best friend, Diana’s, birthday. I had not seen her since before I left, and I was so excited I would get to help her celebrate her birthday. I asked what kind of gift she wanted, and she told me to bring back a Wyoming cowboy for her (see very bottom of this post) and to have some sort of celebration. We decided on gathering at a local bar with lots of friends. Such an occasion demanded high quality, high fanciness baked goods, and the birthday girl’s only request was that it includes strawberries. The plan: champagne cupcakes with a strawberry-champagne Swiss meringue butter cream, and oh why not add a chocolate ganache filling and some fancy vanilla Swiss meringue butter cream roses with chocolate mint leaves. Now that is some decadent baked good awesomeness.
This recipe – well, cohort of recipes – was part adapted from others and part completely improvised. WARNING! All the butter used in this recipe needs to be at room temperature. I usually leave butter on the kitchen counter over night. If you forget, put butter on a plate and microwave at 10 second intervals until the butter is soft but NOT melty. The champagne cupcake recipe was a simple white, vanilla cake with champagne added to it. I added more champagne than the original recipe called for, and the batter truly tasted sparkling and bubbly, but when the cupcakes came out there was no detectable champagne flavor. This disappointed me, and I am not sure how to rectify this and truly pull out the champagne taste. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. The frosting I made was delicious, but difficult to work with. Next time I make a strawberry-champagne butter cream, I will go with the powder sugared based frosting since it is less temperamental and has an easily adjustable consistency. I am a huge proponent of Swiss meringue butter cream because of its light texture and subtly sweet flavor, but it is just not durable enough to withstand the heavy liquid content of both strawberry puree and champagne. It spread easily, but I could not use decorating tips with it and at times the strawberry juice and/or champagne sweated out. But again, it still tasted lovely. The Swiss meringue butter cream roses were gorgeous, but I think the chocolate mint leaves with the biggest hit. The chocolate ganache was just a nice little surprise in the cupcake. Despite all my criticisms, people loved these cupcakes, and the birthday girl herself called them “divine”.
Adapted from With Style and Grace
6 eggs, separated
2/3 cups butter room temperature
2 vanilla beans, split with seeds scooped out
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup champagne
1. Separate eggs. Discard four yolks – leaving you with six egg whites and two yolks.
2. Line (or grease) your cupcake pan, set aside.
3. For vanilla bean, use a sharp knife or a spoon to scrape the seeds from vanilla bean halves; set seeds aside.
4. In a medium bowl stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl beat egg whites with an electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight). Set aside.
6. Using you electric mixer, beat butter on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time, beating about 2 minutes or until light and fluffy. Beat in the reserved egg yolks and the vanilla seeds. Alternately add flour mixture and champagne to the butter mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. Fold half of the beaten egg whites into the batter to lighten; fold in remaining egg whites.
7. Fill each cupcake cup about three-fourths full.
8. Bake for 15-18 minutes. Insert a toothpick into the centers and if it comes out clean, it’s ready. Cool cupcakes in muffin cups on wire racks for 5 minutes. Remove cupcakes from muffin cups. Cool completely on wire racks.
Chocolate Ganache Filling
Adapted from Martha Stewart
¼ cup heavy cream
1.5 oz semisweet chocolate
1. Bring cream to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Pour over chocolate in a bowl. Let stand 5 minutes. Slowly whisk until smooth. Let cool completely, stirring often with a rubber spatula.
2. Once cool, prepare a pastry bag (use Wilton tip 230 or 12) and fill with chocolate ganache. Stab each cooled cupcake with the tip and fill with chocolate ganache. It may spill out the top and you can clean that up with a paper towel or spoon.
Swiss Meringue Strawberry-Champagne Butter Cream
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes about 36 cupcakes
6 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds (5 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
½ – ¾ quart of strawberries
½ cup champagne
1. Place whites and sugar in a heatproof mixing bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk until sugar dissolves and mixture registers, I test it by putting a small drop of the mixture between my fingers. If it is still gritty, it needs to stay on the heat longer, if it is perfectly smooth then move on.
2. Remove from heat, and whisk on high speed until mixture is cool and stiff peaks form, about 6-10 minutes. It is very important that stiff peaks form otherwise your frosting will fall apart. If butter starts to clot, put over heat a little bit until it goes back into solution.
3. Beat in vanilla.
4. In a blender or food processor combing strawberries and champagne until smooth. Fold this into the frosting
5. Decorate the cupcakes with this frosting as you choose
Swiss Meringue Butter Cream Roses
Following exact recipe above, just omit the strawberries and champagne. This will yield far more frosting than you need, so you can halve the recipe. Use a Wilton #104 decorating tip.
Chocolate Mint Leaves
1 package fresh mint leaves
3 oz semisweet chocolate
1. Melt chocolate either in microwave or a double boiler.
2. Pluck all mint leaves, place on a waxed paper lined cookie tray, and place with the veins bumpy side up.
3. Paint each mint leave with the melted chocolate using either a small paint brush or a small spoon – do not layer it on too thick
4. Once all leaves are painted, put leaves in the freezer for 15 minutes.
5. Peel and discard the mint leaves. After you get through about 10 leaves you may have to put the remaining ones back in the freezer before you can peel the mint leaves off.
6. They look like perfect little leaves, and the mint flavor becomes infused in the chocolate.
7. Place around the roses as you like!
These cupcakes are labor intensive – I am not going to lie – but the result was stunning! And as for the cowboy my friend asked for, well here he is. His name is Austin and he is quite the sexy cowboy-gentlemen.