Recently, a friend of mine from the travel softball world asked for my Chocolate Buttercream frosting recipe. I thought I had written it down, but no, as usual I was not that meticulous. Not wanting to disappoint her, I went ahead and recreated the recipe so I could record it. I am not sure why I struggle so much with the simple act of writing down what I do in the kitchen. Sometimes, I think it is all those days on my Nanny’s farm in Vermont, watching her just throw things together and magically producing an amazing dish. Sometimes, I think it might be because my mind moves at such a frenetic pace that writing something down would impede my progress. Whatever the reason, here I am again.
To set the stage, it was our last tournament with the travel team my daughter played on for the past year and it was coincidentally, one of the parent’s birthday. My daughter and I decided it was a cupcake-worthy event and set about the planning. We polled his family to discover what his favorite flavors were and began to plot. Unfortunately, his fave was yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Not that this is not a delicious combination and many out there probably have fond memories of this birthday staple, but for a scratch cook, yellow cake is a NIGHTMARE! I have tried many times and failed at making one of those moist, springy, buttery cakes that come so easily out of a box. Sometimes they are too dense and taste like cornbread. Other times they are too frail and have no substance. I just have never had luck perfecting that recipe. The occasion presented an opportunity to redeem myself. I did a great deal of research on my favorite sites to see what other cooks had to say and experimented a little with the ingredients and finally decided on a modification of Smitten Kitchen’s recipe. Her recipes tend to be very consistent and I easily converted the recipe for cupcakes.
Now to the frosting. Frosting, for me, is the place to showcase your talent. There are so many flavor combinations out there and so many to be discovered. I love dabbling with different herbs, chilies, confections and whatnots to come up with innovative spins on classic flavor profiles. The frosting that I took inspiration for this cupcake was a Mexican Hot Chocolate Buttercream I developed a few years back for my daughter’s birthday party. I knew the chilies and cinnamon would not be right for this crowd so I modified my original recipe to make it a more classic chocolate frosting. I have also made this into a white chocolate variation with different fruit additions before. The base is a solid, dependable buttercream that you can meld to your own liking.
5 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 pounds confectioner’s sugar (maybe less depending on consistency)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 ounces dark chocolate ( I use the Toll House dark chocolate chips- about 1/2 a bag), melted and cooled
6 ounces white chocolate (Again, I use the Toll House and about half a bag), melted and cooled
3 ounces milk chocolate (Again, same as above except only 1/3 bag), melted and cooled
Vanilla bean, seeded
In a stand mixer, beat the butter until creamy. On the occasion when I have forgotten to set the butter out to soften, I have tried softening in the microwave. Do not make my mistake. For a good buttercream, you need to let the butter soften naturally. Microwaving often makes the butter too liquidy which causes grainy icing. With the mixer on low speed, add the sugar. Beat until the mixture gets fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl periodically. Once fluffy, add the cream, vanilla extract and vanilla bean seeds. Once those have combined, gradually beat in the chocolates. I alluded to the melted and cooled in the ingredients and this is a very important step. I always put all my chocolate in a double boiler before I start the frosting so it can melt and then cool before I need them. Before I realized I needed a double boiler, I used to microwave the chocolate in a measuring cup and slide it in the freezer for 10 minutes to cool it. They both work but the double boiler method is much more consistent. Sometimes with the microwave you get overcooked pieces or chips that did not combine. So once you have your fluffy base in the mixer and melted, cooled chocolate, you are ready for the last step, combining. Add the chocolate mixture in slowly to be sure it is not melting your butter base. Sometimes after I get all the chocolate in, i realize I need to add more sugar to create the right texture. You want it firm enough to stay on the cupcakes, but not too stiff. Once you get your texture right, slide it in the refrigerator for 30-45 minutes to settle. Then voila, you are ready to frost! I like the pastry bag and tip method, but I know many people that enjoy the ease of a frosting gun. Choose your tool and go at it!