Thursday, June 2, 2011

Jazzed-Up Chocolate Java Cupcakes with Chocolate Mousse Frosting

 Last week, my mom and I just got home from my grandparents' house, and I plopped onto the couch, exhausted.  Just as I was shutting my eyes, my mom walks over to me and says, "You know, Grampie's out of desserts," and looks at me expectantly.  I had left a few of Chris's Guinness cupcakes for my grandpa to try, and he loved them, along with everyone else in the family, because they were gone in two days. 

When I got to their house the next day, I asked my grandfather what he would like me to make him.  He told me, "Well, some more of those cupcakes would be nice."  I love my grandpa, I really do, but I wasn't about to run out to the supermarket and spend another $30 on alcohol for cupcakes.  I decided I'd just whip him up a batch of another kind.  It was really hot out, and I really didn't have a lot of energy to be baking, so I did the unthinkable- I reached for the box mix in the cupboard. 

Now, I really hate prepackaged mixes of any kind, but I was just in no mood to drag out all the ingredients for a batch of cupcakes from scratch, so I thought I'd just try to add a little something to make the box mix a little more exciting.  Here's a few tips on how to jazz up a boring box mix:

Change up the add-ins:
Because my grandparents are so sick, there are really limited options in the cupboards.  The one ingredient they did have, however, that goes really well with chocolate, was instant coffee.  I took a regular chocolate boxed cake mix, and followed the directions on the package.  Except instead of adding cold water, I substituted it for the same amount of cold coffee.  I dissolved 2 Tbs instant coffee crystals in a cup and a half of hot water, and then threw it in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes.  The result?  A super intense, chocolatey cupcake with that little extra something to make it taste homemade.  You could also try adding a few drops of a flavored extract or a liquor, like almond, orange, or coconut.

Under-bake them:
Whenever I use a box mix, I always end up with a dry, crumbly cake.  I found that it's often a good idea to not follow their baking directions, and bake them for about 2 minutes less than recommended.  The directions (on a Price Chopper brand mix) called for 20-25 minutes for 2 dozen cupcakes.  I baked them for 18 minutes, and they ended up being really moist and soft, (perfect for my grandpa with no teeth!).  Of course, if you are going to under-bake them, you should still stick a toothpick in the center to make sure it comes out clean.  There is a definitive difference between slightly under-baked and raw.
Photo's a little blurry, but look how moist that cake is!
Use an unconventional frosting:
Anyone that has seen a few of my cakes before would know that I have a strange obsession with buttercream frosting.  It is my go-to cake-covering of choice for almost every occasion.  I started to top these cupcakes the same way, but a few hiccups along the way resulted in a crazy new frosting that everyone really seemed to like.  I started off with the leftover Bailey's buttercream from Chris's cupcakes, hoping that it would create enough of a flavor base to resemble the cupcakes that everyone liked so much.  Unfortunately, and as usual these days, things didn't exactly go as planned. 

It was really too hot to be making frosting, and I just couldn't get it to stand up.  I kept adding more and more confectioners' sugar to it, and it was still soupy.  When I got it to a texture I approved of, I tasted it, and it was so sweet I cringed.  There was no Bailey's taste at all; it just tasted like sugar.  Normally when that happens, I add a little lemon juice to balance out the sweetness, and it normally works.  This time, however, I wound up with this intensely lemony frosting.  I refused to put lemon frosting on chocolate-coffee cupcakes, so I added some vanilla.  That didn't help.  I decided I'd try to mask the lemon with a stronger flavor, and turn it into chocolate frosting.  I added a little cocoa powder, but this really didn't do the trick.  I didn't feel like melting down baking chocolate, so I searched the refrigerator for chocolate syrup.  I couldn't find that either, but I did find some chocolate pudding.  I added about 1/4 cup chocolate pudding to my frosting, whipped it up, and decided that it was good enough.  Even though it was much softer than I would have hoped, it had a smooth, slightly mousse-like texture.  At this point, I wanted to just scrap it all together, but I hate wasting food (even if it's inedible), and decided to use it anyway.  I was embarrassed of what I was putting together, but my uncle and cousin tend to eat anything when it comes to sweets, so I figured someone would eat them. 

The finished product
As it turns out, everyone LOVED them.  The cupcakes themselves were probably the best thing I've ever had come out of a box, and everyone enjoyed the change of pace from my usual buttercream.  But most importantly, Grampie was happy when he ate them with his morning coffee.  Who knows, I might have to experiment with new frostings more often.

Isaac approved too!
Here's hoping your box-mix experiments go equally well.
Love and cookies,

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