Thursday, March 4, 2010

Spring Break Cupcakes Gone Wild: Reeses Peanut Butter and Banana Honey Cinnamon

I teach a course called Intro to the Thesis.  It meets on Wednesday mornings at 10 am.  For those of you who don't remember college, that's early.  Particulary for thinking about something as profound as deciding what you want to write your senior thesis about.  So for the past two semesters, I've been doing the only responsible thing I can do: provide sugar.

College students are also a fabulous group to test out new recipes, because they're just so willing to eat free food, no questions asked, and so few of them seem to have pesky nut or gluten allergies.  Many of them are pleased to know that most of my experimental baked goods are vegan; they don't think it's weird or disgusting.  Most university psychology departments already know the value of students as human subjects; I'd argue that the risk benefit ratio for participating in my experiments is much better than getting an experimental credit for General Psychology.  I always bring two kinds of cupcakes (one non-chocolate), so that there's bound to be something for everyone, except for the people who don't like cupcakes, and ... well, we won't talk about those people.

I've been meaning for some time to try making filled cupcakes.  Something about poking a hole into a perfectly domed cake, though, seems almost sacreligious.  All sorts of things might happen: the cake might collapse, the hole might be too big, my finger might get stuck.

This week, I decided to take the plunge.  I knew that I was going to make banana cupcakes with honey-cinnamon frosting, an effort to replicate the amazing experience that N. and I had at Butterlane
I also thought I might want to make some combination of peanut butter and chocolate.  And then it hit me: the Reese's cupcake!  Chocolate cake, a subtle peanut butter filling, chocolate ganache topping to seal the hole, and peanut butter frosting.

The cakes themselves rose beautifully, and were just the right balance of moist and firm.  I poked my pinky inside them, making small caves, and used my trusty pastry filling bag to pipe the frosting into the center.  It was like making a Hostess cupcake.  After letting them set for a bit, I spread on a thin layer of chocolate ganache, let that set, and finished with the final piping of peanut butter frosting.   Ian let me cut his open so you can see what it looks like on the inside; keep in mind that this was towards the end of the day after they'd traveled to school and back, so the lovely mound of frosting had taken a hit.  Still, I thought they were delicious.  My colleague J. tells me that they're right up there with the tiramisu cupcakes as one of her favorites.  Steve thought that they needed to be more chocolatey, but I'm not sure how that would be possible, unless one filled with peanut butter and frosted with chocolate? 

The banana cupcakes were also tasty and moist, though they didn't quite replicate the on-your-knees experience we had at Butterlane.  I think I'm going back to the drawing board for that one.  Nonetheless, the students were certainly appreciative.  "Oh," said one, "Dean Levine, somehow I just knew you were going to bring cupcakes today."

They're safer than spring break in Cancun, at least.

Reese's Cupcakes (adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World)

1 c. soymilk
1 t. apple cider vinegar
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. canola oil
1 1/2 t. vanilla extract (or 1 t. vanilla and 1/2 t. chocolate)
1 c. all purpose flour
1/3 c. high-quality cocoa powder (I use Equal Exchange fair trade)
3/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt

Preheat oven to 350 and line muffin tin with liners.

Whisk soy milk and vinegar in a large bowl and set aside for a few minutes to curdle.  Add sugar, oil, and extracts, and beat until foamy.  Sift in the dry ingredients and beat until no large lumps remain.  Pour into liners, filling about 3/4 of the way.  Bake 18-20 minutes (until toothpick comes out clean) and transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Peanut Buttercream
(Note: I made a double recipe of this, and had a bit left over ... you could probably do it with just the single recipe)

1/4 c. margarine/butter, softened
2 T. shortening/margarine
1/3 c. creamy peanut butter (use the most creamy, natural kind you can find, avoiding ones in which the oil separates easily)
1 1/2 t. vanilla
1 1/4 c. confectioner's sugar
1 to 2 T. rice/soy milk or soy creamer (regular milk works, too)

Cream margarine/butter/shortening at medium speed until smooth.  (Be patient about this; it's important to get it completely beaten into submission.)  Add peanut butter and vanilla, and beat until very smooth, 2-3 minutes.  Beat in sugar.  Mixture should be stiff; add milk a little at a time until the frosting is pale tan and fluffy.  Fill cupcakes with a squirt of this and level off with a knife.  After you've covered them a bit with ganache and let that set in the refrigerator, squirt some more on.

Quick Chocolate Ganache

3 T. soy milk or regular milk
1/3 c. semisweet chocolate chips (the best kind; it really does matter)

Heat milk over medium heat until just about to simmer; add chocolate chips and stir until completely melted.  Alternatively, stick both things in a small bowl in the microwave for about 30 seconds, remove and stir until incorporated.  Set aside and cool 10 minutes, spread or drizzle on with a fork.  Let the ganache set, preferably in the refrigerator, before you do anything else.
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