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Second time's a cupcake

If there’s one flavor that I hate, it’s the aftertaste of failure. Call me a perfectionist or a spoiled little snot: either is an apt description. When something doesn’t go my way, I sulk. I’m a master of the silent treatment. I can pout so hard that my lower lip sticks out a full inch. Worst of all, when said failure involves a chocolate malted cupcake, I’ve been known to air my dirty disappointment in the most public of places: on the Internet, sneakily disguised as a bowl of lima beans. Maybe it would be smarter to take up yoga or meditation, or to sign myself up for anger management classes, and maybe I will. Or maybe I’ll just bake more cupcakes.

As the old saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try another recipe.

My first—and failed—attempt came from the pages of Nigella Lawson’s Feast, but feast, I’m afraid, it was not. I dutifully followed her recipe for a “Chocolate Malteser Cake,” but the resulting offense tasted neither of chocolate nor of malt, and its crumb was a mousy brown, dull and rubbery. Before the cupcakes so much as saw my icing spatula, they were rerouted to the trashcan. Given my previous statements about Ms. Lawson—we’re no longer on a first-name basis—you can well understand my need to sulk.

But because I still wanted dessert, I began to slowly prepare myself for a second go-round. I did a little research, thumbed through a cookbook or two, and then I took down the trusty accordion file of recipes that sits atop my refrigerator. To start anew, I figured, sometimes a girl must retreat to familiar territory, so I pulled out an old, tried-and-true recipe for chocolate cake, and I tried, tried again.

The cupcake itself, I decided, didn’t need to contain malt; what I wanted was a good, stand-alone chocolate cake, something that needs no adornment. In the same way that a good ice cream sets the tone for a milkshake, this cake would be a solid base on which to build my malted flavor. From there, I could fuss with the frosting until I had something creamy, toasty, and tinted with cocoa, a flavor that tasted as though it could be slurped through a straw. And that, dear reader, is success for you.

With two types of chocolate and a half-cup of buttermilk, these cakes bake up to a pretty shade of brunette, with a rich, tender crumb that shines under the light. Capped with a lazy swirl of soft, malted frosting, it’s like a milkshake, but with a more satisfying chew.

Chocolate Malted Cupcakes
Adapted from Epicurious and Nigella Lawson’s Feast

This cake recipe is very delicious and very, very delicate. Its tender crumb makes it one of the best cakes I know of, but it’s almost too fragile for a cupcake. Plan to eat these with a plate nearby, and with a napkin to erase the evidence.

For cupcakes:
1 ounce good-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
½ cup hot brewed coffee
1 cup granulated sugar
¾ cup plus 1 Tbs unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
Generous ½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
Scant ½ tsp salt
1 large egg
¼ cup canola oil
½ cup buttermilk
¼ tsp pure vanilla extract

For frosting:
2 cups powdered sugar
1 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1/3 cup malted milk powder, such as Carnation or Horlicks
9 Tbs (1 stick plus 1 Tbs) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 Tbs boiling water

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 12 cups of a muffin tin with paper liners.

Place the chocolate in a medium bowl with the hot coffee. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth and opaque.

In another medium bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, and whisk to combine well.

In a large bowl, beat the egg with an electric mixer until it is pale yellow in color, about a minute or two. Slowly add the oil, buttermilk, and vanilla extract, beating to combine well. Slowly add the melted chocolate mixture, and beat to thoroughly combine. Add the dry ingredients, and beat on medium speed until the batter is just combined. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the sides of the bowl and briefly fold the batter to be certain that all of the dry ingredients are incorporated.

Divide the batter evenly among the 12 prepared muffin cups. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes for 15 minutes in the pan; then gently transfer them to a rack to cool completely. They are very delicate and tender, so take care.

When the cupcakes are cool, make the frosting. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the powdered sugar, cocoa, and malted milk powder, and process to mix well. Add the butter, and process to blend. Stop the motor, and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Then, with the motor running, add the water. Process briefly, until the frosting is smooth. Frost the cupcakes in loose swirls, and serve.

Yield: 12 cupcakes


Blogger Alice Q said...

Molly - I just discovered your blog and I love it, your writing is fantastic! I especially enjoyed that earlier post about Nigella Lawson. I am glad to hear the cupcakes worked out the second time around - I think it was a good idea to do a good chocolate cake with a malted frosting. Sometimes messing around with the cake itself just causes problems. I just started my own blog, and I have a link to you, please check it out if you have a chance, it's at www.aliceqfoodie.blogspot.com. Cheers!

11:38 PM, May 30, 2006  
Anonymous Christine said...

I've gone through a series of cupcake failures myself recently. I'm glad you prevailed!

12:22 AM, May 31, 2006  
Anonymous jules said...

hey molly

love the idea of milk shake inspired cupcakes..particularly with malt...

sad to hear that you've had a falling out with nigella...I find her pretty reliable but it's been a while...my copy of how to be a domestic goddess got lost during my last house move... still deciding whether I should replace it or give feast a go...


12:33 AM, May 31, 2006  
Blogger wheresmymind said...

hrm...could go well with a nice vanilla malt shake :) Great frosting job on that last picture...I've got no frosting skillz, it's totally an area I need to work on!

5:40 AM, May 31, 2006  
Anonymous Luisa said...

You have a determination that few can match, Molly. Good for you for persevering! I would have given up with a pouty flounce of the skirt a long time ago ;)

7:16 AM, May 31, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Molly - I have been following your blog for a long time and really enjoy your posts. Because this post is about dessert - and making a cake recipe in smaller portions - I wanted to share my experience from this past weekend.

I had a party and served appetizers and finger foods. I wanted to include something sweet but not too heavy, and with fruit since it is summer. I remembered that I have been wanting to try your clafoutis recipe, so I made the recipe in mini muffin tins and used blueberries rather than plums. It turned out wonderfully, and was a huge hit with my guests.

Thanks again for the recipes and inspiration!


8:01 AM, May 31, 2006  
Anonymous Tanna said...

So, twos charm. Lovely cup cakes, divine icing!

8:42 AM, May 31, 2006  
Blogger christianne said...

They sound delicious! I'm with you on the Nigella Lawson recipes -- I frequently find them to be hit-or-miss. (FYI - stay far away from the chocolate marmalade cake in "How to be a Domestic Goddess." I took it to a party once and actually forced my friends to spit it out so I could throw it away!)

Though my all-time favorite chocolate cake standby comes from the back of the Hershey's cocoa tin. It is consistently a moist, decadent cake that always wins raves. And now that I think of it, I usually frost it with Nigella's all-purpose chocolate frosting.

And who doesn't love frosting that goes that is "all-purpose"? :)

11:05 AM, May 31, 2006  
Blogger Dianka said...

Still looks good to me! Glad to kept at it!

12:10 PM, May 31, 2006  
Anonymous Ivonne said...

Glad to see that you tamed the cupcake beast!

12:56 PM, May 31, 2006  
Blogger Callipygia said...

Molly, I understand the pout so well-sigh, but glad that cupcake II worked you way. Hooray with crushed whopper balls on top!

2:42 PM, May 31, 2006  
Blogger Natalie said...

Sounds delicious! Who doesn't love a good cupcake?

3:43 PM, May 31, 2006  
Blogger T said...

Good to see you persevered- the results look and sound wonderful. It's odd, but I've never had success with any of Nigella's cake or cupcake recipes (though I am in love with her brown butter frosting). It was brought to my attention that perhaps it's because the version of the cookbook I have is converted into cups instead of listing ingredients by weight. Interesting thought, though until I buy a scale, I have no way to test that theory.

5:34 PM, May 31, 2006  
Blogger Anali said...

Now I really know I'm tired. The top picture of the cupcake looks so good and the frosting so creamy and drippy that I actually had to catch myself from taking a swipe of the frosting through the screen!! What a disappointment when I woke from my sweet reverie, but thanks for the illusion

5:43 PM, May 31, 2006  
Blogger Louise said...

I too have been quite disappointed with many celebrity chef cookbooks. The photos are devine and inspiring but something always seems to be missing in the recipe.

The only recipies that I trust 100% come from America's Test Kitchen. A staple in my kitchen is their compilation cookbook "The New Best Recipies".

Kitchen Tales

PS - Nigella's Coka Cola Ham is a staple in my home. What hubby won't eat ham cooked in Coke for 3 hours? :)

8:35 PM, May 31, 2006  
Anonymous Julie said...

Molly-molly, your cupcakes look and sound sumptous, especially to another malt-lover like myself. Unlike others, I have mainly had great success with Nigella's recipes, and am a total devotee of her Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake, for example. However, on a couple of Nigella-inspired websites I frequent, I've noticed that NO-ONE had success with the chocolate malteser cake. Everyone who made it and reported back found it dry, spongy, overly chewy, etc. Apparently the ratio of fat in the recipe is very small, and a number of folks have questioned whether or not it's even correct. So I never bothered to try the recipe. And now I don't need to, since I have yours!

P.S. If, for some reason you have two or three days to spare, make the chocolate Rococoa cake from Feast. It's quite amazing, albeit labor-intensive.

1:04 AM, June 01, 2006  
Anonymous Julie said...

This is amazing...A couple years ago, I made the chocolate cake recipe from Nigella Bites in anticipation of a rich, moist delicious cake like the one I saw her greedily scarfing down on her show. I had the exact same result! I believe that the amount of coco powder was printed wrong or an ingredient was left out. Strange that this should happen again in Feast. I love Nigella and have all her books (How to Eat is one of my bibles), but there is no excuse for anemic chocolate cake!

9:19 AM, June 02, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Alice Q., welcome to the food blogosphere! It's lovely to meet you.

Christine, a cupcake failure is a sad, sad thing, isn't it? They look so cute and seem so simple, but all too often, they're such a disappointment. You have my condolences.

Jules, I'm not ready to renounce her entirely, but it's safe to say that Nigella - or rather, Ms. Larson - and I are having a little spat. I love her savory recipes, but her sweets, I think, are hit-or-miss. I do love the granola from Feast, though - my favorite, hands-down. It's worth the price of the book, I'd say.

Wheresmymind, now I'm kicking myself for not making a vanilla malt to go alongside - heaven! There's no such thing as too much malt. Oh, and as for the frosting, thank you. It's all in the wrist, you know.

Luisa, the only thing that kept me going, I swear, was my undying love for malt. If it involves malt, by god, I want it.

Pamela, it's my pleasure. I'm thrilled to hear it - how clever! I never would have thought to make the clafoutis in a mini muffin pan, and now that I imagine it, I'll bet the little "clafoutiettes" were beautiful! Thank you for the inspiration.

Thank you, Tanna.

Christianne, many thanks for the warning about that chocolate marmalade cake - hoooo, boy! And you've piqued my curiosity about that Hershey's cocoa cake recipe. Better go buy a tin...

Me too, Dianka! Thank you.

Ivonne, it was a hard fight, but blessedly brief. Grrrr.

Callipygia, oooh, now that's one thing I forgot - some crushed malt balls. Maybe I'll have to make more cupcakes...

Natalie, I hear you. The trick is finding a good cupcake!

Tanvi, hmmm, that is an interesting point. I just looked up the metric version of the Chocolate Malteser Cake recipe, though, and it looks about the same, proportions-wise. Maybe she's just a so-so cake baker? Hit-or-miss? I wonder how her other baked goods are - cookies, etc. Hmmm.

Anali, you're very welcome. Now, I know that these cupcakes look pretty tasty, but it sounds like it's time for bed...

Louise, I hear great things about The New Best Recipe - it's by the folks at Cook's Illustrated, right? I've been meaning to buy it for a while - maybe now is the time! And ditto for the Coca Cola ham recipe: I bookmarked it months ago, and I don't know why I've waited this long.

Julie, my friend, where chocolate is concerned, I will never take your opinion lightly! I will most certainly try the Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake and the Rococoa Cake. Maybe they'll wipe away my bad Chocolate Malteser memories.

Julie, I know - so sad! I'm not giving up on Nigella entirely - no, no! - but she'll have to earn my trust again. Harumph.

3:54 PM, June 02, 2006  
Blogger sarchan said...

Frosting with Horlick's in it!? . . .Gasp!!! I may have to figure out how to veganize this. (I do believe the regular non-chocolate Horlick's is vegan. . . hmmm, the wheels are turning).

9:42 PM, June 02, 2006  
Blogger *kel said...

Molly, love your blog! Lovely pics!!! yummmm....

7:08 AM, June 03, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Sarchan, I know - almost too good to be true, huh? And I can't imagine that it would be too hard to veganize. Get to it!

Thank you, *kel!

9:42 AM, June 04, 2006  
Blogger Shara said...

Chocolate and malt sounds like an excellent combination, I recently made some cardamom flavored cupcakes (I found the recipe on Lex Culinaria) and I would definitely recommend them.

Been enjoying your blog for quite some time. Thanks for all the lovely recipes!

11:07 AM, June 04, 2006  
Blogger geneve said...

I love your blog - it's fun to read and the photos are beautiful. By the look of the cupcake wrapper these appear to be a success. I have Nigella's 'Feast' cookbook but haven't tried this recipe yet - I'll be sure to review your post again before I do!

2:50 PM, June 06, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

You're more than welcome, Shara! And thanks for the tip on those cardamom cupcakes - I'd better go check those out.

Thank you, geneve. As for Feast, don't be afraid. I've made several things from there that have been wonderful - just not these cupcakes. Her savory dishes, I think, tend to be more consistent than her sweet ones.

8:45 PM, June 06, 2006  
Blogger lobstersquad said...

that chocolate malteser cake of Nigella´s! Looks like we all fell for it. It was pretty gross, but I still love Nigella. Can´t help it, she´s too good.

1:41 AM, June 07, 2006  
Blogger Catherine said...

Molly, I loooooove malt. It's my childhood favorite food. I use to eat it by the spoonfuls as if it were whipped cream. There could never be enough malt in my glass of milk. And now, this! Chocolate + Malt = Cupcake! Thank you for the recipe!

12:20 PM, June 17, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

I know, Lobstersquad - in the end, I don't know that I can ever give up entirely on ole Nigella...

And Catherine, you are very welcome! I know how those malt cravings feel.

1:32 PM, June 17, 2006  
Anonymous Dizzyh said...

Just made these after googling - had made the big Nigella version (with some success, maybe my standards are too low?) but wanted something more easily transportable. W_O_W these were wonderful. First time using a complete american cup-measure recipe too. Molly you have a new fan will try more things you recommend - thanks so much for this.

10:48 AM, February 10, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've just made it 0.00 am

I reduce sugar for a little but it 's still great

for me,it came out about 19 cupcakes

and I swallowed for 4!!!

they were very delicious without the frosting

soft but rich, oh what a cake

BTW, thank you for sharing this wonderful recipe

god bless you molly

10:07 AM, April 22, 2009  
Anonymous Mary said...

I love your recipes. Great blog. I found the URL from times. I agree with the idea of having a good chocolate cake with malted frosting.However,when i do not have much time i tend to use bettycrocker's mixes, since they make it easier for me.I know that is not the best solution but it is not and the worst one.

3:08 AM, July 06, 2009  
Anonymous Bonoca said...

Dear Molly,

This cupcake recipe has been on my to-do list for quite some time now and yesterday was the day. I made them for an annual college girly get together and everyone just raved about them. Wouldn't change a thing....they are perfect. Thank you so much and I enjoy your blog :-)

7:58 AM, January 21, 2011  
Blogger Patti said...

My favorite chocolate cake is Edna Lewis's recipe from Southern Cooking with Scott Peacock. Even the crumbs are scarfed up. You must have patience for this one.

3:22 AM, April 02, 2011  
Anonymous Meghan said...

Such a beautiful, tender chocolate cupcake. Like, amazing. It's funny because most of my family isn't big on chocolate but I am, so they preferred the frosting and I preferred the cake! Either way, this recipe was a winner in my house! Thank you!

4:13 PM, January 08, 2012  

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