Sunday, December 19, 2010

Brotherly Love: Mystery Box Cupcake Challenge #6

This month's Mystery Box Cupcake Challenge, in true holiday spirit, challenged us to create a cupcake "for someone special." Well, my brother just came home from college for the holidays, and I knew just what to make for him. His favorite thing in the world is meringue, and he also loves chocolate and nutella, so when I came across this cake I knew he would love it. It also fits his personality - he may have a rather scruffy exterior, but inside he's a softie and very sweet.

Now the challenge was to make it into cupcake form! After some trial and error (I could only bake 12 at a time, and the second batch turned out much better after I learned from the first one) I made some darn good cupcakes, if I do say so myself. (Sorry for the not-so-great pictures. It was rather late by the time I finished them so the lighting was bad and I didn't have time to make a good setup before everyone demanded cupcakes!)

For the first batch, I didn't bake them long enough because I was too afraid to overcook the cupcakes, so to brown the meringue I broiled them for 1-2 minutes, which led to sunken brown meringue (on the right). For the 2nd batch, I baked them a few minutes longer. The meringue sank less and was a better texture, and the cupcakes were still moist and delicious.
I should also mention that my aunt flew in from Switzerland yesterday, and she loves hazelnuts, so these are really for two special people. Or three, because I showed my dad the cake and he was thrilled that I would be making such a rich chocolatey dessert. I added whipped cream because my brother loves whipped cream almost as much as meringue, and what's a cupcake without some sort of frosting? I must say, the vanilla whipped cream complements these rich cupcakes extremely well.

The final product was a rich, moist, flourless chocolate cupcake topped with a light, crispy meringue full of hazelnut and chocolate pieces, topped with a dollop of lightly sweetened vanilla whipped cream.

My brother was pretty happy.

The Cupcake of Brotherly Love
(a.k.a. Chocolate Hazelnut Meringue Cupcakes) 

Makes about 22 cupcakes.

For the cake:
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for pan
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar (light or dark – I used dark)
6 large whole eggs, separated
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1 1/2 tablespoons espresso
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the meringue:
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped (1 cup)
1 cup hazelnuts (about 4 ounces), toasted, skinned, and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 large egg whites
3/4 cup sugar

For the whipped cream:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake cups with paper liners.

With an electric mixer, whip the butter and brown sugar until smooth at medium speed, about 3 minutes. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping the bottom and sides of your bowl if necessary. Add the melted chocolate, espresso, and salt. Beat until combined. Transfer to a clean bowl and wash your mixing bowl thoroughly.
In a clean mixer bowl fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the 6 egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes. Fold one-third of the egg whites into chocolate mixture. Fold in remaining egg whites and pour batter into prepared pans, filling each cup about 2/3 full.

The batter reminds me of chocolate mousse! I of course had to sample it a few times to make sure it was good enough... ;)

Next, prepare the meringue. Combine the chopped chocolate, nuts and cornstarch in a small bowl, and set aside. Place remaining 4 egg whites in a clean mixer bowl fitted with the whisk attachment, beat on high speed until frothy. With the mixer running, slowly add the sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form, about 8 minutes. Fold in hazelnut mixture.
After 8-9 minutes (as soon as cupcakes have risen some and appear hold their shape), remove cupcakes from oven. Using a large offset spatula, quickly spread meringue mixture on top of cupcakes using as little strokes as possible not to deflate the meringue, and return to oven. Bake until meringue is lightly browned and crisp, approx. 18-20 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack; let cupcakes cool in tins. Remove cupcakes from pans to wire racks and let cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the vanilla whipped cream. In a chilled bowl, whip the cream with an electric mixer for 30 seconds. Add vanilla and sugar and whip until soft peaks form. Pipe or dollop onto completely cooled cupcakes.

Share with some special people in your life, and enjoy! 
Happy Holidays, everyone!

The winner of December’s Mystery Box Cupcake Challenge will receive prizes from:
Thank you to all our prize sponsors!

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