This weather, you guys.
Last weekend it snowed six inches. This week it has been in the high 40’s. Sometimes balmy. Sometimes that balmy day ends in “a wintery mix” of snow and sleet. Or, the old New England standby: rain.
I have three overcoats in operation, each of a varying thickness, warmth, and permeability (this last is now more important than ever since my umbrella gave up the ghost during Boston’s last rain-and-furious-wind storm, may it rest in peace). Choosing which coat to wear before I walk out the door is tantamount to planning a military operation. This is weather in New England.
I’m on an almond kick, it seems. If it’s not making its way into my milk and candy, it’s wormed a path into my booze and baked goods. Apologies if you simply hate almonds and all its derivations. But if you hate almonds, how can we be friends?
When creating this recipe, I described it as thus: a black onyx cupcake is filled with whipped amaretto cream and topped with an amaretto Swiss buttercream, garnished with black cocoa and a dark chocolate covered almond. Through many, many trials and many, many errors, I’ve finally come out with it all as first envisioned. Chocolate. Moist. Not too sweet. A buttercream that crusts beautifully. Boozy as all hell. Definite crowd-pleasers.
I’m not gonna lie: there is some amount of work involved in putting together the different components of this cupcake, but the end result is worth it. Work it out in steps. If you’re like me, who has but a few scant hours post-work to run errands, eat dinner, work out (admittedly this is the first to go on a very busy night), and maybe, just maybe, bake a little something, then you can make some of these things ahead of time. I made the Swiss buttercream frosting one night and stored it in an airtight container at room temperature, then the cupcakes and whipped amaretto filling the next.
This recipe uses black onyx cocoa to achieve its extra dark coloring. Black cocoa is extremely alkalized and, because it contains less fat, may produce a drier baked good. It’s a good idea to mix it with another dutch-processed cocoa to increase its fat content, neutralize it with regular cocoa, or to increase the fat content and acidity in your recipe via other methods. As you can see from the recipe below, I’ve done a few of these tricks. It’s always good to have your batters be slightly on the acidic side of the pH spectrum as that will help them to rise more quickly.
Midnight Amaretto Cupcakes
Yield: 12 cupcakes
1/4 c black onyx cocoa
1/4 c unsweetened dutch-processed cocoa
1 c sour cream
2 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 c granulated sugar
3/4 c packed dark brown sugar
1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
6 oz unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), room temperature
3/4 tsp fleur de sel
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 c espresso, cooled to room temperature
dark chocolate-covered almonds for decoration
In a bowl, whisk together eggs, sugars, sour cream, coffee, and vanilla extract until just combined.
In your standing mixer with a paddle attachment, combine sifted flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoas, making sure these ingredients are well and thoroughly mixed. Set your mixer on a low-medium speed and add in butter one tablespoon at a time until the texture is coarse and grainy.
With the standing mixer set at a low speed, pour a third of your wet batter in and then turn the mixer up to a medium speed for one minute. Scrape the bowl as necessary. Turn the mixer back to a low speed and add in the next third of the batter, turning up the speed to medium to incorporate. Repeat this process until your batter is thoroughly mixed in with your (formerly) dry ingredients.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners. Fill each cup 3/4 of the way full using a cookie scoop. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out cleanly. Cool completely before frosting.
To make the whipped amaretto filling:
Adapted from Rose Levy Baum’s Cake Bible
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbs confectioners sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbs amaretto
Mix cream, cocoa powder, sugar, amaretto, and extract together in metal standard mixing bowl. Chill whisk attachment and bowl in the fridge for one hour before whipping until stiff peaks form.
To make the amaretto frosting:
Adapted, barely, from Joanne Chang’s Flour cookbook
2/3 c granulated sugar
2 egg whites
1 1/2 c unsalted butter at room temperature (3 sticks), cut into 2-inch chunks
1 2/3 cups of confectioner’s sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
2 tbs milk
1 tbs vanilla extract
5 tbs amaretto (this seems like the bare minimum to get any hint of amaretto in your frosting – it takes a lot to combat the butter, you may want to add more if you want this flavor more pronounced)
In a small heatproof bowl or double boiler, whisk together granulated sugar and egg whites to make a thick slurry. Place the bowl over (not touching) simmering water in a saucepan and heat, whisking occasionally, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the mixture is hot to the touch. It will thin out a bit as the sugar melts.
Remove from the heat and scrape the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment. Whip on medium-high speed for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the mixture becomes a light, white meringue and is cool to the touch. Turn down the speed to medium, add the butter, a few chunks at a time, and beat for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the butter is thoroughly incorporated. Add the confectioner’s sugar, salt, milk, amaretto, and vanilla and continue to beat on medium speed until the mixture is smooth and satiny.
Assemble the cupcake:
Using a cupcake corer or small, sharp knife, scoop out a small portion of the center of the cupcake and fill with your whipped amaretto frosting until just full. You can trim the cupcake bits you scooped out a bit and replace the tops of them back over the filling, but, can you keep a not-so-secret? My cupcake corer (an apple corer in disguise) is small and I just end up eating all the small cupcake bits instead. When you frost the cupcake, the hole is covered up anyway. No one has to know.
Pipe amaretto buttercream frosting on top, starting from the outside of the cupcake and working your way in a spiral. Use a #829 tip to get those big, luscious star swirls.
Garnish with a dark chocolate covered almond and a sprinkle of black onyx cocoa.