Boozy Birthday Cupcakes

It's not my birthday nor is it the birthday of anyone I know, or even close to it.  But I bet it could one yours, dear fabulous readers.  And for that, I made you Boozy Birthday Cupcakes!

Boozy Birthday Cupcakes

Actually, I'm lying.  I made these for Brett's birthday back in August, but only now have I found the time to write about them.  We were out of town on his actual birthday, so I brought these cuties to his office a couple weeks after we got home to help celebrate.

I love making over-the-top birthday cakes for my husband Brett each year – like this Funfetti Oreo Cake or this Peanut Butter Donut Drip Cake.  However, I must confess that sometimes I use the opportunity to just make something I personally wanted to test out.  This year, it was kind of a mash-up of some of his favourites and a new recipe I was dying to try.  You guys – Marshmallow Buttercream!!!

Boozy Birthday Cupcakes
Boozy Birthday Cupcakes

This Marshmallow Buttercream was truly like nothing I've ever made before.  It acts like a meringue-based buttercream (like Swiss or Italian meringue), but guess what....No egg whites!  This mystical marshmallow concoction comes from the pastry wiz, Stella Parks.  I've been following Stella's blog, Bravetart, well before I even had a blog myself!  Not only is Stella the mastermind behind the deliciousness AND baking science on Serious Eats, she was also named "one of America’s Best New Pastry Chefs" by Food & Wine.  Let me tell you – she really knows her stuff.  So when I found a recipe for a fluffy, cloud-like buttercream without eggs whites in her new cookbook, I just had to try it!!!

Boozy Birthday Cupcakes
Boozy Birthday Cupcakes
Boozy Birthday Cupcakes

Stable, rich, fluffy, not-to-sweet, and totally dreamy – this Marshmallow Buttercream is definitely a game changer.  If you've been following this blog for a while, then you know how much I love Swiss meringue buttercream.  I love it for its silky, smooth qualities and how it glides over layer cakes so effortlessly.  I've come around to using whipped American buttercream from time to time (I used to hate it) because of its convenience and lack of egg whites.  But a buttercream that's not super sweet like American buttercream that doesn't require a ton of egg whites?  Count me in!!

This recipe starts with a basic homemade marshmallow recipe.  I'll admit, it is a bit time consuming and you still have to boil sugar (I promise it's not as scary as it sounds).  But guys, it's totally worth it!  I added a big glug of bourbon and just enough pure vanilla to make these a bit boozy and 100% fun.  

Be sure to pick up a copy of Stella's new book for the full recipe!!

My Favorite Devil’s Food Cupcake Recipe
4 ounces dark chocolate (about 70%), chopped
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ¼ cup boing water
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon instant espresso
1 cup unsalted butter, very soft – slightly melty
1 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
3 large eggs
½ cup milk 

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a cupcake pan and set aside.

2. Combine the chopped chocolate, cocoa powder, and boiling water together.  Stir to combine and set aside.

3. Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside.

4. Using an electric mixer, combine the super soft butter with the sugars.  Mix for a couple minutes until thoroughly combined.

5. Add the vanilla, almond, and eggs – one at a time, making sure each in incorporated before adding in the next.  Stop mixing and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

6. With the mixer on low, stream in the chocolate mixture until combined.

7. Slowly add in half of the dry ingredients and mix until combined.  Stream in the milk.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.

8. Add in the remaining dry ingredients and mix until combined.

9. Evenly divide the batter into the cupcake pans and bake until done, about 22 to 24 minutes.

10.  Let cool on a cooling rack before frosting.

 

Boozy Meringue Buttercream
½ cup (120 ml) egg whites (from about 3 to 4 large eggs)
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
1 ½ cups (3 sticks – 340 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed
1/4 bourbon, or to taste
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped out (optional)

1. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, add the egg whites and granulated sugar.  Whisk them together briefly by hand, just until they are combined so that the egg whites don’t begin cooking by themselves.

2. Fill a sauce pan with a few inches of water and bring to a simmer.  Place the mixer bowl with the egg white mixture on top to create a double-boiler. The water should be kept at a simmer but should not touch the bottom of the bowl.  The double-boiler acts as indirect heat for the egg white mixture. 

 3. Occasionally stirring, heat the egg white mixture until it reaches 155 to 160 degrees F on a candy thermometer.  The mixture should be very hot to the touch and the sugar should have dissolved. 

 4. Once the egg white mixture is hot, carefully return the bowl to the stand mixer.  Fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the mixture on high speed for about 8 minutes.  When done, the meringue should hold shiny, medium-stiff peaks and be cooled to room temperature.  Stop the mixer and swap out the whisk for the paddle attachment.

5. With the mixer on low, begin adding in the butter a couple tablespoons at a time.  Use the paddle attachment to mix it in.  The butter must be room temperature in order to incorporate properly with the meringue.  Mix until combined.

6. Once the butter has been mixed in, add the bourbon, vanilla bean seeds (if using) and the vanilla extract.

7. Turn the mixer up to medium speed and mix until silky smooth.  This may take a few minutes, but keep mixing until light, creamy, and free from most air bubbles.

Milk Chocolate Cloud Angel Food Cupcakes

Pillow-soft fluffs of Angel Food Cupcakes topped with cloud-like milk chocolate meringue buttercream.

Milk Chocolate Cloud Angel Food Cupcakes

It’s very rare that I ever have leftover egg whites.  With all of the Swiss meringue buttercream I make every week, it is usually leftover egg yolks that I’m scrambling to get rid of.  But every now and then, after I’ve made a big batch of pastry cream or have been craving ice cream, I find myself with an abundance of egg whites.  As I stood in front of the refrigerator, tummy growling, I just knew this batch of whites were destined for Angel Food Cake – or cupcakes, as was the case that fateful day (yesterday)…

Milk Chocolate Cloud Angel Food Cupcakes
Milk Chocolate Cloud Angel Food Cupcakes
Milk Chocolate Cloud Angel Food Cupcakes

The best way to describe these cupcakes are literal clouds – springy, fluffy, squishy, pillowy goodness.  Even the milk chocolate frosting is light and heavenly!  They are so satisfying to bite into – not just because of the delicious flavours, but for the inimitable texture.  Neither box mix nor commercially made Angel Food could ever yield that kind of fluffiness.  Clouds this adorable could only be completed with a sprinkling of pastel jimmies and sugar hearts.  So stinkin’ cute, right?!?!

Milk Chocolate Cloud Angel Food Cupcakes
Milk Chocolate Cloud Angel Food Cupcakes
Milk Chocolate Cloud Angel Food Cupcakes
Milk Chocolate Cloud Angel Food Cupcakes

To be honest, I’ve never actually made Angel Food Cake from scratch before.  Again, I typically have an excess of yolks stashed in my fridge, and I hate adding to it unless a craving really strikes.  Also, I don't have a tube pan.  Did you know you are supposed to not only leave the inside of a tube pan ungreased when making chiffon or Angel Food cakes, but you are also supposed to cool them upside-down?  Terrifying.  

Instead, I baked up these fluffy nuggets in extra-large cupcake liners.  Unlike most other cupcakes, you are going to want to fill the liners nearly to the top!  Trust me.  And if you don't and are scared they might explode onto your oven floor, you can sit next to your oven and keep a discerning eye on them (like I did).  Since there is so much whipped air in the batter, the cakes won't be fully set until they cool.  That being said, they will shrink down just a touch as they cool.

Milk Chocolate Cloud Angel Food Cupcakes

What I didn't know about Angel Food Cupcakes is that they are pretty much a French meringue but with less sugar and just a tiny bit of flour.  Who knew that small portion of cake flour would take whipped egg whites from crispy, chewy baked meringues to fluffy, pillowy little cakes?!?!  Since these cupcakes are like 87% meringue, let us review a few things to remember about working with whipped egg whites... 

1.  Make sure there are no traces of fat or grease.  We are all about reaching the maximum potential when it comes to whipped egg whites.  What that means is volume, volume, VOLUME!  Fat and grease can inhibit us from reaching that potential.  I'm talking fat from any drips of egg yolk or grease in the mixing bowl (and accompanying attachments).  Slight traces of fat/grease will probably not kill your meringue on the spot, but try to stay clear of fats as best as possible.

2.  Increase the speed gradually.  From foam to peak, increase the speed very gradually as you go.  For a better illustration of what this might look like at ever stage, check out this visual.

3.  Add the sugar gradually.  By slowly adding in the sugar a tablespoon at a time, it will dissolve easier and not collapse the delicate whites.  Increase the speed and overall amount of sugar in tandem.

4.  Fold! Fold!  After all that work of adding air and volume to our whites, it would be a shame to crush and collapse them by mixing improperly.  But don't stress!  Folding is not as scary as it might seem.  Use a large rubber spatula to scoop down to the bottom of the bowl, and turn the contents on the bottom up to the top.  Use one hand to fold and the other to spin the bowl 90 degrees between each turn.  Be delicate and deliberate at the same time.

5. Cream of tartar as a stabilizer.  You might notice ingredients such as cream of tartar, lemon juice, and vinegar in meringue recipes.  All of these ingredients act as stabilizers.  They won't necessarily increase the volume of your egg whites, but they will help keep them from collapsing too quickly.

6. Temperature of eggs.  Eggs are easiest to separate when they are cold.  However, room temperature egg whites have the ability to whip up with more volume.

Milk Chocolate Cloud Angel Food Cupcakes

 

Angel Food Cupcakes
makes about 10 to 12 extra large cupcakes

6 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream tartar
3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cake flour
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a cupcake tin with extra large liners and set aside.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or use an electric hand mixer). Sprinkle in the cream of tartar.  Start by mixing on low speed until the egg whites begin to form bubbles.

As the egg whites begin to foam and become more opaque, gradually turn up the speed and start slowly adding in the sugar, a tablespoon or two at a time.  Continue adding in the sugar, followed by the salt.  Over the course of about a minute or so, all of the sugar/salt should have been added and the speed will have increased to medium-high.  

Continue whipping the egg whites until medium-stiff peaks.  They whites should still be pillowy but not dry or clumpy.  Unlike a true meringue (with twice the sugar), they will not be particularly glossy.

Add in the lemon and vanilla.  Whip again until just combined.

Stop the mixture.  Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold in the flour in two to three batches.  You can be a bit more deliberate and heavy-handed with the first batch of flour as you temper the two ingredients together, but then use a lighter touch as you go.  Be thorough, but do your best not to deflate the batter.

Use two spoons to plop the batter into the cupcakes liners.  Fill the liners nearly to the top.  With the back of a spoon or small offset spatula, smooth out the tops of each cupcake.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 20 to 23 minutes.  When done, the tops should be browned and a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean.  Remove from the oven and let cupcakes cool in their pans for about 5 minutes before moving them to a wire rack.

 

Milk Chocolate Cloud Frosting

3 large egg whites
1 cup white sugar
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
4 tablespoons mascarpone, softened
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ounces dark chocolate, melted and cooled
1 to 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Place the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of an electric stand mixer.  Whisk by hand to combine.  Fill a medium saucepan with a couple inches of water and bring to a simmer.

Place the mixer bowl on top of the saucepan to create a double-boiler.  Whisking intermittently, warm the egg mixture until it reached 160 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Once hot, carefully replace the mixer bowl back on the stand.  Whisk on high speed until stiff peaks and the outside of the bowl returns to room temperature (about 8 minutes).

Turn the mixer down to low and add in the butter and mascarpone, a couple tablespoons at a time.  Stop the mixer and swap the whisk for the paddle attachment.

Add in the vanilla, melted chocolate, and cocoa.  Mix on medium-high until the buttercream is smooth, fluffy, and cloud-like.

If the buttercream looks like it has cuddled, the butter was probably too cold.  Just keep mixing.

If the buttercream looks soupy, you probably added the butter in too soon and before the meringue returned all the way back to room temperature.  Chill the mixture (inside the bowl) in the fridge for 15 minute and try whipping again until smooth.