This morning I woke up to the choking smell of acrid smoke that hung in the air like cobwebs. The sky was a foggy gray and the sun was like a struggling child, it’s rays futile in trying to penetrate through the haze. And so it’s another day of being quarantined indoors. Luckily I had plans. Next week I’m participating, for the first time, in a baking meet-up, and the theme is “chili.” Immediately, chili chocolate sprang to my mind. However chili chocolate is rather commonplace and I wanted something more exotic. I brainstormed with keywords associated with chili: red, spicy … and then suddenly, Wham! I got the most marvelous idea: spicy red velvet cupcakes filed with a chili chocolate ganache. The red colour of the cupcakes was supposed to forwarn the impending spiciness to come. Unfortunately it appears my idea wasn’t that unusual after all since I found many similar recipes upon Googling. Anyhow, I stuck to my idea and improvised/combined several recipes. And this was how the mini two-bite cupcakes were born.
This is one of the rare times I’m baking, my only previous experience being bread. It’s also my first time making a ganache and frosting. I mean I don’t eat muffins or cupcakes on a daily basis so I don’t see/feel a need to bake them. However this baking meet-up has bestowed on me a challenge, which I am happy to take up.
Although many recipes use red food colouring to achieve the “red” in the red velvet, I wanted to go natural (my food phiosophy) with beets. For the spiciness I used cayenne pepper, as well as red chilies in the ganache. I was all excited/apprehensive about this challenge. Along the way there were 128499 mishaps, cursing myself as I made yet another mistake each time. Nearly four hours later and forehead beaded with perspiration, the babies were finally ready, ugly as they look, but I did it!
Here are some of the mistakes that I made:
- ½ cup soy milk
- ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 6 tablespoons beet puree (from roasted beets)
- ⅙ cup extra virgin coconut oil
- ¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 10 tablespoons all purpose or whole wheat pastry flour (Bob’s Red Mill)
- ⅛ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon natural cacao powder (not Dutch)
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¾ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ cup (55g) coconut milk (Ayam brand, trim)
- ½ red chili, sliced
- ½ cinnamon stick
- 1.5 oz (55g) dark chocolate (Hershey’s semisweet chocolate chips)
- 4 oz (113g) cream cheese (Philadelphia Neufchatel ⅓ less fat)
- ¼ cup (57g) unsalted butter, softened (Lurpak)
- ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ½ cup confectioners sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- In a small saucepan over medium low heat, bring coconut milk, chili and cinnamon to gentle boil. Cover, turn off flame and let steep for 20 minutes.
- When the coconut milk has steeped, bring to gentle boil again, then strain it over chocolate. Whisk mixture until completely smooth.
- Chill for about 30 minutes (alternatively, I froze it for 10 minutes and the texture was just right)
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- In a medium size bowl mix soy milk and vinegar, allowing it to curdle. This will take about 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, sift flour, cocoa powder, salt, pepper, cinnamon and baking powder. Stir in sugar.
- Once milk has curdled, mix in beet puree, oil and vanilla extract.
- Make a well in dry ingredients and slowly add in wet ingredients. Mix well.
- Divide among cupcake liners and bake for 15-20 minutes.
- Let cool completely. Once cooled, “core” each cupcake and fill the hole with chilled ganache, placing the “lid” over.
- Beat together cream cheese and butter with a mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Mix in vanilla extract.
- Sift sugar, pepper and cinnamon.
- Add to cream mixture and beat some more until incorporated.
- Pipe onto cupcakes.
- Forgot to weigh the amount of beetroot puree. In attempt to get the beet puree as smooth as possible, I poured in all the wet ingredients into the food processor, with the unmeasured beet puree inside. It was only a few seconds later that I realized and at that moment I truly wanted to kick myself in the ass. Based on the consistency of the batter and texture of the muffin, I’m thinking there was way too much puree.
- Spilled the coconut oil into the milk mixture while measuring it out. That makes the 1/6 cup (1/4 cup + 2 teaspoons) supposedly rather inaccurate.
- To grease or not to grease the cupcake linings. I did not grease for the first batch but Mum said it was supposed to be greased. But the sticking was only a mild problem and while the second batch (greased) did not stick as much, I don’t think the hassle of brushing the linings is worth it.
- The chocolate. I intended to use high quality Ghirardelli Twilight Delight 72% dark chocolate but because I left it out on the table top, it was all melted. As a quick solution I used the more inferior Hersheys instead, which made the ganache slightly sweeter than I wanted.
- Melted (microwaved) butter instead of softened butter for the frosting. Obviously it turned out quite a watery consistency.
- Major problems with the piping gun. I bought a piping gun in preparation for this and I don’t know if it’s because I’m dumb and using it wrongly but the frosting just couldn’t get ejected out of the gun. I gave up on the gun and with Mum’s help, she did a DIY piping bag out of baking parchment. Must be because the gun was a cheap product. Another reason to avoid cheap products.When it came to the ganache, I wanted to test two methods. The first is the “coring” method in which the ganache is poured into a “cored” cupcake after baking (batch 1); the second is to place the ganache on top of the batter and bake them together (batch 2). Ideally the ganache should sink to the center of the cupcake. Above is the result of the batch 1 after being baked and prior to being filled with ganache. As you can see, it does not resemble a cupcake at all with the center being sunken. Too much beet/not enough flour? Below is batch 2 prior to being baked. I did not chill the ganache as I did not have the patience to wait. That’s why it’s so liquidy and it turned out more like a chocolate glaze. But I was too hot and frustrated in the kitchen to care.
Finally, the tasting notes and comparisons between batch 1 (ganache after baking, left) vs batch 2 (ganache before baking, right). First off I’m quite pleased with the Burgundy colour of the cupcakes. At least they are not some Frankenstein garish red. However, the spiciness was not to my desired level, probably level one on the Scoville scale. In fact, cinnamon was dominant, probably a wee bit too much. More cayenne pepper and chilis next time please.
Tastewise, I prefer batch 2, which tasted more like brownies than red velvet with their crackly chocolate tops (which did not sink as supposed to). This is kind of sad because it was supposed to be red velvet cupcakes and not brownies. The texture of batch 2 was also better, probably because I baked it for 20 minutes straight and did not intermittently remove from oven for checking as for batch 1. Presentation-wise, the red colour of batch 1 wins hands-down.
Overall it was a fun, tedious and quite an experience for my first proper cupcakes. Although the results are nowhere Nigella-worthy, they were still delicious albeit ugly. Next time I will fine-tune the recipe by (1) use more accurate amount of ingredients, (2) more chili, (3) darker chocolate, (4) use a date-based vegan frosting. Below is the recipe for batch 1.