Ellen Clifford
July 11, 2015 7:15 am

It’s a triple threat! If these cupcakes were performers they would act, sing, dance and probably juggle too, just for good measure. Sweet, Savory, and Sometimes Boozy Cupcakes is a book that needs no introduction. Nor does its author. Cupcake Wars champ Alison Riede is writing about what she knows best. That would be cupcakes that fulfill ALL your needs.

Now let’s get something straight: I am usually a cake person. I like it on a plate with a fork. But these cupcakes transcend. They pushed my boundaries and I am glad they did. I had never gotten past thinking of cupcakes as fluffy pucks wearing overly sweet frosting caps. Seeing as I like frosting a lot I was never satisfied. But most of the recipes Riede creates include both cake and frosting, but also a filling, and sometimes garnishing. If the appeal of cupcakes is that you can eat them out of one hand on the go, move along. These diminutive lil’ cakelets are not for you. These are complex works of art that demand all your senses and a plate and fork don’t hurt.

It makes sense that the first page has a quote by the venerable Julia Child: “A party without cake is just a meeting”. That’s right, she said CAKE, and I’d value these cupcakes as being on par.

The first chapter, Tart+Citrusy+Light, stays in the dessert zone with sweet concoctions. And yet Riede weaves in the likes of sage frosting and elderflower. It’s these touches that border on savory that create such a complex dessert. I’d like to do a cupcake tasting like a wine tasting. Although I can get both treats in one fell swoop with things like the mimosa cupcake with orange champagne frosting. It has brunch written all over it.

For the truly savory treats try the Savory chapter (duh) and you’ll find things like a buffalo chicken cupcake with blue cheese frosting and a buffalo chicken topping. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around that one. I personally am drawn to the camembert cupcake with camembert buttercream. Cheese on cheese action is rarely a bad idea, methinks.

Now for this week’s recipe! I chose one from the chocolate chapter because of course. These cupcakes include the sweet and boozy part of the book. And I say the fruit filling is the icing on the top. Actually, it isn’t. The icing is the icing. But the filling rocks too. I substituted cherries for the strawberries. Riede says you can substitute any berry so I’d like to try with blackberries too. For wine, please pick something you’d drink, too. After all, this recipe won’t use the whole bottle, and you want what you sip whilst baking to be worth your while. I went with Estancia because it was available at the grocery store, was in my price range, and my experience with their wines has been positive. Choose wisely, cupcake makers. You will be richly rewarded. In cake.

Chocolate Pinot Noir Cupcake with Strawberry Compote Filling and Dark Chocolate Frosting (makes 20) adapted from Sweet, Savory, and Sometimes Boozy Cupcakes by Alison Riede

For the cupcake:

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 eggs (use cage-free and pasture-raised please, for happy chickens)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups pinot noir (I used Estancia)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup self-raising flour (I used 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 1 tsp. of baking powder, 1/2 tsp. of salt, and 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups cocoa powder (I used half natural cocoa and half Dutch-processed)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt

For fruit filling:

  • 16 oz. fresh strawberries, diced into 1-inch pieces (I substituted frozen dark sweet cherries)
  • 1/2 cup pinot noir (Estancia)
  • 1/2 cup sugar

For frosting:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened (I used unsalted)
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder (I used all Dutch-process cocoa)

Make the cupcakes first. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line cupcake pans with 20 paper liners. Using a mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed in a big bowl. Add eggs one by one, mixing on medium. Reduce speed to low and add vanilla and pinot noir. In another bowl mix the flours, cocoa, baking soda and salt. I actually sifted mine. Add this bit by bit to the large bowl and mix on medium speed until smooth, about two minutes.

Spray the cupcake liners with nonstick spray and fill about 3/4 of the way full. I filled mine more than this because, well, I had more batter. Bake 15-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. While they are cooling start the filling.

In a medium saucepan heat the wine, berries and sugar over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Then, bring it up to high and bring to a boil. Boil for five minutes, then reduce heat to low and simmer for ten minutes, stirring every two. It should be reduced to half and thickened. Let that cool. Make the frosting in the meantime!

For the frosting, use a mixer to beat the butter for a few minutes. Add half of the powdered sugar, slowly and cautiously, beating on low for about a minute. Add the cream and beat on low another minute. Add the rest of the cocoa and powdered sugar and gradually increase speed to high. Beat 3 minutes, until fluffy.

Now assemble your treats! Dig a a small hole out of the top of each cupcake. Give these remnants to your lucky baking companion or nibble on them yourself. You’re worth it. Add a spoonful of fruit filling to the holes. If you have a nice pastry bag and tip you can pipe the frosting on top, or just spread it like me. If there is any fruit filling left, add that to the top. Now, dig in. That was a long journey but worth it.

Photo by Molly Hauge, reprinted with permission from The Countryman Press

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