For my friend Mona's engagement party Saturday night, I volunteered to bring dessert. I thought about trying a new recipe, but came up with a better idea: I'd transform one of my favorite cakes from Melissa Clark into a boozy batch of cupcakes. This was a celebration after all, not a formal sit-down dinner. And I've been to plenty of parties where people prefer cocktails to sweets. I always need dessert and was determined to make something that would fit in.
As I suspected, dark chocolate cupcakes with a cup of whiskey, plus a little extra brushed on top for good measure, were perfect for a Saturday night engagement celebration turned dance party. All 24 were quickly snatched up and devoured after we feasted on two types of fondue, lasagna, pork tenderloin, braised cabbage and a salad with pomegranate seeds.
Before making them, I searched online to see what kind of guidance I could find. Even though I've made the recipe as a bundt cake countless times, baking needs to be so precise. I found this site where a chef recommended adding an extra 1/2 cup of flour to give the cupcakes "structural assistance" which sounded good to me. I also cooked them for a lot less time. After about 28 minutes in my oven, they were perfect—light and moist with a sophisticated dark chocolate flavor that's rich, but not too sweet, with a welcome burst of whiskey.
I considered sprinkling powdered sugar on top too, but Daniel made a glossy ganache using bittersweet chocolate, cream and some butter to help dress them up a bit. After that, he made white icing so we could write Mona and her fiance Jawad's initials on top. Time was running out by this point and we ended up writing on the cupcakes before they had fully cooled. They looked kind of sloppy at first, and reminded me of the bubble letters I used to favor back in middle school. I met Mona in 6th grade, so I could have said that was the look I was going for. Or maybe that Nico helped decorate them? Sadly, he didn't. This handiwork was all our own. Slowly, they took on a life of their own, and by the time we brought them to the party, they looked kind of cute. Mona and Jawad knew they'd been made with love and no one paid too much attention to the letters. The words dark chocolate and whiskey were way too distracting.
Whiskey-Soaked Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache Glaze
Adapted from Melissa Clark via The New York Times
For the cupcakes:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup whiskey, more for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
For the chocolate ganache via Heather Drive:
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line two cupcake pans with liners. In microwave oven or double boiler over simmering water, melt chocolate. Let cool.
2. Put espresso and cocoa powders in a 2-cup (or larger) glass measuring cup. Add enough boiling water to come up to the 1 cup measuring line. Mix until powders dissolve. Add whiskey and salt; let cool.
3. Using an electric mixer, beat 1 cup butter until fluffy. Add sugar and beat until well combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract, baking soda and melted chocolate, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.
4. On low speed, beat in a third of the whiskey mixture. When liquid is absorbed, beat in 1 cup flour. Repeat additions, ending with whiskey mixture. Divide batter evenly among liners, filling about 3/4 full. Bake about 25-28 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into center comes out clean.
5. Transfer cupcakes to a rack and using a pastry brush, brush each one with more whiskey.
6. While the cupcakes are cooling, heat cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until steaming, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat, add the chocolate and let stand for 5 minutes. Add the butter and stir until smooth.
7. Transfer to a small bowl and once they've cooled, dip the top of each cupcake to thoroughly coat.
8. Allow chocolate ganache to set before serving and storing.