Cups ≠ Cupcakes
Many site America’s first cookbook, American Cookery, written by Amelia Simmons in 1796, as the tome containing the first written recipe for a cupcake. This idea was unfortunately formed and perpetuated due to the fact that Miss Simmons recommends baking off her batter in “small cups”. Cups must equal cupcakes. The logic is linear, however, it’s dead wrong. Baking batters and doughs in whatever was handy was not an unusual practice for the time and could have referred to teacups or a variety of other small ramekins used to make various dainty cakes and pies popular in those days. If this weren’t enough to topple your notions of the cupcake’s origins, further proof can be had on closer inspection of that “first” recipe. Within the ingredient list, we see that it calls for something called “emptins”, emptins was a form of yeast making these “cupcakes” more of a bread or bun than a cake.
From Weight to Volume
It’s not until 1828 that we see a recipe titled “cupcake” in the seminal cookbook Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats written by Eliza Leslie. Here we see a recipe that does not refer to a yeast-risen batter baked in cups but in fact a light tender batter, very close to the modern cupcake. It was called a cupcake not because it was baked in small cups, but because the ingredients were measured out in cups rather than being weighed. Just like the pound cake, which was made in a similar fashion, but on a much larger scale.
This is one of the first examples of a recipe measured in volumetric terms written in the US and was the only recipe written in this fashion included in the book. Making the cupcake a very important recipe in American culinary history, as the volumetric unit of measurement eventually became the standard in the United States and still is today.
Books in the 17th century were prized possessions. At this point in history, not everyone could afford books. Recipes were often shared orally and had to be committed to memory. A popular version of the primal cupcake was also known as the 1-2-3-4 cake, once again referring to the measurements. It called for: 1 cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour, and 4 eggs. This made the recipe easy to remember due to its numeric nature. Cupcakes were also sometimes referred to as “number cakes.”
From Lilies to Cupcakes
Foods, as they evolve, pass through many stages, some considerably better than others; the cupcake is a fine example of this. At one point in time cupcakes were said to have been “gilded” with lard. Note the close attention to phraseology, as though using the word “gilded” would somehow improve the fact that you’d covered a cupcake in pig’s fat. Some attribute the leap from lard to icing to Winston Churchill, who in one of his piquant observations mentioned that an improvement might be made to the small cakes. A vague but well-timed suggestion, Winston’s words acted as the catalyst needed to begin making substitutions for the fatty substance often described as “gravy-like” that graced the top of cupcakes of the day.
The Rise and Fall the Western Cupcake
Relegated to Hostess cellophane wrappers and kid’s birthday parties, the cupcake quietly existed for years, taking a backseat to more exotic desserts. It’s not that people didn’t know about the cupcake, they probably ate them regularly, but it was an unwitting consumption. Like breathing air or walking upright, it was done thoughtlessly. Decades went by like this until a most unlikely source catapulted the cupcake to the upper echelons of dessert-dom.
In the third season of Sex and the City, viewers watched as Carrie Bradshaw and her girlfriend ate massive, buttercream swirled cupcakes on a bench in New York City. So gripped were viewers by this 30-second segment of thin women eating forbidden foods that a cupcake obsession emerged in its wake. Shops devoted to the cupcake began to spring up. Every bakery began producing versions of their own. Even cupcake ATMs (which are exactly what they sound like) were seen in some of the larger cities.
An economic bubble grew around this surprising new form of revenue; an empire rivaling that of the Romans. Some expostulate that the cupcake is “too big to fail” but we’ve heard that one before. And I think if we look closely, we can see the cupcake is in its decline already. We see giants of the industry like Crumbs Bakery quietly closing up all 48 of their shops across the country, stock options plummeting. The cupcake is no longer a stand-alone. We see cupcakes skewered by straws acting as a garnish on drinks, on cakes, or even disguised as other foods. Yet our social platforms are still inundated with shots of cupcakes. Shows like Cupcake Wars, struggle on even in the face of decline. Like Willy Loman, the death of the cupcake promises to be a long, slow, painful one.
So let us avert our eyes from the monstrosity that the modern cupcake has become in an effort to stay relevant, and take a moment to celebrate the cupcake, in triumph and in defeat, and remember it for what it was.
Loman’s Chocolate + Raspberry Cupcakes
For the Cupcakes
12 Tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) Butter, unsalted, very soft
1 3/4 cups All-purpose Flour
4 ounces unsweetened Chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup Cocoa Powder
1/2 cup Strong Black Coffee, hot
1 3/4 cups Sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 cup Sour Cream
1/2 cup Whole Milk
2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
4 Eggs, large + 2 Yolks
For the Filling
12 ounces (1 bag) Dark Chocolate Chips
3/4 cup Heavy Cream
1 teaspoon Vanilla
1 cup Seedless Raspberry Jam
For the Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream
1 cup Semi-sweet Chocolate, chopped
4 ounces Egg Whites (approximately 4 eggs separated)
1 1/4 cups Granulated Sugar
8 ounces (2 sticks) Unsalted Butter, soft
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
*Fresh Raspberries (for decoration)
For the Cupcakes
Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat your oven to 350℉. Prepare your cupcake tin with paper sleeves.
In a medium heat proof bowl, or the top of a double-boiler, combine chocolate, cocoa powder, and hot coffee and set over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir the ingredients together with a rubber spatula until chocolate is melted. Add 1/2 cup of your sugar and continue to stir until the mixture turns glossy, this should only take 1-2 minutes. Remove the chocolate from the double boiler and set aside to cool.
In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. In a smaller bowl still, combine the sour cream, milk, and vanilla.
In the bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment combine the eggs, and the additional yolks and whisk on medium low until well combined. Add the remaining 1 1/4 cups of sugar and crank up the speed to high. Whisk about 3-4 minutes until the eggs and sugar are lightened in color and fluffy.
Replace the whisk with the paddle attachment and add the chocolate mixture, well cooled by this time, to the beaten eggs and sugar. Mix until the chocolate is well incorporated, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary. With the mixer still running, begin to add your soft butter, tablespoon by tablespoon, allowing adequate time for each addition to fully incorporate into your batter. Going slowly and making sure the butter is thoroughly mixed in during this step is advised, it helps prevent lumps of butter from remaining in the batter and causing air pockets and an uneven rise in your finished cupcakes.
Once the batter is very smooth and light add in 1/3 of your dry ingredients, followed by half your sour cream mixture. Mix until just incorporated, about ten seconds, before repeating those steps. Alternating back and forth between the rest of the dry ingredients and the wet. Once all the ingredients are just incorporated, turn off your mixer and remove the bowl. Using a large rubber spatula, give the batter a final stir to ensure all the dry ingredients were incorporated. Then using a scoop measure or a large spoon, fill each cupcake cavity about 3/4 of the way full.
Bake immediately for 15-18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out with a few crumbs attached. Allow the cupcakes to fully cool before continuing with the other steps.
For the Chocolate Ganache
While your cupcakes are cooling make the chocolate raspberry ganache. In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, bring your cream to the brink of a simmer. While the cream is coming up to temperature measure out your chocolate into a medium bowl. Once the cream begins to steam and the looks as if it is about to start bubbling remove it from the heat and pour it directly over your chocolate. Give it a quick stir then allow it to sit for several minutes to let the chocolate melt. Add the vanilla and stir well until all the ingredients are fully combined and smooth. Allow the ganache to firm up at room temperature, or in the refrigerator if you’re in a hurry, making sure to check it every 15-20 minutes stirring every time. We do not want the ganache to be so firm that we cannot pipe it, but firm enough to hold its shape and be thoroughly cooled. While the ganache is cooling warm up your raspberry jam either on the stove top or in the microwave. Be sure to stir it occasionally on the stove top, or if using the microwave check it every 30 seconds. We want a nice loose texture that will incorporate easily into the ganache but not hot enough to remelt it. Once the ganache has reached the right consistency add in 1/4 cup of your room temperature raspberry jam and stir thoroughly to combine. Taste as you go on this one, some prefer more raspberry than others so feel free to add more or less to your taste, just be sure to not add so much that the integrity of the ganache is compromised. Fill a pastry bag with the ganache and set aside.
Fill another pastry bag with the remaining raspberry jam.
For the Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Measure out your chocolate into a medium bowl and place over a pot of simmering water to form your own make shift bain-marie. Stir the chocolate until melted completely and set aside to come down to room temperature.
Combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer. Set over the same pot of simmering water you used for the chocolate. Using a wire whisk beat the egg whites over the water until they reach 120℉, or until a small amount of the mixture rubbed between your fingers feels smooth and not gritty.
Once this texture is achieved transfer your bowl to the standing mixer and beat on high until the meringue is completely cool, this takes several minutes, be patient.
When the meringue has cooled to room temperature begin adding the softened butter, little by little. Only adding more after the previous one has been incorporated. When all the butter has been incorporated remove the meringue from the standing mixer and add 1/3 of it to the room temperature chocolate. Using a large rubber spatula stir the meringue into the chocolate until thoroughly combined, then transfer the chocolate meringue into the larger bowl of the standing mixer and incorporate the chocolate into the rest of the meringue.
Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a star tip about half way full.
For the Cupcake Assembly
Once the cupcakes are thoroughly cooled core them, using a large round piping tip or a paring knife. Fill the center cavity about 1/3 of the way with the softened raspberry jam and top with chocolate raspberry ganache. Pipe out your Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream into a swirl and top with a fresh raspberry or two.