Thursday, February 17, 2011

Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting and Fleur de Sel

Last year, I attended a talk by a cookbook author at Omnivore Books on Food in San Francisco (an amazing bookstore in one of my favorite neighborhoods of the city - Noe Valley!). The talk was led by Christie Matheson, someone who became so fascinated by salts that she wrote an entire cookbook using various kinds of salts in dessert recipes. It made for a really interesting bookstore discussion. Christie described the difference between Maldon sea salt and fleur de sel and smoked sea salt and all sorts of other types I didn't know existed. I had no idea salt could be an entire new baking adventure. I did, however, know that I loved the taste of sea salt. I also knew that I loved the Chex Mix flavor that combines sweet with salty ingredients, officially and lovingly referred to as Chex Mix Sweet 'n Salty. Don't leave me alone with a bag of that.

It's no secret I love peanut butter and chocolate together. So naturally, when I discovered the photo in Christie's book of these peanut butter cupcakes with a hefty dollop of chocolate frosting, I couldn't turn the page. I stopped in my tracks and my face started to melt. Face melt! These cupcakes were destined to become the next thing I bake. And oh boy, they are delicious! Thank you, Christie! The sprinkling of fleur de sel on the top makes this the perfect marriage of salty and sweet. Wedded bliss. Holy matrimony. And all that jazz.

Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting and Fleur de Sel
Adapted from a recipe by Christie Matheson in Salty Sweets
Makes 12 regular size cupcakes or at least 24 mini cupcakes

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter (regular, not natural)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk (I used 1% and it worked just fine)
Chocolate Frosting (see recipe below)
Fleur de sel or chopped salted peanuts for sprinkling (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Use paper liners to line a 12-cup muffin pan, or just grease the inside of each cup. You can also use a mini muffin tray. You'll make a lot more this way. I made about two trays of mini-sized.

2. In a medium-size bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

3. Using a stand mixer, beat together the butter, peanut butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar on medium speed. The mixture will look light and creamy. Shouldn't take more than 2 minutes..

4. Add the one egg and beat for about 30 seconds. If the mixture has climbed up the sides of the bowl, scrape it back down. Then add the vanilla and beat for a minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again.

5. Starting with the flour mixture, alternate between adding the flour mixture and the milk, dividing the flour mixture into three portions and the milk into two portions. Don't overmix. As soon as the mixture comes together, you're done. Turn the mixer off! Walk away from the mixer! :)

6. Pour the batter into the cupcake liners or greased cups, filling each cup three-quarters of the way up the sides. If making regular sized cupcakes, bake for 18-20 minutes. If making mini-sized cupcakes, check the cupcakes for doneness after about 10 minutes. They will bake really fast when they are tiny. You'll know the cupcakes are done when the tops are golden and firm to the touch. Stick a cake tester or toothpick into the center and it should come out clean. Remove from the oven and leave the cupcakes in the pan to cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Then transfer the cupcakes to the rack to cool completely before frosting.

7. Prepare the frosting, then frost each cupcake with an offset spatula or use a piping bag and a large round or star tip. Sprinkle the top of each frosting mound with fleur de sel or chopped salted peanuts. The cupcakes will be their freshest for up to two days. Beyond that, they'll still be enjoyable, but drier, especially the mini-sized. They'll keep in the freezer really well if wrapped tightly.

Chocolate Frosting
Makes about 1 cup (enough to frost about 12 regular-size cupcakes or the equivalent in mini-cupcakes)

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1. Place the chocolate in a medium-size heatproof bowl, such as a glass bowl, and set aside. In a few minutes, you'll be pouring a cream mixture over this chocolate.

2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir together the cream, butter, corn syrup, and salt. The mixture will melt the butter and dissolve the salt and be very hot but not boiling. Should take 5 minutes or less.

3. When the cream mixture is very hot but not boiling, immediately pour it over the chocolate waiting for you in that heat-proof bowl. Leave the mixture alone to heat the chocolate for 5 to 7 minutes. That means no stirring! Then whisk until completely smooth. Make sure there are no lumps of chocolate, especially if you're going to be piping the frosting, because little pieces of chocolate will clog up your piping bag and you'll be frustrated (Note: I'm speaking from experience, and boy was that frustrating! I couldn't figure out why the frosting wasn't coming out of the tip...until I found the chocolate culprit!). Chill the mixture in the fridge for 30 minutes, then beat with an electric mixer until the color changes to light brown and the texture is fluffy and spreadable. Store the frosting in the fridge for up to 3 days in an airtight container. If you do this, you'll need to bring it to room temperature before frosting the cupcakes, and possibly even remixing it with your electric mixer.

Step-by-Step in Pictures
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt; then set aside...

Beat together the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and peanut butter...

Add the egg and mix to combine...

Add the vanilla and continue beating...

Add the flour in three increments, alternating with the milk. Begin with flour...

Then add milk. Continue alternating, ending with flour...

Beat until smooth...

Fill each muffin cup three-quarters full...

Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes if making large cupcakes, and about 10 minutes if making mini-cupcakes...

To make the chocolate frosting, first heat together the butter, salt, heavy cream, and corn syrup...

When the cream mixture is very hot but not boiling, pour over the chopped chocolate in a heat-proof bowl...

Stir until melted and smooth, then chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. When ready to use, beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy ...

Spread or pipe the frosting onto each cupcake...


The Duo Dishes said...

Any book that mixes salty with sweet is the one to have in your collection! Of course, these are going to be nothing but great.

Kimberly said...

I can't wait to try these! One of my favorite combinations. I love the pretty frosting too!

Ann Landsberger said...

Love chocolate & pb, but it's the salt that pushed me over the edge. And that frosting. MUAH!

Carolyn Jung said...

The fleur de sel is the crowning touch. It's amazing how much a sprinkle of salt can make such a difference.

Mom said...

I love this combination of flavors! Plus, I love your pictures, especially the one that you photographed the rack of finished cupcakes at an interesting angle! You make everything look so appealing!

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