Editor's note: This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
Heads up coffee lovers ... this one's for you! A moist, tender, coffee-flavored cupcake, filled with Kahlua-spiked, sweetened cream cheese, is crowned by rich buttercream frosting with another dose of your favorite beverage. Three hits of joe ... what could be better?
What must you do to assure their success? Carefully measure the ingredients (slight changes in the amount of flour or baking powder can result in disaster), make sure the butter for the cake batter is at room temperature (softened until it holds an indentation when you press it lightly but not squishy or shiny ... that's too soft), take your time when creaming it, gently stir in the flour, and immediately remove the cupcakes from the oven when they are done.
We find that the coffee flavor is more pronounced after 24 hours, so feel free to make these baby cakes a day in advance.
Triple Coffee Cupcakes
(Makes 8 to 10 standard cupcakes. Adjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet.)
4 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons Kahlua
1/4 cup whole milk
2 1/2 tablespoons instant coffee
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
1/3 cup unsalted butter, very soft
3 to 4 cups confectioners' sugar, divided
3 to 4 tablespoons strong brewed coffee, cooled to room temperature
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
Chocolate-covered coffee beans, optional
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Line the cups of the cupcake pan with paper liners and lightly spray the liners with a vegetable oil-flour spray. (I know this seems like overkill, but cupcakes stick to the pan, even to a paper liner, at altitude.)
Make the filling: Cut the room temperature cream cheese into eight pieces and place them in a small bowl. Add the sugar and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Don't overbeat or the cream cheese will get watery. Add the Kahlua and stir until the mixture is well combined. Give it a taste and add more sugar or Kahlua to your liking, making sure the filling stays firm enough to hold its shape. Set this aside. Wash the beaters of your mixer.
Make the cupcakes: Heat the milk in a small bowl in the microwave until very warm but not boiling. Alternately, place the milk in a small saucepan and heat on the stove. Stir in the instant coffee until it is thoroughly dissolved and then set the mixture aside to cool to room temperature. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and whisk until combined and free of any lumps. Set this aside.
With an electric mixer at medium-high speed, beat the room-temperature butter, vanilla and sugar until fluffy and light, scraping the bowl as needed. This takes about three minutes-don't shorten this time, it makes a big difference in the resulting texture of the cake. Add the room-temperature eggs, one at a time, beating until fully incorporated into the batter after each addition. Beat for two minutes after adding the last egg. The mixture may look curdled; it will smooth out when you add the flour. By hand, or with the mixer at its lowest speed, add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the coffee-milk mixture (which will be added in two additions), starting and ending with the flour. Stop stirring as soon as each addition is absorbed into the batter. Scrape the bowl when necessary.
Spoon the batter into the paper-lined cups, filling them just below half-way.
Place a little less than a level tablespoon of cream cheese filling in the middle of the batter in each cup. Add more batter, covering the filling completely, until it is about a quarter inch from the top of the paper liner. Smooth and level the top. Place the pan in the oven and bake only until the tops of the cupcakes spring back lightly when touched and a cake tester comes out dry. This takes from 18-24 minutes in my oven. Don't overbake or the cupcakes will be dry.
Remove the cupcakes from the oven and place the pan on a cooling rack until the cakes have firmed up--about 15-20 minutes. Carefully remove the cupcakes from the pan to the rack and let them cool completely. The filled cupcakes may develop a dimple on top, due to the sinking of the filling; don't despair, that's normal, and the imperfection will be hidden by the frosting. If you aren't frosting them as soon as they cool, store them in an airtight container until you do; they'll dry out quickly in our high, dry environment.
Make the frosting: Cut the soft butter into pieces and beat them with an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth. Add a half cup of the confectioners' sugar and beat until combined, add another half cup and repeat. Add three tablespoons of the coffee and the vanilla and mix. Add more confectioners' sugar, a half cup at a time, until the frosting reaches a good consistency for piping or spreading. Taste and add more coffee and/or sugar, as desired. Pipe or spread the frosting decoratively on the cupcakes and, if you like, top with a chocolate-covered coffee bean. Store, covered, in the refrigerator.
The frosting recipe is from Better Homes and Gardens.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC's Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Contact her at email@example.com.