Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
Planning a St. Patrick’s Day celebration? If so, these chocolate Irish Cream cupcakes would be a fitting and delicious ending. But, be warned, once you’ve tried them you may not want to wait a whole year before nibbling them again. The cupcakes’ moist, tender texture and satisfying chocolate taste are unusually good. Crowned with a silky, Irish whiskey frosting, they’re a flavorful and very adult dessert.
The cake batter doesn’t require creaming, so, until you make the frosting, there’s no need to pull out your electric mixer. Simply melt the chocolate and cocoa in hot coffee, combine the dry ingredients, then the wet ingredients, and, finally, blend them all together … I’m betting even St. Patrick could do it.
The keys to an outstanding cupcake:
1. Whisk gently when adding the dry ingredients, over-handling the batter at this point will toughen the cake’s texture;
2. Fill the pan no more than three-quarters of the way to the top of each paper liner;
3. Don’t overbake these cuties or they’ll lose their appeal.
The cupcakes are best on the day they’re frosted, but they can be held until the next day if covered well and stored at cool room temperature. Take care that they don’t get too warm or the butter-based frosting will soften and, possibly, melt.
Chocolate Irish Cream Cupcakes
Adjusted for altitudes of 8,000 feet and above
Makes 12 standard cupcakes
3 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
3/4 cup hot brewed coffee
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup superfine sugar, preferably Baker’s
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda, scant*
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons canola oil
2 large eggs at room temperature
2 teaspoons rice or distilled white vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
*Scant means “slightly less than”
3/4 cup unsalted butter (12 tablespoons), softened
1 3/4 - 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt, scant
3 tablespoons Irish cream liqueur
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line the cupcake pan with paper liners and spray them with a vegetable oil-flour spray.
Finely chop the chocolate (I do this in a food processor), combine it with the cocoa powder in a mixing bowl and pour the hot coffee over them. Cover and set aside for about five minutes, then whisk gently until smooth and shiny and let cool to room temperature. You can speed up the cooling process by refrigerating the mixture.
Combine the flour, sugar, salt and baking soda in a bowl and whisk vigorously.
In another bowl, whisk the oil, eggs, vinegar and vanilla and add this to the cooled chocolate mixture, whisking until blended. Add the dry ingredients and gently whisk until the batter is smooth. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, filling each cup three-quarters of the way to the top. Smooth the tops and tap the pan gently on a counter to dislodge any air bubbles in the batter.
Bake until the cupcakes are set and firm when touched; start checking after 15 minutes in the oven. Don’t overbake. Move the pan to a cooling rack and remove the cupcakes from it when they are cool enough to handle. Let them cool completely (at this point you can wrap them well and freeze them for a month) before frosting.
Make the frosting: Cut the softened butter into small pieces and beat, with an electric mixer, until lightened and smooth. Gradually add the confections’ sugar (you may not use it all) until the frosting is stiff enough to hold a shape when piped. Add the salt and Irish cream liqueur and beat until blended and fluffy. If necessary, correct the consistency by adding more sugar or more liqueur. Pipe or spread the frosting on the cooled (or defrosted) cupcakes.
These cupcakes are a variation of a recipe from “Cook’s Baking Book.” Vera Dawson, author of the new high-altitude cookbook “Cookies in the Clouds” (available at The Bookworm in Edwards and Next Page Bookstore in Frisco), is a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute. She lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org