Come to the Dark Side: Oreo Cupcakes

I am generally pretty adamant (some might say… a tad snobby) about using the best possible ingredients in my baking: high-quality chocolate, European butter, organic eggs… Although I shy away from over-processed and artificial foods, I have to admit that there are a few exceptions to this rule, most notably the crown jewel of the Nabisco empire: the Oreo cookie. No other cookie has captured my heart quite like this dark beauty; I must admit that I dream about them on occasion. (That happens to other people… right??) The Oreo just turned 100 years old and continues to rule the world of sandwich cookies. Quite frankly, I don’t care what’s in them and I don’t really want to know what’s in them, because it would more than likely undermine my love affair, and, well, I just can’t have that. The Oreo simply cannot be improved upon, and I am completely willing to forgive whatever unsavory chemicals are laced within. In my opinion, no natural or organic version has ever come close to replicating the rich, ethereal Oreo-ness that makes these cookies so iconic. It is, therefore, very appropriate that I chose Oreo Cupcakes for my first recipe post.

I’ve looked for a “cookies & cream” cupcake recipe for as long as I’ve been baking cupcakes; most of them consisted of a chocolate cupcake sprinkled with crushed Oreos. At best, there were Oreo crumbs mixed into the frosting or a whole Oreo cookie placed in the bottom of the cupcake liner. None of these pale attempts satisfied my desire for that deep, one-of-a-kind Oreo flavor; I wanted a cupcake whose essence exuded Oreo goodness in every morsel. I tried mixing Oreo crumbs into vanilla cake, which was passable, but still did not produce the magical, elusive flavor that I craved.

Ahoy, my Oreo troubles were assuaged when I discovered black cocoa powder! Dutch-processed cocoa is processed with alkali to neutralize its natural acidity, which yields a deep, mellow chocolate flavor. Black cocoa is ultra Dutch-processed, over-roasted to achieve an almost black color, to which the unique flavor and color of Oreos can be attributed. The Dutching process changes the chemical properties of the cocoa; in addition to the lack of acid, there is very little fat left. Theoretically, black cocoa should behave differently in recipes than lighter cocoa powder; you may need to increase the amount of fat to compensate for the small amount present in regular cocoa powder. The absence of acid means that black cocoa will not react with baking soda, so the leaveners may need to be adjusted as well, though other acids (such as sour cream in this recipe) may compensate. I did not have issues with dryness or leavening when adapting this recipe, and these remain my most requested cupcakes.

Cocoa powder comparisonBlack cocoa powder in front, regular dark cocoa powder in the background.

One more note about black cocoa powder: Unfortunately it is not the easiest to find. I buy Guittard “Dark Cocoa” at Spun Sugar, a baking supply store in Berkeley, CA. I was able to find it online at World Wide Chocolate, though it is rather pricey there. King Arthur Flour also makes a black cocoa, which I haven’t tried, but it gets rave reviews. I believe it’s worth the effort and cost to obtain this special cocoa powder, but if you can’t or prefer not to, use the darkest you can find.

To develop this cupcake, I started with my go-to chocolate cupcake recipe from Cooks’ Illustrated, replacing the Dutch-processed cocoa powder with black cocoa. I’m a big advocate of crusts under my cupcakes, so I added an Oreo cookie crust, much like one would find at the bottom of a cheesecake. When baked, the cake portion will be black, and indistinguishable in color from the crust. For the frosting, you could really use your favorite vanilla (or even chocolate!) frosting. This frosting recipe is a simple confectioners’ sugar buttercream; while I find it overly sweet on its own, I like it in this recipe because it better mirrors the sugary, nostalgic Oreo creme filling than a more elegant, grown-up frosting.

Every element of this cupcake, from the bottom up, contains an Oreo punch– I hope it satisfies someone else’s Oreo fixation too! 🙂

Oreo Cookies

Oreo Cupcakes
Yields 12-15 cupcakes

For crusts:

  • 15 Oreo cookies, processed to fine crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (¼ stick)

For cupcake batter (adapted from Cooks’ Illustrated Dark Chocolate Cupcakes):

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces (1 stick)
  • 2 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped (⅓ cup)
  • 1 ½ ounces black cocoa powder (½ cup)
  • 3 ¾ ounces unbleached all-purpose flour (¾ cup)
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 5 ¼ ounces sugar (¾ cup)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 ounces sour cream (½ cup)

For frosting:

  • 16 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature (2 sticks)
  • 1 pound powdered sugar (4 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ – 1 cup Oreo cookie crumbs, depending on the desired intensity of Oreo flavor

For assembly:

  • 6-10 Oreo cookies, cut in half, or ½ cup Oreo crumbs

Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 325°F. Prepare a standard-sized muffin pan with cupcake liners. (You may have enough batter for a few extra cupcakes, so you can prepare a few wells in a second pan if desired.)

To make the cupcake crusts, combine the cookie crumbs with the melted butter and mix until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the mixture into each cupcake liner and press it firmly into the bottoms with a tamper or small shot glass. Bake the crusts for 5 minutes and set aside.

Oreo Cupcakes - 14

Place the butter, chopped chocolate, and cocoa powder in a medium heatproof bowl. (I use Guittard “Lever du Soleil” 61% couverture chocolate wafers, which are small enough to melt evenly without being chopped up further.) Fill a small saucepan about ⅓ full of water and set the bowl over the saucepan. The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water. Heat the mixture over a gentle simmer until the butter and chocolate are melted, stirring to combine until smooth. The mixture will be very dark in color and fairly thin in consistency. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and set it aside to cool until just warm. Don’t allow it to come into contact with water, as it may cause the chocolate to seize up and be ruined. This will hurt the Oreos’ feelings.

Oreo Cupcakes - 15

Whisk the flour, baking soda, and baking powder in a small bowl.

Whisk the eggs in a medium bowl. Add the sugar, vanilla extract, and salt, and whisk until all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Pour in the cooled chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Sift about ⅓ of the flour mixture into the chocolate/egg mixture and whisk until combined. Then add the sour cream and whisk until no white streaks remain. Sift in the remaining flour and whisk until the batter is thick and homogenous. Do not over mix.

Oreo Cupcakes - 16

Scoop the batter onto the Oreo crusts, filling each prepared cupcake liner about ⅔ full; do not overfill. I find that the easiest tool for even batter distribution is a spring-loaded ice cream scoop. Bake the cupcakes for 18-21 minutes; a cake tester inserted into the center of a cupcake should come out with a few moist crumbs attached. It’s okay for the tops of the cupcakes to appear “crackled” and moist. Keep a close eye on them during the last few minutes of baking– overbaked cakes will be dry and cranky.

Oreo Cupcakes - 10

Cool the cupcakes in the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. When they are cool enough to handle, carefully lift them out of the wells and set on the rack to cool completely.

While the cakes are cooling, make the frosting. Beat the butter on medium speed in a stand mixer for 2 minutes, or until smooth and creamy. When adding the rest of the ingredients, I recommend mixing on medium-low speed. I have found that I achieve a smoother, creamier mixture (i.e. less discernible sugar granules) by not beating on high. Add half of the confectioners’ sugar to the bowl and beat the mixture until well combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add half of the milk and mix, followed by the remaining sugar. Add the rest of the milk and the vanilla extract, and beat for 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl again, and give it a final whirl to make sure all the sugar is incorporated. And now the real fun begins: Add the Oreo crumbs into the buttercream and beat just until they are evenly distributed. Use ½ cup crumbs for lighter Oreo flavor, or 1 cup to jack up the intensity. (You can probably guess which one I prefer.) 😉 Add a touch more milk if the frosting seems dry; add more confectioners’ sugar if it’s not thick enough to hold its shape.

Oreo Cupcakes - 17

Using a spring-loaded ice cream scoop, transfer the frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a large plain or star tip. Pipe the frosting design of your choice onto the center of each cupcake. I prefer a large simple mound, but swirls work perfectly well too. Gently nestle an Oreo cookie half into the frosting or sprinkle each cupcake to taste with Oreo crumbs… and bask in the deep, chocolaty goodness!

Oreo Cupcakes - 09

© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2012.

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9 Responses

  1. Have you ever tasted Canadian oreos versus American? I hate to burst your bubble, but they blow American oreos out of the water! (due to their superior ingredients- coconut oil instead of canola oil, and sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup) I’d love to try your cupcakes made with those instead, and I think your claim (no other kind of cookie with better ingredients has ever come close to the level of deliciousness that you so love) would be immediately reversed! Must get you a bag.

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