Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes… in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

As I mentioned in my last post for Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Scones, I am not the biggest fan of the illustrious chocolate-peanut butter duo. I don’t hate it or anything, but I feel like the peanut butter eclipses my total chocolate immersion experience, and frankly, I find that concept very troubling. However, this week I was baking for a special someone’s birthday, who happens to love nothing more than the marriage of chocolate and peanut butter. This individual also happens to be a huge Star Wars nerd fan. Thus, my mission was very clear: I had to find a way to combine these seemingly unrelated interests.

Fortunately, I had two perfect tools at my disposal to help execute this quest. The first was my beloved copy of Baked Elements, the recently published third book from my favorite bakery, BAKED in Brooklyn. Among a plethora of decadent recipes is “Oopsy Daisy Cake”, which consists of milk chocolate cake layers, peanut butter filling, and vanilla-peanut butter frosting. It was immediately evident that this was the perfect choice for this particular occasion. In addition, I’ve never made anything with vanilla-peanut butter, which sounded much tastier to me.

I was debating between making the full-sized cake or adapting the recipe for cupcakes, and since I prefer to make, well, everything into cupcakes if possible, I decided on the latter. That’s where the second handy tool comes in: my new set of Williams-Sonoma Star Wars cupcake stencils. (Would-be Jedi Knights might argue that these are essential in any kitchen…) That pretty much sealed the deal. Nerds unite!

Since the recipe involves four stages (cake, filling, frosting, assembly/decoration), I decided to break it up over the course of a few days. This made it possible to make these during a very busy week. I first made the peanut butter filling, which, despite my ambivalence toward the peanut butter component, was absolutely divine. I was so pleasantly surprised with this filling! The combination of butter, creamy peanut butter, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla whipped up in a stand mixer made for a light, fluffy, smooth mixture that I could (and WOULD) easily eat with a spoon. I thought it might be heavy and sticky, as peanut butter can be when eaten alone, but I was woefully –and happily– mistaken! I fully plan to use this as a standalone peanut butter frosting for a totally different cupcake in the future.

Next I made the milk chocolate cupcakes. I thought these would be light in color and chocolate flavor, similar to a German Chocolate Cake, but again– wrong. The recipe calls for ⅔ cup of hot coffee, which lends a rich depth to the cake. It does not impart a coffee flavor per se, just a deeper chocolate dimension. And I’m all about deeper chocolate dimensions. I have traditionally used Guittard 38% “Soleil d’Or” milk chocolate couverture wafers when a recipe calls for melting milk chocolate. However, at the suggestion of the cookbook, I decided to experiment with a different brand of chocolate. I tried Scharffen Berger 41% Cacao “Extra Rich Milk” for the first time (a favorite of the BAKED guys), and I was pleased to discover that I like it quite a lot better than Guittard. (I love Guittard for darker chocolate varieties though.) The brand of chocolate that you choose doesn’t matter as much as the quality; all brands have slight flavor variations that are a matter of preference, but the quality of your chocolate will most assuredly make a huge difference in the taste and texture of the finished product. In other words, spring for the good stuff– you won’t regret it.

The batter was fairly straightforward to make and I yielded a total of 24 cupcakes. Since this was my first time making this recipe, I wasn’t sure if the quantities of ingredients would need adjustment for successful cupcake transformation. The cakes turned out quite delicious, but the only change I would make is to add an extra egg yolk next time to add a little “structure”. The cake texture is beautifully tender, which is great for a full-sized cake, but is a little too soft for cupcakes. (They were devoured gleefully by birthday celebrants nonetheless.) I was happy to note that these cupcakes had a perfectly flat top, which was ideal for decorating.

On the day that I planned to decorate and serve the cupcakes, I made the vanilla-peanut butter frosting. This frosting has all sorts of potential; it has become an instant favorite, and I can’t wait to make it again. The preparation method was unlike any frosting I’ve made before. I suppose it would be categorized as a “cooked” frosting, but those usually involve cooking the sugar into a syrup, whereas this frosting calls for making a roux-like concoction. The result is a luscious, fluffy frosting with beautiful notes of both vanilla and peanut butter. I didn’t feel like the flavors were competing for my affection; they truly work in perfect harmony.

The final step is the assembly and decoration of the galactic cupcakes. There are two methods for hollowing out cupcakes: 1) cut a small cone shape out of the center of each cupcake with a small, sharp knife, or 2) use a cupcake “corer” to achieve your hollow center. If you choose the cone method, you will have more control over the size and depth of the filling space. You can also cut off the bottoms of the cones and replace the “lids” over the filled holes. If you use a cupcake corer, your holes will be the same size for all cupcakes, and you can’t replace the tops. There’s no right or wrong way, though using a corer is generally faster. I did, in fact, use my handy-dandy cupcake corer for speed and uniformity. Also, I was hoping to mirror the original cake as much as possible, which contains a double filling between the two cakes. The peanut butter filling is spread onto the bottom cake and the vanilla-peanut butter frosting is layered directly on top of it before placing the second cake over both. In order to achieve a similar effect, I decided not to use the cake “lids”.

I generally use an “assembly line” for multi-step cupcake decoration; in other words, complete each step for all the cupcakes before moving to the next step: core, fill, frost, dip, and finally, decorate the tops. I’m not gonna lie… These are not the quickest cupcakes to assemble and decorate. However, I think they are well worth the time and effort!

While I made the peanut butter filling first, I’m posting the recipe in its original order: cake, filling, frosting.

Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Vanilla-Peanut Butter Frosting (aka Oopsy Daisy Cupcakes)
Adapted from Baked Elements
Yields 24 cupcakes

For the Milk Chocolate Cupcakes:

  • 2 ounces good-quality milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder (such as Valrhona)
  • ⅔ cup hot coffee
  • ⅓ cup whole milk
  • 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 5 ounces (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, softened, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the Peanut Butter Filling:

  • 2 ounces (½ stick) unsalted butter, softened, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • ½ cup creamy peanut butter
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the Vanilla-Peanut Butter Frosting:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cool but not cold, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Peanut Butter Filling
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For assembly and decoration:

  • ½ cup roasted, salted peanuts, toasted and finely chopped
  • Fine sanding sugar, colors of your choice
  • Cocoa powder

Preheat an oven to 325°F. Line two standard muffin pans with cupcake papers and set aside.

Put the chopped chocolate and cocoa powder in a medium heatproof bowl. Slowly pour the coffee over the contents of the bowl; whisk until the mixture is homogenous and there are no lumps of chocolate. Whisk in the milk until fully incorporated. The mixture will be creamier and just slightly lighter in color after adding the milk.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl and set aside.

Place the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes. Your mixture should have a light, fluffy texture. The eggs go in next; add them one at a time and mix well after each one. Add the vanilla extract and beat for several seconds to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and give the mixture another whirl to make sure everything is evenly incorporated, about 30 seconds.

Add ⅓ of the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just incorporated. Add half of the melted chocolate brew and mix. Add another ⅓ of flour, the remaining chocolate, and the last ⅓ of flour, mixing on low after each addition. The batter will be a light chocolate color and will have a medium-thick consistency.

Retrieve one of the prepared muffin pans and fill each cupcake liner ⅔ full of batter; this will yield the perfect height and frostable surface. If you like your cupcakes on the moist side, bake for about 18 minutes; a cake tester inserted into the center of a cupcake should come out clean. (They may sink slightly in the center, but you’re going to cut that part out anyway.) If you prefer them a little drier, leave them in the oven for another 1-2 minutes. Repeat the filling and baking process with the second cupcake pan. Transfer the hot pans from the oven to a wire rack to cool and leave the cakes in their wells for about 15 minutes, until they are cool enough to handle. They are very soft when warm, so be sure to handle them very carefully in order to avoid cupcake destruction. Move them onto to the rack to cool completely.

To make the peanut butter filling, place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until smooth and creamy. Add the peanut butter and mix on medium-low speed until just blended. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla extract and mix on medium speed until the mixture is smooth and all the sugar is incorporated evenly with no lumps. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. (If making ahead of time, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and store in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before using the filling.)

To make the frosting, place the sugar and flour in a 2-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan and combine with a whisk. Pour in the milk and heavy cream and combine. Set the pan over medium heat and cook until the mixture thickens and comes to an easy boil, whisking constantly. This should take about 10 minutes and the mixture will resemble a runny white paste. It’s hard to believe that this stuff is the base for a fantastic frosting, but I assure you that it will transform into creamy loveliness!

Carefully pour the hot goo into the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle ready for duty. Mix on high speed for about 7 minutes, or until the mixture has cooled to room temperature. Turn the mixer to low speed and paddle in the butter until fully blended. Increase the speed to medium-high and mix until the frosting looks light and fluffy, no more than a couple of minutes. Take care not to over-mix at this stage; turn off the mixer just when the frosting has achieved a fluffy consistency. Beating too long results in a texture more like over-beaten whipped cream. And no one wants that.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the reserved peanut butter filling and the vanilla extract. Beat on medium-high just until all the ingredients are evenly mixed and the frosting is smooth.

Once you have the cupcakes, filling, and frosting ready, you can start the decoration process. As mentioned above, I used a cupcake corer to hollow out the centers of the cupcakes, but you can also use a paring knife to cut “cones” out of the centers. Whichever method you choose, go forth and create the little pockets that will house your luscious peanut butter filling. Since my cupcakes were on the tender side, I had to handle them very carefully in order not to mangle them with the serrated edges of the coring tool. Note that you now have “leftover” cake, and it would be a terrible shame to let that go to waste… 😀

Transfer the filling into a pastry bag fitted with a medium plain cake tip. Alternatively, you can fill the cupcakes using a teaspoon. Pipe or spoon about 2 teaspoons of filling into each cupcake. Make sure to divide the filling pretty evenly because you will have just enough to fill all the cupcakes.

To frost the cupcakes for this type of decoration style, you will need a small offset spatula. Mound 2-3 tablespoons of the vanilla-peanut butter frosting on top of a cupcake. Flatten the frosting straight across the top (or in a slight dome shape) and out to the edges of the cupcake using strokes similar to how you would spread butter on a muffin. Then, holding the spatula upright against the side of the cupcake top, lightly scrape the excess frosting from the side of the cake, creating a smooth edge all the way around. Carefully clean up the top and sides until smooth. This technique takes a bit of practice, but it produces a great “canvas” for an infinite repertoire of decorating designs.

Because I wanted to mirror the Oopsy Daisy Cake as much as possible, I decided to decorate the edges with peanuts, just as the full cake is garnished with peanuts around the top. Place the chopped, toasted peanuts in a small, shallow bowl. Holding a cupcake carefully from the bottom, dip the frosted edge in the peanuts so that they stick to the frosting. Gently turn the cupcake to dip it all the way around. If you are not a big fan of peanuts, you may want to skip this step or use chocolate shavings or colored sugar instead of peanuts. I found that the peanuts overpower the rest of the flavors in the cupcake. I like the look of the chopped peanuts, and it’s a closer approximation of the original cake, but they were very peanut-y, which to me is a different taste than peanut butter.

The final step is decorating the cupcakes– time to bust out the fun toys! Now, this was the first time I have used cupcake stencils, and the box makes them look deceptively easy to use. You *allegedly* place the stencil atop the cupcake, sprinkle your topping, remove the stencil, and are magically left with perfect frosting and design. Voilà! Let me just say that this is not the case. When using a soft, creamy frosting like this one, the stencil will stick to it and pull it away from the cupcake, along with part of your design too! Not until I was done did I have one of those “light bulb”, smack-myself-on-the-forehead epiphanies: Put the cupcakes in the fridge for a couple of hours to let the frosting firm up! This way, the frosting will stay put and not stick to the underside of the stencil. You will end up with a sharper design on your cupcake as well.

When you’re ready to decorate, prepare the stencils and desired toppings. For your stencil designs, you can use cocoa powder or fine sanding sugar in the colors of your choosing. Place the toppings in small bowls and have a small, fine-mesh sieve ready if you are using cocoa. For sanding sugar, you can use a teaspoon or sprinkle the sugar with your fingers. This probably goes without saying, but you can use the following technique for any type of stencils, not exclusively Star Wars designs. (Although nerds everywhere would likely claim that these are, in fact, superior.)

Gently place a stencil over a cupcake and press lightly so the stencil is flush with the frosting surface. If using cocoa powder, put a small amount in your sieve and gently sift onto the stencil, covering the stencil design cutout completely. Carefully lift the stencil off the cupcake, and if the stars align (Get it? ‘Cause they’re Star Wars cupcakes? That was terrible.) you will reveal a beautiful, crisp design on top of your frosting! As I said, this takes some practice, but chilling the cupcakes makes a HUGE difference.

Repeat this process with the rest of the cupcakes. Admire your creations with pride and then commence distribution to rabid Star Wars nerds! They will say things like, “Tasty cupcakes, these are!” 😉

If you wish to make these cupcakes without stencil designs, you can simply dust the tops with cocoa powder and sprinkle on a small amount of the chopped peanuts. You can also frost them by piping swirls of the vanilla-peanut butter frosting onto the cupcakes using a pastry bag; garnish with cocoa and peanuts or as desired.

For someone who is lukewarm on the chocolate-peanut butter combination, I was quite pleased with these and would absolutely make them again! The Force is strong with these ones. 😀

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10 Responses

  1. OMG! I love your cupcakes! What a great job. And I love that you dipped the cupcakes in the peanuts, like the cake. Makes me want to try this cake now!! And of course the star wars theme is awesome!

    1. Thanks, Sandra! I appreciate your compliments. 🙂 These were really fun to make, and the cake is sooooo good!! Those BAKED boys really get it right when it comes to cake, that’s for sure. No reason not to try the recipe now if you ask me!

    1. Thanks, Leslie-Anne! Glad you liked my post, and I hope you enjoy the recipe. YES, the cupcakes were super awesome and enjoyed by all… especially the nerds! 😉 I love the cutters from WS too– they allow the worlds of baking nerds and sci-fi/movie nerds to collide perfectly. 😀

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