Fall Fiesta: Cinnamon Cupcakes with Chocolate-Chile Buttercream

I’ve made no secret of the fact that cupcakes bring an unprecedented and slightly alarming level of delight to my life. And really, I’m okay with that. So far on this fledgling lil’ blog, I have featured only chocolate-based cupcakes, because, well… many of my favorite recipes are made of chocolate, smothered in chocolate, studded with chocolate, sprinkled with chocolate, or filled with chocolate. (Preferably all of the above, if possible.) So I thought that I would change it up a little and post a non-chocolate cupcake this week, ’cause you know, I wouldn’t want to alienate people with my chocolate fixation. 😉 Fall is my favorite cooking/baking season with its warm spices and abundant comfort foods; I actually made these right before Halloween and didn’t have a chance to post them until now, and at the time I wasn’t quite ready for pumpkin yet. I find that around mid-November I start craving pumpkin voraciously, and after Thanksgiving I can’t look at it anymore for months! So I was looking for something reminiscent of Fall, just prior to “holiday mode”, but also respecting my narrow pumpkin window. I haven’t made these in a few years, and I suddenly remembered how lovely they are and how quickly they get eaten, so I thought this would be a perfect choice. I jazzed some of them up with Halloween stencil decorations and the rest with frosting swirls, though you can crown them with any variety of autumnal adornments. They would, incidentally, be a great holiday cupcake as an alternative to the traditional pumpkin or maple.

The cupcake is a vanilla-sour cream recipe, which generally results in a moist, flavorful crumb, and it is spiced with cinnamon to add that touch of Fall. When making recipes that feature spices, it is especially important to use high-quality ones. I highly recommend Penzey’s Vietnamese Cinnamon, which has a nice balance of sweet and spicy and packs a lovely cinnamon-y punch. (Not a whoa-that’s-really-strong assault on your taste buds; more like a hello-there-aren’t-you-pleasant-in-my-mouth flavor.)

As delightful as the cake is, let’s just say it how it is: this cupcake is all about the frosting. Some people are cake people who tolerate a thin layer of creamy stuff atop their cupcakes; other people believe that cake is merely a delivery vehicle for a thick mound of heavenly frosting. (I personally stand right about in the middle– I’m an equal-opportunity cake/frosting lover. Gimme.) For people of the frosting persuasion, this is the recipe for you! I have never made a recipe with this much butter… *five* sticks, to be exact. That may sound excessive, but when you try it, you will understand; this frosting is the creamiest, dreamiest, most luscious frosting I’ve probably ever made. It is billowy in the mixer and pipes/spreads beautifully, and it would be fantastic on a chocolate cupcake as well. It’s called… love. *sigh*

The frosting contains both bittersweet and white chocolate, and a host of spicy flavors to liven things up, which makes for a wonderfully complex sweet and spicy flavor. (Not hot, just a little kick of something unusual.) I would liken it to Mexican Chocolate, except the chocolate is much lighter in color once you whip everything together.

A note about chocolate for this recipe: I recommend using a darker chocolate, such as Guittard 72% “Coucher du Soleil” chocolate couverture wafers. The darker chocolate balances out the sweetness of the confectioners’ sugar and blends harmoniously with the spices. If you want a sweeter frosting, use something in the neighborhood of 61%, such as Guittard “Lever du Soleil” chocolate couverture wafers. As with any recipe where chocolate plays a starring role, you want to use good-quality chocolate, such as Valrhona, Scharffen Berger, TCHO, Guittard, etc. Forking over for the good stuff is well worth it because that deep chocolate flavor shines through in the frosting!

Cinnamon Cupcakes with Chocolate-Chile Buttercream
Adapted from Food & Wine Magazine (originally a cake recipe)
Yields 24 cupcakes

For cupcakes:

  • 1 œ sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 œ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Ÿ teaspoon cinnamon
  • œ teaspoon salt
  • 1 œ cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour cream

For frosting:

  • 5 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 pound confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • Œ cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
  • œ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60-72%), melted and cooled
  • 5 ounces white chocolate, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the wells of two 12-cup muffin pans with cupcake papers and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer; beat with the paddle attachment on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract until incorporated. Add half of the flour mixture, followed by the sour cream, then the other half of the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl between additions.

One pan at a time, fill the cups ⅔ full of batter. Bake the cupcakes on the middle rack of the oven for about 15-17 minutes, until slightly golden and a cake tester inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. (Small cracks may appear on the tops of the cakes towards the end of baking). Cool the cupcakes in the pan for 10-15 minutes on a wire rack, then transfer the cakes directly to the rack to cool completely. Repeat the filling and baking process with the second muffin pan while the first batch is cooling.

While you wait for your cinnamon-y delicious cakes to cool, make the frosting. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Reduce the speed to low and gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture is fluffy, about 2 minutes longer, scraping down the bowl as needed. On low speed, beat in the cream, vanilla extract, cinnamon, ancho chile powder, and cayenne pepper. Gradually mix in the two melted chocolates. Scrape down the sides and the bottom of the bowl. (If you forget the bottom, you will end up with unmixed chocolate streaks in your buttercream.) One last time, turn the mixer up to medium and beat until the frosting is completely smooth and homogenous, about another 1-2 minutes. It will be light brown in color, creamy, and fluffy. You WILL want to eat this frosting straight from the bowl… You’ve been warned. 😉

The Chocolate-Chile Buttercream is very piping-friendly, or you can spread it with an offset spatula. If you choose to pipe your buttercream, transfer it from the mixing bowl to a pastry bag fitted with a medium plain or star tip. I find this to be an elegant cupcake, so I don’t like to throw a lot of color onto this one with decorations. Think of it as beige-chic. A simple garnish of white nonpareils or a dusting of cinnamon-sugar are lovely as toppings.

MAKE AHEAD: The buttercream can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. Return to room temperature before using.

For a little understated Halloween fun, check out my Halloween cupcake stencil designs!

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