Cinderella’s Midnight Snack: Chocolate Pumpkin Cheesecake Cupcakes

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So, after Cinderella’s unfortunate midnight pumpkin incident and prior to her “rescue” by Prince Charming, very few people are aware of her actual activities. (Disney always softens the ugly truth– have you read the original version of The Little Mermaid?) I’ve come to learn from anonymous sources that what she was doing on that sad, dark night was… stuffing her face with chocolate– and probably pumpkin, though the details are fuzzy. I have strong opinions about the effects of the whole princess phenomenon on the development of young girls (whether for Halloween or any other day), but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have an affinity for the Disney films that I watched over and over again like every other kid. Anyway, little did people know, Cinderella drowned her midnight sorrows just like the rest of us emotional eaters; these Chocolate Pumpkin Cheesecake Cupcakes are an homage the woebegone ending of her magical night at the prince’s ball. They are the perfect marriage of chocolate indulgence and warm Fall flavors, a tribute to the beloved fairytale and to my favorite part of the holiday season. I made them for a Halloween event, but they are just as appropriate for post-turkey dessert or any time during the month of November. Decorated with pumpkin-adorned chocolate disks, they are both elegant and whimsical, or you can decorate them with any number of other autumn-themed toppings. You can even have them with no topping at all, showing off their chocolate and orange mélange… but who passes up chocolate frosting?! They are similar to a black-bottom cupcake, though I put a graham cracker crust on the bottom because, well, it tastes yummy. 🙂

Alright, I can’t totally prove that Cinderella ate these… but if I were her, this IS what I would eat. Probably the whole batch. And yes… I did dress up once or twice as a princess for Halloween!

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Chocolate Pumpkin Cheesecake Cupcakes
Yields approximately 18-22 cupcakes

As with any recipe in which chocolate is the star, it is imperative to use high-quality chocolate. My go-to brand is Guittard, which is more affordable than some others and is still good quality. (I use their “Lever du Soleil” 61% couverture chocolate wafers for the batter and frosting in this recipe– I find it to be a solid all-purpose chocolate.)  Chocolate disks are great because they do not need to be chopped down further for melting. For a special occasion batch, I use TCHO, Valrhona, or Scharffen Berger– gotta bust out the really good stuff!

For the graham cracker crust:

For the pumpkin cheesecake batter (adapted from Diva Eats World):

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons pumpkin purée
  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
  • Pinch allspice

For the cupcake batter (adapted from Cooks’ Illustrated):

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces (1 stick)
  • 2 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped (⅓ cup)
  • 1 ½ ounces dark cocoa powder, such as Valrhona (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 the chocolate frosting:

For cupcake assembly:

  • 24 chocolate disks with pumpkin or other Halloween/autumn design (a few extras in case of breakage) or sprinkles of choice

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 muffin pans with paper cupcake liners.

Fill the liners with about 1 tablespoon of the graham crust mixture. Press the crumbs down firmly and evenly into the bottoms of the liners with a tamper or the bottom of a small glass.

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Bake the crusts for 5-6 minutes, or until slightly golden brown and puffed. Remove from the oven and let them cool to room temperature in the pans on wire racks. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

Make the pumpkin cheesecake batter: Cut the cream cheese into chunks and place in the bowl of a food processor. (Pay no attention to my photo– I put my brick in whole, and it kept catching on the blade, making it very difficult to break down into a smooth mixture.) Add the pumpkin purée, sugar, egg, salt, and spices to the bowl; process until smooth and no cream cheese lumps remain, scraping down the bowl and blade as needed. (You can do this in a stand mixer by beating the cream cheese until smooth, then adding the other ingredients and mixing until combined.) Set aside while you make the chocolate batter.

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Make the chocolate cupcake batter: Place the butter, chopped chocolate, and cocoa powder in a medium heatproof bowl. 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. 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 (including steam), as it may cause the chocolate to seize up and be ruined.

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Meanwhile, 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.

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Scoop the batter onto the graham crusts, filling each cup about ½ full. I find that the easiest tool for even batter distribution is a spring-loaded ice cream scoop. Spoon a heaping tablespoon or so of pumpkin cheesecake on top of the chocolate, preferably so that some chocolate still peeks out. The liners should not be more than ¾ full, as they will overflow while baking. Bake the cupcakes one pan at a time for 25-28 minutes; a cake tester inserted into the chocolate part of a cupcake should come out clean. It’s okay for the tops of the cupcakes to appear a little “crackled” and moist. Keep a close eye on them during the last few minutes of baking– overbaked cakes may be dry.

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Cool the cupcakes in the pans on a wire rack for about 10-15 minutes. When they are cool enough to handle, carefully lift them out of the wells and set on the rack to cool completely. The cheesecake part will be very soft and sticky; try to avoid touching it while removing the cupcakes. Refrigerate for a few hours or up to overnight to set the cheesecake.

Make the chocolate frosting while the cupcakes are chilling. (Or you can make it ahead of time and store in the fridge. Bring it back to room temperature when you’re ready to use it.)

To assemble the cupcakes, top each one with your desired amount of frosting, either by piping with a pastry bag or spreading with a small offset spatula. I like the look of an elegant frosting swirl with either a round or star decorating tip. Place a chocolate disk on top and press down gently to adhere to the frosting. You will be able to see the frosting swirl from the sides. If you are not using chocolate disks, top your frosting with the sprinkles of your choice or other colorful decorations.

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These are really beautiful and unique for the holidays, whether for Halloween, Thanksgiving, or any time during the Fall season. I wish you Happy Autumn Holidays! 🙂

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2013.

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