Love & Chocolate Always Win: Boston(Strong) Cream Cupcakes

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BostonStrong: the mantra adopted immediately by the city after the horrific bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon, killing 4 people and injuring 264. I had no words… I spent 3 semesters in college at Boston University and fell madly in love with this spirited, proud, quirky, historic, beautiful, and downright charming city. (The use of ‘wicked’ as an adjective persists in my vocabulary even after 17 years of being back in California… and I’m totally okay with that.) I’ve made no secret of my more recent love affair with New York City, but in truth, my heart is in Boston. It tore me up to see my city under attack and in pain; I had walked through the very spot of the explosions countless times– it was a particularly meaningful area for me. To think that two individuals with malice in their hearts killed and maimed innocent people, damaged the city, and tried to destroy the most beloved and heralded event in Boston’s city culture caused me insufferable hurt and rage. I felt palpable pain to my core and many tears on my cheeks. My connection to Boston was tested and reaffirmed– they messed with the wrong city.

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And that was me watching everything from the West Coast; I cannot imagine the strength demonstrated by those who were there— those who had to endure the sudden deaths of loved ones and/or life-changing injuries, watched the events unfold in horror, or at the very least, experienced the fear of a city on terror lockdown for 3 days. I can relate a *tiny* bit in that I was in a terrible car accident years ago that left one of my ankles forever changed, but I have no prosthetic limbs, night terrors, or dead family members due to the unthinkable acts of two deluded, evil men. I wished more than anything at the time to race to Boston to help out in the aftermath, and I wish that I could be there today to celebrate the city’s and the survivors’ triumphs; neither of these trips were possible, but what I can do is donate to The One Fund to keep supporting survivors and… I can bake, damnit.

In honor of my beloved city, I made Boston Cream Cupcakes… obviously. I made these a few years ago and just loved the combination of spongy cake, vanilla pastry cream, and decadent chocolate glaze. It was one of those recipes that I’ve meant to revisit for a while, and I could think of no better occasion. (Incidentally, I tasted the Boston Cream Pie a few years ago at the Parker House Hotel, where this classic dessert allegedly originated in 1856 –though this history is disputed– and I thought it was… not special.) I had made the recipe from Cook’s Country magazine the first time, but I changed it up a bit here, substituting the pastry cream and chocolate ganache glaze from my favorite bakery in Boston, Flour Bakery + Café. I did, however, keep the delicious cupcake part, which consists of a tender, tight crumb that is light, yet sturdy enough to hold the cream filling and chocolate topping.

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Also, with Beantown on my mind, I remembered that I *still* haven’t blogged about my summer pastry adventures, so I’m working on that and hope to have it finished… soon. (Update: Here it is– Boston pastries galore!)

It warms my heart to no end to watch the progress and healing of the survivors, especially those who are participating in the 2014 Marathon after a year of grueling therapy and resilience. Also beautiful is the citywide and worldwide loving energy being sent to Boston as we remember the tragedy. I am so, so happy that I was able to visit last summer and see the people’s memorial in Copley Square constructed of shoes, hats, shirts, and countless other objects left to commemorate and honor the victims.

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I wept for those victims, for the city that I love, and for the state of the world in which this hateful event occurred. I pray that it won’t happen again, but I know that no matter what any individual may do to hurt Boston, its spirit and wholeness will NEVER be broken. Please consider donating to The One Fund; even in tough financial times, I know the survivors need that money more than I do. But TODAY, I wept with pride as I watched my city and its people rejoice on this, the day of the 2014 Boston Marathon.

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Boston(Strong) Cream Cupcakes
Adapted from Flour, Too by Joanne Chang and Cook’s Country
Yields 12-15 cupcakes

You can make these in cupcake liners, but I like the look of the exposed sides with luxurious ganache dripping down, as it more closely mirrors the full-sized cake.

Also, you could make these in a mini-cheesecake pan with removable bottoms. Slice each tiny cake in half horizontally (or even in thirds if you want a super intricate splitting/filling project), fill with a layer of pastry cream, replace the top of the cake, and pour the ganache as directed.

For the pastry cream:

  • 300g (1 ½ cups) whole milk
  • 100g (½ cup) granulated sugar
  • 30g (¼ cup) cake flour
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

For the cupcakes:

  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting muffin tin
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 ½ sticks), softened but still cool, cut into 12 pieces (I recommend European butter, which has a higher/richer butterfat percentage, but regular butter is perfectly fine.)
  • 3 large eggs
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

For the chocolate ganache glaze:

  • 4 ounces good-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (56-62% cacao), chopped
  • 120g (½ cup) heavy whipping cream

First make the pastry cream, as it needs several hours to chill in the refrigerator. Heat the milk in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until you see bubbles starting to form around the edges of the pan; the milk should not be boiling. Meanwhile, stir together the sugar, cake flour, and salt in a small bowl. Whisk the egg yolks in a medium-sized bowl until they are well combined. Gradually add the flour mixture and whisk until the mixture has a pasty consistency and is a bright egg-yellow color; it will drop off your whisk in thick ribbons.

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Add the hot milk to the egg mixture little by little, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the saucepan and turn the heat to medium. Whisk the mixture constantly for about 3 minutes; it will be thin and frothy at first, but will thicken quickly. Stop whisking to check for bubbles. Once there are signs of boiling, whisk for only another 10 seconds, and immediately pull the pan off the heat. (Over-boiling can cause a grainy consistency.) The pastry cream will coat your whisk in a thick layer. If you have a ball whisk (pictured below), I recommend using it here, as it gets into the very edges of the saucepan, where a traditional whisk cannot quite reach.

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The mixture will be very thick. Pour it into a fine-mesh sieve set over a heatproof bowl and push/stir it through, which will take a few minutes. Stir in the vanilla paste until incorporated. Cover the surface of the pastry cream directly with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 3 days.

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While the pastry cream is chilling, make the cupcakes. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F. Grease a muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray and flour generously. Knock out the excess flour.

Place the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on low speed to combine. Add the butter, one piece at a time, and continue mixing on low until the mixture looks like coarse sand. (You want to break down any large butter chunks.) Then add the eggs, one at a time, and beat on medium-low until incorporated.

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Pour in the milk and vanilla extract, turn the speed up to medium, and beat until the batter is light and somewhat fluffy, with no lumps remaining, about 3 minutes; stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl once or twice. (Don’t worry if your batter doesn’t look totally emulsified.)

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Fill the wells of the muffin pan ¾ full (do not overfill). Bake for about 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Alternatively, if you lightly press on the top of a cupcake, it should spring back slowly. (If the impression remains in the top of the cake, they are not quite done; if the impression springs back very quickly, they may be slightly overcooked.) Cool the cupcakes in the pan for about 5-10 minutes. Using a small offset spatula, gently loosen the cakes from the sides of the wells if needed; transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

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While the cupcakes are cooling, make the chocolate ganache glaze. Place the chopped chocolate in a small, heatproof bowl. (I used Guittard 61% Lever du Soleil couverture wafers, which do not need to be chopped down further.) Heat the cream in a small saucepan over a medium-high burner until small bubbles start to form along the edges of the pan; do not boil. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate in the bowl and let it sit for a few minutes to melt. Slowly whisk the chocolate and cream until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is homogenous. It will be luscious, creamy, and pourable. Let the ganache sit for about 30 minutes to thicken slightly.

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You are now ready to fill and assemble the cupcakes. Remove the pastry cream from the refrigerator and transfer to a pastry bag with a medium round tip. (I used an Ateco #803.)

Make a well in the center of each cupcake by inserting the tip of a small knife at a 45° angle about a ½-inch from the edge of the cupcake and cutting all the way around. You will pop out a small cone of cake– snackies! 🙂 (Be careful not to cut all the way through the cupcakes because there is no paper liner on the bottom to catch filling leaks.) Pipe about 1 heaping tablespoon of pastry cream into each cupcake hole (a bit above the cupcake line).

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Using a small offset spatula, smooth the pastry cream so that it is flush with the top of the cupcake. This will create a completely smooth surface across the top– perfect for pouring chocolate! (And really, what is more important than that??)

Working with the cupcakes set on parchment paper, pour about 2 tablespoons of ganache over each cupcake with a soup spoon or similar utensil. You want enough glaze to allow some over-the-side dripping, but not so much that it drowns the cupcakes in chocolate… though there are worse problems. 😉

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Refrigerate until just set, about 10 minutes. The cupcakes can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Bring them to room temperature before serving.

Make ahead: Both the pastry cream and chocolate glaze can be made a few days ahead of time. Gently rewarm the ganache in the microwave on 50% power in short bursts.

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2014.

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