Monday, April 29, 2013

Cinco de Mayo treat: Mexican chocolate angel food cupcakes

If you've ever had a cup of Mexican hot chocolate, you know that chocolate, almonds and cinnamon are delicious together. This angel food cupcake borrows that flavor combination for a dessert that's just right for Cinco de Mayo. Sure, it's not authentic -- but neither are huge Cinco de Mayo celebrations, which are a tradition north, not south, of the U.S.-Mexico border.

You can enjoy these cupcakes plain or top them with buttercream, as in the photo above, or dip them in a chocolate or almond glaze.

Making angel food cake from scratch isn't hard, but the process is exacting. To achieve the maximum airiness, make sure you follow the recipe exactly. Here are some tips to help you suceed:

• Separate the eggs as soon as you remove them from the refrigerator.  The most foolproof way is to break each egg into a slotted spoon and let the white drip through. If you don't mind getting your hands dirty, you can use one hand to break an egg into your other hand; let the white drip through your fingers as you cradle the yolk. Always break one egg at a time into a small bowl, then transfer the white to a larger bowl. That way, if a bit of yolk gets into the white, you can discard just that egg (or save it for another use). If any yolk gets into the whites, they won't whip well.

• Let the egg whites come to room temperature while you assemble the rest of the ingredients. If they're still cold, you can put a few inches of hot water in a clean sink, then add the bowl of whites and let them warm up a bit.

• When a recipe calls for sifting dry ingredients, I usually give them a good whisking instead. Not angel food cake -- triple sifting is essential for success.

• Finally, when you fold the dry ingredients into the eggs, be as gentle as possible. A silicone spatula is the best tool; move it in figure eights to incorporate the ingredients completely. I like to use a clear glass bowl for this step so I can make sure that no floury streaks remain.

Yield: About 30 cupcakes

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
12 egg whites, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
Chocolate Almond Buttercream (see recipe) or frosting of choice, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 30 cupcake cups with paper liners.

Sift together 1/4 cup granulated sugar, powdered sugar, cocoa powder, cake flour, cornstarch, salt and cinnamon into a small bowl. Repeat twice, sifting the mixture a total of 3 times. Set aside.

Place egg whites in the large bowl of a stand mixer. Sprinkle evenly with cream of tartar. Add vanilla and almond extract. Beat with the whisk attachment on medium-high speed just until the whisk leaves tracks in the foam and the whites no longer slosh around in the bowl. Reduce the speed to medium. With the mixer running, slowly add the remaining 1 cup sugar. Beat until the whites are shiny and hold stiff peaks.

Using a silicone spatula, carefully transfer the beaten egg whites to a large mixing bowl (preferably glass). Sprinkle one-third of the dry ingredients over the whites. Moving the spatula in a figure-eight pattern, gently fold the dry ingredients into the whites. Repeat twice, mixing gently until well combined.

Gently fill each cupcake liner with 1/2 cup of batter. (An ice-cream scoop is the perfect tool for this task.) Bake until cupcakes have browned slightly and are spongy to the touch, about 20 minutes. Remove from the pan immediately and let cool completely on wire racks.

If desired, frost the cupcakes.

Note: To make a cake instead of cupcakes, bake the batter in an ungreased 10-inch angel food pan for about 35 to 40 minutes. (Don't use a nonstick pan, or the cake won't rise properly.) Cool the cake in the pan upside down on a rack. When the cake is cold, run a sharp knife around the edges of the pan and carefully remove the cake.

Adapted from a recipe provided by Chris Leuther of Party Pastry Shop in Ballwin, Mo., and published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Pastry chef instructor Barry Marcus adapted the original recipe for home kitchens. (Marcus is the source of the helpful advice to beat the eggs initially until they no longer slosh in the bowl and the whisk leaves a track in the foam).

Yield: About 5 cups, enough for 30 cupcakes

1 pound (4 cups) powdered sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup milk or more as needed
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Drizzle with 1/4 cup milk and almond extract. Cut butter into 1-tablespoon chunks; add to the bowl.

Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, beat on low speed until combined. Gradually increase speed to high. Beat until fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, stopping the mixer each minute to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula. If the frosting is too dry, beat in milk as needed, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Copyright 2013 by Judith Evans. All rights reserved.

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