Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Lavender-Iced Brownie Cupcakes

I am a very anxious person. One could probably pull out a lot of clichés about how dysfunctional urban lifestyles can wreck your nerves, but sadly, I've been dragging that problem since I was in grade school. Finding ways to relax is extremely important if I want to keep my zen without running to a bottle of (strictly medicinal) red wine. Reading and cooking are two of my favorite ways to un-wind. The first, because it gives me a break from the reality that's shredding my nerves and it occupies my mind with something else, so said-mind doesn't spin out of control. The second, because it also keeps my mind and my hands busy, and I get the reward of delicious, lovingly-prepared food at the end.

As my very wise and elegant friend Valerie likes to remind me, "stressed" is "desserts" spelled backwards. Have you ever seen one of those little notebooks that says "Keep calm and make cupcakes" on the cover? Well, that's my mantra. I should probably get it tattooed on somewhere, come to think of it.

When I saw this recipe in "Martha Stewart's Cupcakes", it struck me as a beautiful and tasty way to soothe my delicate nerves. After all, chocolate is a wonderful way to remind oneself that life is definitely worth biting into ferociously. I had tried a few recipes involving flower essences before, and I had felt that even when dosed extremely carefully, stuff like rose water made my cookies taste a bit like perfume. But this recipe calls for the flowers to steep in milk, providing a natural and subtle flavor (instead of feeling like you are eating a bottle of Chanel #5). And since lavender is a time-proven relaxant, icing fudgy-chocolate cupcakes with pretty lavender icing sounds like the key to serenity to me.

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 2 1/2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
3 1/2 ounce unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the icing:
1/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoons dried lavender
3 cups confectioner sugar
violet gel-paste food color

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line muffin pans with paper liners. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Melt the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water; stir until smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Beat the chocolate mixture and the sugar until combined. Add eggs, one at the time, beating each until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla. Add flour mixture and mix until just combined. Divide batter evenly in the liners, filling each 1/2 full (do not overfill the liners! the cupcakes will rise, but they will not dome). Bake for 17 minutes, until a cake-tester comes out clean. Leave to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. They will look a bit mushy, but the cooling will make then firmer.

Bring the milk and lavender to a boil in a sauce pan. Remove from the heat and cover; let steep for 10 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve into a bowl and discard the lavender. Whisk in confectioner’s sugar until smooth. Strain again. Add food color, a little at the time, until the desired shade is achieved. Use a small spoon to coat the cupcakes with the icing, covering the tops completely. Let set, about 1 hour. Store at room temperature.

This recipe wields 24, elegant little mini-cakes. Being me, I slightly over-filled my liners, and not only did the cake not dome, they also caved in a bit. I filled the little gaps with the icing. They were a bit messy to eat, but the cakes had a rich, fudgy texture and a strong chocolate flavor. The lavender taste was subtle and complemented the rich chocolate cake so well. Next time, I am gonna be a good girl and follow my instructions and my cakes will be firmer!

Wow, that kinda sounded wrong...

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