Just before we left for the great Colorado adventure, my son celebrated his third birthday. Well, actually Nolan didn’t really celebrate since the concept of birthdays is currently beyond his ken, but that didn’t stop us from having a little get-together with my parents and two of my aunts, with presents, pasta salad and the obligatory cake.
The pasta salad was full of Italian flavors—soppressata, provolone, Asiago, artichoke hearts, balsamic vinegar and fresh chiffonades of basil. I based it loosely on this one, but used a slightly creamier balsamic dressing with dollops of mayonnaise and yogurt, which was tossed into the hot pasta for better flavor absorption. The leftovers made good lunches on the road in the RV a few days later. But who cares about pasta salad when there are cupcakes—I mean, really?
I always make Nolan some sort of chocolate cake for his birthday—devil’s food white-out for his first, and chocolate peanut-butter for his second. This year we opted for s’mores cupcakes with a graham cracker base and a toasted marshmallow meringue cap.
The cupcakes were stunning to look at and really not that difficult to make, although they did have several phases which complicated my morning, already so full to the brim with cleaning, pasta salad and the ciabatta bread baked to accompany it that I barely had time to get dressed and wake up the man of the hour before our guests arrived. I still don’t have a kitchen torch, but I was able to use the broiler effectively to get a little color on the meringue frosting.
Nolan was not at all impressed by the pasta salad, or even his scoop of Samoa ice cream, but he dug right into his cupcake, focusing his efforts first on the marshmallowy frosting, then on the graham cracker crust, before attacking the chocoatey devil’s food cake. The rest of the cupcakes were gobbled up within the day, and greatly enjoyed. These cupcakes were beautiful and special without seeming stuffy, perfect for a three year-old’s birthday but not out of place for any festive gathering.
Makes 14 cupcakes
For the graham cracker crust:
1 C graham cracker crumbs
2 T sugar
4 T unsalted butter, melted
Pinch of salt
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
For the chocolate cupcakes:
1 C + 1 T sugar
14 T unbleached all-purpose flour
7 T unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
1/2 C milk
1/4 C vegetable oil (I would recommend grapeseed or coconut)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 C boiling water
For the frosting:
3/4 C sugar
1/3 C water
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line cupcake pan(s) with paper or silicone liners and move rack to center of oven.
To make the crust: In a small bowl, mix together graham cracker crumbs, sugar, melted butter and salt with a fork. Drop about 1 tablespoon of the mixture into each cupcake liner and press down firmly. Reserve remaining mixture for topping cupcakes. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of chopped chocolate on top of each crust and bake for about 5 minutes (until edges of crust are golden). Remove from oven but leave on at 350°F.
To make the cupcakes: Sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir lightly with a fork to combine. In a mixing bowl, combine egg, milk, vegetable oil and vanilla extract. Combine dry and wet ingredients and mix on low speed for a minute, then medium speed for 1-2 more minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl in between if needed. Add boiling water and mix just until combined. (Note: The batter will be quite thin at this point.) Pour 1/4 cup of batter on top of each crust. Sprinkle each with remaining graham cracker mixture and chopped chocolate. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until tops are firm and toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Let cool completely.
To make the frosting: In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water over high heat. Once it starts boiling, place the egg whites in a mixer bowl with a whisk attachment and begin mixing at medium-high speed. When they become foamy, add the cream of tartar; continue to beat at medium speed until stiff peaks form. When the sugar mixture reaches 242°F, remove from heat and pour in a thin stream into the beaten egg whites with the mixer on low speed, being careful to avoid pouring into the beater. Increase speed to high and beat for 5 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed; the mixture will cool slightly. Add vanilla extract and mix to combine.
Spoon some of the meringue frosting into a piping bag and pipe a swirl or rosette onto the top of each cooled cupcake; or just dollop it on and swirl it artfully with a spoon. Place under a broiler for a few minutes, watching carefully to prevent burning, or toast the meringue lightly with a kitchen torch. Garnish if desired with a square each of graham crackers and chocolate, or birthday candles!
Source: 52 Kitchen Adventures.