Saturday, March 28, 2020

Baker's Corner: Raspberry Chocolate Cupcakes

Tough times we are living in right now. As you all know very well, we are amidst an unprecedented health crisis on a global scale with the novel coronavirus. Thousands of people across the world are getting sick every day or worse, dying, people are losing their livelihood, economies are nose-diving, frontline health workers are overburdened, healthcare systems are collapsing, and governments are scrambling to find a solution without much success. Several countries are under complete lockdown with citizens justifiably anxious about the availability of food or medical supplies for the testing quarantine duration. 

As of this moment, Singapore is still not under lockdown. Singapore was one of the early responders who swiftly implemented travel history recording, temperature screening and health checks as soon as the virus broke out. Working-from-home was soon adopted by companies island-wide and those who had to be at work are required to follow some sort of protocol. To slow the spread of the virus, Singapore has recently taken more drastic measures. First, the doors were closed to tourists and short-term visitors. Then pubs and entertainment outlets were ordered to be shut and large gatherings banned. However, public transport, schools, malls and restaurants continue to be open albeit with extra precautions put in place. Groceries are still in supply, medical care is readily available and people are going about their lives not drastically different from before. The measures the government has adopted is catered to the situation in Singapore. I don't know how this strategy will play out but I can only hope and pray that we can emerge from this without significant casualties and losses. 

I do not envy the job of government officials involved in the decision-making. If they keep businesses running and companies open, obviously, more people could catch the virus and pass it along, prolonging the public health and economic crises. But if they do not, it could spark a recession, perhaps even a depression that may inflict lasting damage to the country. It is a no-win situation right now. 

A cloud of gloom has descended over the world engulfing everyone in its path. Talk of the virus is everywhere and there is no escaping from it. There is misinformation spreading across social media like wildfire further triggering further panic. Tough times can bring out both the best and the worst in people and we can witness acts of kindness and selflessness as well as hate and greed. Everywhere, people are largely confined to the walls of their homes, unable to go out and meet their loved ones or do the things they normally enjoy and it is no surprise that the quarantine is slowly starting to take its toll on people both mentally and physically. 

Yes, socializing is an essential human need but if being at home as much as possible can break the chain of transmission and save lives in the process, then it is a no-brainer as to what we all should be doing. We can make use of this time to spend time with family, watch TV series and movies, read books, solve puzzles, do indoor exercises, get more sleep and/or engage in creative pursuits like painting, writing, cooking, gardening and home improvement projects. If not, being a couch potato is perfectly acceptable too (provided you pull your weight around the house when it is required!). And then, there is always FaceTime, Zoom and Hangouts to connect with family and friends. As difficult as it might seem, having a roof over our head, enough food to eat and medical care is a privilege so keep in mind that compared to a lot of people, we have it so much better. We CAN do this folks!

Parents of small children (like me) may have to wrack their brains a bit more to keep restless minds occupied during times like these. At the start of the year, I had planned to bake more often with the girls but I never got around to doing it. Even though I haven't been inclined to cook elaborate dishes ever since this virus exploded across the globe (it has just been unremarkable one-pot rice dishes, roti, dals, subzis, salads and upmas around here for the past several weeks), I pushed myself to start baking again. I knew it would take my mind off thinking about the well-being of my family and friends scattered across the globe. 

Last week, I and the girls made sugar cookies with an easy icing which they enjoyed immensely. This week, I promised them that I would teach them how to make cupcakes. 

Raspberries are my daughters favourite fruit hands-down. And they love everything chocolate. So I tweaked one of my old cake recipes to make moist chocolate cupcakes, made a luscious chocolate ganache and a raspberry-cream cheese frosting. The girls were by my side from start to finish helping with the mixing and decoration. The girls loved the cupcakes (as I knew they would) and we managed to put a fun spin on what would have otherwise been, a dreary uneventful Saturday. 

If you are looking to brighten up your family's day during quarantine, try these cupcakes which do not require any fancy ingredients and can be make within an hour. 

Stay healthy and stay safe folks. This too shall pass đź’—

Raspberry Chocolate Cupcakes

Preparation time: 20 min 
Baking time: ~20 min  
Cooling time: 20 min
Total time: 1 hour
Yield: 12 cupcakes
Recipe level: Easy

For the chocolate cupcakes:
1 cup (128 g) plain/all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (150 g) white granulated sugar
6 tbsp natural unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (120 ml) buttermilk or whole milk
1/4 cup (60 ml) vegetable oil
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup (120 ml) hot water

For the raspberry-cream cheese frosting:
1/4 cup fresh raspberries, washed and dried thoroughly
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup (115g/4oz) cream cheese
4-5 cups icing sugar 
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

For the chocolate ganache:
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup (4oz) semi-sweet chocolate chips

For decoration:
12 raspberries


For the cupcakes:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F (176°C) and prepare the cupcake/muffin tray with by adding the liners. 
Note: I have only one tray of 6 indentations so I baked the cupcakes in two batches of six cupcakes. 

2. Sieve the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl, add the sugar and combine. Set aside.

3. Add the milk, vegetable oil, vanilla extract and egg to a medium sized bowl and combine.

4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and beat until well combined.

5. Slowly add the hot water to the batter and mix on low speed until well combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to make sure everything is well combined.

6. Fill the liners until 3/4th mark with the batter and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs.

7. Remove cakes from oven and allow to cool for 2-3 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack to finish cooling completely for about 20 minutes. 

For the raspberry-cream cheese frosting:
1. Wash and dry the raspberries thoroughly (you want to minimize the moisture). Puree the 1/4 cup of raspberries in a food processor, blender, or a hand blender. If you don't want seeds in your frosting, you can press the puree through a strainer held over a bowl (this takes a few minutes). I like the seeds to I skip the step of straining and use the puree as is. 

2. Beat butter and cream cheese together until smooth. 

3. Add powdered sugar a little at a time while beating and cream for 2-3 minutes. 

4. Add raspberry puree and vanilla and beat until completely combined. Place frosting into a pastry bag fitted with a piping tip.

For the chocolate ganache:
Heat whipping cream in the microwave for 40-60 seconds until hot.  Place chocolate in a bowl and pour hot whipping cream on top. Let it sit for two minutes and then stir until smooth.  Let the ganache come to room temperature (about 5-10 minutes) before applying to cupcakes.

To assemble:
Once the cupcakes have cooled, spoon 1-2 teaspoons ganache onto each cupcake, spreading it to almost the edge of the cupcake. Pipe frosting on top of each cupcake. If you want, you can spoon an additional of 1 teaspoon ganache over the top of the frosting (I didn't do this) and press a berry in. 

Serve immediately. 

  • To make your own buttermilk, add 1 tsp lemon juice in a cup and add in 1/4 cup whole milk. Whisk and let rest 3 minutes
  • You can add in a little gel-based food coloring to your frosting if you want to enhance the color. I haven't added any food coloring here
  • Cupcakes with berries on that are not eaten within a few hours should be refrigerated. Another option is to store the cupcakes at room temperature in an airtight container and add the raspberries just before serving


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