January Birthdays / Chocolate and Pistachio Cupcakes

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I’m a little bit birthdayed out, to tell you the truth. It seems to me like half the people I know, myself included, are January babies. Someone told me this is because a lot of people get frisky around Springtime, and hence: lots and lots of January-babies.

Last week was my sister’s 30th birthday, and she had a big party with family and friends. I’m not a fan of cupcakes, personally, but since she requested them, and she was the birthday girl, I obliged. And since she loves pistachio, I decided to try my hand at chocolate and pistachio cupcakes. I even ground the pistachios into pistachio paste by hand, not having been able to locate any pistachio paste in any of my local supermarkets or health stores. I can still feel my pecs.

The cupcakes turned out lovely, if a bit too heavy on the chocolate, in my opinion – I was really hoping the pistachio would shine through a bit more (twenty minutes of pestle-and-mortar-action will do that). I’ll definitely make them again, but next time I’ll omit the chocolate chips, and perhaps make 2/3 of the batter pistachio, and the rest into chocolate, to let the pistachio take centre stage. As it were, you could definitely taste the pistachio, but more as a subtle afternote to the chocolate, not what I was after 🙂 And the ganache frosting also packs a nice chocolate punch, so no need to worry about any chocolate withdrawals. I think I may also add more chopped pistachios to the batter next time, in lieu of the chocolate chips…

I was worried they’d be dry, but they were really nice and moist, and just a bit different to your typical cupcake (which I personally tend to find a bit bland and more for show than anything else!) – even though they were less pistachio-y than I had anticipated 🙂 I also had a bit of a frosting-fail induced panic when my newly acquired piping gadget failed me, resulting in super ugly blobs of chocolate ganache, but I remedied that by flattening the ganache with a teaspoon, dipped in just-boiled water and dried off, to make the chocolate look shiny again and less blob-like. The result was a bit ‘rustic’, if you will, but when you sprinkle beautiful bright green and purple-tinged chopped pistachios on top, no one will notice your less than stellar ganache-piping skills 🙂

I’ll definitely make them again, pistachio paste included, with slightly less chocolate next time!

Chocolate and Pistachio Cupcakes
Adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini – makes about 25-30 cupcakes, depending on the muffin tin

For the chocolate batter:

  • 135 g (1 cup) flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 75 g butter, softened
  • 150 g (2/3 cup) sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 190 ml (3/4 cup) full fat plain yoghurt
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 120 g dark chocolate, chopped

For the pistachio batter:

  • 135 g (1 cup) flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 75 g butter, softened
  • 150 g (2/3 cup) sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 190 ml (3/4 cup) full fat plain yoghurt
  • 120 g shelled, unsalted pistachios
  • 3/4 tsp icing sugar

For the ganache:

  • 200 g dark chocolate (I used 52% to avoid to chocolate dominating too much), broken into chunks
  • 200 ml heavy cream

Make the ganache by heating up the cream (e.g. in the microwave for a minute or two on high), and pouring it over the chocolate chunks. Leave for a good five minutes, then stir until you have a glossy ganache. If some of the chocolate is still in chunks, place the bowl back into the microwave for about 10 seconds on high, and then continue stirring. Set aside to cool down and thicken while you make your cupcakes.

Preheat your oven to 180°C/360°F.

Line your cupcake moulds.

Roughly chop the pistachios using a serrated knife. Reserve 20 g of the pistachios for decoration, 60 g to add to the batter, and 40 g to make your pistachio paste: place the 40 g of pistachios in a mortar, and grind them until they start to look like a paste. Add the icing sugar, and keep grinding until the mixture isn’t dry, and the bits of pistachio stick to each other. This can also be done in a food-processor, I suppose, but due to the small quantity, I was a bit worried my pistachios would simply get stuck in the blades 😉 This process took about 20 minutes, maybe a bit more.

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Using the same chopping board and knife, chop the dark chocolate, and set aside.

Prepare you your chocolate and pistachio batters in two separate bowls.

For the chocolate: cream together the butter and sugar with an electric whisk, and add the eggs one at a time, until well mixed. Add the yoghurt and vanilla, mixing well. Set aside your electric mixer. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Sift this into the wet ingredients, then fold together until just combined.

Now prepare your pistachio batter: cream together the pistachio paste, butter and sugar with your electric whisk, and add the eggs one at a time, until well mixed, followed by the yoghurt. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and the remaining 60 g of chopped pistachios. Mix into the wet ingredients until just combined.

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Put about 1 tpsb of the chocolate batter into the cupcake liners, spreading it around a bit with your spoon, and sprinkle the chocolate chips on top. Now place 1 tbsp of the pistachio batter on top, and spread out a bit to even it out. Bake for about 15 minutes until they are just golden, repeating until you have no more batter (I kept alternating my two cupcake pans).

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Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely before icing.

Once the cupcakes have cooled completely, and the ganache has set to a spreadable consistency, about an hour I’d say (don’t let the ganache sit around too too long, either, and definitely keep it at room temperature, so it stays nice and shiny and doesn’t get too thick to frost the cupcakes with), decorate the cakes however you like! As mentioned above, I ended up spreading the ganache on the cupcakes with a teaspoon, which I kept dipping in just-boiled water and wiping off, so that it wasn’t wet, but hot enough to spread the ganache out and make it nice and shiny 🙂

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Elisa’s Chocolate Birthday Cake *egg-free*

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Adapted from kurryleaves‘ recipe for egg-less chocolate cake.

Today is my friend Elisa’s birthday, and she’s allergic to eggs. Of all things! This sent me into a birthday cake panic.

I scoured the interwebs, and stumbled upon this here mostly vegetarian and vegan cooking and baking blog. The pictures looked yummy, and a lot of the vegan ingredients in the recipe could be substituted for regular ones (a little less daunting for a vegan-baking novice such as myself). I don’t like fussy recipes, and this one wasn’t, so I decided to give it a go.

For icing, I went with David Lebovitz’ recipe for chocolate ganache, as I’ve tried it before and it’s rich and yummy! A good way to spruce up a cake I feared might be less than exciting.

I’m extremely wary of baking without eggs. My only previous experience with it was several batches of (much, much) less than perfect lemon-coconut cookies (also for Elisa – after 5 different, all failed, tries, I gave up and made these yummy cocoa biscuits instead).

I’m also not a huge, huge fan of chocolate cakes… I find that they often look very appealing, but taste a bit bland! This one turned out fine though – the cake itself is a bit too bland  for me, personally, but light and moist, and since the ganache packs a serious chocolate punch, best the cake be a little less imposing!

I’d planned on slicing the cake in half horisontally, to make a layer cake, but after baking it found it was too flat to slice, and ended up baking a second layer 🙂

Alright, here’s what you’ll need:

For the cakes:

  • 280 g / 3 cups flour
  • 8 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 400 g / 2 cups sugar
  • 8 tbsp / 1/2 cup olive oil (you can of course use a milder vegetable oil, but I love the fruity taste of olive oil in baking! Also, it was the only kind of oil I had in the house 😉 )
  • 480 ml / 2 cups butter milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the chocolate ganache:

  • 280 g / 10 ounces dark chocolate, 46% cocoa solids – cut into chunks
  • 120 ml / 1/2 cup cream
  • 170 g / 1 1/2 sticks butter – cut into chunks

And here’s how to turn it all into a cake!

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius / 350 degrees Fahrenheit / gas mark 4, and grease and line two springform baking tins of about 22 cm in diameter. (To line to bottom of the tin, I place a sheet of baking parchment on the bottom, assemble the springform, turn it upside down and sort of tug a little at the sides of the baking parchment to make sure it’s flat, and tear of the extra baking parchment – easy peasy!)

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Mix together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl.

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In a separate large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, oil, vanilla and butter milk. Whisk in the dry ingredients.

Divide the batter between the baking tins, smooth out the top, and bake in the middle of the oven for about 35-40 minutes, or until a tooth pick comes out clean. If your oven isn’t big enough, bake them in two goes 🙂

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While the cakes are baking, make the chocolate ganache by heating up the cream until it begins to bubble a little, just before it comes to a boil. (Or, heat it for a minute or so in the microwave!)

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Take the cream off the heat (or out of the microwave), add the chocolate chunks, and let the chocolate hang out in the hot cream for a good few minutes before stirring well, until the chocolate has dissolved into the cream (if you, like me, have taken the microwave route, and find that there are still a few chunks of unmelted chocolate, pop the bowl back into the microwave for 10-15 seconds before stirring again). Now add the butter, whisking well until the ganache is thick and shiny 🙂

Let the ganache cool down and thicken at room temperature for about an hour (unless you haven’t got that kind of time, in which case do as I did and put the ganache in the fridge for a bit! It will be less shiny though, once the cake has been frosted).

Once the cakes have cooled, take them out of the tins and place the first layer on a cake dish. Spread half of the ganache on the first layer, then place the second layer on top and press down a little. Ice the top and sides of the cake with the remaining ganache.

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Decorate as desired!

I happen to have promised Elisa a unicorn cake, and here (I’m kind of embarrassed to say) is the finished result:

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Magnificent! 😉

P.s.: Since I couldn’t very well slice the cake before bringing it to the birthday girl, and because I can’t bear to serve a cake I haven’t tasted, and because I needed to practice making unicorns, I made a ‘test’ cake with only one layer, and here’s a slice of that:

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