I think some of the best gifts I've ever gotten were food. Cocoa powder from Belgium, boxes of golden raisins, freshly baked bread. I love it all. And it's not because I consider myself a "foodie" or a connoisseur of the finer things in life. It's because I'm picky and also practical, and food is something I can always find use for and appreciate. In turn, I love giving food because I've seen people's faces light up at the sight of a chocolate tart or a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread. There is something personal about food, something very primal that speaks to our inner humanity. It's no wonder that the first thing guests are offered in many cultures as soon as they cross the threshold is something to eat. Well, a martini is good too, but you get my point.
So when I'm asked to create party favors, I immediately think of food because hey, we can all use a cupcake once in a while, right? I was a tad skeptical about making chocolate cupcakes with only cocoa powder, but these turned out just lovely. Valhrona cocoa powder gives them a perfectly dark, indulgently chocolaty flavor, and the soft crumb and flat heads are just waiting to be topped with rich buttercream and devoured on the spot. Which is what we did with a few "test" cupcakes ("Oh, look, this one isn't perfect enough to go in the box - now, we have to eat it! Darn!"). Also, magic words: ONE BOWL. There's really no downside to these cupcakes and the biggest upside is that the guests truly loved them and almost everyone asked to take more than one so they could share with their spouses, kids and grandkids. It's the biggest compliment a cook/baker could get!
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1 1/4 cups dutch-process cocoa powder 2 1/2 cups sugar 2 1/2 tsp baking soda 1 1/4 tsp baking powder 1 1/4 tsp salt 2 large eggs, plus 1 large egg yolk 1 1/4 cups whole milk 1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus 2 tablespoons 1 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract 1 1/4 cups warm water
Preheat oven to 350F and line or spray two standard 12-cup muffin pans.
Sift into the mixer bowl: flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add the eggs, yolk, milk, oil, vanilla and warm water.
Beat with a paddle attachment on low speed until smooth and combined, about 3 minutes; scrape down the sides of the bowl if needed.
Divide batter evenly among the muffin cups (my batter was pretty liquid, so I used a measuring cup to pour it out into the muffin cups).
Bake, rotating pans halfway through the baking time, until a cake tester inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan for a little bit and then transfer onto a wire rack or board to cool completely. Frost with swiss meringue buttercream!
Cupcakes can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days (or frozen for a few months).
*I ordered the cupcake boxes from here. *Labels: I adapted the sign and the labels from the amazingly creative and talented Amy from the Eat Drink Chic blog. I printed them out on full sheet shipping labels and cut them out. If anyone wants the template, send me an email and I can make it available.