Sunday, June 26, 2011

Strawberry Surprise Cupcakes

Last night was my dear friend Chris' birthday party.  Chris is the author of Delicious, a collection of some of his best and most requested recipes, and I was asked to make some cupcakes, so they had to be really good.  Since Chris is a big fan of strawberries and chocolate, I decided to re-imagine one of my favorite cake recipes in cupcake form.

The cake in question was called Strawberry Surprise Cake from the legendary pastry chef Alice Medrich and her equally legendary chocolate shop, Cocolat, in Sausalito, CA.  Sadly, Cocolat is no longer in business, but this dessert remains in my repertoire some 20+ years after I saw it published in Bon Apetit magazine in the late 1980s.   The cake consists of an orange poppyseed cake, filled with layers of strawberry buttercream, frosted in Grand Marnier buttercream, and then robed in dark chocolate ganache.  The surprise is that it looks like a chocolate cake until it is sliced when the "strawberry surprise" is revealed.

This cake has long been a favorite in my house, but it is one of my most difficult cakes to prepare.  As a result, I don't make it too often.  But now that I have updated it into cupcake form, its execution is much much easier and it has lost none of its truly decadent flavor!  I am happy to share my version of this recipe with you and hope you will try it.  Though it has a lot of different steps, its not that difficult, particularly if you pay close attention to the temperature of your buttercream and your ganache.

Strawberry Surprise Cupcakes
makes 2 dozen

Orange Poppy Seed Cake:
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp poppy seeds
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, MUST be room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
finely grated zest from 2 large oranges.

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a medium sized bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt and poppy seeds, whisk to combine thoroughly.

In a measuring cup combine milk and vanilla.

In the work bowl of a food processor, combine sugar and orange zest and process until orange has been completely incorporated into the sugar (this step traps all of the essential oils of the orange zest in the sugar).  Combine orange sugar and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add the eggs to the butter sugar mixture, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.

Add 1/4 of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until just incorporated.  Next add 1/3 of the vanilla milk and mix until incorporated.  Repeat, alternating between wet and dry ingredients until everything is combined.  Scoop 1/4 cup of batter into a lined cupcake tin and bake for 20-22 minutes until cakes are done and the top springs back lightly when touched.  Cool cupcakes completely.

Grand Marnier Buttercream:
3 egg whites room temperature
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
3 sticks unsalted butter room temperature
1/4 cup Grand Marnier

Make  buttercream by combining egg whites and 2 Tbsp sugar in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Whip egg whites gently on medium speed while preparing syrup.  Combine 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small pan and heat over high heat until mixture boils.  Continue to boil mixture to soft ball stage (238 F; about 10 minutes).  With mixer still running, add hot syrup to egg whites.  Gradually increase speed to high and continue to beat until mixture is like marshmallow fluff and room temperature.  Reduce speed to medium and add softened butter 1 Tbsp at a time, scraping down sides occasionally.  Once all butter is added and buttercream is smooth and fluffy, add Grand Marnier and whisk in until incorporated .

Strawberry conserve:
1 cup strawberries finely diced
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp Grand Marnier

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until mixture has thickened. Remove from heat and cool completely.

Chocolate Ganache
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups chocolate chips

Place  cream in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, add chocolate and stir gently until chocolate is melted and ganache is glossy.  Cool to room temperture.  (You will have a lot of ganache leftover, but you need to make enough to be able to easily dip the frozen cupcake tops into the ganache.  Leftover ganache can be kept, in an airtight container, in the refrigerator for one month.)

Cupcake Assembly:
Pierce each cupcake with a knife making a incision in the top.   In a clean bowl combine, 1/3 of the grand Marnier buttercream with the cooled strawberry conserve and whisk until blended.  Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a metal tip and pipe 2Tbsp strawberry buttercream into the center of each cupcake.

In a clean piping bag fitted with a metal tip, pipe remaining Grand Marnier buttercream onto the top of each cupcake.  Transfer cupcakes to freezer for one hour to prpare for dipping in ganache.

Once completly frozen, dip the top of each cupcake into the room temperature ganache, then place on a baking sheet.  Once all the cupcakes have been dipped, return cupcakes to refrigerator for one hour to ripen the ganache.

Before serving, allow cupcakes to warm to room temperature and garnish with slices of fresh strawberries.

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