If there’s one flavor that I hate, it’s the aftertaste of failure. Call me a perfectionist or a spoiled little snot: either is an apt description. When something doesn’t go my way, I sulk. I’m a master of the silent treatment. I can pout so hard that my lower lip sticks out a full inch. Worst of all, when said failure involves a chocolate malted cupcake, I’ve been known to air my dirty disappointment in the most public of places: on the Internet, sneakily disguised as a bowl of lima beans. Maybe it would be smarter to take up yoga or meditation, or to sign myself up for anger management classes, and maybe I will. Or maybe I’ll just bake more cupcakes.
As the old saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try another recipe.
My first—and failed—attempt came from the pages of Nigella Lawson’s Feast, but feast, I’m afraid, it was not. I dutifully followed her recipe for a “Chocolate Malteser Cake,” but the resulting offense tasted neither of chocolate nor of malt, and its crumb was a mousy brown, dull and rubbery. Before the cupcakes so much as saw my icing spatula, they were rerouted to the trashcan. Given my previous statements about Ms. Lawson—we’re no longer on a first-name basis—you can well understand my need to sulk.
But because I still wanted dessert, I began to slowly prepare myself for a second go-round. I did a little research, thumbed through a cookbook or two, and then I took down the trusty accordion file of recipes that sits atop my refrigerator. To start anew, I figured, sometimes a girl must retreat to familiar territory, so I pulled out an old, tried-and-true recipe for chocolate cake, and I tried, tried again.
The cupcake itself, I decided, didn’t need to contain malt; what I wanted was a good, stand-alone chocolate cake, something that needs no adornment. In the same way that a good ice cream sets the tone for a milkshake, this cake would be a solid base on which to build my malted flavor. From there, I could fuss with the frosting until I had something creamy, toasty, and tinted with cocoa, a flavor that tasted as though it could be slurped through a straw. And that, dear reader, is success for you.
With two types of chocolate and a half-cup of buttermilk, these cakes bake up to a pretty shade of brunette, with a rich, tender crumb that shines under the light. Capped with a lazy swirl of soft, malted frosting, it’s like a milkshake, but with a more satisfying chew.
Chocolate Malted Cupcakes
Adapted from Epicurious and Nigella Lawson’s Feast
This cake recipe is very delicious and very, very delicate. Its tender crumb makes it one of the best cakes I know of, but it’s almost too fragile for a cupcake. Plan to eat these with a plate nearby, and with a napkin to erase the evidence.
1 ounce good-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
½ cup hot brewed coffee
1 cup granulated sugar
¾ cup plus 1 Tbs unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
Generous ½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
Scant ½ tsp salt
1 large egg
¼ cup canola oil
½ cup buttermilk
¼ tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar
1 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1/3 cup malted milk powder, such as Carnation or Horlicks
9 Tbs (1 stick plus 1 Tbs) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 Tbs boiling water
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 12 cups of a muffin tin with paper liners.
Place the chocolate in a medium bowl with the hot coffee. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth and opaque.
In another medium bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, and whisk to combine well.
In a large bowl, beat the egg with an electric mixer until it is pale yellow in color, about a minute or two. Slowly add the oil, buttermilk, and vanilla extract, beating to combine well. Slowly add the melted chocolate mixture, and beat to thoroughly combine. Add the dry ingredients, and beat on medium speed until the batter is just combined. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the sides of the bowl and briefly fold the batter to be certain that all of the dry ingredients are incorporated.
Divide the batter evenly among the 12 prepared muffin cups. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes for 15 minutes in the pan; then gently transfer them to a rack to cool completely. They are very delicate and tender, so take care.
When the cupcakes are cool, make the frosting. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the powdered sugar, cocoa, and malted milk powder, and process to mix well. Add the butter, and process to blend. Stop the motor, and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Then, with the motor running, add the water. Process briefly, until the frosting is smooth. Frost the cupcakes in loose swirls, and serve.
Yield: 12 cupcakes