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Chocolate on Chocolate Cupcakes

Today was W’s preschool’s spring celebration – a May Pole dance in the yard behind the sandstone building – the kids wearing homemade tissue paper flower crowns danced around a ribboned pole as it began to rain. When they finished the parents grabbed all the snacks that had been set out on a picnic table under the tree before the rain/performance began, and we ushered the kids inside for our little party. Which really involved all of us crammed around some preschool-sized tables and chairs, munching on fruit skewers and goldfish crackers. A wonderful lunch.

When I asked W yesterday what he would like to make to bring to his party, he chose cupcakes. Chocolate with chocolate icing, and chocolate sprinkles if at all possible. We baked them – miniature ones – last night and frosted them this morning over breakfast. A quick buttercream icing tossed together, measured by eyeball. A blob of butter, shake of dark cocoa and bigger shake of icing sugar, and a bit of water to get it all going. (I usually make frosting like this, adding more sugar or water as needed until I have something spreadable.)

To frost, this is my favourite trick: scoop frosting into a zip-lock baggie, seal and snip off a corner; squeeze out a simple thick rope that can easily create smooth swirls atop the cakes, then toss the used bag out. Easy.

Zip-lock bags are great for all kinds of icing tricks; snip off a teeny bit of the tip and you can write with it, or shove a decorating tip into the corner and tape around it for a fancy piping bag. If you just want to drizzle something with chocolate, put chocolate chips in a zip-lock bag, seal and place in a bowl of warm water; once melted, snip the tip off, drizzle away, and toss the bag. As for the sprinkles, only a few cakes got some.

This is my favourite chocolate cake recipe – made with canola oil instead of butter and cocoa instead of baking chocolate, it’s dense and moist and intensely chocolate, yet low in saturated fat.

Chocolate Cupcakes

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (or half all-purpose, half whole wheat)
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup milk (or soy milk)
1/2 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup coffee (I use instant decaf – it intensifies and deepens the chocolate flavor without adding fat or calories)

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line 24 cupcake tins with paper liners (or, more realistically, 12 at a time).

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, brown sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt, breaking up any lumps of brown sugar and cocoa. (I like using a whisk for this.)

Add the milk, oil, eggs and vanilla and whisk until well blended. Add the coffee and whisk again (or beat on low speed) just until blended. The batter will be thin.

Divide the batter among the tins, filling them about 3/4 full, and bake for 25 minutes, until the tops are springy to the touch. Tip them a bit in their pans to let the steam escape and help them cool. Cool completely before frosting them. Makes about 2 dozen cupcakes.

Chocolate Frosting

Flavor your frosting with a few drops of peppermint or vanilla extract, or use strong coffee or orange juice.

1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup cocoa
2 cups (ish) icing (confectioners’) sugar
water, orange juice or milk – enough to make it spreadable

In a medium bowl, beat the butter, cocoa, half the sugar and a couple spoonfuls of water; beat until smooth. Beat in the rest of the sugar and enough extra liquid to make a spreadable frosting.

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