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The Safe Drivers’ Guide to Cupcake Calculation

November 4th, 2010 by Cocolat

I had a last minute email from the folks at Scharffen Berger Chocolate asking for an alternate version of the chocolate cupcake recipe that I created for the Scharffen Berger Tutti Foodie 2010 Chocolate Adventure Contest website (www.chocolateadventurecontest.com). The alternate version would call for unsweetened chocolate instead of cocoa powder, and it was needed almost immediately (don’t ask…). Hmmph.
 
Meanwhile, I had to drive from Berkeley to Cupertino at rush hour. I thought I’d pass the time by listening to NPR (of course) and thinking about how to revise the original (and really good) recipe.
 
Such a revision starts with simple math to figure out how much unsweetened chocolate would be needed to replace the 1 ½ ounces of cocoa in the recipe and to figure out how to adjust the amount of butter in the recipe to account for the increase in fat from the unsweetened chocolate. The cocoa is about 22% fat and 78% pure non-fat cocoa and unsweetened chocolate is a little over 50% fat. Had I been at home, I would have written a simple equation and used a calculator. I’ve always like math…
 
But in the car? I was pretty sure that using my Iphone calculator while driving was as dangerous as texting. So I decided to round off the ingredient stats so I could do the math in my head, easily and without killing anyone. I would treat the cocoa as though it were fat free and the unsweetened chocolate as 50% fat. Then it was easy to figure out that I would need 3 ounces of unsweetened chocolate to get the effect of 1 ½ ounces of cocoa powder. But substituting 3 ounces of unsweetened chocolate for 1 ½ ounces cocoa would also add 1 ½ ounces of fat to the recipe. I could compensate by subtracting 1 ½ ounces (3 tablespoons) of butter from the original 8 tablespoons in the recipe. Easy so far.
 
I was still driving impeccably, but the time had passed so quickly and pleasantly that I feared I might have driven past the Dumbarton Bridge without noticing. Where was I anyway? Uh oh. But no, Fremont comes before the bridge; I was still on track
 
I drifted back to my cupcakes (while staying scrupulously in my own lane of course). I began to think about how the texture might change from using chocolate instead of cocoa powder. Cocoa butter (which is the fat in the chocolate) melts at a higher temperature than regular (dairy) butter, and I would be replacing some regular butter with cocoa butter. This might produce a heavier, coarser crumb and a seemingly drier texture because cocoa butter takes longer than regular butter to melt on your tongue. My original cupcake was light, tender and moist—exemplary of the advantages of using cocoa instead of chocolate. What to do? Still driving safely, I decided to trade just a little of the butter for vegetable oil to counteract the harder cocoa butter. I arrived in Cupertino with a good mental draft of my revised recipe. I hadn't run anyone off the road either.
 
I tested the new cupcakes at home (as yet I have no oven or mixer in my car) and found them to be excellent. I didn't need to change a thing! Even I was amazed.
 
 
Later, out of curiosity (and yes, like a dog with bone), I sat down with a calculator and did the math accurately. It’s a good thing I decided to drive safely, because rounding off the ingredient stats resulted in my using more chocolate than I otherwise would have and conjuring up a terrific new recipe with only one real test! What more could I ask? Scroll down to see the original recipe and the Safe Driver’s Revision followed by a recipe for the frosting.
 
Are there morals to this story? 1. Doing the math is always helpful but you don’t always have to be perfectly accurate 2. It’s always good to consider what you know about the ingredients because math is not enough, and 3. You always have to test. Oh, and 4. Never text, use a calculator, or test a recipe while driving.
 
Want to learn more about formulas and strategies for converting recipes from one type of chocolate or cocoa to another? Check out the Dessert Makers’ Guide to Working with Chocolate, page 344, of my book, Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate (Artisan, 2003).
 
SCHARFFEN BERGER CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES
These are light, tender, moist, chocolaty, and so easy to make. The Safe Drivers’ Revision follows, and after than you'll find the frosting recipe. Make the frosting first and it will be almost ready to use by the time the cupcakes are baked and cooled.
 
Ingredients:
1 cup (4.5 ounces) all purpose flour
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (7.3 ounces) sugar
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1.5 ounces) Scharffen Berger Unsweetened Natural Cocoa Powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and warm
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup hot water
 

Equipment:

1 regular (not jumbo) cupcake pan with 12 cups, lined with paper liners

A hand held electric mixer or stand mixer with the whisk attachment (if you have a choice)
 
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
 
In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt together thoroughly. Add the butter, eggs, and vanilla and beat on medium speed for one minute. Add half of the water and beat for 20 seconds. Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the remaining water. Beat for 20-30 seconds until the batter is smooth. The batter will be thin enough to pour. Divide it evenly among the lined cups. Bake 18-22 minutes (rotating the pan from front to back half-way through the baking time), just until a toothpick inserted into a few of the cupcakes comes out clean. Set the pan on a rack to cool for ten minutes. Transfer the cupcakes from the pan to the rack and let them cool completely before frosting or filling. Store and serve at room temperature. Makes twelve cupcakes
 
TIP: For light tender cupcakes, spoon flour and cocoa lightly into measuring cups (instead of dipping the cups into the flour or cocoa) and then sweep the measures level without tapping or shaking them. Better still, use your scale.
 
SAFE DRIVERS' AKA SCHARFFEN BERGER CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES 2.0
This version calls for unsweetened chocolate instead of cocoa and a little oil in addition to the butter.
 
Ingredients:
1 cup (4.5 ounces) all purpose flour
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (7.3 ounces) sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
3 ounces 99% Unsweetened Scharffen Berger Chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup hot water
 
Equipment:
1 regular (not jumbo) cupcake pan with 12 cups, lined with paper liners
A hand held electric mixer or stand mixer with the whisk attachment (if you have a choice)

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a stainless steel bowl set directly in a wide skillet of almost simmering water. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt together thoroughly. Add the very warm chocolate mixture, oil, eggs, and vanilla and beat on medium speed for one minute. Add half of the water and beat for 20 seconds. Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the remaining water. Beat for 20-30 seconds until the batter is smooth. Divide the batter evenly among the lined cups. Bake 18-22 minutes (rotating the pan from front to back half-way through the baking time), just until a toothpick inserted into a few of the cupcakes comes out clean. Set the pan on a rack to cool for ten minutes. Transfer the cupcakes from the pan to the rack and let them cool completely before frosting or filling. Store and serve at room temperature. Makes twelve cupcakes

TIP: For light tender cupcakes, spoon flour lightly into measuring cups (instead of dipping the cups into the flour) and then sweep the measures level without tapping or shaking them. Better still, use a scale!

 
SCHARFFEN BERGER CHOCOLATE FROSTING
For the smoothest and glossiest frosting, allow it to cool and thicken slowly at room temperature (without stirring) while you make your cupcakes!
 
Ingredients:

3 ounces unsweetened Scharffen Berger 99% unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick or 2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into several pieces
2/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

Place the chocolate and butter in a medium bowl and set aside. Bring the cream, sugar, and salt to a simmer in a large saucepan. Simmer for 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Whisk just until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth and glossy. Set aside to cool at room temperature, without stirring for 2 to 3 hours, or until the frosting is cool and thick enough to spread. Or, refrigerate the frosting for about 45 minutes or more (but not until it is hard) without stirring, then let it stand at room temperature until it is the desired consistency. Makes about 1-1/2 cups of frosting

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  • Posted in chocolate, Cocoa, cupcakes, npr, safe driving, Scharffen Berger, substitutions
  • 12 Comments
  • 12 Responses to “The Safe Drivers’ Guide to Cupcake Calculation”

    1. November 14, 2010 at 1:32 pm, Nicki Woo said:

      These cupcakes sound delightful, and I’m glad you forewent mixing them in the car 🙂 Though, I am very impressed with your mad math skillz that helped you formulate the perfect recipe. I can’t wait to try it out.

      To me, there’s not much better than a chocolate cupcake. Maybe my husband. Maybe.

      Reply

    2. November 14, 2010 at 10:11 pm, Ria Mathew said:

      Ooh! They sound delish! I just can’t wait to meet you , finally, tomorrow!

      Reply

    3. November 19, 2010 at 6:45 am, Dianne Jacob said:

      Have I told you lately that you’re hilarious? And very smart. XO

      Reply

    4. November 22, 2010 at 5:37 am, Jessica "Su Good Sweets" said:

      Hi Alice, just found your blog today and am thrilled you’ve joined the online world! (I interviewed you a couple years back for Chow.com about Pure Dessert.)

      Reply

    5. November 22, 2010 at 3:39 pm, Alice Medrich said:

      Jessica, Thank you. Of course I remember you! Your interview was a really good one and I plan to link it to my still-in-process new website which will launch any day now. Maybe i should say any week now. Hope you are well.

      Reply

    6. November 28, 2010 at 12:16 am, Jeanne said:

      Alice: I love this story! And the cupcakes look divine. I will make this this week!

      Reply

    7. November 29, 2010 at 2:25 pm, Sally Pasley Vargas said:

      I love your explanation of your thought process in revising a recipe. I agree, baking and math are necessary partners, but sometimes you have to drive in the math-free lane! I, too, have experienced the uh-oh, where am I?, driving along thinking about a recipe.

      Reply

    8. December 02, 2010 at 9:05 pm, Veron said:

      Thanks for these recipes! I tried both of them, and I think I like the cocoa ones a bit better but maybe I overcooked the ones made with melted chocolate. I love the chocolate frosting, it reminded me of the ones we made with condense milk especially when I cooked the sugar with the cream. Thanks!

      Reply

    9. December 21, 2010 at 11:01 pm, chez catherine said:

      I made the cocoa powder version of these cupcakes for a party last weekend. They were a huge hit and vanished in minutes! Everyone loved them so much that I will be making them again for a Boxing Day brunch. Thanks so much for a great recipe.

      Reply

    10. January 29, 2011 at 2:13 am, Jo said:

      I received Scharffen Berger unsweetened chocolate for Christmas and have been saving it to make something delicious-I’m so happy I found what to make right here!

      Reply

    11. February 07, 2011 at 9:39 pm, HappyTummy said:

      Hi Alice!

      I’m a longtime fan, but wow, I JUST stumbled onto your blog. And this blog post in particular hit home–I’m originally from Fremont, I LOVE Scharffen Berger, I used to be an editor/producer at NPR…lots of things in this post caught my eye 🙂

      Anyway, I’ve made many of your recipes (Bittersweet Brownies and Chestnut Pound Cake are my two of my faves). I love love love how you incorporate different grains in your recipes.

      I’ll be visiting often!

      Reply

      • January 30, 2012 at 9:23 pm, Alice Medrich said:

        I can’t think how I didn’t reply to your comment last year when you first made it. I think I was on the road. Anyway, thanks for feedback. As you have read I could not live without NPR….hope you’ve continued to enjoy the blog and recipes.

        Reply

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