Cupcake Hero: Cocoa Cupcakes with Zebra Frosting

May 29, 2008 at 12:49 pm | Posted in cupcakes, events, sweet things | 37 Comments

cocoa cupcakes with zebra frosting 

There has been something conspicuously absent from my diet the last few weeks.  Yeah, that’s right, where’s all the chocolate?  Trust me, I have noticed this and I aim to correct it now, thanks to Laurie and her cocoa powder-themed May Cupcake Hero event.  What’s more, Laurie has a prize from Askinosie Chocolate up for grabs!  Even if I’d been stuffing myself with the food of the gods lately, that’s all the incentive I need to make up a batch of cocoa cupcakes.

First things first, I had start with a good cake, and I knew I wanted it to be cocoa all the way through.  I poked around for a chocolate cupcake recipe that would incorporate cocoa as well as buttermilk (whenever I have an already open container in the fridge, and I really try to use it up).  Of course it was Ina to the rescue!  She had one that sounded pretty good in her book Barefoot Contessa at Home, but it made 14 to 15 cupcakes.  What a weird amount, and I certainly didn’t want that many…I didn’t even want half that.  So I cut it back to a third and somehow still wound up with six cupcakes.  I was a math major in college and even though those skills are a little rusty these days, I’m pretty sure six times three doesn’t equal 14 to 15.  But six was actually perfect, so don’t think I’m complaining.

The frosting was a little trickier, as I didn’t have any good gimmick planned ahead for my cupcakes.  Suddenly last week I realized it would be Memorial Day weekend back in the States (which you can forget all about when you’re so far away that it’s almost winter where you live), and in New York all the Mister Softee trucks would be out in force.  I began to feel quite sad thinking about the annoyingly catchy tune broadcast from the trucks’ speakers and my favorite soft-serve twist cones (which I have always called a “zebra” cone).  So zebra frosting it was gonna be, in buttercream form, of course!

cocoa cupcakes with zebra frosting

I used a favorite whole-egg buttercream from Baking Illustrated.  The amount yielded in the recipe I provide is likely more than you will need for six cupcakes (it’s probably better suited to 12), but I’ve found that trying to do a really small amount in the KitchenAid doesn’t work well. One egg isn’t enough for the whip to pick up and aerate. Just use what you think you will need and save the rest as plain to flavor and use for another batch anytime with the next couple weeks. Although, if you have a hand-held mixer (I do not), then you may have fine results making just half the provided amount.

The trick to piping it zebra-style is to first set aside half the frosting you are using in one bowl (to be left as plain vanilla). Put the remaining half in another bowl, and to that, whisk in sifted cocoa (a teaspoon at a time) until you get the desired color and taste.  Then take a piping bag fitted with a wide tip and hold it wide open in one hand. Spoon in the vanilla frosting down one side of the bag and the chocolate down the other, so that the two are divided down the center. If you look into the bag, it will essentially look like a black and white cookie. You may have to squeeze out the first little bit into a bowl until you get the two halves coming through the tip.

The twisty frosting was oh-so-cute, and the cakes were moist and black as night. I didn’t even recognize the pastel cupcake liners I used!  They held up well in the fridge, too.  We ate ours over the course of three nights, bringing them up to room temperature first.  And I don’t know if it was because we’d been so chocolate-deprived, but we inhaled those cocoa things in all of two bites!

Cocoa Cupcakes makes 6 regular-size cupcakes
adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa at Home (here’s a link to the original)

4 T (2 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 T + 2 t granulated sugar
3 T + 2 t light brown sugar, packed
1 medium or large egg, at room temperature
3/4 t pure vanilla extract
1/3 c buttermilk, shaken, at room temperature
2 T + 2 t sour cream, at room temperature
2 t brewed coffee
1/3 c + 1/4 c all-purpose flour
1/3 c good cocoa powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/8 t kosher salt

-Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.

-By hand, or using a hand-held mixer, cream the butter and two sugars until light and fluffy, approximately 5 minutes. Add the egg, then add the vanilla and mix well.

-In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream, and coffee. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.

-Add the buttermilk mixture and the flour mixture alternately in thirds to the butter/sugar/egg mixture, beginning with the buttermilk mixture and ending with the flour mixture. Mix only until blended. Fold the batter with a rubber spatula to be sure it’s completely blended.

-Divide the batter among the cupcake pans. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean (keep an eye out so you don’t overbake).

-Cool for 10 minutes, remove from the pans, and allow to cool completely on a rack before frosting.

Zebra Frosting  makes about 2 cups
adapted from a recipe for vanilla buttercream in Cook’s Illustrated’s Baking Illustrated

2 large eggs
1/2 cup (3.5 oz) sugar
1 t vanilla extract
pinch of salt
16 T (8 oz) unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into pieces
cocoa powder to taste

-Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a medium saucepot. In the bowl of a standing mixer, whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla and a pinch of salt. Set the bowl over the simmering water (making a double boiler). Whisk gently but constantly until the mixture reaches 160°F. It should be thin and foamy.

-Transfer the bowl to the mixer and whip until light, airy and room temperature. This should take about five minutes. Reduce the speed and whip in the butter, piece by piece. If it looks curdled halfway through, it should come together as you add the remaining butter.

-Once all the butter is incorporated, beat on high speed for about a minute until light and fluffy. You can refrigerate, covered, for a least a couple weeks, or flavor straight away.

 -To flavor, eyeball the portion of buttercream you will need for the amount of cupcakes you have.  Let come to room temperature if chilled.  Set aside half the frosting you are using in one bowl (to be left as plain vanilla) . Put the remaining half in another bowl, and to that, whisk in sifted cocoa, a teaspoon at a time, until you get the desired color and taste.

-Take a piping bag fitted with a wide tip and hold it wide open in one hand. Spoon in the vanilla frosting down one side of the bag and the chocolate down the other, so that a line basically forms down the center, separating the two. If you look into the bag, it will essentially look like a black and white cookie. You may have to squeeze out the first little bit into a bowl until you get the two halves coming through the tip. Then frost your cupcakes in a twisty swirl.


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  1. i love the zebra frosting! that is so cool!

  2. That looks…. soooo good!!!!!

  3. mmm. It looks like soft serve on there. I feel you with the cutting the cake recipe down to a third. Small batches of cupcakes are just so much more responsible. 🙂

  4. That frosting is magnificent! Even with your walk-through, I think I’d have trouble getting it to look anything close to that pretty

  5. I was going to ask you how you got the icing colours like that, but then you went and answered my question! It looks so yummy!

  6. Oh they look amazing – the frosting is perfect!

  7. Good gravy, thanks for reminding me that I wanted to try and participate in CH! 😉

    That cupcake looks so damn good, I wanted to bite into my monitor! YUMMY!

  8. I love how dark they turned out, Steph. And that frosting… so beautiful!

  9. AMAZING frosting! It reminds me of the chocolate-vanilla twist cones we used to get every summer when I was a kid.

  10. Your zebra frosting looks so cool — just like you’d get from a soft-serve ice cream store! Thanks for the tips.
    Shari@Whisk: a food blog

  11. That is one awesome cupcake!
    Can I have one?

  12. Ahh why didn’t I do Cupcake Hero this month?? I NEED CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES!

    I would probably lick all that frosting off in one swoop! Yum So tasty!

  13. gorgeous as always. the cake looks so lovely and rich and I love the two tones of the icing.

  14. wow….i was searching for a chocolate cupcake for a party I’m throwing tonight and this will definately be it! I can’t wait to get up and get it started! Looks delic!

  15. I say this every time, but you are SO DAMN Talented as a baker. I admire you in every way – photography, writing and then to top it all, the baking. The cupcakes looks fantastic.

  16. sooo rich and moist!!

  17. As usual your cupcakes are beautiful and well thought out. And I just want to lick my screen. Shoot. No t-shirt for me this month. again.

  18. These look amazing!!!

  19. I must say, your photos are KICK-ASS! Great job!

  20. Wow, what incredible frosting! I’ve always wanted to do something like that, but have convinced myself that the colors would just get muddled together… I envy your frosting skills!

  21. i love your zebra frosting and WOW that cake looks RICH…so hard to believe that it’s not even that much chocolate in there. i have to try that recipe soon.

  22. OOOOH MY WORD!!!! I want one right now. Stunning cupcakes, well done ; )

  23. And, you were a math major! Wow. How’d you get into cooking for a living! These look fantastic, may have to try them out today – lazy Sunday potteting around the house.

  24. Those look so delicious. Can you mail me some frosting? 🙂

  25. These look delicious! Wish I were eating one right now.

  26. These look absolutely perfect and super cool! Can’t wait to try this! Its a good thing the recipe is for 6 because I’m pretty sure that if it made more I would devour those as well!

  27. These look soo good! And your pictures are all beautiful! I’m a new blogger and am still learning the art of food photography. nice job!

  28. Those cupcakes look amazing!

  29. OH WOW! The icing does look like zebra soft serve. 🙂

  30. beautiful!! and i totally know what you mean about needing chocolate. i made some chocolate cupcakes for cupcake camp in san francisco this weekend. sometimes you need to have chocolate cake in the house. you just *neeeeed* to.


  31. It totally reminds me of a Soft-serve twist- YUM! Great entry as always!!

  32. Nice! What a great idea! Mine would never come out as good as yours.

  33. The simplicity and childlike quality is such a nice tone to these little cakes!

  34. What size tip did you use for your piping? Beautiful as always!

  35. Danielle–I used a wide Ateco tip (I think it was #808).

  36. Like the name of the frosting, what a cute idea :D. BTW, chocolate and coffee go great together. I like to add straight chocolate coffee granules to my chocolatey desserts :).

  37. Your Photos are amazing! What kind of camera do you use??
    Looks SO good, I could lick the screen.

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