Can I tell you something? I have enjoyed cooking and baking since I was a little kid. Most often for other folks, as in that was the sole purpose I baked things or spent my allowance on extra candy I’d stow in my backpack on the way to school. I gave these baked things or candy things to girlfriends. More often I gave them to the current boys I had embarrassing middle school crushes on. Mind you, I was not good at making things (thus the eventual candy-buying instead of treat-making). There were fall-apart things, raw-in-the-middle-things. But I was a shy, quiet, introverted girl and if the only way I was going to make friends was to bribe them with food, heck yes let’s get on that.
When bake sales came up at school, I was always ready to volunteer some kind of treats… cookies that miraculously turned out edible and cookie-looking, brownies from store bought mixes that I dusted with powdered sugar because that was going to make them look homemade and decadent. These days, I am not in school. But I’ve got stepchildren who are and when bake sales or class parties come up, they don’t exactly hesitate on volunteering some food contribution. But guess who exactly is volunteered?
Silas’s school had a bake sale a few weeks ago wherein the third graders were doing a “cupcake walk” instead of the typical cake walk and they requested cupcake donations. I wanted to make a frosted cupcake that was both stable at room temperature and also wouldn’t immediately melt despite the warm temperatures. Swiss meringue seemed like the smartest frosting option, although I hadn’t ever made it in my life prior. Initially I wanted to make a chocolate cupcake with peanut butter frosting, but realized anything with peanuts probably wasn’t the ideal option in an elementary school that tries to be aware of peanut allergies in kids. Almond butter is generally received well around here so that was the substitution in this frosting. These cupcakes are airy and not overwhelmingly sweet, while the frosting is also decadent, rich, but light in consistency.
Chocolate Cupcakes with Almond Butter Swiss Meringue
Yields approximately five dozen cupcakes
For the cupcakes:
2½ cups packed brown sugar
¾ cup + 2 tbsp. butter, softened
3 eggs, room temperature
1¾ tsp. vanilla extract
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup + 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
2½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. sea salt
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 cup + 2 tbsp. boiling water
For the swiss meringue:
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
6 egg whites
3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoons
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter (the no-stir required type)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Prepare the cupcakes: Preheat your oven to 350° F. Lightly grease or line standard muffin tins with paper liners.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs to the creamed butter and sugar mixture, one at a time, making sure each is fully incorporated before adding the next. Beat on high speed until the mixture is light and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla extract.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the sour cream to your butter and sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until well combined. The batter will be semi-thick at this point.
Stir the boiling water into the chocolate mixture. This will thin out the batter quite a bit. It’s all okay!
Fill each cupcake well about two-thirds full of batter then bake for 25 minutes or until a cake tester (i.e. toothpick!) inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing to cool completely before frosting.
Prepare the swiss meringue and frost the cupcakes:
Place the egg whites and sugar in a large metal or glass bowl. Set the bowl over a pot of just-simmering water (not boiling!), being careful that no water gets into the egg whites. Whisk, continuously, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture looks opaque and the egg whites reach a core temperature of 160 degrees F.
Remove the bowl from the heat, add the vanilla, and whip on high speed until cooled to room temperature and stiff peaks form (10-12 straight minutes of whipping should do the trick).
Add in the butter, a tablespoon at a time, mixing to incorporate after each addition. The mixture might appear clumpy and almost curdled looking at first—this is normal. Keep mixing and it will become even and smooth again.
After all of the butter has been mixed into the frosting, add in the peanut butter, whipping until completely combined.
Generously spread the frosting on top of cupcakes, or use a large frosting tip to pipe the frosting onto your completely cooled cupcakes. Store the cupcakes covered at room temperature and enjoy within two days of preparing them.