Thursday, May 26, 2011

hi-hat cupcakes

Remember dip cones? Well, I do, since we took the kids to get them on Tuesday. Another quintessential summer dessert. As soon as you pierce the fake-chocolate-but-still-tastes-good shell, the drips start coming, and keeping up with them becomes a full-time job.

The second I saw a picture of a hi-hat cupcake, it brought dip cones to mind. In fact, these would be outstanding with the cupcakes baked into ice cream cones, if only the cones didn't taste like straw. Basically, you've got a chocolate cupcake base, piped with a two- or three-inch swirl of marshmallow meringue, dipped in melted chocolate that then hardens, concealing the fluffy, white interior. See exhibits A, B, C, and D:

Every recipe I looked at had the same basic concept and pretty much the same proportions, so this is more of a "how-to" than a specific ingredient list. The process is not difficult, but each step takes a little time, so read all the way through and plan accordingly! 

Start with your favorite cupcake recipe: I made 2/3 of Martha Stewart's recipe and got 24 cupcakes. When the cupcakes are cool, make the meringue. It is a little fussy to work with in that it starts to set up relatively quickly. I'll describe the meringue in detail in a moment, but let's keep with the steps. Make the meringue, then pipe it onto the cupcakes. Make a spiral covering the cupcake, top it with a slightly smaller spiral, and then make a third spiral on top, ending with a soft peak. I used for a star tip, but I really would recommend a round tip (or even a pastry bag with no tip) because the rounded shape of the piped meringue yields a more distinct look when you dip it in chocolate. Here comes the hurry up and wait part: place the meringue-d cupcakes on a cookie sheet and stick them in the freezer for a few hours. They won't freeze, but the meringue will chill all the way through so you can dip them without it sliding off or gooping up.

After a few hours, you'll be ready to dip. Melt a bag of chocolate chips (12 ounces) with 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil (sounds gross, but trust me; it does something good to the consistency and still allows it to harden up). Go slow - 1 minute at a time in the microwave - then stir until it is completely smooth. Let it cool for about 5 minutes (more if your chocolate is really hot). Then pour it into a wide-mouthed, short cup. Not a bowl. A cup. That makes the dipping easier. Remove no more than a dozen cupcakes from the freezer. Leave the rest in so they don't warm up too much. Holding a cupcake by the base, invert it, dip it straight down into the chocolate, and pull it back up, holding it upside down over the cup. Let a little of the excess chocolate drip off, then turn it right-side up. If you need to, spoon a tiny bit of chocolate around the base/edge of the cupcake to conceal any meringue and make a nice seal. Once you've dipped all the cupcakes, put them in the fridge for about an hour to harden up. Ultimately, for 24 cupcakes, I needed another 1/2 bag of chocolate chips. I couldn't bear to throw out the rest of the chocolate, so I cut two bananas in half, stuck lollipop sticks in each piece, and made frozen, chocolate-dipped bananas. (Another tasty, semi-healthy, summer dessert treat - for banana lovers, anyway.)

Now we can talk about the meringue. I was not delighted with my recipe, so I won't bother sharing it. If you look up hi-hat cupcakes or marshmallow meringue, you can find plenty of recipes. The proportions differ a bit, but here's the basic plan: in the top of a double boiler, you'll combine egg whites, sugar, a little water, a pinch of salt, and maybe cream of tartar and/or corn syrup. You'll stir them together to start dissolving the sugar, and place the bowl over a double boiler with simmering water. Now, you start to beat. And beat. And you're grateful for a hand mixer and seriously questioning those pioneers who ever thought making meringue by hand was a good idea. Some recipes have you do all the beating over the double boiler. Others have you just heat the ingredients enough to completely melt the sugar, then remove from the heat and keep beating. Most have you add some vanilla toward the end, and then beat for another minute or two. Then you scoop it into a piping bag and you're ready to go.

I'll tell you what problems I had. First, I doubled the recipe, but my bowl was Not. Big. Enough. Toward the end, it was nearly overflowing with sticky meringue. Second, my mixture never got hot enough, so my sugar never melted all the way. Result? Gritty texture (you can feel the sugar crystals with your tongue and teeth). The elementary school kids didn't notice, but I did! My recipe called for beating for 12 minutes and letting the mixture reach 160 degrees, but after more than 15 minutes, I still wasn't past 145F. At that point, frankly, the consistency was fine, my mixer was wheezing, and I'd had enough. You want the mixture to hold firm/stiff peaks, or else it won't cooperate when you try to pipe, then dip, it. I think next time, I will try a recipe like this one that cooks the mixture more quickly, then removes it from the heat to beat it the rest of the way.

The Open House bake sale was the perfect excuse to bake these. I'm not sure I could otherwise condone the serious amount of sugar in each cupcake. (It took me a bag and a half of chocolate chips just to dip these suckas, let alone the pile of tooth-shattering meringue and a cupcake.) But other people's kids? Have at it. Having promised to bring cupcakes, I realized I had not idea how to package them without smushing them, but since these have a hard chocolate shell, they're reasonably transportable. A plastic cup and cellophane bag worked well and looked cute, though not as "green" a solution as I'd typically like. Hopefully, the kids recycled. Here they are packaged up and ready for sale ($2 each! big money-makers):

Even without perfect meringue, I loved how these came out and I would absolutely make them again. I'd actually prefer them as minis, I think, though obviously that would be more time-consuming. They are really cute and super festive, and I got terrific feedback from the bake sale-goers.

Print Martha Stewart's one-bowl chocolate cake recipe.

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