Intro to Cooking: Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes

Summer is winding down, school is starting up, alumni are still doing the same-sh*t-different-day dance. In summary, the end of August kind of blows. Which is why this week’s Intro to Cooking is throwing nutrition to the wind (sort of), because it’s time for something indulgent!

The Ingredient: Dark Chocolate

In truth, dark chocolate IS good for you. In small servings, it can lower blood pressure, due to its richness in antioxidants. Why the dark stuff, over its milk- and white-chocolate sisters? Researchers think that the milk found in the latter two varieties may temper with the body’s absorption of the healthful nutrients found in pure chocolate.

Easy recipes (do you really need an excuse?)

* Pair a few pieces with a glass of red wine (more antioxidants!) for a refined evening snack.
* Mix 2 tablespoons agave nectar with 1 tablespoon dark cocoa powder for a healthier alternative to chocolate dip, and serve over pieces of apples, raspberries, and bananas.
* Toss some dark chocolate pieces in a baggie with almonds, goji berries, walnuts, and peanuts for an upscale, super-tasty trail mix for those really hectic days.

The Recipe: Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes
Whoever discovered the combination of chocolate and peanut butter should be given the Nobel Prize, for their contribution to countless moments of decadent dessert bliss. So if you want a cupcake that is truly a religious experience (seriously, just look at that photo), pull out this recipe from Food & Wine, and you’ll be praying to the chocolate gods in no time.

Ingredients
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1/2 cup boiling water
1 cup buttermilk
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 350° and position 2 racks in the lower and middle third of the oven. Line 24 muffin cups with paper or foil liners.

2. Put the cocoa powder in a medium heatproof bowl. Add the boiling water and whisk until a smooth paste forms. Whisk in the buttermilk until combined. In a medium bowl, sift the flour with the baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, beat 1 1/2 sticks of the butter with the granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

3. Beat in the eggs and vanilla, then beat in the dry ingredients in 2 batches, alternating with the cocoa mixture. Carefully spoon the cupcake batter into the lined muffin cups, filling them about two-thirds full. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until the cupcakes are springy. Let the cupcakes cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then transfer them to wire racks to cool completely.

4. In a medium bowl, beat the peanut butter with the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter until creamy. Sift the confectioners’ sugar into the bowl and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Spoon all but 3 tablespoons of the peanut butter filling into a pastry bag (or a plastic baggie with a small hole cut in the corner). Holding a cupcake in your hand, plunge the tip into the top of the cake, pushing it about 3/4 inch deep. Gently squeeze the pastry bag to fill the cupcake, withdrawing it slowly as you squeeze; you will feel the cupcake expand slightly as you fill it. Scrape any filling from the top of the cupcake and repeat until all of the cupcakes are filled.

5. In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a simmer. Off the heat, add the semisweet chocolate to the cream and let stand for 5 minutes, then whisk the melted chocolate into the cream until smooth. Let the chocolate icing stand until slightly cooled and thickened, about 15 minutes. Dip the tops of the cupcakes into the icing, letting the excess drip back into the pan. Transfer the cupcakes to racks and let stand for 5 minutes. Dip the tops of the cupcakes again and transfer them to racks.

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