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Cupcakes and Wine

(post, Chef Matt Finarelli)

As much as I love to teach hands-on classes, this demonstration class is one of my favorites.

The class is called "Adult Cupcake and Wine Pairing" which is kind of a naughty-sounding name when you think about it, but how else do you convey the concept that this is an event for adults, and the cupcakes are going to be better than the boring "White with Pink" or "Brown with White" cupcakes?

And to be fair, I'm not a huge supporter of the cupcake craze that is going around these days.  Most of the specialty cupcake shops in the DC area, while they do great business, make truly dreadful cupcakes.  Reality show or not, their cakes just plain suck.

Heck, the day before I was headed to the kitchen to begin baking for this event, the <em>Washington Post Express</em> threw in a little side note about my class called "Die, Trend, Die." (Which I'm guessing is not German for "The Trend, The.")

Die, Trend, Die
Cupcakes have stubbornly held on, like little buttercream barnacles, well past when everyone predicted such a frivolous item would lose its luster during a recession. Open Kitchen (7115 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church) is hosting a workshop on making cupcakes with alcohol, and how to pair them with wine. OK, the Guinness ones do sound amazing.
Washington Post Express, Nov 29, 2010

Wow, cynical stuff.  But they're right, the Guinness ones do sound amazing, and better yet, they taste amazing as well.  My day began at 10am (very late by baker's standards, but the class wasn't until 6:30pm) and involved me baking batches of all the cupcakes and their specific toppings to create a wonderful cupcake experience for my students. My cupcake creations were as follows:

-Blueberry Lemon Cupcakes with Meyer Lemon Chardonnay Frosting
-Red Velvet Port Cupcakes
-Lemon Macadamia Cupcakes with Rosemary
-Dark Chocolate Chipotle Cupcakes with Candied Orange Peel
-White Chocolate Cupcakes with Strawberries and Basil
-Guinness Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

The wine pairings were done by my good friend, Andy Hoyle, who is just a genius with wine.  His pairings were inspired to say the least, and I thought his combination of a sparkling Pinot Noir with the White Chocolate Cupcakes with Strawberries and Basil was brilliant. The Pinot mixed perfectly with the berries, picked up and amplified the basil flavor, and then when it all washed away, there was nothing but a warm, smooth white chocolate flavor left behind.  Just awesome.

But the winner of the voting this time around was the same winner as last time - my Dark Chocolate Chipotle Cupcakes with Candied Orange Peel.  So in the interest of spreading the wealth, here is that recipe.

Dark Chocolate and Chipotle Cupcakes with Candied Orange Peel
Yield: ~24 cupcakes

7 oz                    bittersweet (semisweet) chocolate
3 sticks            	unsalted butter
2¼ cups          	sugar
8 ea                   		eggs
2-2½ Tbsp      chipotle in adobo – pureed (depending on heat preference)
1¼ cups          	all purpose flour
¼ cup               		cocoa powder (unsweetened)
1½ tsp             		baking powder
¼ tsp                		salt
As Needed      	powdered sugar (garnish)
1 recipe            Candied Orange Peel (garnish)

-	Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake pan with papers.
-	Melt chocolate and butter together over double boiler while stirring gently until melted and combined.
-	Remove from heat, and stir in sugar.  Let mixture cool 10 minutes
-	Pour chocolate mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer and mix in eggs one at a time, then pureed chipotles.
-	Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt, and add to chocolate mixture.  Mix together until just combined.
-	Divide batter among cupcake papers, and bake until a toothpick comes out clean – about 25 minutes.  Top with powdered sugar and candied orange peel.

Candied Orange Peel
2 ea	          	large oranges
3 cups       		water - divided
3 cups       		sugar - divided

-	Remove peel from oranges using a vegetable peeler, being sure not to remove any of the white pith. Cut peels into ¼” wide strips.
-	Boil peels in one cup water for 15 minutes – strain.
-	Dissolve 2 cups of sugar in remaining 2 cups of water, and bring to boil. Add orange peels and simmer until peels are very soft – about 45 minutes – strain. (Reserve syrup for future use.)
-	Toss orange peels in remaining cup of sugar – separating strips as you do so.  Let dry for a few hours before using.

The class is a fun culinary experience, and of course the people attending had all sorts of great questions about baking, wine pairing and food in general. Much was learned, and everyone had a great time.  Even if the cupcake trend itself is a little silly, I hope that this class is one I'm able to do for many years into the future. Quite frankly, as a bridal shower event, I think it's a great idea, and a timeless one at that. But at the very least, I hope you're willing to join me at a future cupcake and wine class. You won't be sorry!

Chef Matt