Although the decorating and the photography are lacking in this post (although big thanks to Amanda for letting me use her cell phone--again--since I forgot to take photos before dragging the cupcakes to work), this is one of the best.cupcakes.ever.
So what makes this cupcake so special? Just like with people, it's what's inside that counts (except for folks like Heidi Pratt, where the inside and outside are equally plastic). In this case, the center contains a rich truffle filling. Therefore each cupcake packs a 1-2 sucker punch of chocolate. The creamy, uber-smooth peanut butter icing (Swiss buttercream) tops it off for a mouthful of mmmmmmm.
Although I don't visit the Cook's Illustrated website as much as I used to because I have radically changed how I approach baking and cooking lately (thanks to Ratio by Michael Ruhlman - watch for a post on that later), I occasionally still visit the CI site. The most recent issue featured "Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes" so I gave them a go after reading the article, since CI claimed to have solved a conundrum that has vexed me for years.
The problem that CI tackled with this recipe is one that once caused me to smash a cake with my fist, shooting moist chocolate shrapnel across the entire kitchen and creating a heckuva mess. When you start loading a cake with a lot of chocolate the structure weakens, and you are left with a tasty cake that crumbles with a stern glance. Forget about icing the bastard; you will be lucky if you can get it out of the cake pan in one piece.
To counter this issue, the fine test kitchen pros at CI surmised that using bread flour, with its high protein and gluten content, would toughen the cake structure so loads of chocolate flavor could be added without the cake falling apart. Then, to gild the lily, they included a dense, fudgy center by topping the cupcake batter with a dollop of rich ganache. The ganache sinks during baking and becomes a hidden gem to discover when you bite into the cupcake.
Although some CI baking recipes have left me cold, this one delivers big time. The cupcakes were moist without being dense, tender while not being too crumbly, and tasted fantastic. The peanut butter icing was good enough to eat with a spoon, and the truffle center elevated the cupcakes even higher.
I will have to make them again. Soon. Then it's on to the outlet mall to buy bigger pants.