Dark Chocolate Red Wine Cupcakes

“If not on Valentine’s Day, when?” That is the reasoning I usually give myself every year to justify an overabundant consumption of things like chocolate, desserts, and wine on the holiday. Well, I guess do this a little more often than just Valentine’s Day when it comes to the chocolate over-eating – “if not Monday or Thursday or Saturday, then when?” – but besides that, I feel that anyone has the right to indulge in sumptuous things on the most romantic day of the year. Especially when self-purchased/made treats are the only things you have to indulge in.

Slightly bitter that I may be that I generally have a lack of true Valentine’s experiences, I was excited that I had the opportunity to show a little love to my new coworkers this year. To get in the holiday spirit, I baked them up a little something that couldn’t possibly be any more Valentine-y: Dark. Chocolate. Red. Wine. Cupcakes. And who else to concoct such a divine-sounding specimen but the very talented Deb Perelman? I got the recipe from my (signed) copy of the Smitten Kitchen cookbook. I now consider the wine splattered page on which this recipe resides to be the most coveted page of them all.

Believe me people! This cake is insane. It is hard to imagine how a chocolate flavor so intense can fit inside such a dense and fudgy yet surprisingly tender little cake. The flavor of the wine is less pronounced, especially considering that almost an entire bottle goes into the batter, but it is definitely a necessary backdrop. It’s like the butter to a grilled cheese sandwich, not the most apparent component yet still absolutely essential. I used a pinot noir hoping to complement the chocolate with flavors of red berries but I trust Deb that any kind will work fine. And then there is that genius addition of cinnamon that sort of plays off the slight spiciness of the wine and supplements the richness of the chocolate with wakening warmth.

They don’t even really need frosting and are actually quite pretty with just a sprinkling of powdered sugar on their jet-black surface. But, frosting never hurts, right? I went in a bit of a different direction from Deb with the frosting, but kept the same general concept of a tangy, creamy spread. I made a barely sweetened cream cheese icing, lightened with some whipping cream and accented with a little vanilla. That’s all it takes. And just frost with a little schmear – let that cupcake shine.

One of my coworker tasters sent me this email shortly after devouring

“Thanks for the cupcake, lady! Chocolate cake so dark that light could not escape it’s pull…delightful!”

If that doesn’t sound like success, I don’t know what is. So maybe I didn’t walk away with a special valentine this year, but my cupcakes certainly found their matches, and I think that counts for something.

Dark Chocolate Red Wine Cupcakes
From the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
makes about 30 cupcakes

For the Cakes
2 stick of softened butter
2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
2/3 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 cups red wine of choice
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups cocoa powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp cinnamon
¾ tsp salt

For the Frosting
8 oz softened cream cheese
¼ cup heavy cream
1½ cups powdered sugar
¼ tsp vanilla extract
a pinch of salt

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and place cupcake liners in 2 cupcake tins. Beat the softened butter at a medium speed in an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugars, increase the speed to medium-high, and beat until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then add the vanilla. Once everything is incorporated, give the bowl a scrape to loosen up the stuck bits at the bottom.

While things are mixing, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a separate bowl and set aside. Also measure out your red wine.

Add 1/3 of the dry mix to the mixer with the butter and sugar and beat on low until the flour is just incorporated. Then, add in half of the red wine and mix to combine. Continue by adding another third of the dry mix, then the rest of the wine, and finally the rest of the dry ingredients. Mix until the ingredients are incorporated together and the batter is smooth.

Scoop the batter into the muffin tins (about 3 Tbs or a ice cream scoop-full in each) and bake for 25 minute or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

As the cupcakes cook, make the frosting. Using an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, whip up the cream cheese on a medium speed until smooth. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla and salt, and whisk to combine. Increase the speed and slowly pour in the heavy cream. Once added, whip on high for about a minute until the frosting is increased in volume and has the texture of marshmallow fluff. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

When the cupcakes are finished baking, invert them onto a cooling rack. Wait until they are completely cool before topping with a small dollop of the frosting or a dusting of powdered sugar. Store in the refrigerator – they will keep well for about 3 days.