Kitchen Lab, Valentine’s Day edition: Get spicy (and boozy)!

I’ll be honest, I’m not so into Valentine’s Day. I’m more into the half-price candy on February 15th, but I understand that a lot of folks like to fancy things up for the holiday. So to get in the spirit of things, I thought I’d try cooking with booze! I mean, who doesn’t think chocolate and spiciness and beer are essential ingredients to a successful Valentine’s Day?


Ok, anyway.

I totally snagged this recipe for “Chocolate Chipotle Cupcakes” from the Sauced blog. All cooking with booze, all the time! Where could you go wrong? THAT’S RIGHT YOU CAN’T.

Except I did.

1/8 cup of sugar

Let this be a lesson to you all: make sure you’ve got your proverbial poop in a group BEFORE you get started cooking and/or baking! Assuming I had plenty of, well, everything, I completed most of Step 1 (In a medium bowl, combine Eggs, Oil, Sugar, and Vanilla) and had a glorpy pile of oil, eggs, and vanilla all ready and waiting for that sweet sweetness. Oh. Wait. I only have like 1/8 cup of sugar.

After a bit of frantic Googling, I was somewhat reassured that I could use brown sugar in equal amounts to substitute for white sugar. The molasses which makes brown sugar brown will make your recipe sweeter, but without adverse effect. Huzzah, cupcakes are saved! My brown sugar was a little lumpy, but I figured it would be OK. It also made the whole oil/egg/vanilla/sugar mixture pretty thick for hand-stirring, so I busted out the big guns.

hand mixer in its case
The big guns.

After quite a bit of gunning, I realized another thing I feel I should share with you. If your brown sugar is lumpy, you should really un-lump it before you put it in anything. As soon as it gets wet, you basically have chunks of brown sugar gravel that refuse to break apart or dissolve. Ever. After-the-fact Googling on this topic indicates that a good way to do this is to soften it in the microwave. Now we know.

Then we get to add BEER yay! The recipe recommends something dark, and the aforementioned blog mentions the use of Abita Turbodog. While I’m usually in favor of anything Abita has to offer, the Jewel I went to did not have any to actually… offer. There was some Breckinridge Vanilla Porter that might have made a lovely addition to the cupcakes, given its super-strong vanilla aroma, but I don’t particularly care for the beer alone (YMMV!) and I didn’t want five extra beers sitting in my fridge that I didn’t want to drink. So I picked up some Founders Porter*, which was quite nice and tasty when I realized the recipe didn’t require a full bottle. You can’t just leave a half a beer! *hic*

partly-completed bowl of cupcake batter
Mmm. Beer soup.

Adding the beer made things really runny, though, and I was somewhat concerned. But hey, beer soup.

It all got better when I added the flour and the rest of the ingredients, including the dark chocolate chips. Oh, did I not mention the dark chocolate chips? Yes, MOAR CHOCOLATE. I was so excited about the chocolate chips that I almost forgot to add the chipotle powder. (WHY ARE SPICES SO EXPENSIVE GRAR) And, since the recipe didn’t call for a whole bag of chips, now I have dark chocolate snacks. Win.

Recipes for cupcakes also assume you’ve got cupcake tins, and probably those little ruffly cupcake paper things as well. They don’t really allow for special folks (like I often am) who just think, “Hey, cupcakes! Yes, let’s do THAT!” However, I’d gone through that whole rigamarole on another cupcake-baking occasion, so I was prepared for this one. Mix up batter, don’t fill the cups over 1/2 or 3/4 of the way or they’ll explode all over your oven, stick ’em in your preheated oven and wait for deliciousness. Or in my case, make frosting.

countertop covered in spilled baking ingredients and their containers
If you’re not making a mess, you’re doing it wrong.

Yes, I said make frosting. I know, I know, it comes in those tubs right at the grocery store and it’s so easy and and and OK GREAT but it’s super-easy to make your own and you don’t get mystery casein and dyes and whatnot added in. Which hey, if that’s your thing and you absolutely need Funfetti, go for it. I won’t judge, the word “fun” is right there in the name. But it seems that my idea of “fun” is smushing things together, so I tried the Sauced-recommended frosting with butter and cream cheese. Which one might not initially assume made for deliciousness, but you add sugar and cocoa and hello, Nom City.

Chocolate chipotle cupcake with chocolate buttercream frosting and sprinkles
You’re my cuppycake!

Even though I planned ahead and got my butter and cream cheese out way early so it would soften up (room temperature ingredients make the smushing much easier!), this was again a situation for the big guns. Whipping more air into the frosting makes it all light and fluffy, and you really don’t want to try for that effect by hand or you’ll have no energy for your Valentine’s Day activities later. Whatever they may be. Even if they involve frosting.

Then, whenever I make frosting, I always think “WHOA NELLY THAT’S A LOT OF FROSTING” and glorp a whole pile onto the first half of the cupcakes. Then I run out. Don’t do that. I also added some sprinkles. Those are optional, but I had extra pink sprinkles left over from a previous bake-sale attempt, so hey, optimal time to get rid of my least-favorite color!

I took the cupcakes to my guinea pigs the book club to test, and they seemed to get a good approval rating. The chipotle was just enough to make normal chocolate cupcakes interesting! They were even Labber-approved:

Katie eating a cupcake
“I’m just gonna try it, I probably won’t eat the whole thing.
OK, I’m gonna eat the whole thing.”

So yeah, cupcakes AND frosting: not so hard. Even when you’re unprepared.

Stay spicy, my friends!

*(This post is dedicated to the two bottles of Founders Porter that were tragically lost in the making of these cupcakes. I was trying to carry too much stuff at once through my ridiculously labyrinthine series of front doors, and dropped the six-pack on the stairs. I salute you, beer!)

Beth Voigt

Beth is a graphic designer in Chicago, a superhero in her own mind, and absolutely nothing on TV. She wrangles fonts professionally, pummels code amateurishly, and has been known to shove fire in her face for fun. Fond of volunteering, late-night bursts of productivity, and making snacks, she dislikes grocery shopping and sticky public transit and is only on her second smartphone. Her opinion is that you should try everything twice; if you don't like it, you were probably doing it wrong the first time around. If external links are your thing, here are links to Twitter and Instagram, and you can support her ongoing weirdness by buying her a coffee or six.

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