This story begins with a bottle of Washington state syrah, opened for a Friday afternoon office happy hour and left, half full, on the table as people drifted away to their weekend plans. “Take it home,” someone suggested, as I recorked the bottle. So I did, and drank a glass the next day, and then left the bottle sitting on our kitchen counter for several days.
Then today, as I was contemplating a lack of Friday evening plans, I began to wonder what sort of last-minute Sugar-High Friday fun I could have with the couple of glasses of syrah still in that bottle. (The theme ingredient for this month’s SHF, hosted by Chandra of Lick the Spoon, is alcohol of some sort.) I love fruit poached, simmered or soaked in red wine, but I didn’t want to do that. Same with sabayon/ zabaglione/ wine custard by whatever name.
Turning to epicurious (it was my lunch hour, and I was sans cookbooks), I ran across a recipe for Chocolate Merlot Cake, reprinted from Anne Willan’s Cooking with Wine. While I’ve baked chocolate cakes to serve with port for several years now, I had yet to bake a chocolate cake with wine in the batter. I was intrigued.
After another Friday wine-drinking happy hour, I arrived home ready – or so I thought – to bake. Based on the suggestion of an epicurious commenter, I cut the cake recipe in half, and made cupcakes rather than a layer cake. I made a couple of other changes, too…
Cocoa red wine cupcakes
adapted from Anne Willan’s Chocolate Merlot Cake
makes 8 cupcakes
1 cup flour
3/8 cup cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
7 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cups + 2 tablespoons “well-rounded” red wine, in this case, a syrah
Heat the oven to 350Â°F. (I mistakenly set my oven to 375Â°F – I think my eye picked up the last digits of the 175Â°C in parentheses in the recipe – and I just discovered my error while typing this up. Oops.) Butter 8 cups of a set of muffin tins. (I used only six, and, well, you’ll see where that got me later.) Sprinkle the cups with cocoa powder, shake to coat the entire surface of the cups, and discard any excess.
Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt together into a bowl. (You will probably not discover, as I did, that you have only half a cup of all-purpose flour left in the kitchen. How did that happen? My options for the remaining half cup were whole wheat flour, cake flour, or a quick trip to the grocery store. I chose cake flour.) Set aside.
With an electric mixer, cream the butter. Beat in the sugar, and continue beating 3-5 minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the egg, and then the vanilla, and continue beating a couple more minutes.
Sift a third of the flour mixture into the mixing bowl and, using a spatula, fold into butter mixture. Fold in a third of the wine. Add the remaining flour and wine alternately in two batches.
Spoon the batter in the prepared muffin cups. Fill empty muffin cups half full of water. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. With the oven at 375Â°, this took about 25 minutes; at 350Â°, perhaps 30 minutes. Let the cupcakes cool 10 minutes in the tin, then turn them out on a rack to cool completely.
I used only six muffin cups, and the cupcakes rose above the top of the tin. Perhaps it was the additional 25Â° of oven temperature, and/or the soft cake flour, but the batter spread out across the surface of the tin, making cute little flat-domed tops. I thought they were rather charming. Then I attempted to remove them from the tin… and all of the tops came off separately, leaving the bases in the tin. Aargh! Fortunately, the cupcake bottoms came out of the tin easily enough, thanks to the butter and cocoa powder prep.
I had already planned to serve the cupcakes with raspberries (frozen last summer at the season’s peak) tossed with cassis and a bit of sugar, so I made the presentation similar to a shortcake: fruit mounded onto the bottom half of a split biscuit, the biscuit top a jaunty cap. The biscuit shortcake includes cream of some sort (whipped, ice, fraiche are all good), and I’m sure the cream component would play nicely with these little chocolate cakes, but I was quite pleased with the addition of only the macerated berries.
Saturday morning how-could-I-forget-this perhaps-it-was-the-wine update: How do they taste? A nicely crisp top (that extra 25Â°?) covers a soft, moist crumb. The flavor is rich, semisweet chocolate, with a subtle twist. The wine adds a fruitiness in flavor and aroma, yet tempers the cake’s sweetness; it is a supporting player rather than a star. The bright sweet-tart flavor of the raspberries in cassis is a perfect counterpoint to the cake.
When next I reach for this recipe – there will definitely be a next time – I’ll bake a full recipe in cake pans, and sandwich fresh raspberries between the tender layers. And only after the cakes are in the (350Â°) oven, only then will I pour myself a glass of wine.