Election night cupcakes

Ease the stress of Election Day with cute red, white, and blue cupcakes. The batter and frosting can be made ahead of time; perfect for an election night party!

Laura Edwins/The Christian Science Monitor
Everyone loves chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting. Decorate them with red or blue candy to show support for your political party, or both if you're feeling bipartisan.

There's no doubt about it, cupcakes work for every occasion. Banish any thought that these treats are just for kids, and quell your rollar coaster of Election Day emotions with a sugar rush.

This simple recipe, which can be done ahead of the Tuesday night returns, is perfect for an election night party. Both the batter and the frosting can be stored at room temperature for a couple hours, or in the refrigerator for a couple days. The chocolate cake batter makes fudgy, moist cakes, and the vanilla frosting starts off velvety, but hardens a bit on the cakes to form a crispy, sugary coating that melts in your mouth.

This recipe is specifically for cupcakes, rather than an adapted cake recipe, so it's intended to make exactly 12. My muffin tin is a bit smaller than the standard size, and I found I had enough batter for about 14 cupcakes. I also found myself with a lot of extra frosting, even after I layered more frosting onto the cakes than I usually would.

Decorate the cupcakes with red or blue to celebrate your political party, or both if you're feeling a bit bipartisan. I used thin red licorice and the blue pieces from Hershey's York Peppermint Paddy Pieces for my American "flags." Blue M&Ms would work just as well. I also experimented with red food coloring and shredded coconut.

Even if you're watching the election results alone, you may want to have some cupcakes on hand. Is there any better way to celebrate your candidate's win, or drown the dismay of a loss than with chocolate and frosting?

Chocolate cupcakes with crispy magic frosting
Recipe adapted from "Flour" by Joanne Chang
Makes about 12 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped 

1/4 cup cocoa powder (the original recipe calls for Dutch-processed cocoa powder, I used regular Hershey's, which worked fine)

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1/3 cup water

1/2 cup milk

1 egg

1 egg yolk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the frosting:
2/3 cup granulated sugar

2 egg whites

1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 2-inch chunks

1-2/3 cups confections' sugar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons milk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

About 2 tablespoons red or blue food coloring (optional) – experiment with the exact amount until you get your desired color, though I have a suspicion this frosting doesn't take coloring well. My red turned out more like hot pink.

For the decorations:
Thin red licorice cut into smaller pieces, blue and white candy, or decorations of your choice

For the cupcakes: 
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until well mixed. Set aside.

2. In large heatproof bowl, combine the chocolate and cocoa powder. In a small saucepan, heat the granulated sugar, butter, and water over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Pour the hot butter-sugar mixture over the chocolate-cocoa mixture and whisk until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth.

3. Whisk the milk, egg, egg yolk, and vanilla into the chocolate mixture until thoroughly combined.

4. Dump the flour mixture on top of the chocolate mixture. Whisk until the dry ingredients are totally mixed into the chocolate mixture.

5. Let the batter sit for at least 1 hour (I recommend longer) at room temperature, or transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to three days. (This allows the liquid to be totally absorbed into the batter, so the batter thickens up a bit and isn't so soupy.)

6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a muffin tin, or line with paper liners.

7. Spoon the batter into the muffin tin, dividing it evenly. Leave about 1/4 to 1/8-inch space at the top of each cup (the cakes spread in the oven). Bake for 30 minutes, or until the tops spring back when pressed. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

For the frosting:
1. In a small heatproof bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar and egg whites to make a thick frothy slurry. Place the bowl over, (not touching) simmering water in a saucepan and heat, whisking occasionally, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the mixture is hot to the touch. It will thin out a bit as the sugar melts.

I suppose a double boiler would work best for this step, but if you're like me and don't have one, you can use a large pot and a Pyrex measuring cup with a handle. Experiment with the water level in your pot and hanging the measuring cup over the side before measuring the sugar and egg whites. I used very little water. With this method it takes much longer for the egg whites and sugar to get hot, almost 10 minutes.

2. Remove from the heat and scrape the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment (or a handheld mixer). Whip on medium-high speed for 6-8 minutes, or until the mixture becomes a light, bright white meringue and is cool to the touch. (For me this took less than 6 minutes.)

Turn down the speed to medium, add the butter, a few chunks at a time, and beat for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the butter is thoroughly incorporated. Add the confectioners' sugar, salt, milk, vanilla, and food coloring (if using) and continue to beat on medium speed until the mixture is smooth and satiny. You should have about 3-1/2 cups. 

Use the icing immediately, or transfer to an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to three days, then beat with the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for a few minutes until smooth before using. Or, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, then bring to room temperature and paddle for a few minutes until smooth before using.

3. Ice the cupcakes. I used a cake decorator and experimented with a star tip and a flat edge tip, but an icing spatula or a butter knife would work fine. Decorate with your candy!

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