CSB: Banana Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting

To all my long-lost, beloved baking/blogging buddies, I just want to say, I’m SO very glad to be back! I have missed you all terribly throughout my extended absence from CSB and SMS due to illness, but thankfully I’m slowly getting stronger, and I’m heading back to the kitchen. It’s been extremely hard to be away, unable to participate, but I hope you understand that my commitment and love for both groups have never wavered. I can’t wait to catch up with everyone and find out how you guys are doing! (I apologize profusely that this post is a few days past due… gosh darn sinus infections! But I wanted to put it up any way- I’ve been looking forward to getting back into the swing of things, and I won’t let a little added sickness stop me!) Much love to you all and thank you for being there… you mean more to me than you’ll ever know! Now, on to business.

Have you ever had a recipe make you feel like you’d lost your baking mojo? As if that special magic touch you once had to transform ordinary ingredients into something extraordinarily delicious, visually appealing, and all-around impressive had disappointingly disappeared? Well, for some reason beyond my comprehension, I faced that unfortunate predicament with this month’s (supposedly “simple”) Cake Slice Bakers recipe, Banana Cake with Chocolate Frosting. At first glance of the ingredients and instructions, I figured this would be a stress free sweet to tackle… nothing alarmingly unusual to be cause for concern. But as the making of my chocolate-topped banana cupcakes unfolded, I encountered one problem after another. In the past, such baking related crises have reduced me to tears, however, my determination to complete the assignment (my first one back with the group in a number of months) inspired me to surge forward undeterred. I’m proud to report that in the end, my perseverance was duly rewarded with moist, tender, flavorful cakes crowned with deep, dark, fudgy frosting. But oy vey, was it a journey getting there…

Back when this project appeared uncomplicated and straightforward, I planned to contribute the results to a fundraising bake-sale (I’ll be telling you all about that in an upcoming post!), so individual serving size was the way to go. The batter came together quickly, but I couldn’t resist adding just a wee bit more mashed banana than called for- it looked so forlorn left-over in the bowl and based on my past experience with banana baked goods, a little extra just adds to the flavor and moistness. Well, I think in this case, you can have “too much of a good thing,” as it also contributed to an overly wet batter. My only other deviation was to toss in about a half cup of mini chocolate chips, hoping it would better tie in the frosting. Despite my customary vigilance of ensuring all my ingredients are fully incorporated (I love love love my favorite rubber scraper), I somehow ended up with a patch of flour at the bottom of my bowl once ¾ of the liners were already filled. I stirred up what was left, and foolishly continued on (finishing off many of the less full cups with that bottom batter). I had no idea that those extra little scoops would end up baking into large, unattractive lumps, making those cupcakes sadly malformed.

After about 20 minutes, they passed the toothpick test, and although the tops were still dewy, my typical fear of over-baking set in, so out of the oven they came. Ten minutes of cooling passed, and I could no longer ignore the overwhelming gut feeling that my toothpick was a liar and the cakes were not fully cooked. Breaking into one confirmed my suspicion and panic set in. At that point, they either had to go back in the oven or in the trash. I was unsure if irreparable damage had been done, but I had to try to save them- I chose the oven. Over the next five minutes, I continued opening that door, pricking every single one of my 2 dozen cupcakes feeling for resistance, checking that the toothpick pulled out TRULY clean. When I believed they were finally done, I stared down at my dismal looking cooling rack feeling like an absolute baking failure. Even though I was zapped of energy and thoroughly discouraged, I had no choice but to regroup, re-strategize, and figure out what I could pull together for my bake sale, as it certainly would not be those cupcakes. I put them away and set them aside- I just didn’t have the heart to verify they were ruined, so they remained untouched until the following day.

The next night when my mom was on her way home from a long, hectic day of work, I decided to pour her a glass of milk, and warm up one of the cupcakes to try (Of course, I first double checked it wasn’t raw on the inside.) Obviously, I had very low expectations, (I was hoping for edible) but when she took a bite, her face lit up, she mumbled a long “Mmmmm,” and said, “Why did you think there was something wrong with these?- they’re delicious!” Imagine my surprise.

By the time I got around to the second component, the chocolate frosting, quite a few of the batch had been happily devoured. But without their proper topping, the naked cupcakes were teetering dangerously on the edge of qualifying as dessert; a more accurate classification would’ve probably been muffins. So on to part two. I was under the erroneous impression that the worst was behind me, and the rest of the recipe would be smooth sailing. Not so much. Five ingredients and five easy steps, I’d be sure to have smooth, thick, chocolate perfection in no time flat, right? Two attempts- reading and re-reading the directions, triple checking the ingredients, being extra careful- no luck. Both times, I ended up with a broken, clumpy, disgusting mess. I tried in two different pots, used two kinds of whisks, and on the 2nd try even sifted the cocoa trying to eliminate the chance of lumps. But the butter, evaporated milk, and cocoa NEVER CAME TOGETHER! No matter how long I stirred (10+ minutes at least), it just refused to cooperate. At first, it turned into a bunch of large dark clumps in what looked like boiling butter… vigorous whisking gave me a bunch of little spotted clumps in butter- but it certainly never became a “dark shiny essence,” as described in the recipe. I was regulating my heat, trying to keep it at a “gentle” boil, but it just WOULD NOT WORK! The 2nd time, I went ahead and continued on to the next step of adding the sugar (despite knowing it was definitely NOT the way it was supposed to be, and sugar wasn’t going to help matters)- and I got a bowl of gray pebbles. It was probably the farthest thing from a thick, smooth frosting that I’ve ever made or seen. Big mess. As you can imagine, by that point I was frustrated, exasperated, and exhausted- so I had to walk away. Again. I know I did something wrong, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what it was! I’ve never made a cooked chocolate frosting, so I’ll admit, it seemed like a foreign process to begin with. I reached out to both Steph and Katie, but neither could solve the mystery of my frosting disaster. I received approval from Katie to utilize a different frosting, and I was relieved that I wouldn’t be wasting additional ingredients, time, and energy on a 3rd try. (If anyone thinks they know the source of the problem, I’d love your advice- as always!)

I thought it appropriate to call upon the other cookbook CSB bakes from, Sky High, for my replacement, and settled on the Instant Fudge Frosting. Now this is a recipe I can stand behind, and one that truly deserves the designation of “simplistic.” My dad went so far as to say it was “out-of-this-world.” Sorry Southern Cakes, but when it comes to chocolate frosting, Sky High’s got you beat.

Instant fudge frosting
from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne

6 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
4 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
6 tablespoons half and half (I used 3 tablespoons heavy cream + 3 tablespoons milk)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Place all of the ingredients in a food processor (make sure to use a large one!) and pulse to incorporate. Then process until the frosting is smooth and uniform.

While part of me is embarrassed to admit all my kitchen blunders- (I’m sure this post portrays me as a terrible baker!)- I think it’s important to admit when things go awry. Sometimes it’s just not your day. It’s okay to get discouraged and disappointed, but what matters most is refusing to let those feelings keep you out of the kitchen. My mom made it all worth it when she shared how proud she was that I never gave up or broke down when things didn’t turn out right. That meant more to her than the most perfect batch of cupcakes ever could. What a wonderful mom, huh? She gave me a big hug, and I’m glad in the end, I gave her dessert.