best chocolate cupcakes ever and a blue iguana?

Aug 20

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It’s been few and far between my blog posts this year, but to make it up to you . . . I have the best chocolate cupcake recipe to share with you!  But first let me share some highlights of our recent trip to Grand Cayman!

My hubby and I turn 40 this year so we wanted to treat ourselves to a relaxing vacation for us, but also something fun for the kids.  We thought of somewhere in the Caribbean, but where?  We previously visited some of the eastern islands, so we decided on a western island this time.   It didn’t take long before we decided on Grand Cayman.  What was the selling point?  Their Seven Mile Beach!  AND the opportunity to stay at the Grand Cayman Ritz-Carlton–right on Seven Mile Beach!

Our trip was truly memorable right from the start.  When we checked into the Ritz-Carlton we were greeted with ice-cold punch and cookies for the kids!   The wonderful staff at the Ritz made us feel like it was our home away from home.  Our room was at the top-level and featured an amazing view of Seven Mile Beach!

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It was a fun-filled week of sun, sand, swimming, snorkeling, good food, pirate caves, turtle farms, stingray back rubs (yep you read that right!), a beautiful botanic park, and a rare blue iguana!  But who wants to read about our trip?!  The hubby got a new toy–a GoPro.  Thanks to him we got some awesome video highlights of our trip.  I’m sure the kids will love seeing this 20 years from now!

Now what does the best chocolate cupcake have in common with a blue iguana?  One night on our way back from dinner we stopped by the sundries store in the hotel called the Cupboard.  We knew they had baked goodies and wanted to take some desserts to go.  We were surprised that they were 50% off since it was half an hour before closing.  I immediately decided on the passion fruit tart, meanwhile my daughter chose the chocolate banana bread, and my son of course selected the chocolate cupcake.  While waiting to pay, I noticed they had a sign of the island’s native and endangered Blue Iguana.  These chocolate cupcakes, a.k.a. Blue Iguana Cupcakes, were made in honor of these beautiful creatures and proceeds would benefit the Blue Iguana Recovery Program.  I decided to get two cupcakes to support this cause.  I am so glad I did.  I ended up nibbling on my passion fruit tart, but inhaled that chocolate cupcake!  The cake was light in texture with a deep chocolate taste.  The buttercream I knew had to be some type of meringue method–it was also light and not too buttery, almost whipped cream melt in your mouth texture.

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I was so in love with these cupcakes I even had them for breakfast, all the while in the back of my mind trying to figure out how these cupcakes were made.

When we returned home from our trip we had our videos and photos, not to mention our nice tans to reminisce about our trip.  But somehow a small part of me felt a bit melancholy.  I knew it was because I missed having those cupcakes!  I decided, with some hope and faith, I would email the Ritz and inquire if they would share the recipe.  Within a few hours (yes that soon!) I got a response back from the lovely Megan Licata, Communications Manager at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman!  She said she would inquire with their Executive Pastry Chef, Benjamin Kallenbach, for the recipe and get back to me.  The next day I almost fell out of my seat, when she emailed me a copy of the recipe!

I cannot express enough my gratitude to Megan for responding so quickly to my inquiry and to Chef Kallenbach for sharing the best chocolate cupcake recipe.  He is truly my hero in the culinary world for his eagerness to share and for converting the recipe for home baking.  Being a pastry chef is an extremely demanding job and for him to take the time to do this for me, I am truly grateful.

Baking is precision, which is why ingredients in weight are much more accurate.  The original recipe for these cupcakes are listed by weight, which is how I baked them.  However, in the United States, baking by volume is much more common.  More home bakers will have measuring cups rather than a scale.  As such, I had to make a few adjustments to the original recipe so that I could give you a volume measurement as well.  You’ll see the volume measurement in parenthesis in the recipe.

The recipe for the chocolate cake is interesting.  It starts off with the usual method of creaming butter and sugar, and then adding the eggs.  But then it calls for adding a hot mixture of cocoa, water, and sour cream.  If not tempered correctly, it could lead to scrambled eggs–chocolate scrambled eggs to be precise.  The buttercream as I suspected is meringue based–Italian meringue.  I’ve never made an Italian meringue buttercream, but the method of pouring a hot sugar syrup in beaten egg whites is like second nature to me because of macaron making.  Why have I never tried to make this type before?!  I’ve always made a Swiss meringue buttercream and favor this over an American buttercream.  Now my preference without a doubt is Italian meringue buttercream–it’s much lighter in texture with a less heavy butter taste that you would get with a Swiss meringue.  One last note on meringue buttercream, because I have younger kids, I’m a bit hesitant in using raw egg whites.  Therefore, I use pasteurized egg whites (yes the type in the carton) and have been very successful with getting the meringue nice and fluffy.

Ritz-Carlton’s Chocolate Cupcakes (Blue Iguana Cupcakes)

Serves 24
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 20 minutes
Total time 35 minutes
Meal type Dessert
By author Executive Pastry Chef Benjamin Kallenbach (Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman)
My family and I recently spent a memorable vacation at the Grand Cayman Ritz-Carlton. These Chocolate Cupcakes, also known as the Blue Iguana Cupcakes, were definitely memorable! With a rich chocolate taste and a moist crumb, these cupcakes are topped with a light Italian Meringue Buttercream. The recipe for these cupcakes is courtesy of Executive Pastry Chef Benjamin Kallenbach (Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman).

Ingredients

Chocolate Cupcakes

  • 250g all-purpose flour (1 2/3 c)
  • 12g baking soda (1 tbsp)
  • 2g espresso powder (1 tsp)
  • 190g unsalted butter, softened (3/4 c + 2 tbsp)
  • 440g brown sugar (2 1/2 c)
  • 5 eggs
  • 250g water (1 c)
  • 56g cocoa powder (1/2 c)
  • 265g sour cream (1 c)
  • 6g vanilla extract (2 tsp)

Italian Meringue Buttercream

  • 4 egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 225g sugar (1 c)
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 460g unsalted butter, softened and room temperature (2 c + 2 tbsp)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • sky blue and aqua gel food coloring

Directions

Chocolate Cupcakes
Step 1 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cupcake pans with liners and set aside.
Step 2 In a bowl, sift dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, and espresso powder. Set aside.
Step 3 In a bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fully combined--scrape sides of bowl if necessary.
Step 4 Add eggs one at a time and beat to combine thoroughly before adding the next egg--scrape sides of bowl if necessary.
Step 5 In a medium saucepan, add water and cocoa powder and heat until it just boils. Whisk in sour cream and vanilla extract until smooth.
Step 6 Slowly add a little of the hot cocoa mixture to the creamed butter mixture to temper it. Be very careful to add slowly or else you'll get scrambled eggs. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix until combined.
Step 7 Slowly add dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary.
Step 8 Fill cupcake liners about 2/3 full and bake for about 20-22 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from the pans and let cool on a wire rack.
Italian Meringue Buttercream
Step 9 In a bowl of stand mixer with whisk attachment, whip egg whites and salt to firm peaks. Do not over beat the egg whites or it will break.
Step 10 Meanwhile in a small saucepan, combine sugar and water. Gently mix until the sugar is coated with the water. On medium to medium high heat, boil sugar and water to about 244 degrees.
Step 11 With the mixer on high, carefully pour the hot sugar syrup onto the side of the bowl of the whipped egg whites.
Step 12 Continue whipping until the meringue is room temperature or the side of the bowl feels lukewarm.
Step 13 Slowly add softened room temperature butter a little at a time and ensure it's completely incorporated before you add more. Add vanilla extract and whip until smooth and fluffy.
Step 14 Remove half of the buttercream and set aside. Add sky blue gel food coloring to the buttercream in the mixing bowl until you reach the desired color. Remove from the bowl and set aside. Place the remaining half of the buttercream back into the mixing bowl and add aqua food coloring until you reach the desired color.
Frosting the Cupcakes
Step 15 Place sky blue buttercream in a piping bag.
Step 16 Place aqua buttercream in another piping bag.
Step 17 Cut off the ends of both piping bags and place into a large piping bag fitted with a large star tip. Make sure both the opening of both piping bags are in the star tip. Pipe buttercream on top of cooled cupcakes.

Note

  • This recipe yields 24 cupcakes, however I used slightly larger sized cupcake liners.  If using a typical sized cupcake liner, it may yield more.
  • I was given the recipe ingredients in weight (ounces and grams), which is probably the best and most accurate way to bake.  However, most American home bakers own measuring cups vs. a scale.  Therefore, I adjusted the recipe just slightly so that I could give a conversation for volume as well.
  • The original recipe calls for 2 grams or 1 teaspoon of coffee extract.  I didn't have any on hand, but used espresso powder instead.
  • Because I have younger kids, I'm a bit cautious with using raw egg whites, even though the hot sugar syrup should kill any harmful bacteria.  Therefore, I used pasteurized egg whites (yes the kind you find in a carton).  I have successfully used this with Swiss Meringue Buttercream and using it with this Italian Meringue Buttercream recipe was also a success.

My hope is that more visitors to the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman are aware that by purchasing just one of these cupcakes they can support the recovery program.  Or even better, become aware of the plight of these animals and make some kind of contribution to their future existence.  The Blue Iguana is the most endangered iguana on Earth.  In 2002, the population was a mere 10-25 iguanas.  The most recent assessment in April 2013, indicates about 750 iguanas!  Therefore, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see such a rare and magnificent creature!  We hiked for about a mile before we came across one, and the only one we would see that day.  I am glad that my kids were able to see and understand the story behind the Blue Iguana.  But, I would also like THEIR kids to experience this as well.  It gives me comfort that the population is slowly growing and hope that these beautiful creatures will be around for a very long time.

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Drawing my inspiration from this beautiful reptile, I also wanted to reflect the true color of a Blue Iguana–which is closer to a blue and aqua coloring.  Therefore, I colored half of the buttercream a dark sky blue and the other aqua.  I placed the sky blue in one piping bag and the aqua in another.  Then I placed these two bags in another piping bag, hoping to get a two-toned effect.  I loved the way it turned out.

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Thank you again to the ladies and gentlemen of the Ritz-Carlton for making our stay a comfortable and relaxing one.  To the locals of Grand Cayman, thank you for your gracious welcome to your island–it’s what this girl from Hawaii calls the “Aloha Spirit”.  To Megan for her quick response and gracious email correspondence.  And a super big thank you to Chef Kallenbach for giving me a priceless gift–whenever I make and take a bite of the best chocolate cupcake ever, I will immediately be transported back to the beautiful Grand Cayman Island.

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Comments: 2

  1. Savannah August 30, 2014 at 9:24 pm Reply

    Great post and pics. The recipe looks great. Im a cook because it isn’t as precise as baking, though I do enjoy baking as well. I have to start trying more recipes and get out of my box.

    • ai love baking September 10, 2014 at 4:46 am Reply

      Thanks Savannah! My Mom is the same she loves to cook, but not so much baking. She always says to me, “why make it hard on yourself, that’s what bakeries are for” lol.

ai would love to hear from you!