Orange Chocolate Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Ganache and Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

Chocolate Orange has always kind of been a big flavour for me, especially during the Holidays.

Every Christmas, my brother and I would rush downstairs and start tearing through our stockings: lip balm, an Archie comic or two, some Christmas socks ... and then, the square box. We knew what it was without even opening it, and every Christmas like delicious clockwork, it would be waiting for us nestled in the toe of the stocking, just waiting to have the daylights smashed out of it by hungry chocolate loving kids like us. Well, times haven't changed much.
This Christmas (in a much more orderly fashion) my brother and I sauntered ('cause older people 'saunter') downstairs,and slowly and delicately (yeah ... right) opened each item in our stockings. There was the lip balm, there was the Archie comic, and, just as it always was, nestled in the toe of the stocking, my chocolate orange; something that has become as much a part of my Christmas tradition as turkey dinner (and nearly as delicious). Well something this familiar and delicious just needed to become a cupcake, and so, what you will read about and subsequently make (I hope) is not just a cupcake; to me, it's family, it's love, it's Christmas, in a delicious little package.

I know there are many people who don't like the combination of chocolate and orange (or chocolate and any fruit for that matter) and, similar to the egg nog thing, I kind of get it. But for all of you haters out there, I bet you a batch of cupcakes that you'll enjoy these; the flavour is just subtle enough to satiate the palate of both lovers and haters alike. I'm pretty sure that I haven't steered you wrong yet, so trust me on this.

For this particular endeavour I enlisted the assistance of one of my very good friends, my boyfriend and my other boyfriend ... he looks like this:


His name is Carlos (thanks Lynds)

I am absolutely in love with my new stand-mixer! He (its name is Carlos after all) works like a dream, he cuts out the monotonous "standing in one spot for 5 minutes mixing stubborn batter while you could be getting on with your life" thing that tends to happen sometimes with a hand mixer, AND he's shiny! What more could you want? ( 'a life' I hear you rudely whisper. Or is that my conscience?) Anyway, I pulled my mixer out of the box with trembling hands (mostly because it's heavy and I'm not that strong ...) got all of the ingredients in a neat little pile on my kitchen table, and got to work. 

I delegated tasks to the two other animate people in the room (sorry Carlos) and we went about sifting, and mixing and cracking (the eggs). Carlos was humming along beautifully, and everything seemed to be going according to plan, just like I assumed it would. But you know what happens when you assume things? Me neither, but I'll tell you what did happen. Carlos was resting, the batter was shiny and looked beautiful and, as always, I went in for a taste. And thank goodness I did! Something was wrong, very very wrong. As I looked around wondering what we could have forgotten, my eyes rested on the unopened bag of sugar in front of me. Bingo. 

*This brings up an important lesson, dear readers. Always taste your batter before putting it in the oven, because, unlike in cooking, it's your only chance to do so and to add what may be lacking or missing altogether (in this case the sugar*

I dumped in the sugar thanking my lucky stars that the cupcake gods were on my side that day, and I gave the messy job of filling the liners to my boyfriend (the animate one). This batter is extremely runny but this is due to the high amounts of liquid that the recipe calls for. Don't worry if it looks kind of soupy, you haven't done anything wrong. Before long the liners were filled, the cupcakes were in the oven, my boyfriend went off boxing day shopping with my brother, and my friend and I (and Carlos) were left to our own devices, which ... is not always the best idea (to give you an idea, it's during a work day alone with her that I discovered you can't froth butter with an espresso machine ... yup) but it sure is fun!

In what seemed like no time at all, the cupcakes were done and out of the oven. Now, in the title of this post I say "dark chocolate ganache" which, by definition is usually a combination of dark chocolate and cream, and a whole bunch of whisking, and heating, and cooling. Well, I'm talking about the poor-man's ganache, which saves a whole chunk of time and is equally as delicious! We bought a dark chocolate bar, and broke it into segments, and when the cupcakes were still hot we placed the chocolate on top and swirled it around so that it melted neatly over the tops of the cupcakes to form a shiny, chocolatey layer of goodness. 

We cleaned Carlos up to get him ready for the frosting. This time we made sure to add the sugar and everything again appeared to be going smoothly. And it did. But when I tasted the frosting it didn't really seem that orangey to me, and I was disappointed. So, I grated in WAY more zest than called for, and tried it again; this time it was sweet and orangey and tangy and perfect. 

*If you'd like a more subtle orange flavour, dear readers, follow the recipe and, just like last time, taste along the way*

Well the frosting was done, the cupcakes had been out for a while so they weren't hot anymore, and I was just so excited to use my new piping bag and tips that I decided I wasn't going to wait anymore; the frosting was going on. I filled the piping bag, twisted it tight, squeezed it over those tasty cupcakes and do you know what happened? This:


oops

No my piping skills were not off that day, and the cupcakes weren't too hot. But the chocolate was too wet so it just sort of ... slid off. My friend and I coined a term for this particular happenstance: Shawshank (as in Shawshank Redemption), meaning to escape or run away from the desired location (of the person, thing, deity, law etc that put it there in the first place) ('that icing just shawshanked right off of that cupcake'). 

I did warn you, this is what happens when we are left alone together. 

*Silliness aside, if you don't want your icing to shawshank, wait for the chocolate to completely harden (and it will). I'm just entirely too impatient as I'm sure you're already aware ... *

After said incident, we decided to wait for the chocolate to cool completely (which, embarrassingly enough, didn't take very long at all) before piping the rest of the cupcakes. And pipe them we did.


"Hmm now let's see we made a ghost, that's a clover, kind of, that one was supposed to be a heart and ... what's that supposed to be?"


You may notice that the cupcakes depicted above aren't exactly "Food and Wine Magazine" ready. But you know what? So what? This is what baking is about! Having a blast with the people you care about, getting messy, and naming inanimate objects. And don't be fooled, while they may not look amazing ... oh my. These, hands down, are the best cupcakes that I have made to date, and the moistest (wow I can't believe that's a word) by far. So come on, grab your friends, get into the kitchen, and make these. I had a blast, and I'm sure you will too (and I know that anyone that tastes these will definitely be enjoying themselves as well).

Happy Baking!




Cupcakes:



2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup cocoa powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
¾ cup milk (I used 2%)
¾ cup orange juice
¼ cup Grand Marnier
2 tablespoons cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a cupcake pan with 18 cupcake liners. Set aside.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. With an electric mixer on low speed, slowly add the oil and vanilla until fully incorporated.
Gradually add the milk and orange juice and the Grand Marnier. The mixture will separate and then come back together to form a smooth consistency. Add the vinegar, mixing until just combined.
Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake liners. Bake for 16-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Add pieces of chocolate if desired, and then cool on a wire rack.

Frosting: 


4 cups powdered sugar
1 package (8 oz.) light cream cheese
1 teaspoon orange juice
½ teaspoon grated orange peel
 



Place all ingredients in mixer bowl. Attach bowl and flat beater to mixer. Turn to Stir Speed (low) and mix about 30 seconds, or until blended. Turn to Speed 4 (medium speed) and beat about 2 minutes, or until smooth and creamy.

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