Tonight I returned to L'Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Maryland to take one of their recreational pastry classes, taught by Theresa Souther.  The description of this class had me at peanut butter buttercream!  On the agenda were three cupcakes:
  • Triple Vanilla Cupcakes
  • Chocolate Cupcakes
  • Chiffon Cupcakes
 to be paired with
  • Milk Chocolate Ganache
  • Peanut Butter Buttercream
  • Whipped Cream and Strawberries 
  • Strawberry and Rhubarb Compote

There are two things that are nice about baking in a classroom setting.  First, you don't have to lift one finger to clean up after yourself!  Second, all of the ingredients for the recipes are measured out for you and organized into trays - one for each cupcake.  I think that the second aspect may be a culprit, tonight, for the chocolate cupcakes both falling in the center and having a gooey middle that wasn't supposed to happen.  Our chef suggested that the baking powder could not have been measured properly because the only other thought for the cave-in was that we overwhipped the batter, but that wasn't the case because we folded the meringue in.  Anyway, regardless of what they looked like, they tasted good, and we could make up for some of the flaws with some frosting craftiness.   
Chiffon Cupcake with Whipped Cream

Triple Vanilla Cupcake with Milk Chocolate Ganache and Peanut Butter Frosting

Chocolate Cupcake with Peanut Butter Frosting

Chiffon Cupcake Filled with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

Here are the recipes for the three batters...

Triple Vanilla Cupcakes (12-16 cupcakes)
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, soft and room temperature
1 cup (8 oz) vanilla sugar*
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Seeds of one vanilla bean
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups (6 oz) cake flour, sifted
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk, warm
* To make vanilla sugar, split a vanilla bean in two and submerge in 2 cups of sugar.  Leave the vanilla bean in the sugar for at least 24 hours before using.  It can be made ahead of time (weeks) and stored at room temp.

1. Cream butter and sugar at slow speed until well mixed.  Add eggs one at a time.  Add vanilla extract and seeds.
2. Sift together baking powder, cake flour, and salt.
3. Alternately add dry ingredients and milk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.
4. Divide batter between prepared cupcake pans (suggest using piping bag).  Fill half full for best results.
5. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown and the cake tests clean, 20-22 minutes.
Chocolate Cupcakes (12 cupcakes)
1/2 cup (4 oz) water
1/4 cup (2 oz) vegetable oil
1/2 stick (2 oz) unsalted butter
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 oz semisweet chocolate (less than 70 percent for best flavor)
1 large egg
1/4 cup (2 oz) buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup (8 oz) sugar
1 cup (5 oz) all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

1. Bring water, vegetable oil, butter, and cocoa to a boil in a small saucepan.  Whisk until smooth.  Remove from heat and add chocolate.  Whisk to combine until chocolate is melted and set aside until cool.
2. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk and vanilla extract.
3. In a separate large bowl, whisk together sugar, flour, baking soda, and salt.
4. When chocolate is cool, slowly add it to the egg mixture.
5. Stir liquid ingredients into dry ingredients until just combined.
6. Fill lined cupcake pans halfway.  Bake at 375 degrees until the center tests clean, about 18-20 minutes.
Chiffon Cupcakes (10-12 cupcakes)
3 large egg yolks
6 Tbsp (3 oz) water
1/4 cup (2 oz) vegetable oil
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp (5 oz) cake flour
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp (5 oz) sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 large egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
2 Tbsp (1 oz) sugar

1. Separate the 4 eggs into two bowls, one for the whites and one for 3 of the yolks.
2. Using a paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks, water, vegetable oil, lemon zest, and vanilla extract on medium speed until smooth, about 5-7 minutes.
3. While the egg yolk mixture is mixing, sift the cake flour, the largest amount of sugar, baking powder, and salt into a large mixing bowl.
4. Mix the yolk mixture into the flour mixture until smooth.
5. In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar together until peaks begin to form.  Slowly add the smaller amount of sugar into the whipping whites until the meringue forms stiff peaks.
6. Fold half of the meringue into the yolk-flour mixture.  Fold in the second half of the meringue.
7. Pour batter into lined cupcake molds - filling 2/3 to 3/4 full - and bake at 325 degrees for 22-24 minutes, until the cupcakes bounce back when touched.  Unmold immediately from pan and cool.

Peanut Butter Buttercream (3 cups)
1 cup (8 oz) granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1 Tbsp Karo corn syrup
3 oz strained egg whites
2 1/2 sticks (10 oz) unsalted butter, cut in 1-inch cubes, room temperature
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/4 to 1/2 cup peanut butter, unsweetened or natural preferred

1. Place sugar into a small saucepan.  Add water and mix with your hands to make a slurry, so no pockets of dry sugar exist.  If any sugar sticks to the sides of a pan, be sure to wash the sides down with your fingers or a clean silicone brush.
2. When sugar water comes to a boil, add Karo.  Cook sugar over high heat until it reaches a soft-ball stage (238 degrees). 
3. Begin whipping egg whites in a mixer.
4. Test sugar for soft-ball stage.  To test, take a small sample with a spoon and place in an ice water bath.  Use fingers in the ice water roll the sugar off the spoon and form a ball.  If the ball holds its form on its own outside the water, but can still be squished with your fingers, it is ready.
5. When sugar reaches soft-ball stage and egg whites are foamy, slowly pour sugar over whipping egg whites while still mixing.  Keeping the saucepan edge near the mixing bowl edge, be careful not to let sugar hit the sides of the bowl or the metal whip.
6. Whip egg whites and sugar until cool.  Test the temperature at the bottom of the outside of the mixing bowl.  After the meringue has fully formed, it can be cooled using an ice bath.
7. Decrease speed of mixer, add butter and vanilla extract.  Increase speed of mixer and whip until light and fluffy.
8. Add peanut butter and whip until combined.

Buttercream can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for one week or frozen for one month.  Recondition buttercream by warming in microwave or over steam, then whipping in a mixer.