Christmas has snuck up on me way too fast this year, I’m usually super organised and have all my gift shopping done by the first week of December but I think that this year a lot of people are going to be getting their presents a tad late…I have however managed to get in a decent amount of Christmas baking, my favourite of which (so far) has been these cupcakes. I’d had the idea in my head for a while that I wanted to make a mulled wine cake, so when I stumbled across a recipe for red wine chocolate cake I knew that I just had to adapt it to come up with a christmassy version.
These cupcakes consist of an incredibly soft, melt in the mouth chocolate cake, laced with mulled wine and spices, topped with a swirl of dreamy, smooth spiced orange mascarpone icing and drizzled with mulled wine syrup. All together it tastes like Christmas. These are definitely grown up cakes – you can taste the wine, but it isn’t too in your face boozy and they have quite a complex flavour with the layers of spice, chocolate, wine and orange. They are not too sweet, the creamy mascarpone icing complements the cake beautifully and the wine syrup adds an extra burst of mulled wine flavour, they are quite simply one of the most delicious things that I have ever baked and disappeared astonishingly quickly!
The mulled wine syrup is easy to make, you simply heat red wine with some spices and orange and let it infuse, measure out what you need for the cake then add sugar to the remainder, bring it up to the boil and let it simmer until it has reduced and become syrupy. The syrup is sweet, spiced and slightly tangy, you will end up with more than you need for the cakes but it is delicious drizzled over ice cream, yoghurt, fruit or pancakes and will keep for ages in the fridge. If you don’t want to make the syrup you can use shop bought mulled wine for the cakes although they will be sweeter and the wine flavour less pronounced or you can use plain red wine and maybe increase the quantities of ground spices slightly.
Make sure that you use full fat mascarpone for the icing or you risk it going runny, you can substitute cream cheese if you prefer but it may end up being too tangy when combined with the mulled wine syrup; the mascarpone has a creamier, smoother flavour than cream cheese and when paired with orange and a hint of cinnamon it complements the dark cake perfectly. The recipe calls for dutch process cocoa powder (also known as alkalised cocoa powder); in the UK most cocoa powder is alkalised, double check the ingredients list – it should say something like “cocoa processed with alkali” or mention an alkalizing agent, like potassium carbonate. Green and Blacks cocoa powder is one brand that is alkalised.
Mulled Wine Chocolate Cupcakes
(Please note: although I have provided a conversion from grams to US cup measurements I cannot guarantee the accuracy as I do not bake using cups, I thoroughly recommend investing in a digital metric scale, it is far more accurate.)
Mulled wine and mulled wine syrup:
- 750ml bottle red wine
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/2 orange or 1 clementine
- 10 cloves
- 1 star anise
- 6 allspice berries
- 130g (2/3 cup) granulated sugar
- 110g (1 stick) softened butter
- 215g (1 packed cup + 3 tbsp) dark brown soft sugar
- 75g (1/3 cup + 1 tbsp) caster (superfine) sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 265ml (1 + 1/8 cup) mulled wine (cold)
- 200g (1 + 2/3 cup) plain flour
- 65g (1/2 cup) dutch/alkalised cocoa powder
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp ground allspice/pimento
- 1/4 tsp ground star anise
- 1/4 tsp salt
Icing: (Note: this icing quantity makes *just* enough to ice the cakes, if you like a thicker layer of frosting on your cupcakes then I suggest making one and a half times this recipe amount)
- 50g (1/4 cup) softened butter
- 200g (2 cups) icing (powdered) sugar
- zest and juice of 1/2 orange
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 250g (9 oz) full fat mascarpone
- White chocolate stars for sprinkling
Start by making the mulled wine. Pour the wine into a large saucepan and add the spices, thinly slice the orange/clementine and add to the pan. Place on the heat and warm until it just starts to come up to the boil then remove from the heat, cover, and leave to steep for at least half an hour.
Strain out the spices and orange then measure out 265ml (1 + 1/8 cup) of the wine for the cakes and set aside (leave it to cool before using). Pour the rest of the wine back in to the pan and add the sugar, place on the heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved, bring up the the boil then turn down the heat slightly and simmer until thick and syrupy and reduced to about a third of the volume, this will take about 15 minutes. Once thickened, decant into a jar and leave to cool before using.
To make the cakes: Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 350°F/ gas mark 4, line a couple of muffin trays with sixteen muffin cases. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugars until pale and fluffy, beat in the eggs one at a time then the vanilla extract and cooled mulled wine, don’t worry if the mixture looks a little uneven.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarb of soda, spices and salt, sift this mixture into the wet ingredients and fold in until evenly combined. Divide the batter between the muffin cases and bake for approximately 20 minutes, until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Remove the cupcakes from the oven and leave to cool in the tray for 10 minutes or so before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the icing, put the butter, orange juice and zest and cinnamon in a bowl, sift in half of the icing sugar and beat, using a stand mixer or an electric hand mixer on a low speed, until smooth. Sift in the rest of the icing sugar and beat again until well combined. Add the mascarpone and gently beat in until smooth, be careful not to overbeat it as the icing could go runny. Keep refrigerated until just before using.
To ice the cupcakes, fit a piping bag with a large star nozzle (the ridges help to catch the mulled wine glaze), dollop the icing into the bag and twist closed, pipe a swirl of icing onto each cupcake then drizzle over some of the mulled wine syrup, either using a piping bag fitted with a small round nozzle or just drizzling it off a teaspoon. Sprinkle over white chocolate stars to finish. Keep refrigerated.