Straight A Devil's Food Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Vanilla Bean Frosting

 Well, hello! What did you do this weekend? We celebrated my nephew's report card my favorite way - with cake.

Our fabulously handsome and talented nephew Spencer was left in our care last week as him mum, my husband's sister, is traveling. Last Friday report cards were issued and Spencer, for the 3rd semester in a row, got straight A's. Now, I'm what you might refer to as progressive when it comes to education and I'm not even sure I believe in grades (seriously, I'm that liberal on education. I was raised by hippies!), but it gave us an excuse to celebrate this incredible, talented, athletic young man whom we adore. When I asked 12 year-old Spencer how he'd like to celebrate his report card, he answered without hesitation: chocolate cupcakes - not too sweet and not too chocolatey - and cream cheese frosting. Seriously, a boy after my own heart!

After a failed attempt at chocolate mayonnaise cake (yes, culinary failure even happens to me. Quite frequently, in fact. But don't let that deter you from trying a mayonnaise cake. It's so brilliant when done right), I tossed a dozen cupcakes into the trash and began again.

What to do after all that work when you've promised an almost-teenager chocolate cupcakes? Go to the pro. Lori Longbotham is pretty amazing with all kinds of ingredients, but let me tell you her book Luscious Chocolate Desserts presents bake-able recipes that - when followed - turn out beautifully, every time. The Divine Devil's Food Cake on page 37 is, indeed, divine. The cream cheese frosting came a bit easier as we have a no-fuss family recipe that calls for 3 ingredients - so easy!!! - to which I add vanilla bean paste for taste and presentation.

In any case, Spencer was happy and, we hope, felt celebrated. Go, Spencer!

Divine Devil's Food Cake
2 C cake flour
2/3 C best-quality cocoa (I used Ghirardelli but love Valrhona, too)
1-1/4 t baking soda
1/2 C buttermilk
1/3 C water
3/4 C butter, at room temperature
1-3/4 C sugar
2 large eggs
1-1/2 t vanilla

Makes 24 cupcakes or one 8" layer cake

Cream Cheese Vanilla Bean Frosting
1 8oz. block cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, at room temperature
5 C powdered sugar
1 T vanilla bean paste

Pre-heat the oven to 350.

Sift dry ingredients in one bowl.

Blend buttermilk and water in a liquid measuring cup.

Beat the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy - about 3 minutes. Add the sugar and beat until that is light and fluffy, as well - also 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.

Add the cocoa mixture to the bowl and combine at low speed, alternating with the buttermilk mixture. I did this in 3 parts each.

Using an ice cream scoop with the automatic release lever, drop batter into paper-lined muffin cups. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool the cupcakes completely - one hour on the counter or 15 minutes in the freezer.
Pure chocolate goodness.
Make the frosting. Blend the cream cheese with the butter. Add the sugar and mix until all the lumps from the sugar are gone. Add in the vanilla bean paste.

Spoon about 3 tablespoons of frosting onto each cupcake and spread with either a frosting spatula or butter knife.

I always like to let any cake set for at least 30 minutes, but if you can't wait or are in a time crunch, these will taste equally good (even if the frosting slips off a bit!).

Plate and offer to your favorite 12 year old and watch his face light up. I hope ours knows how proud we are of him every day - not just on report card day!



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