When it comes to birthdays, I have found there are generally two types of people: those who approach them with dread, scarcely acknowledging the day, refusing to discuss their age, mentally ticking off the days til death; and those who fully embrace them, loving the attention, the gifts, the reasons to celebrate life. Age to these people is only a number. I definitely fall into the second category. I love my birthday, look forward to it for 364 days every year. Because on that one day each year, for those 24 hours, it’s all about me. Even if no one else were around to celebrate, as far as I’m concerned, my birthday is my day. Mine. I’m having a pretty good life, its good to take a day to celebrate it.
I am very fortunate in that I have a sister, Laura, who loves to celebrate my birthday with me. And by celebrate I mean she bakes me a fabulous 3-layer, decadent chocolate cake with creamy chocolate buttercream frosting. My favorite. She sometimes even decorates the top with these amazing shaved chocolate curls. I’ve written about this cake before. It’s a masterpiece. And all mine. For my birthday. And there is a reason I mention this.
This past summer, my friend Diane and I spent a beautiful August day in St. Michaels, Maryland. St. Michaels is one of those quaint little historic towns along the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, overflowing with little shops and eateries and, much to our surprise, a winery. As you can imagine, a day of browsing through shop after shop can really take it out of you, so a break to sample the local wine was just what the doctor ordered. St. Michaels boutique winery had several interesting offerings, but it was the chocolate zinfandel that caught my eye. Chocolate AND wine together in one bottle? Nirvana. I noticed the wine was just the prettiest shade of crimson red as it was poured into my glass, but it was as I lifted the glass to inhale the bouquet that I was immediately transported back to….wait for it….. my sister’s amazing chocolate, chocolate birthday cake. That wine was my sister’s cake in a bottle. With some alcohol added in.
You should know it took a huge amount of restraint to purchase just the one bottle to bring home. I pondered for quite some time what exactly should do with the wine and concluded it deserved to shine like the gem it is. Nothing fancy, something that would showcase that velvety wine, make it stand out. I finally decided on a basic vanilla cupcake topped with a chocolate buttercream infused with the chocolate zinfandel – delicious!
A good vanilla cupcake can be tricky, but I found the best recipe posted here by American Heritage Cooking. Perfect flavor, perfect crumb, nice and moist – this recipe is a keeper. The frosting is the basic Hershey’s recipe on the back of the can of cocoa, but I substituted the chocolate zin for the milk. Who knew such a simple switch would have such an amazing outcome?
So here it is, a classic vanilla cupcake topped with the creamiest, most decadent chocolate wine buttercream frosting. The way I see it, whether it’s your birthday, your sister’s birthday, your dog’s birthday, or even I-Remembered-To-Pick-Up The-Dry-Cleaning Day, there’s always a reason to CELEBRATE! And here’s just the cupcake to make it happen.
Classic Vanilla Cupcakes – makes 24 cupcakes
Be sure to have all ingredients at room temperature before starting
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/4 cups sour cream
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees; line 2 muffin tins with cupcake liners.
Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together into a medium bowl; set aside
Cream butter and sugar in large bowl of electric mixer until light and fluffy
Add eggs one at a time, beating to combine after each
Add vanilla, sour cream and almond extract, mixing until just combined
Reduce mixer speed to low and stir in the dry ingredients in several additions. Stir in the last addition by hand until just combined, being careful not to over mix.
Fill cupcake tins about 2/3 full. Bake for 14-18 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with only a few clinging crumbs.
Cool completely before frosting
Chocolate Zinfandel Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup Hershey’s cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup chocolate wine
1 teaspoon vanilla
Melt butter. Transfer to mixing bowl and combine with cocoa. Gradually add powdered sugar, alternating with chocolate wine on medium speed until desired consistency is reached. Stir in vanilla. Frost and decorate as desired.