Tavern pastry chef Breanne Varela spent four years at Lucques and AOC -- three of them as the head pastry chef -- with only a deck oven and stove top within reach of her small corner workstation. Now, a deck oven is perfect for making those glorious rustic fruit tarts she's known for, not so great for more delicate creations like napoleons and cupcakes (who knew? a well made cupcake really can be delicate). At Tavern, Varela works in a pastry dreamland with miles of stainless counter tops (OK, maybe a few feet), drawers filled with shimmering gold edible powders to paint those tiny marzipan pumpkins atop her Halloween cupcakes, and enough convection ovens to bake as many cupcakes as she wants. Well, maybe she really doesn't want to make that many cupcakes.
"Red velvet cupcakes -- aren't they really just a watered down version of chocolate cake?" she asks, adjusting a caramelized pecan sweet roll on a cake stand so its best gooey, butter-rich side faces customers. But alas, the cupcake customers called. And called. "I started out trying not to do too many cupcakes, but they're popular. I just try to make them more like a real dessert."
You've got two days left to taste Varela's Halloween offerings - the pumpkin spice cake with brown butter-whipped cream and the chocolate "ghost" with vanilla marshmallow icing and white chocolate glaze. Too busy putting the final touches on your Kate Gosselin Halloween wig to swing by? Not to worry. Come Monday, you can still get Varela's lemon meringue cupcake filled with lemon curd and topped with perfectly torched meringue, or the chocolate version with chocolate mousse filling, salted peanut butter frosting, and little chocolate pearls (basically mini malt balls) sprinkled on top.
We've also snagged that chocolate ghost cupcake recipe. Once you see it (lots of steps go into making a high-quality ghost, plus you'll need an inexpensive electronic scale to measure ingredients), you may want to consider ditching the blond come-over and scurrying over to Tavern to grab the last few ghosts while you still can.
Breanne Varela's Chocolate Ghost Cupcakes
Note: Varela also uses this chocolate batter for layer cakes. Instead of baking it in muffin tins, divide the batter evenly between two 9-inch cake pans that have been coated in cooking spray or generously brushed with butter. Gelatin sheets, piping bags and piping tips are available at specialty cooking stores such as Surfas.
Makes: 24 cupcakes
7 ounces water
1.75 ounces cocoa powder
8 ounces flour
11 ounces sugar
1 teaspoon salt
9 grams baking soda
12 ounces buttermilk
7 ounces canola oil
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line two 12-cup muffin pans with paper liners.
2. In a medium sauce pot, combine the water and cocoa powder. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. When the mixture boils, transfer to a bowl and place in the refrigerator until cool.
3. Put the flour, sugar, salt and baking soda in the bowl of stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat on medium speed for 30 seconds.
4. In a large bowl, whisk together the cooled cocoa mixture, buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla extract. Pour over the flour mixture and whisk on low speed for 1 minute. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula, turn up to medium-high and whisk for an additional 3 minutes.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin pans, filling each ¾ full. Bake until the cake springs back when lightly touched in the center or a toothpick comes out clean, about 20 to 24 minutes.
13 grams gelatin sheets
200 grams egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon sugar plus 300 grams sugar
105 grams light corn syrup
140 grams water
½ vanilla bean
1. Place the gelatin in a small bowl of ice water and allow to soften until the sheets become pliable, about 7 minutes.
2. Place the whites in a stand mixer with a whisk attachment and beat until they are frothy. Add the cream of tartar, then sprinkle in 1 tablespoon sugar. Continue beating until the whites hold a soft peak.
3. In a medium saucepot, combine the remaining sugar, corn syrup and water and cook until it registers 310 degrees on a candy thermometer.
4. Squeeze the excess water out of the gelatin sheets and add them to the sugar syrup. Whisk vigorously for 30 seconds. Pour the syrup into the beaten egg whites. Pour the syrup down the side of the bowl with the mixer on medium speed (be very careful not to splatter the syrup as it is very hot).
5. Continue whisking until the mixture has cooled and holds soft peaks. Slit the vanilla bean length wise and use the back of your knife to scrap the beans out of the pod into the marshmallow mixture. Beat for an additional 30 seconds, or until well incorporated.
6. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a 15 mm plain round tip. Holding the bag 1-inch above the cooled cupcakes, pipe the marshmallows into ghost shapes. Allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to firm.
White chocolate "magic shell"
200 grams white chocolate
20 grams cocoa butter
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dark chocolate, as needed
1. Rest a bowl over a small pot of simmering water (alternatively, use a baine maire). Add the chocolate and cocoa butter and melt, stirring a few times to mix well.
2. Dip the marshmallow ghosts into the chocolate mixture. Allow the excess chocolate to drip off before turning the cupcake right side up. Repeat. Place finished cupcakes in the refrigerator to set the chocolate.
3. To make the eyes of the ghosts, melt a small amount of chocolate and pipe circles onto the ghosts.