It’s rare to see a naked cupcake.
Most are crowned with billows of frosting: The higher the peaks, the more crowd-pleasing the result.
To make a cupcake without any gilding, drizzling or sugary swirling on top takes guts. It also takes a plan – how do you compete with all that opulent fluff when you’re in a more minimalist frame of mind?
Now, I have nothing against frosting. It’s just that not every cupcake needs it. There is a case to be made for a cupcake in which the cake itself is so tender and buttery that adding frosting would be overkill.
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Take, for example, these mini almond cakes. Based on a classic flourless almond torte, they are velvety and moist, with a fine-textured crumb and a heady almond flavor. They also happen to be gluten-free, though without being obvious about it.
I have made them plain and simple, and, to my mind, they are fabulous, if a little severe in appearance.
For something fancier, though certainly more restrained than a mountain of buttercream, I’ve also made them filled with chocolate ganache as well as with cherry jam.
Of the two, adding a bittersweet chocolate ganache is a more sophisticated take. It adds a fudgy bite but isn’t the least bit cloying.
The cherry jam version is sweeter and brighter in flavor, but not over the top. I particularly love the combination of almonds and cherry, but any thick fruit jam will work, so choose your favorite. Just avoid jelly, which is too thin to remain distinct while baking, and will instead meld with the batter.
There is a trick to making the cakes so that the filling remains in the center without falling to the bottom of the pan and burning. Instead of filling the cakes before baking, I bake them for 10 minutes, then fill them. This allows the batter to set up enough to support the chocolate or jam. Note that ovens and muffin pans vary, so if you try this recipe and the filling still sinks and burns, next time bake the cakes for another minute or two before adding the filling.
And if you absolutely can’t imagine a cupcake without icing, skip the filling and use the ganache to frost the cakes, doing so while the ganache is warm but the cakes have cooled. Just resist any buttercream urges. These darling cakes are buttery enough on their own.
Mini Almond Cakes With Chocolate or Cherry
Yield: 12 cupcakes
Total time: 50 minutes, plus chilling
1/3 cup/80 milliliters heavy cream (optional)
3 ounces/85 grams bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (optional)
6 tablespoons/85 grams melted unsalted butter, cooled, plus more for muffin tin
3/4 cup/85 grams almond flour or meal
3/4 cup/94 grams confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large eggs
Few drops almond extract (optional)
3 tablespoons/24 grams cornstarch
1 1/4 teaspoons/4 grams baking powder
2 large egg whites
2 tablespoons/25 grams granulated sugar
1/4 cup/60 milliliters cherry jam (optional)
1. Make the chocolate ganache, if using: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat cream until bubbling (or place the cream in a glass measuring cup and heat it in the microwave). Remove from heat, add chocolate and let sit for 1 minute, then stir until smooth. Transfer chocolate to a small container (preferably metal) and freeze until firm, at least 30 minutes.
2. Scoop and roll into 3/4-inch balls. Note that the ganache is very soft and can be messy to handle, but getting perfectly round balls isn’t necessary. Place in refrigerator until needed. Ganache balls can be prepared up to 1 week ahead.
3. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a muffin tin.
4. Using a food processor or blender, mix almond flour, confectioners’ sugar and salt until powdery, about 30 seconds. Add eggs and almond extract and process until smooth, 30 seconds longer. Pulse in butter, cornstarch and baking powder. Scrape mixture into a large bowl.
5. Using a beater or an electric mixer, whip egg whites until very foamy. Gradually add granulated sugar while beating eggs until stiff peaks form.
6. Using a spatula, gently and carefully fold a third of the egg whites into almond mixture to lighten it. Then, fold in the rest of the whites just until no streaks remain.
7. Spoon batter into prepared muffin tins, and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Pull balls of ganache from refrigerator, if using, and place 1 ball in center of each cake, pushing it down halfway into batter. Or spoon 1 teaspoon cherry jam on top of each cake; do not push down. Return to oven and bake until light brown and a toothpick inserted into cake (and not the chocolate or cherry) comes out clean, another 8 to 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, preferably within 8 hours of baking.