“Something spicy” got top votes in a recent poll on my Facebook Page (flavor to pair with chocolate), and I decided habaneros would be that something. (Note: Since then, “nuts or nut butter” has as many votes. More chocolate flavor pairings to come… Click here to vote or leave your suggestions!) I’d done cayenne brownies before, but these were my first cupcakes to get a peppery spice.

I decided to roast my peppers to bring out flavor and, maybe, tame the heat. I halved them, removed the seeds, and put them in the oven at 450° for about 7 minutes. For the cupcake batter, I put the habaneros in my blender (use a food processor if you have one, I don’t!) with 1/3 cup cocoa powder and 3 tablespoons of brewed coffee and blended until it formed a paste. I then used that instead of some of the chocolate in my favorite chocolate cupcake recipe.

The icing (see recipe below) was very silky smooth and tasted great, but it was hard to pipe (too much half & half? my too-hot hands?). Once I managed to pipe the icing onto the cupcakes, it fell, but it firmed up in a short period of time so worked out OK. I finished by adding some red sprinkles, my little warning sign to the unsuspecting taster.

chocolate habanero cupcakes

Taste Results

I brought these to a post-half-marathon BBQ and a housewarming party that day, so I had plenty of taste testers. The first to want to try them were two children, and I worried they would be too spicy. The kids seemed to enjoy the cake, but mostly rejected the icing. Others also commented that it was the icing that was h-o-t (the grown ups loved it). I was surprised that the icing was so much spicier than the cake, as I put two peppers in the batter and only one in the icing. The cake did seem to have less of a kick. I actually thought all the milk fat in the icing would lessen the heat…and maybe it did, and this is the less!

The cake or the icing, this cupcake left a decidedly spicy aftertaste. The hot crept up a second or two after the first bite. Luckily, they did not turn out too spicy overall. Maybe a more spicy cake would have sent them over the edge. I go for the spicy—and am certainly a chocolate girl—so I loved these!

What’s a Scotch Bonnet?

A friend, below, had suggested I make cupcakes with Scotch Bonnet a few weeks ago. I’d never heard of Scotch Bonnets before. I thought, “Sure, I could try baking with Scotch sometime.” Then I showed up with these Habanero Cupcakes and he took credit for giving me the idea. What?!

After some discussion, we realized Habaneros and Scotch Bonnets are the same thing

Trevor with a spicy cupcake

Well, kind of… My research has revealed much confusion on the topic. Some websites say the Scotch bonnet is a type of habanero pepper, others say they are “cousins.” What I used were sold as habaneros at a local fruit/veggie store, so I am calling them habaneros for the sake of this post. I have to say, though, comparing them to photos on the internet, they look a little Scotch bonnet-y. Who knows what they really were? Habaneros and Scotch bonnets are both Capsicum chinense, and they are both HOT, that’s for sure! I’d assume you could use either if trying to replicate these cupcakes.

chocolate habanero cupcake

Recipe: Habanero Chocolate Icing

Makes enough for at least 2 dozen cupcakes (depends on icing method)

1 habanero pepper, roasted*
3 oz. cream cheese
1 stick butter, softened
6-7 cups powdered sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
7 oz. half & half or cream (or less)

In a food processor or blender, process the habanero and cream cheese until pepper is very finely chopped and well blended.

Cream the butter and the cream cheese mixture.

Add the cocoa powder and powdered sugar alternately with the vanilla and half & half.

Beat until the desired consistency. *To roast pepper: Cut in half, remove seeds and bake at 450° (or broil) skin side up for about 7 minutes. Remove when skin starts to blister.

Root beer was the flavor requested by the birthday boy, my boyfriend Jason, and I took on the challenge. I’d read that adding straight root beer wasn’t really enough to get the flavor in cake. Many recipes I found online use root beer concentrate, something I could not find anywhere in my neighborhood. (Stinky Bklyn, a local shop with a range of gourmet ingredients in addition to cheese, didn’t have any. However, they did say it sounded awesome and would look into it.) I was tempted by the Sodastream root beer flavoring I saw in one store, but that seemed like cheating. I decided to cook down a bottle of root beer, much like I cooked the beer for my Guinness cupcakes. I hoped that would work better than just root beer itself.

Root Beer Cupcake
Root Beer Barrel “Chip” Cupcake with Root Beer Buttercream Frosting (Photo by Jason Yung)

I also procured two bags of root beer barrels candy. I originally thought I would just put one on top of each cupcake, or crush and use as a topping. To guarantee more root beer flavor into my batter, though, I crushed one bag with a hammer and added them to the cake batter, much as I did the cinnamon discs for my red hot cupcakes. I didn’t let them sit to dissolve this time, so they were more like root beer barrel “chips” than a flavoring incorporated into the batter.

rootbeer chip

The recipe was otherwise basically that of a regular vanilla cupcake, though with only about 2/3 the sugar. I did add a bit more flour to balance the liquid, the root beer which I simmered until reduced by about half. The cupcakes smelled more like muffins than cake when baking, but any sweetness they lacked was made up for in the frosting.

I thought I might cook down some more root beer to add to the icing, and crush more root beer barrels to sprinkle over the top. Deciding to try a different crushing method, I stuck them in my blender. The result was a mixture of big chunks of mangled candy, still too big to sprinkle, and a sugar-like powder. I realized I’d accidentally made something that was basically root beer sugar. I filtered it out from the larger pieces of candy and used that in my frosting rather than actual root beer. The end result was very sweet and root beer-y, so much so that I didn’t put any more of the candy pieces on top.

The birthday boy got his much-loved root beer in cupcake form, as requested, at his birthday picnic!

birthday boy

cupcake eater 1

cupcake eater 2

On a whim, I made cupcakes with Whoppers to bring to a party! Not to be confused with the Burger King Whopper, Whoppers are milk chocolate malted milk balls made by the Hershey Company. They have a teeny bit less fat than some other chocolate candies and, hey, have calcium in them! Not that I am trying to say they are healthy…

Whoppers and un-iced cupcake

I followed a recipe I like for a lighter chocolate cake, but I used only 2/3 of the cocoa it calls for. I put one cup of Whoppers in a zipped plastic baggy and went at them with a hammer. I added these crushed candies to the batter and baked as normal.

I was expecting the crushed Whoppers to really flavor these cakes, but the maltiness didn’t really come through very much. They just tasted, to me, like a very light chocolate cake. I was also thinking that the Whoppers might remain as chunks in the cake, but the candy mostly dissolved into the batter.

Whoppers Cupcakes

The consensus was that the cupcakes were good, but some had a hard time placing the flavor. “What spice is in these?” asked one party guest. (Um, only the finest ground Whopper seed?) Adding malted milk powder to the batter would have been a good idea, but I did not think of that until later!

I finished with a buttery, sugary vanilla buttercream that turned out especially well this time, according to one frequent Amélie-cupcake taster. I topped, of course, with a whole Whopper on each cupcake after frosting.

Amelie with Whoppers cupcakes