Santa Baby, Have a Cupcake

I thought long and hard before I settled on a post about cupcakes in mid-December. In fact, I originally felt quite grinchy doing it; tisk tisk-ing myself for not posting about Christmas cookies. Christmas cookies are the quintessential holiday dessert. You wouldn’t serve Santa a cupcake on Christmas Eve. Though such a sentiment makes me worry that I sound like a 50’s housewife, which I am not.

While I do own an apron and a set of pearls, I could hardly be described as quintessential or mild-mannered, especially if I’ve had more than one or two manhattans. Last weekend, my (snow leopard print) stocking was hung by the chimney with care, but not without a good deal of cursing. And truthfully, if I were to leave Santa cookies on his most important day of the year, I’d also leave him a white Russian or a nice cold beer. (Working through time zones, where the work clock literally moves backwards, has to be trying.) And so I’m stuck in some sort of domestic purgatory, caught between June Clever and Zelda Fitzgerald.

Which worked in my favor last week when I stumbled across a cupcake recipe from Magnolia Bakery just in time for a dinner I was hosting Saturday night. It was in honor of my sister, who was in town to shop for her wedding dress. After getting teary-eyed at the sight of her in a birdcage veil, it was time to get down to business. A day of dress shopping had left me with 30 minutes to make a meringue buttercream and frost cupcakes before company arrived.

Unfortunately, I forgot I had finished the vanilla extract the day before. Fortunately, Clever and Fitzgerald joined forces, raided my liquor cabinet, and settled on some Kahlua instead. This, I’m quite sure, was an improvement and while I served homemade butternut squash ravioli and gingerbread punch, these cupcakes got all the attention.

I’ve already had a request from one of the bridesmaids for the recipe and after bringing my neighbor some of the leftovers, I literally heard her boyfriend yell into the street the following night, "Emily, we need more cupcakes!" He almost sounded angry about it. I even brought a few to a dear, typically mild-mannered friend: she sent me an “OMG” email later in the day that was written in all caps.

So I'm going to try to let my hair down about the whole cupcake v. Christmas cookie thing; after all, being able to share them is the true spirit of Christmas (there goes my Clever side again). And if they are good enough to rouse the neighbors, they have got to be good enough for Santa. I hear he is chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf; so I suspect he won’t be complaining. Especially if I leave him a little extra Kahlua.

So Santa baby, a chocolate buttermilk cupcake will do, for you. I’ll wait up for your dear, Santa baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight.

Chocolate Buttermilk Cupcakes with Kahlua Meringue Buttercream
Adapted from Cannelle et Vanille (from The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook)

6 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
2 sticks of butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Melt chocolate in a saucepan on low heat until most of chocolate is melted, remove from heat (the residual heat will melt remaining chocolate). Cream together butter, sugar and brown sugar; add eggs one at a time. Add melted chocolate and mix until combined. Add vanilla and half the buttermilk. Mix in flour and baking soda. Add remaining buttermilk and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Scoop into muffin tins filled with muffin liners. Bake for about 20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Makes about 18 cupcakes (enough for Santa, his reindeer, and some friends)

Kahlua Meringue Buttercream
Adapted from Bake! by Nick Malgieri

4 large eggwhites
Pinch of salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter
~2 tbsp Kahlua (to taste really)

Fill a saucepan big enough to fit a mixer bowl (of an electric mixer) about half full with water. Bring to boil and decrease heat so that water is at a slow boil. Whisk egg whites, salt and sugar by hand in the bowl of an electric mixer. Place bowl over the boiling water and continue to whisk constantly until the egg whites are hot (~140 degrees) and the sugar is dissolved about 3-6 minutes.

Place the bowl on your mixer with its whisk attachment and whip on medium speed until the meringue becomes frothy and the bowl is no longer hot to the touch. Switch to the paddle attachment and continue to beat the meringue on low speed until the bowl is no longer warm to the touch. (Do not add the butter until you reach this step or it will ruin the buttercream.)

Add the butter in quarters on low speed. Scrape the bowl to fully combine all ingredients and increase your mixer's speed to medium and beat until smooth, thick and shiny (about 5 minutes or so). Add Kahlua and mix until thoroughly combined.

Makes enough to frost about 18 cupcakes

-Nick mentions that you can test to see if your sugar has fully dissolved by rubbing some frosting between your fingers (you shouldn't feel any grit). I never fully had this grit-less experience he spoke of and was worried I'd scramble my frosting if I continued, so I eventually gave up. My guests didn't notice and my skilled pastry chef bride-to-be of a sister said she liked (!) the frosting that way; that it added a pleasing texture. I really don't think she was just being nice, though if you can get your icing smooth as a baby's bottom, I applaud you. Don't fret if you can't. I loved it just the way it was and it still frosted extremely well.

-I used Scharffen Berger unsweetened chocolate 99% cacao and had some extra so I shaved some to top off the frosted cupcakes.

-You can mix the cupcakes a day ahead and refrigerate them until you are ready to bake. The batter may look thicker than you'd expect, but it makes for a lovely cupcake. (I tested both versions.)

-I used homemade buttermilk because I had some in my freezer and am always looking for ways to use it up. How bad could that be?


  1. i'd still prefer a platinum mine, but in a pinch, chocolate cupcakes will suffice. :)

  2. I would take these cupcakes over cookies anytime!

  3. I am loving this frosting recipe.

  4. I'm with you. I've seen so many cookie posts that I feel like if I had one in front of me I might be sick. Visual sugar overload. But a nice cupcake is always welcome.

  5. If I was Santa I'd head down the chimney several times for a few of those guys. They sound amazing.

    Loved the post in general. It was an entertaining read, for sure.

  6. I can attest... these cupcakes are AMAZING!!!!!

  7. These sound fantastic and I love the improv! Love the challenge of how to adapt when finding an ingredient run out. In this case you have improved upon and already delish dish with perfection!

  8. It's nice to hear that a change from the christmas cookie is welcome! Though, Grace, I'm with you ... a platinum mine is really ideal. Impressive lyrical knowledge! ;)

  9. lovethis frosting recipe, it is great!!