A couple of years ago I visited Portugal for the third time. Specifically, I was on the island of Madeira, the island where my mother grew up. It was a fantastic trip and my mother’s cousins were generous and gracious hosts.
I knew I would make a cupcake to commemorate the trip and I knew it would involve Madeira wine. I decided to pair the wine with chocolate for sure. I was keeping a lookout for one other local ingredient to use in the recipe and a trip to the Curral das Freiras, or Corral of the Nuns, provided me with some chestnut puree. Chestnuts are abundant in this area and a visit sure shows that. There were all things chestnut for sale there – syrup, cake, soup, you name it.
I had one more decision to make when devising this recipe and that was which cheese I would pair with the puree to make a frosting. I was leaning towards something tangy to balance out the earthiness of the chestnuts. I chose a fromage blanc from Cowgirl Creamery. It is indeed tangy with a texture similar to fresh ricotta. Well, all in all, the cupcakes tasted very good, but ultimately I found the tang of the cheese a bit overpowering for the chestnut. I would try this again with ricotta or some other milder, sweeter cheese. I also updated the assembly instructions with some lessons learned.
24 regular cupcakes / 350 degree oven
200 gram bar of Valrhona 61% cacao
3 sticks butter
2-1/4 cups sugar
1-1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder, unsweetened
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
1. Chop chocolate and transfer into the bowl of a standing mixer.
2. Add butter to the chocolate and place the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Stir until chocolate melts and butter is combined.
3. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Let mixture cool for 10 minutes.
4. Beat in an electric mixer for 3 minutes.
5. Add one egg at a time, mixing for 30 seconds between each
6. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and a pinch of salt into the mixture and mix until blended.
7. Scoop into cupcake cups and bake at 350 F for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Madeira Wine Glaze
1-1/2 cups sweet Madeira wine
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon chopped orange peel
1. Add Madeira and sugar to a medium-sized saucepan. Over medium-high heat, stir until sugar dissolves.
2. Boil until liquid is reduced to a syrupy consistency, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.
3. Let cool for a minute then stir in orange peel. Set aside to cool completely.
Chestnut-Fromage Blanc Frosting
1-1/2 cups (11 ounces) fromage blanc
1/2 cup (5 ounces) chestnut puree
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1. Beat cheese briefly, scrape bowl.
2. Add the chestnut puree and sifted powdered sugar. Beat until combined.
Note: I purchased the chestnut puree in Portugal. It’s a simple mixture of chestnuts and sugar. I have seen similar products in Italian grocery stores. Otherwise, roast some chestnuts and puree with raw cane sugar in a food processor until creamy.
1. Drizzle glaze over the top of the cupcake to moisten and flavor the cake.
2. Scoop frosting onto cupcakes using a small ice cream scooper.
3. Starting from the top of the mound of frosting, smooth down to the edge of the paper with a small pallet knife.
4. Smooth off the top of the point of frosting, providing a flat top for decoration.
5. Drizzle with glaze and top with silver dragees, candied orange rind or some other decoration. [Note] Drizzle glaze before serving as it does become absorbed in the frosting over time, else omit the second application of glaze.
Note: Silver dragees, or bolas prateadas in Portuguese, are seen on many Madeiran desserts. I brought some back with me for a final “topping off” of my homage to the trip.