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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Chocolate cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream

I am and oxymoron.  My job title is "synthetic organic chemist."  When I tell people this I get many, many looks of confusion.  As an explanation I tell them that I make chemicals synthetically that are naturally found in nature.  Are you confused yet?  Most people just walk away.

You can also call me a natural products chemist.  Is this any less of an oxymoron?  I'm not really sure.  As a graduate student and postdoctoral associate I have been making natural products for the past eight years.  Here is a step-by-step explanation of why a synthetic organic chemist does what they do...

1. Sea sponge (or plant or animal or dirt) is collected by isolation chemists

2. Sea sponge is extracted and lots of neat-o chemicals are found inside of the sea sponge

3. Neat-o chemicals are tested against many, many cell screens.  The biologists look for activity against human disease

4. Neat-o, disease-killing chemical is published and given a fancy name like Neatoside F

5. Synthetic organic chemists (like me!) decide it's a worthwhile target and try to make neatoside F

6. On Friday, June 17th, they succeed in making neatoside F and celebrate with cupcakes!

That's right, after months of hard work, I finished my target.  It's a big day in the life of a synthetic organic chemistry, the day you bring your molecule into the world.  You've watched it grow, seen it make bad choices and even seen it fall apart in the face of tough conditions.  The SOC continues to nurture their target until finally it comes shining into existence.  There is no prouder day in the life of a SOC, until that work finds it's way into a major publication, of course.  It's like a birth announcement.  Welcome to the world neatoside F!

Chocolate cupcakes

These cupcakes aren't quite as moist as my favorite version, but they are still pretty delicious.  The chocolate flavor is milder and plays off the strawberry buttercream wonderfully.  Just try not to eat too many, there's a lot of butter in these bad boys!

2 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter, at room temperature

2 cups sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature

3/4 cup butter, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups milk (or 1/4 cup heavy cream & 1 1/4 cup skim milk, as it's what I had in the house!)

Preheat oven to 350 and line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of your stand mixer), beat butter on medium for 30 seconds. Slowly add the sugar and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time followed by the vanilla.

Fill paper liners about 3/4 full (or use an ice cream scoop).  Bake for 20-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out with just crumbs attached.  Set muffin tins on a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes.  Remove cupcakes from the tin and allow to cool completely on the wire rack.  Make frosting as cupcakes cool

Strawberry Buttercream
The buttercream may break after the addition of the strawberry puree, just whip for an additional minute and it will come back together.  Hitting the correct temperature for the egg whites will make it less likely that it will break.

4 egg whites, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 sticks of butter (24 tbsp/12 oz), room temperature
1 1/3 cups strawberry puree (from about 1 1/2 cups hulled strawberries)

Place egg whites and sugar in a bowl and place on top of a pot of simmering water.  Whisk until sugar completely dissolves.  If you have a candy thermometer, you are looking to heat the egg whites to 160.  Otherwise check to see if everything is dissolved by rubbing the liquid between your fingers.

Pour egg white mixture into you stand mixer and whip on high for 10 minutes.  The whites will whip up and turn glossy and shiny.  Add butter, one tbsp at a time, allowing to incorporate between each addition.  Switch to the paddle attachement and slowly stream in strawberry puree.  Turn to medium and mix for 5 minutes. 

Alternate adding flour mixture and milk to the sugar/butter mixture.  Begin and end with the flour. 
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