Clearly, you’d be hard pushed to find a recipe on this site that doesn’t contain sugar. You’d also have to be living under a rock not to have read any number of blog posts or newspaper articles about the evils of sugar. The World Health Organisation has recently halved its recommended intake for adults to 25g a day. That’s really not a lot. I put my favourite cookies through a basic nutrition calculator and they apparently have 9g of sugar per cookie. Which is fine if you eat just one or two.
The problem is, I’m not very good at stopping there. The last time I made a batch of those aforementioned cookies for my boyfriend to take to work, I went to bed having eaten five or six in the space of a couple of hours. That’s two days of my sugar intake right there, on top of whatever else I’d eaten that day. There was no reason why I needed to eat that many cookies and as much as I can try to rationalise it, fundamentally, I’m just a bit greedy.
I woke up the next morning and decided that something had to change, not least because I’m vain enough to want to lose a few pounds before our wedding later this year and I’m pretty sure that eating your daily calorie allowance in the shape of triple chocolate cookies is not really the way to do it. That day happened to be Ash Wednesday so I persuaded my boyfriend that we should give up eating sugar (excluding alcohol because I’m realistic) after 5pm for the duration of Lent. I didn’t want to give up sugar entirely, even for the relatively short period of Lent, because I knew that wouldn’t work for me and because I wanted to still be able to eat my usual breakfast of yoghurt and granola so the 5pm cut off seemed like a suitable compromise.
We haven’t been totally hardcore about it – we’ve had fruit every now and then and I can’t even begin to think how my boyfriend would react if he wasn’t allowed tomato ketchup – but, in general, our evenings have been free from anything sweet.
I’ve actually been surprised at how easy it’s been. Given how much I used to struggle to stop at one square of chocolate, I expected that I’d end up spending every evening obsessing over what goodies might be lurking in the kitchen. I thought we’d be counting down the days until Easter Sunday when we can start indulging like we used to. Instead, it’s almost felt liberating. Whilst we’re not going to keep it up full time after the end of Lent, I think it’s definitely changed our eating habits for the better.
We’ve kept the ‘no sugar after 5pm’ rule in place at the weekends but that hasn’t meant that we’ve been entirely treat-free (as is probably obvious if you look at my instagram). I’ve tried to focus on quality rather than quantity though so we’re only eating sugar when it’s really worth it. And that’s where these little chocolate cupcakes come in.
This is not a “healthy” recipe. I’ve not tried to replace anything with pureed beans or avocado (not that there’s anything wrong with that). They contain sugar and butter and a hefty amount of dark chocolate and that’s absolutely fine with me because they are more than worth it.
The cupcakes themselves are barely adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe that I’ve made plenty of times over the years. I’m pretty sure that I’ve talked about them before on the blog but that post seems to have been lost somewhere along the line. They’re really great though; satisfying on every level. Rich with chocolate and muscovado sugar but not heavy at all, thanks to the leavening power of whipped egg whites. I love the combination of dark chocolate and creme fraiche so I’ve used it here to top the cupcakes, simply whipped with a touch of vanilla, rather than a traditional frosting which I think would be too sweet and cloying. These are simple little cakes and all the better for it.
I'm pretty sure that I posted these cupcakes on the blog near the very beginning - they're based on a Martha Stewart recipe that I keep coming back to time and time again. I love the simplicity of these cakes and, of course, the fact that they are super rich and chocolate-y. They're more like a rich chocolate mousse than anything. I adore creme fraiche and the tartness is such a pleasing contrast in these little cakes. Although I threw some chocolate curls on top of these, berries would work equally well and bring a nice freshness. Just a note - don't try to whip low-fat creme friache. I can tell you from experience that you'll get absolutely nowhere.
- 100g (4 oz) dark chocolate (70% ideally)
- 45g (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 3 eggs, separated
- A generous pinch of salt
- 45g (1/4 cup) dark muscovado sugar
- 140g (about 1/2 cup) creme fraiche (full fat only)
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- 1 - 2 teaspoons icing sugar, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 120C/240F (fan) and line a cupcake tray with paper liners. In a small pan, very gently heat the chocolate and butter until smooth and glossy. Be careful that the chocolate doesn't split - if you keep the heat low and keep stirring, you should be okay. Take the chocolate off the heat and allow it to cool for 10 minutes or so.
- Once the chocolate has cooled, whisk in the egg yolks and salt and set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, whisking all the time, until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Whisk a tablespoon of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Fold the chocolate mixture into the rest of the egg whites, folding gently until all the streaks have disappeared.
- Divide the mixture between the cupcake cases and bake for 25 - 30 minutes until risen and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin before transferring to a wire rack. The cakes will fall and shrink away from the paper wrappers as the cool; don't worry about this. I tend to just take the cakes out of the wrapper once cool and serve them as is.
- To make the topping, tip the creme fraiche into a bowl, add the vanilla and whisk until gentle peaks form. Taste the frosting to determine whether you want a little sugar in there too - it will really depend on your preferences.
Cupcakes barely adapted from Martha Stewart