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Gingerbread Cupcakes

2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup unsulfured molasses
2 large eggs, lightly beaten, at room temperature

2 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons plus 2 tsp milk

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream

1 1/4 cups sugar
5 large egg whites
1 pinch cream of tartar
1 pound cold unsalted butter, in small pieces
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Use large cupcake papers and two jumbo muffin tins to bake these
cupcakes. They are glazed with either a chocolate or butter glaze
and then piped with meringue buttercream. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Line ten jumbo muffin tins with paper baking cups, and set aside.
In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup water to a boil. In a bowl,
combine boiling water and baking soda; set aside. In a large bowl,
sift together flour, ground spices, salt, and baking powder; set
aside. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment,
cream the butter until light. Beat in the brown sugar until fluffy,
1 to 2 minutes. Beat in the molasses, baking-soda mixture, and
flour mixture. Beat in the eggs. Fill the cupcake papers
three-quarters full, making sure that the batter is divided evenly.
Bake cupcakes until a toothpick inserted in the center of them
comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cupcakes cool a few minutes,
then transfer to wire rack to cool completely before decorating.

For the Butter Glaze: Place 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar in a medium
bowl. In a small saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons butter over medium
heat. Remove the pan from heat; immediately pour the melted butter
into the bowl with the sugar. Add 4 teaspoons milk; whisk until
mixture is smooth. Working quickly, dip the top of each of 5
cupcakes into the glaze, and place cupcakes right-side up on wire
rack. Repeat step; glaze remaining 5 cupcakes. Allow glaze to
set, about 20 minutes, before decorating. (Makes 1 1/2 cups, or
enough for 10 large cupcakes)


For the Chocolate Glaze: Chop the chocolate into small pieces,
and place in a medium bowl. Scald the cream, and pour it over the
chocolate. Let the mixture stand 5 minutes, then stir until smooth.
Let the glaze stand at room temperature for about 10 minutes. For
the smoothest possible surface, carefully dip the cupcakes into
the prepared chocolate glaze. Let cupcakes drip, dipped-side down,
for several seconds, and then turn right-side up. Allow glaze to
set before decorating. (Makes 1-3/4 cups, or enough for 10 large
cupcakes)

For the Meringue Buttercream: In a small saucepan over medium
heat, bring sugar and 1/3 cup water to a boil, and boil until syrup
reaches soft-ball stage (a candy thermometer should read 238
degrees). In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk
attachment, beat egg whites on low speed until they are foamy.
Add cream of tartar, and beat on medium high until the mixture is
stiff but not dry. With the mixer running, pour the sugar syrup
into the egg-white mixture in a steady stream, and beat on high
speed until steam is no longer visible, about 3 minutes. Beat in
butter, piece by piece, on medium speed. Add the vanilla extract,
and beat for 3 to 5 minutes, until the frosting is smooth and
spreadable. If the frosting looks curdled at any point during the
beating process, keep beating to smooth it out. If the frosting
becomes too soft for piping, stir it over a large bowl of ice water
until it stiffens. (Makes 5 cups)

Decorating notes: Star tips (3, 4, 7, 8) create innumerable borders
and rosettes. Round tips (5, 9) are best used for fine lines and
writing. Leaf tips (1, 10) and petal tips (2, 6) create foliage,
blooms, and borders. Finally, the basket-weave tip (11) makes
lattices and fancy edges.

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