I’ve come to realize that I am a bundle of contradictions.
My heart and soul belong in the hustle and bustle of the big city, but my lungs and legs crave fresh air and wide open fields sprawled out under a star-studded sky.
I wish I could go vegan, but my taste buds would die without bacon, or butter, or the gloriousness of a runny yolk.
Relationships, career choices, diets – so many forks are set in all of these important roads in our lives, and it’s up to us to choose which way to run, while also trying not to panic.
The struggle is real.
Most of the time, we have no choice but to choose one direction and stick with it. There is no in-between; no gray area where the identities of “cheese-eater” and “vegan” can be simultaneously occupied. (And vegan cheese does not count as cheese, trust me.)
Once in a blue moon, though, a happy medium presents itself just when you need it most. And you’d have to be a fool to walk away from it without taking a bite.
These beauties are the epitome of contradiction. The cupcake itself is butter-free, using walnut butter as the base, which means they’ve got a healthy dose of omega-3s instead of saturated fats. The buttercream frosting, as the name implies, does have a good amount of butter, but you can feel good about licking the beater because it’s also chock-full of blackberry preserves and lighter on the sugar.
The cupcakes are insanely moist thanks to the walnut butter, and they pack a powerful chocolate punch. Call it a compromise, or a healthy balance, or just a really delicious snack. Whatever it is, life is finally letting you have your cake and eat it too.
A few quick notes:
Soaking the walnuts yields a smoother and less bitter walnut butter, so don’t skip it. Just don’t let them soak for too long or they will absorb too much water for the walnut butter to come together in the food processor. The walnut flavor is undetectable unless you know it’s there, because I didn’t want the chocolate flavor to be overpowered. If you’d like a noticeable walnut flavor, toast the nuts before soaking them.
The espresso powder is also unnoticeable, but it really brings out the chocolate flavor. It’s optional, but I highly recommend it.
And finally, while these are made with walnut butter, they are undeniably rich. If you are on a butter-free diet (I’m sorry, truly) then pair these up with a whipped coconut milk frosting instead and revel in your newly discovered middle ground between decadent and healthy.
Chocolate Walnut Cupcakes with Blackberry Buttercream
By L., yields 12 cupcakes
1 heaping cup walnuts
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cups water
For buttercream (adapted from America’s Test Kitchen’s The New Best Recipe):
3 egg large egg whites
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces, or 12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup blackberry preserves
12 blackberries, for topping (optional)
Preheat the oven at 350F and prepare a cupcake pan with liners.
Soak the walnuts in hot water for 10-20 minutes to rinse off some bitterness and soften them a bit, then drain well and blend in a food processor until soft and play-doh-ey.
In a small bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the walnut butter and sugar until completely blended – it should look just like brown sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla extract. Sift about a third of the dry ingredients into the batter, followed by half the water, and repeat until all combined, ending with the dry ingredients. Scoop into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out relatively clean.
Let cool for 10 minutes in the pan before transferring the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely. While they’re cooling, work on the buttercream.
In a heatproof bowl (or the bowl of an electric stand mixer if you have one), whisk together the egg whites, sugar, and salt. Place above a pot of simmering water, making sure the water is not touching the bowl, whisking occasionally until the egg whites are hot and the sugar is completely dissolved.
Whip with the whisk attachment on high until thickened and the bowl is no longer hot (at least 10 minutes), then reduce the speed and add a tablespoon of butter at a time. When the butter is all incorporated, slowly add the blackberry preserves, and continue whipping on high. The buttercream may begin to separate, but don’t worry, it will come together. (If it doesn’t, check out my tips here.)
Pipe onto the cooled cupcakes (I used the Wilton 1M tip) and top with a blackberry.
Boom. Balance never tasted so good.