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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Quick but Wonderful Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes






Here is a use for some of the season's abundant zucchini that is far different from my last post. This one is a dessert reminiscent of an old-timey picnic, but it starts out with a cake mix so it's an option for even your busiest day.  Making cupcakes instead of cake also shortens the time the oven has to be heating up your kitchen, a big plus if you have been brushing with triple digits as we have much of this summer.

Oh, and my initial testing panel has declared these "the best ever" chocolate cupcakes. They are moist, chocolate-y, and far richer tasting than their list of ingredients might indicate. The miniature chips and walnut chunks add enough texture that no one will ever guess the presence of zucchini if you don't give the secret away.

Just about any brand of cake mix will do here, but do choose one of the darker chocolate cake varieties. When I recently purchased some mixes, the brand that was on sale had at least six different chocolate variations, from German chocolate to devils food to fudge and beyond. Any of them would probably have worked with this recipe, but I definitely prefer the darker flavors and think they work much better with the zucchini.

Next time cake mixes are on special, plan to pick up a few chocolate ones to have on the shelf for these quick nuggets of flavor. (This recipe will work with frozen shredded zucchini too. Just thaw in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before adding to the batter.)

Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes

1 standard 2 layer size chocolate cake mix--preferably dark chocolate or fudge rather than devils food
3 eggs
1/2 c water
1/2 c oil
2 c grated zucchini, gently packed--do not drain
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 c chopped walnuts
1/2 c miniature semisweet chocolate chips

1.  Combine all ingredients except nuts and chocolate chips in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, blend well and then beat for 3 minutes, scraping down the batter occasionally.
2.  Fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts until well mixed.
3.  Line standard sized muffin pans with paper cupcake liners. (If desired, spray each one lightly with non-stick spray.) Spoon the batter evenly into the cups, filling each about half full. This recipe makes 24 to 27, depending on the size of your pans. If you do not have enough muffin pans to make all the cupcakes at once, you may set the batter aside while waiting for the first cupcakes to bake.
4.  Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 14 to 15 minutes, until the center of each cupcake is springy to the touch or a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Do not overbake.
5.  Place the pan on a cooling rack and let the cupcakes stay in the pan for a few minutes before lifting each one out on to the rack to finish cooling.
6.  Frost with a basic powdered sugar icing and sprinkle immediately with a few miniature semisweet chocolate chips.

Basic Powdered Sugar Frosting
2 T softened butter
powdered sugar
1/2 t vanilla extract
1/4 t cinnamon (optional)
milk

1.  Put the softened butter in a bowl and stir in about 1 cup of powdered sugar, along with the vanilla and cinnamon if used.
2.  Blend well and then gradually add a small amount of milk (a tablespoon or two). Add another cup or so of powdered sugar, mix well and then a little more milk.
3.  Continue alternating powdered sugar and SMALL amounts of milk until you have used about 3 1/2 to 4 cups of powdered sugar (approximately one pound) and just enough milk to obtain a thick spreading consistency.

This amount will frost about two dozen cupcakes or cinnamon rolls or a 9 X 13 cake.

Variations:  Substitute cream cheese for part or all of the butter. Use lemon, almond, or orange extract in place of or in addition to the vanilla. Increase the cinnamon or delete entirely. Use orange or other fruit juice in place of some or all of the milk. (Note that using juice may initially give a "curdled" appearance to the mix, so you will need to beat a little more to obtain a smooth texture.)

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