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Brian Levy’s Hugo Cupcakes with Chocolate Ermine Frosting

I came up with this recipe for my nephew Hugo’s first birthday. (At the time, his parents hadn’t yet conceded to feeding him anything with added sugar. Things have changed over the five years since.) The cake’s flavor reminds me of a Cadbury Fruit & Nut bar; the chocolate dominates, but the fruit contributes a bright complementary flavor. The cupcakes work well frosted for a more celebratory and decadent feel, or on their own to accompany tea or coffee.

Photo courtesy of Brian Levy


Make the cupcakes: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 12 cups of a standard muffin tin with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix them with a whisk and set the bowl aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the oil and butter on low speed to combine. Add the eggs, gradually increase the speed to medium, and beat for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the dates, prunes, and hot water. Let the fruit soften for a couple of minutes if it’s firm. Add the vanilla and puree until very smooth and room temperature, about 3 minutes.

Add the dry ingredients to the oil-egg mixture in the stand mixer bowl and begin mixing on low speed. Increase the speed to medium and mix until just a bit of flour is left unmixed. Add the fruit puree and beat on low speed until it’s fully incorporated, then increase the speed to medium for about 30 seconds to develop the cake’s structure. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups and smooth the tops.

Bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. To ensure even baking, rotate the pan front to back after 10 minutes in the oven.

To assemble: Allow the cupcakes to cool for 10 minutes in their pan, then place them on a wire cooling rack to cool completely before frosting. Frost with the chocolate ermine frosting using a small offset spatula or a piping bag with a ½-inch tip.

Frosted cupcakes will keep in the refrigerator for up to a few days. Unfrosted cupcakes can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

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