Recipe courtesy of Hollis Wilder

Gluten-Free Chocolate-Cardamom Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream, Spun Sugar Bird's Nests and Jewel-Encrusted Bird's Eggs

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  • Level: Advanced
  • Total: 1 hr 55 min
  • Prep: 1 hr 10 min
  • Cook: 45 min
  • Yield: 50 mini cupcakes
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4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (recommended: Callebaut)

1/2 cup boiling water

6 eggs, separated

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups superfine sugar, divided

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups rice flour (recommended: Bob's Red Mill)

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

2 cups Chocolate-Cardamom Ganache, recipe follows

Chocolate Buttercream, recipe follows

Dark cocoa powder, for dusting (recommended: Callebaut Extra Brut)

Spun Sugar Bird's Nests, recipe follows

Jewel-Encrusted Bird's Eggs, recipe follows

Chocolate-Cardamom Ganache:

1 teaspoon cardamom pods, crushed

1 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate (recommended: Callebaut)

1 cup heavy cream

Chocolate Buttercream:

3 cups (6 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled to lukewarm

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

3 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

Spun Sugar Bird's Nests:

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup corn syrup

Jewel-Encrusted White Chocolate Birds:

1 pound white chocolate molding chocolate

Assorted vegetable-dyed crystal sugars


Special equipment:
large whisk with 1-inch removed from end with wire cutters.
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line mini cupcake pans with 48 mini cupcake liners.
  2. Melt the chocolate in the boiling water. In a small mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until frothy and stiff but not dry. Add 1/2 cup sugar and beat until stiff but not dry. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar and vanilla on medium speed until fluffy. Add the egg yolks and beat well. Blend in the melted chocolate. Sift together the rice flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk to the chocolate mixture, beating after each addition until smooth. Fold in the Chocolate-Cardamom Ganache. Fold in the beaten whites. Fill the cupcake liners halfway and bake for 12 to 15 minutes.
  3. To assemble: When the cupcakes are cool to the touch, prepare a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip. Fill the bag with Chocolate Buttercream and pipe the tops of each mini cupcake, keeping the icing in low profile. Dust the top of the cupcakes with the cocoa powder. Place a Spun Sugar Bird's Nest on top of each cake. Carefully peel the Jewel-Encrusted Bird's Egg off the silicon mat. Place an egg inside each nest.

Chocolate-Cardamom Ganache:

  1. Crush the cardamom in a spice grinder. Place the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Bring the cream and cardamom just to a simmer over medium-high heat; pour the mixture over the chocolate. Let stand, without stirring, until cool. Beginning near the center and working outward, stir the melted chocolate into the cream until the mixture is combined and smooth (do not over stir).

Chocolate Buttercream:

  1. In a medium bowl, beat the butter until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the melted chocolate and beat until smooth. Add the vanilla extract and beat for 3 minutes. Gradually add the sugar and beat until creamy and at desired consistency.

Spun Sugar Bird's Nests:

  1. Secure a long-handled wooden spoon under a heavy cutting board on the edge of counter, with the handle facing out and extending over the edge. Place newspaper on the floor directly under the cutting board.
  2. In a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the sugar and corn syrup and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Stop stirring. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Cook until the mixture turns pale amber and registers 340 degrees F (hard-crack stage) on the candy thermometer. Dip the prepared whisk into the caramel. Holding the whisk about 2 feet above the spoon handle, swing the caramel back and forth like a pendulum in long arcs, allowing the strands to fall in threads over the handle. Let stand until ready to use. Gently gather the strands into a ball, shaping nests with your fingers, about 1-inch in diameter.

Jewel-Encrusted White Chocolate Birds:

  1. Heat the white chocolate over a double boiler until melted. Remove from the heat. When the chocolate begins to cool, transfer it to a pastry bag and tie off the top of the bag using a twist tie.
  2. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat. Cut a small slice off the end of the pastry bag (if the chocolate runs out to quickly let it sit a bit longer). Draw an oval egg no bigger than 1/4-inch. As soon as you draw the shape, sprinkle it with an assortment of the crystal sugars, layering them on top and next to one another. (Make it easy by putting the sugars into small ramekins so you can easily get to the desired color.) Place the eggs in the fridge to set up for a few minutes.

Cook’s Note

To melt chocolate, place in a double boiler over simmering water on low heat for 5 to 10 minutes. Stir occasionally until completely smooth and no pieces of chocolate remain. Remove from the heat and let cool 5 to 10 minutes.

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