(Black) licorice is one of those things that is a love it or hate it proposition. It seems that Scandinavians (and possibly the Dutch) tip the scales in favor of “love”. I rarely meet people in these parts of the world who do not love licorice (both salty and sweet varieties) and indulge in it with reckless abandon (and “indulge” is an appropriate word here – the black stuff can make blood pressure skyrocket and has other unpleasant side effects). Still, all the baked goods leave something to be desired in the health department – and considering that I am serving cakes and cookies to a largely Scandinavian audience, it seems only right that I try to make cupcakes that would satisfy their tastes.
I have tried to make licorice cupcakes before – I had some licorice powder, which did absolutely nothing to the flavor of the cake I baked. I have given much thought as to how I might capture the licorice essence. As strong as the smell and flavor of licorice is, it has not come through easily or well in most of my experiments.
The answer, it seems, is to melt licorice candy (I used some Haribo licorice nappar candy, but a softer candy would melt better and would be recommended in future attempts at making this cupcake – especially when I tried, and failed, to make licorice frosting – I ended up frosting the finished cupcakes with honey frosting and sprinkling some licorice sprinkles on top).
A discerning taste tester and avowed licorice lover at the office reported that these cupcakes were tasty.
Use about 12 ounces (340g) of soft black licorice (sweet or salty, depending on your preference)
Melt over a double boiler or in the microwave. You will need to mix in up to 10 tablespoons of water to ensure a smooth melt. Do not mix in that much water to start. Start with four or five tablespoons, melt and stir and see if the mixture needs more.
It is also nice to melt the licorice most of the way but leave a few small bits/pieces unmelted … it creates little bursts of color and flavor in the finished cupcake.
Preheat oven to 350F/175C.
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt (if using unsalted butter)
Melted licorice mixture
Cream butter and sugar together. Add the melted licorice mixture. Mix well. Then add the salt and baking powder until well combined and smooth (the mixture will be a brownish color).
Add the flour and stir until just combined (do not overstir).
Fill liners in a cupcake pan about two-thirds full. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a cupcake comes out clean.
Let the cupcakes cool fully on racks and frost.
As I wrote, I had a total failure on the frosting front – I will use softer, more easily melted licorice next time to make the final product usable. Meanwhile, I used a honey frosting (butter, powdered sugar, honey and a drop of cream) and licorice sprinkles to top these off.