Merlot Muffins

Though I am fairly certain these would be better classified as cupcakes, I really enjoy alliteration, hence the name. While making the fruit juice bread in my previous post, I was complaining to my mother about the fact that there is beer bread, but no wine bread or cider bread, and she rememebered having had a wine cake years ago. She found the recipe a friend had submitted to a church cookbook -- one of those frighteningly midwestern collections of recipes for meaty cheese dishes and cheesy meat dishes the whole family will love. The recipe called for some cooking sherry and eggs to be added to a yellow cake mix to make a cake with a poundcake-like texture and density.

I decided instead to add some red wine to a delicious, but obnoxious, recipe for yellow cake I recently adapted to make a spiced chai cake for my sister's birthday. It is indeed moist and tasty, as advertised, but it also involves mixing the ingredients for a total of over 15 minutes. I suppose it's not that bad; it's just more work than I'm used to for a cake. All I did to change it was to replace the buttermilk with merlot, then I decided to bake it in muffin cups instead of a cake pan, and I put powdered sugar on top.

They are very good, and were well-liked at my mom's office, where they were brought in on a co-worker's last day. I liked the batter better than the baked cupcakes (isn't that just always the way?) mostly for its stronger wine flavor. I wonder if I made a poor wine choice. I really don't know much about choosing wines, but I thought something medium bodied and fruity would be nice. It might have been better with sherry or even port, or if I'd tried reducing the wine before adding it to the batter.

But that is often my complaint. "More flavor!" Which I think makes me something like the baking version of Tim "The Toolman" Taylor and his constant quest for "more power". Except I grunt less? We hope. Anyway, I am rarely completely satisfied with anything unless it is the life-changing sort of delicious. Fortunately, there are several things I make that I think would fall into that category, so it's not an impossible standard to hold myself to.

Wine Cake

Original recipe from The Well-Decorated Cake, by Toba Garrett

3 cups (330 g) cake flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (8 oz or 230 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups (454 g) granulated sugar
5 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups (10 fl oz or 300 ml) red wine

1. Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C). Butter and line with parchment paper two 8x2-inch (20x5-cm) pans. (Or about 24 muffin cups.) Set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

3. Cut up the butter into 1-inch pieces and place them in the large bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment or beaters. Beat for 3 minutes on MEDIUM-HIGH speed until the butter is light and creamy in color. Stop and scrape the bowl. Cream the butter for an additional 60 seconds.

4. Add the sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, beating 1 minute after each addition. Scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally. Add the eggs one at a time.

5. Reduce the mixer speed. Stir vanilla into the buttermilk. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the wine. Mix just until incorporated. Scrape the sides of the bowl and mix for 15 seconds longer.

6. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a knife. Lift up the pan with the batter, and let it drop onto the counter top to burst any air bubbles, allowing the batter to settle.

7. Center the pans onto the lower third of the oven and let bake 45 to 50 minutes (or about 30 for muffins, depending on their size) or until the cake is lightly brown on top and comes away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Note: Let the cake cool in the pan. Storage: Double wrap the cake in plastic wrap. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for up to 2 months.

Yield: Two 8-inch (20-cm) cakes.