Chocolate cupcakes get a boost of cherry flavor from Cheerwine, a unique southern soft drink. A tall swirl of cherry-Cheerwine buttercream gives these cakes a grand finish.
My recent cake baking has been inspired by fizzy beverages. I’m not sure why. Maybe because summer makes me crave my favorite chilled drinks. Cheerwine is one of those favorites that has a cult following. It was born in North Carolina in 1917, is nonalcoholic despite its name, and tastes like a cross between Cherry Coke and Dr. Pepper. It was once little-known outside its region, however, thanks to the internet (and a NY Times article) today it’s more widely available.
It’s a regular fixture at barbeque joints in North Carolina, but I like it with just about anything. However, I may nominate these cupcakes for dessert at our next family barbeque.
First, you’ll start with a good amount of butter, white and brown sugars, and a generous addition of cocoa powder in a saucepan. My favorite chocolate cakes usually start out this way.
Next, add in a whole cup of Cheerwine. All of this goes on the stovetop over medium heat. Whisk it all together until the butter and sugars are melted. The mixture doesn’t have to be super hot or boiling for this to happen. Just heat it long enough for the ingredients to marry.
Then, let the chocolate mixture cool in the pan. When it’s just barely warm, whisk in an egg.
Pour the chocolate mixture into the dry ingredients and stir together. You don’t even need an electric mixer for this, really. Hand-mixing is best for most small yield cake batters because it prevents incorporating too much air or over-mixing. As a result you’ll have less tunnels (air holes) in the baked cakes.
The baked cupcakes are slightly domed and crackled on top. Just perfect, if you ask me!
The buttercream formula is a simple confectioners’ sugar and butter mixture with the additions of Cheerwine, maraschino cherry juice, and a few drops of black cherry flavoring. The latter is available for purchase online (right here). You can make these cupcakes without the flavoring, but without it the cherry flavor is subtle.
White nonpareils are the unsung heroes of the sprinkle world. I adore them on any baked good I want to make look bubbly or fizzy (these NYE treats come to mind). I think they work really well on these little cakes.
The only thing left to say is – YUM! The soda gives the cakes subtle black cherry flavor. Nothing here is too bossy or overpowering, but I will offer one suggestion. For those averse to tall frosting on cupcakes, halve the buttercream recipe.
Cheerwine Chocolate Cupcakes
These soft chocolate cupcakes are infused with delicious dark cherry Cheerwine soft drink. Use a 1/4 cup measure to accurately fill the cupcakes, and use a small rubber spatula to effectively scrape out the batter from the measuring cup into the liner (you should get an even dozen this way). If you’re not a fan of a tall serving of buttercream, halve the frosting recipe.
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into pieces
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 1 cup Cheerwine soft drink
- 1 egg
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp. plus 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Cheerwine buttercream and garnish
- 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
- 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 3 tablespoons Cheerwine soft drink
- 1 tablespoon maraschino cherry juice
- 5-7 drops black cherry flavoring oil or 1/2 teaspoon cherry extract
- 1/8 teaspoon liquid red food color optional
- 2 tablespoons white nonpareils
- 12 maraschino cherries with stems
Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a cupcake pan with baking papers.
To a small saucepan, add the cocoa powder, butter, and sugars. Pour in the soft drink. Place over medium heat and whisk until the butter is melted, the sugar is dissolved, and the ingredients are well mixed, about 5-7 minutes. Let cool until barely warm. Whisk in the egg.
In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together. Gently stir the flour mixture into the cocoa mixture.
Use a 1/4 cup measure to pour batter into the cupcake papers. Bake cupcakes for 20-22 minutes or until cakes spring back when pressed in the middle. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Allow cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment, cream the butter and confectioners’ sugar together until crumbly. Dribble in the Cheerwine soft drink one tablespoon at a time while beating at medium speed. Add the cherry juice and cherry flavor. Whip on high speed until light and fluffy. If mixture is too thick to spread, beat in additional Cheerwine one tablespoon at a time. The froting should be pale pink after whipping. Beat in food color if desired.
Transfer the frosting to a piping bag fitted with a large closed star tip. Pipe a generous double swirl of frosting on top of each cupcake, sprinkling with white nonpareils after each cupcake is piped. Garnish each cake with a single maraschino cherry.
Serve as the perfect ending to a southern dinner, especially a barbeque dinner. However, these need no special occasion.
Increase the frosting’s cherry flavor to taste by adding more drops of flavoring oil or more cherry extract.