My senior year in college, I decided to procrastinate by making my friends Valentine’s Day cards. In plain view of the whole library, I started cutting up the graph paper I was supposed to be using to chart economic theories into janky heart shapes. On each heart, I wrote song lyrics that reminded me of its recipient. For the freshman year roommate who introduced me to David Bowie, she received “hey babe, your hair’s alright / hey babe, let’s go out tonight” from “Rebel Rebel“. For the friend that I worked out with, she received lyrics to “Eye of the Tiger“. I kept the cards anonymous, mostly because I thought it would be a fun surprise and I was curious to see if any of my friends would be able to trace the esoteric lyrics back to me.
However, when it came time to writing the Valentine of my actual crush at the time, I balked. I could go the goofy route like I did for my friends, or I could legitimately put something that was indicative of my feelings. And there were so many songs with great lyrics about unrequited love and secret crushes that I could take advantage of! Besides — the cards were anonymous. Would he even trace it back to me?
Later that week, I jokingly asked him if he’d received any Valentine’s Day cards from any secret lovers. He laughed and shook his head: “Nah, nobody loves me.” I laughed too, but a small part of me was disappointed. My paltry Valentine had gone unnoticed, and I couldn’t really blame him — what ended up in his mailbox was a crooked blob of a heart shoddily made from graph paper (which, let’s be honest, is pretty much the least sexy Valentine’s Day card material ever). But what’s worse was that there was nothing written on it. Because even with the anonymity, fear got the better of me; I had left his Valentine empty.
And every year Valentine’s Day rolls around, I find myself thinking a surprising amount over that botched Valentine. Not because I think that an anonymous declaration of love via an obscure lyric on a piece of scrap paper would have brought us together — on the contrary, we eventually did get together but fizzled out almost immediately due to timing and a lack of conviction on both our parts — but more because I’m sad at how afraid my 21-year-old self was.
Especially because, a few years later, I happened to be in his city and reached out to catch up over drinks. We hadn’t kept in touch after school, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that he remembered most of our shared experiences and even small details like how I used to ride my bike to school every day, or how the only books I had on my shelves at the time were the Harry Potter series (#truefan). Sending him a real Valentine that day would have been a gesture that he probably would have remembered too; a small and silly one, sure, but still a nice one to be remembered by.
So for all you folks out there hesitating on any Valentines — be brave. Because almost seven years later, I’m still not quite sure what I was afraid of that day I decided to make those Valentines. A real Valentine that day would have brightened up not only his day, sure, but also mine. It’s easy to underestimate the impact of small gestures, which ones stay or go, and it’s strange to me that this one has stuck with me for so long. So put yourself out there, and declare all the love you have for your friends and family. Make them your Valentines, and make them these cupcakes as a sweet gesture to remember you by. Because nothing says love like an incredibly moist chocolate cupcake topped with fluffy, soft meringue and a candy heart reading “PUGS & KITTENS”. They deserve it. And YOU deserve it.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Thank you to Canvas Home for sponsoring this post by providing all the pretty gold and white wares you see in the pictures. I first fell in love with their collections last October (in particular, I love everything from the Abbesses, Dauville, and Tinware collections), when Molly recommended Canvas for prop shopping in New York City. For Valentine’s Day, Canvas is doing a fun little series on their Instagram account that feature different dessert recipes this week, and this is my contribution! As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own; thank you for supporting Hummingbird High and my sponsors!
|| dauville single stem bud vase || dauville bowls
Some baker’s notes:
- This chocolate cupcake recipe is adapted from one of my favorite cupcake recipes: the chocolate cupcake recipe from Miette. The original recipe makes a crazy moist, tender cake that is unfortunately a little fussy and takes you through some crazy steps like pouring the batter through a fine mesh sieve. Yeah, there’s no need for that mess. I’ve eliminated some of the more high maintenance steps and left you with a more attainable recipe that produces basically the same result. Don’t panic if the batter doesn’t look as smooth and lump-free as you expect it to be — this is totally normal and the cake will come together in the oven as expected, I promise. Don’t overmix or you’ll end up with a dense and dry cake that will make me cry for you!
- Be sure to use whole yogurt, the kind that’s liquidy and pourable (and by no means, do NOT use fat-free or Greek yogurt — you won’t get the same results) for the moistest cake possible. I used Strauss Family Creamery’s, but realize that that’s probably not an option for those who don’t live in the west coast. In a pinch, you can also use buttermilk.
- The icing is based on an Italian meringue recipe that produces an incredibly light and satiny cloud of icing. But because of the icing’s nature, it tends to deflate, harden, and loose its shine if not eaten within the next four hours or so. So make sure you make the icing right before serving! It comes together pretty quickly, and is a dream to pipe. You can also torch the icing for a s’mores/toasted marshmallow sort of look, as seen in one of my favorite cupcake recipes from last year.
Candy Heart Cupcakes
- a candy thermometer (preferably digital — I love this one)
For the Chocolate Cupcakes
- 1 1/2 cups (7.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4 cups (4.5 ounces) natural unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 ounces unsweetened dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup (8 fl. ounces) boiling water
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup (4 fl. ounces) vegetable oil
- 1 cup (8 fl. ounces) plain, whole milk yogurt (see baker’s notes)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 1/4 cups (15 ounces) granulated sugar
For the Meringue Icing
(makes around 4 cups, enough for 30 cupcakes)
- 3 large egg whites
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups (10.5 ounces) granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup (2 fl. ounces) water
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- Valentine candy hearts, for decorating
For the Chocolate Cupcakes
- Position oven racks in the upper third and the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 (F). Prepare two 12-cavity muffin pans by lining with cupcake liners and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/4 cups natural unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Whisk together until well combined. Set aside.
- Put 2 ounces coarsely chopped 70%-cacao dark chocolate in a liquid measuring cup and pour 1 cup boiling water over it. Whisk with a fork until the chocolate is melted. Place the mixture on a wire rack and allow to cool for 15 minutes.
- In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whisk 2 large eggs on high speed until foamy, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and slowly pour in 1/2 cup vegetable oil. Once all the oil has been added, slowly pour in the cooled chocolate mixture (from the 3rd step). Once the chocolate has been added, slowly pour in 1 cup whole plain yogurt and 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract. Continue whisking on low speed for another 30 seconds, and then add 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar. Whisk until the batter is smooth and liquid, and the ingredients have fully combined, about 2 minutes.
- Stop the mixer and replace the whisk attachment for a paddle attachment. Sprinkle the dry ingredients (from the 2nd step) over the liquid mixture in the bowl. Turn the mixer back on and on its lowest setting, mix in the dry ingredients until just incorporated. It's important that you mix JUST until the dry ingredients have disappeared into the bowl — the batter will still look lumpy, but it's just a lumpy batter, I promise. Trust the recipe! Scrape down the sides of the bowl and use a rubber spatula to finish mixing the batter by hand.
- Use a 1-tablespoon cookie dough scoop to divide the batter evenly between the cupcake liners; I used about 2 tablespoons per cupcake liner — do not overfill more than two-thirds of the cavity. Place one muffin pan on the upper third rack, and the other muffin pan on the lower third rack. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, switching the two muffin pans at the 10 minute mark. Bake until the top of each cupcake springs back when gently poked and a skewer inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let the cupcakes cool completely to room temperature in their pans Do NOT frost the cupcakes until they've cooled completely.
For the Meringue Icing
- Once the cupcakes have cooled to room temperature completely, make the icing. In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine 3 large egg whites and 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract. Set aside.
- Combine 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, 1/4 cup water, and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar in a medium, heavy-bottomed sauce pot. Stir to combine and fit a candy thermometer to the side of the pot. Place over medium heat and cook until the mixture boils, thickens, and reaches 240 (F). Once the mixture reaches 240 (F), immediately pour it into a liquid measuring cup to prevent it from getting hotter.
- Return to the egg whites and turn the mixer to medium speed. With the mixer on medium speed, slowly pour the sugar syrup into the egg whites, aiming for the side of the bowl rather than the whisk and egg whites. When all the syrup is added, turn the mixer to medium-high and whisk until the icing becomes shiny, thick, and holds a firm peak. This should take around 10 minutes — don’t whisk any longer than that, or the icing will become too thick to spread and pipe!
- Transfer to a piping bag and use immediately.