mike kostyo

I know food.

Classic Chocolate Cupcakes

Whatever happened to magic?

When I was growing up magic seemed, if not quite at Houdini levels, popular enough that there were a few television specials every year. At least once a summer CBS would trot out David Copperfield to make corny jokes, inappropriately dance with scantily clad women amongst some silk curtains, and then make something giant disappear.

Where did all the magic go? Was it the Masked Magician? Remember him and how everyone was so mad that he was revealing the tricks? And he was like, "Well now it will force people to make new tricks!" Maybe he was wrong.

Or maybe it was David Blaine and MINDFREEEEAAAKKKK! They didn't really do magic so much as sit in boxes for long periods of time. Maybe everyone thought that's what magic was and gave up.

Or is it CGI? CGI is ruining everything. There is that new movie out where the magicians are bank robbers but all of the tricks are obviously CGI so who cares. The magician might as well turn into that melty liquid guy from Terminator and go through the jail bars. To use one example.

When I was little, I was really into magic for a while. My grandmother bought me Mark Wilson's Complete Course in Magic, which I used to read, cover to cover, all the time. I bought these little Magic Works toys, which were actually fairly impressive. Like this one, the Crystal Cleaver! My grandfather bought me a magical box that you could put anything in the top, close the box, and when you opened it again whatever you added had disappeared. 

I remember writing a school report on the infamous Indian rope trick, which has many versions, but the most famous involves a magician who throws a rope into the sky, where it hangs, reaching up to unseen heights. A boy assistant would climb the rope, also disappearing, until the magician was annoyed when the boy did not return. The magician would climb up, sword in hand, also disappearing from view, and soon limbs would start falling from the sky. The magician would descend, place the limbs in a basket, cover it, and open it again to reveal the boy, intact.

A normal thing to write about in elementary school. Most people consider the trick to be a hoax perpetrated by a reporter from the Chicago Tribune. There's a version of it in Carter Beats the Devil, an excellent book to read this summer! 

A few years ago we had a rummage sale and I sold all of my magic equipment, the magic box, silk scarves, foam balls, linking rings, all of it, to one little boy. He got really excited when he saw it, and after I showed him the magic box, he had to have it. I'm sure he's annoying his family every day with all of my old tricks. Speaking of kids and magic, have you seen Make Believe, about the Teen World Champion magic competition? You HAVE to see it. It's fantastic! It's on Netflix!

Anyways, let's magically transform some ingredients into baked goods!

These are the ultimate, classic chocolate cupcakes. I hate supersweet cakes and cupcakes, so these are more chocolatey than sugary. These are chocolate cupcakes for adults.

Chocolate Cupcakes

Adapted from Home Baked Comfort  |  Makes 18 Cupcakes


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare muffin pans with 18 liners. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, add the 5 ounces of water and bring to a boil. Add the 75 grams of cocoa powder and tablespoon of espresso powder and stir until completely dissolved. Cool to lukewarm and stir in the 8 ounces of buttermilk. Set aside.

In a bowl, sift together the 280 grams of flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda, and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt.

In the bowl of your mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the 185 grams of butter, 250 grams of granulated sugar, and 105 grams of brown sugar together on medium speed, until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, fully mixing after each addition. Add the vanilla and combine.

Reduce the speed to low. Add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with two additions of the cocoa-buttermilk mixture in between. Do not overmix. For best results, gently fold in the final dry mixture addition with a spatula.

Fill each muffin cup with the batter, coming nearly to the top. Bake until the cupcakes are just puffed and a toothpick comes out clean, about 18-20 minutes. 

Cool completely.


+ 5 ounces water

+ 75 grams cocoa powder

+ 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder

+ 8 ounces buttermilk 

+ 280 grams all-purpose flour

+ 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

+ 1 teaspoon kosher salt

+ 185 grams unsalted butter, softened

+ 250 grams granulated sugar

+ 105 grams dark brown sugar (light is also fine)

+ 3 large eggs

+ 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

+ chocolate buttercream (recipe follows)

Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream


In a medium saucepan or double boiler, melt the chocolate. Set aside and let it come to room temperature. 

In a heavy, medium saucepan, add the 4 egg whites, 200 grams sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar. Over medium-low heat, begin whisking the mixture. Check the temperature frequently, mixing constantly, until it reaches 160 degrees F, about 5 minutes.

Pour the mixture into your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. With the mixer on high, begin whipping the mixture. Bring it to stiff peaks, about 6 to 8 minutes. The mixture should no longer be warm -- feel the bottom of the bowl to ensure it is room temperature.

Switch to the paddle attachment. Turn the mixer on medium-high and begin adding pieces of the butter. Continue adding the butter and mixing until you have used all of the butter. At some point the mixture may look "curdled," but don't worry. Keep mixing and it will become beautifully smooth.

Add the tablespoon of vanilla and combine. With the mixture on medium, slowly pour the 8 ounces of room temperature (this is important to ensure it doesn't melt the butter) melted chocolate into the mixer until combined. 

Frost the cupcakes and serve.


+ 5 ounces water

+ 75 grams cocoa powder

+ 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder