At a recent family gathering, which was in honour of my grandmother’s birthday, I had to find a recipe that used minimal chocolate and no nuts. Not an easy task for a chocolate- nut lover like myself. However, I was able to find something which fit the bill.
As I was perusing the shelves of my pantry, a glass jar with orange label stuck out at me. How about an Ovaltine cake? I chose a Malt Ball Cake recipe from Baked! authors Renato Poliafito and Matt Lewis, who own a wicked bakery that shares the same namesake with their cookbook in Brooklyn, New York City. While I hope to someday travel to the Big Apple and eat my way through their sweet treats- – in the meantime, I will live vicariously through their cookbook creations.
I topped the cupcakes with a vanilla bean buttercream frosting (which I pretty much make in my sleep these days) from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home, and as a garnishes for the tops, I made Dorie Greenspan’s Chocolate Malted Whopper Drops aka Malteser Cookies that have a good dose of Ovaltine (malty flavour) and Maltesers in them.
Yes, these are a lot more whimsical and laid back compared to my last rose fondant cupcakes. I felt these were fitting for a family engagement because it was an affair filled with many kids at heart. While there was only one cousin left who was under the age of 13, all the ‘grown-ups’ who dived into these cupcakes suddenly acted like children again. Some peeled back the paper slowly, as if unwrapping a special gift, then forgetting their manners and using their fingers to lick all the frosting off. Others ripped off the wrapper and sunk into half of the cake with one bite– all while smearing frosting on their cheeks and licking the sides of their mouthes. I love how the power of a cupcake can whittle the most restrained individual powerless to their inner child who yearns for cupcakes and sprinkles. Bringing out that side of a person is why baking brings me so much pleasure.
What I’m also realizing more is that a large cake is intimidating to many people in my family… whereas a cupcake is not as daunting of a task for people to finish– especially after a 14 course Chinese dinner! In fact, these mini- pleasure cakes leave them with a lingering- longing for just a bite more… which is exactly the type of emotion I want!.. Succumb to the sugary side (insert diabolical laughter here)!
This malt ball cake has a very interesting texture. It is light but squishy- soft at the same time. The Ovaltine provides a light malty flavour and in the background, and a faint touch of nutmeg that will have your eaters wondering what that unique flavour was that was dancing on their tastebuds. This was a cake recipe that I turned into cupcakes. Also, these have the perfect cake to frosting ratio.
To make the cupcakes and vanilla bean buttercream frosting, follow my directions in italics below. If you want the original chocolate frosting with the cake, I have also included it. Dorie’s cookies follow the cupcake and frosting recipes.
Malt Ball Cake
For the cake
2 1/4 cups cake flour (which I was actually able to find at the Bulk Barn instead of the typical blend of cake and pastry)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup malted-milk powder (Ovaltine will find the bill here nicely. I gather you could also use Milo if you wanted a more pronounced chocolate flavour)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt (I used kosher so upped it to 1 tsp)
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (you can definitely detect this spice, so if you’re not a fan, I would opt for 1/8 tsp instead)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening, at room temperature (such as Tenderflake or Crisco)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups ice water
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
Make the Cake
Preheat the oven to 325°. Butter and flour three 8-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk the flours with the malt powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg.
In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter with the shortening until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat at medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the dry ingredients in 3 batches at low speed, alternating with the ice water, occasionally scraping down the side of the bowl.
In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites at medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the batter. Divide the batter between the pans, spreading it evenly, and bake the cakes for 40 to 45 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 20 minutes, then invert them onto a rack and let cool completely. Peel off the parchment.
To make cupcakes: line 2 regular muffin tins with cupcake liners. Dish out batter 3/4 cup full (they will rise, so you don’t want to overfill them). You can use an ice cream scoop to make the job easier like I did. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Make Ahead: The cake can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Bring to room temperature to serve.
Yield: 12-14 servings
Yield for the cupcakes: about 2 and 1/2 dozen
For the Frosting(s) and Garnish
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
10 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
4 sticks (1 pound) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch chunks, softened
Malted milk balls, for garnish
While cakes cool, make the frosting. Place the chocolate in a large bowl. In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil, then remove from heat. Add the corn syrup; immediately pour the mixture over the chocolate. Let stand for 2 to 3 minutes, until the chocolate has melted, then whisk until smooth. Let cool to room temperature.
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with a wire whisk. Gradually beat in the butter at medium speed, a few chunks at a time, and beat until thoroughly incorporated between additions. The frosting should be smooth and silky. Refrigerate the frosting just until it is thick enough to hold its shape, 10 to 15 minutes.
Place one cake layer on a serving platter and spread 1 1/4 cups of the frosting over the top in an even layer. Repeat to form 2 more layers. Spread a thin layer of frosting over the side of the cake and refrigerate briefly until firm. Frost the side with the remaining frosting. Garnish the cake with malted-milk balls and refrigerate briefly to firm up the frosting before serving.
Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting
1 3/4 cups plus 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
3/4 cup egg whites (from 5-6 large eggs)
3 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 Tbsp pieces, room temperature
1 Tbsp Vanilla paste (I have an awesome one from Nielsen-Massey. A bit pricey but a little goes a long way)
Bring a saucepan half full of water to a simmer over medium heat. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together sugar and egg whites. Set bowl over simmering water, and whisk constantly until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is hot to the touch. Quickly move bowl to stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment and whip on high until the whites are thick and glossy, and hold stiff peaks and the bowl is cool to the touch (about 10 minutes). Reduce speed to medium and slowly add butter, about 2 or 3 pieces at a time, allowing each addition to become fully homogenized before adding more. Take your time until all butter is incorporated. Check consistency, if it’s too thin, beat on medium high speed until it reaches desired thickness. Add about 1 Tbsp vanilla bean paste and incorporate on low speed.
Chocolate Malted Whopper Drops (aka Malteser Cookies)
(these cookies are the slightly cakey variety. Be careful not to overbake them. You can eat the cookies as they are or turn them into sandwiches with any leftover frosting you have. I also sliced the cookies into fingers and stuck them in the cupcakes)
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup malted milk powder (I used Ovaltine)
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (it didn’t specify dutched or not, so I used the former because it was what I had. I gather the recipe would work if you have the non-dutched kind)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup plus 3 tbsp butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup whole milk (I used soy milk. It was all I had on hand and it worked fine)
2 cups Maltesers (or Whoppers), coarsely chopped
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used Guittard)
pinch of kosher salt (added in with the dry ingredients)
Preheat your oven to 350º. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Sift together the flour, malted milk powder, baking powder, cocoa powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Beat the sugar with the butter until creamy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Then the vanilla.
Beat in half the flour mix, just until incorporated. Then the milk. Add the remaining flour.
Stir in the Maltesers and chocolate chunks.
Place heaping tablespoons of the dough on the baking sheets (I rolled mine into balls for a cleaner appearance), about 2 inches apart. Bake for about 12 minutes (mine took only 8 minutes so watch them closely), rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through.
Yield: about 30 cookies