Chocolate and Bacon Cupcakes: Tasty weirdness

I will confess that I cheated a bit on this one -- I used cake mix from a box. (Gasp!) Baking cakes and pastries completely from scratch has not always been my forte (actually, my worst subject in school). They're so fussy to make and easy to screw up, and I hate measuring out ingredients. I take the Rachael Ray approach to cooking: a palmful of this, a pinch of that, etc.  Bottom line: you can't mess up with cake mix and I had my reputation relying on these -- no room for error. At least I made the peanut butter frosting from scratch, thus redeeming my honor.

The cupcakes went over fantastically, even after the party guests had guessed the secret ingredient (unless they were lying to be polite). The rich chocolate and smoky bacon married beautifully and were enhanced even more by the sweet and salty peanut butter frosting.  This is definitely a 'must try', whether it be in cupcake, cookie, or bar form. If you don't eat bacon, your loss.

Chocolate and Bacon Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting

(makes 18 cupcakes)

Chocolate and Bacon Cupcakes:

Adapted from: A Good Appetite

Chocolate cake mix (I used dark chocolate)

8-10 slices bacon, cooked until crisp and chopped into small pieces (reserve some for garnish)

1. Prepare cupcake batter according to package directions and stir in the bacon.

2. Spoon batter into cupcake pan, each about 3/4 full. Bake for 22-25 minutes or until a tootpick inserted into one comes out clean.  Let them cool completely before frosting.

Peanut Butter Frosting

Adapted from: Vanilla Garlic

(makes enough to cover 18 cupcakes)

5 tablespoons butter, soft

1 1/2 cups peanut butter (I used crunchy)

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1/4 cup milk or heavy cream

1/2 cup peanuts, chopped (for garnish)

1. In a medium bowl, mix together butter, peanut butter, and vanilla with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined.

2. Add powdered sugar in three parts (1/2 cup at a time) and mix on medium speed until completely incorporated, scraping the sides of the bowl to mix everything in.

3. Add milk or cream, a little bit at a time, while mixing on medium speed until frosting is at desired thickness (not too runny but thick enough to spread). Start frosting your cupcakes!

Note: Store these in the refrigerator because they're perishable.

Here's some more inspiration:

Cooking or baking for someone is my favorite form of gift giving — it's personal and heartwarming. I was throwing a surprise party for a very good friend of mine recently and decided to bake cupcakes as my gift.  Being the avid foodie and culinarian that my friends know me to be, I also thought it would have made me look bad if I had shown up with store-bought treats. Little did they know that the party wasn't the only surprise that night.

As I was brainstorming and perusing my usual foodie sites for flavor ideas, I remembered an interesting flavor combination I'd come across a few months ago: chocolate and bacon. Yep, bacon. My friend loves bacon! I also recalled our shared love of pork products and popcorn mixed with chocolate at the movies. It's the same concept, right?

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