The Headless Horseman

It’s October. And I’m in New England. One day it’s gusty and rainy and there are wet leaves plastered to the road and the smell of woodsmoke, and the next day it’s bizarrely warm and the sun shines and you can just about convince yourself it’s not fall–but the light is wrong. It’s too golden, and the sky is too blue, and you can still smell dry leaves and then a zombie crosses the street in front of your car and you realize that yes, Halloween will be here in less than two weeks and you’d better get ready.

So I’m getting ready. I roasted a pumpkin (and I have delicious plans for that pumpkin puree, I promise) and I’m reading a scary book (and giving one away for All Hallow’s Read) and I’m feeling very nostalgic and early American about things this year. So I picked up Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It’s fun, in a wordy folkloric kind of way, albeit not very scary.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I picked it up this month SOLELY because I read it years ago and I recently became obsessed with the idea of making a “Headless Horseman” cupcake. Something dark, and dense, without a pile of frosting, but maybe just a skimming of chocolate ganache… but I wanted to see if Irving’s description and my thoughts were even remotely in line.

“The dominant spirit, however, that haunts this enchanted region, and seems to be commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air, is the apparition of a figure on horseback, without a head. It is said by some to be the ghost of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by a cannon-ball, in some nameless battle during the Revolutionary War, and who is ever and anon seen by the country folk hurrying along in the gloom of night, as if on the wings of the wind.”

I forgot that he was a Hessian… ah. I know.

Hessian, Russian, whatever.

Chocolate Stout “Headless Horseman” Cupcakes, adapted from smitten kitchen. Makes 12 cupcakes.

  • 1/2 cup Imperial Russian Stout (or any other stout you like)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 6 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (the darker the better)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 3 oz chocolate chips (or chopped bittersweet chocolate)
  • 3 Tbsp heavy cream
  • 1/4 tsp espresso powder (optional)

To make the cupcakes:

Preheat the oven to 350ยบ F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners, or grease the wells generously with butter or cooking spray. Bring the stout and butter to a boil over medium heat. (Caution: It smells good. Like this amazing buttery-bready-yeasty smell that will make you want fresh baked bread.) Add the cocoa powder and whisk until the lumps are gone. Cool slightly.

No, seriously. This smells amazing.

Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in a large bowl to blend. In the bowl of your mixer, mix the egg and sour cream until blended. Add the stout/butter/chocolate mixture to the egg mixture, just until combined. Then add the flour mixture, and mix until just barely combined. Then turn off the mixer (no, really) and fold the batter by hand until blended. Pour into cupcake liners (mine were about 3/4 full) and bake for about 18 minutes, or until a cake tester in the middle of a cupcake comes out clean. Let the cupcakes cool.

The batter is almost TOO good.

To make the ganache:

Heat the chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate) with the heavy cream and coffee powder in the top of a double boiler until smooth. Stir occasionally. Holding them by the bottom, dip the tops of the cooled cupcakes into the ganache and let the excess drip off. Cool completely.

Devour. With such single-minded intensity that you forget to take a real picture of them and have to use your cell phone to get a blurry shot before your friends eat them all. Like so.

No, those weren't both for me--okay, yeah. They were.

“Just at this moment a plashy tramp by the side of the bridge caught the sensitive ear of Ichabod. In the dark shadow of the grove, on the margin of the brook, he beheld something huge, misshapen and towering. It stirred not, but seemed gathered up in the gloom, like some gigantic monster ready to spring upon the traveller.”

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