Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line a standard cupcake pan with 16 cupcake liners. Sift the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt into a medium-size bowl. Set the bowl aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the water, coffee, oil, and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk until just incorporated. Add the vinegar and incorporate. Do not over mix the batter.
Fill the 16 standard cupcake cups 3/4-full and sprinkle 1 tablespoon of toasted cashews on top of each cupcake. Bake for 19 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into each cupcake comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes completely.
Yield: 2 quarts
In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip shortening and margarine. Scrape the bottom of the bowl to ensure that all ingredients are mixed thoroughly. Then, slowly add sugar and cocoa powder a little at a time. Once the sugar is incorporated, mix on medium-high speed until all ingredients are combined and frosting is fluffy, about 2 minutes. On low speed, add in melted chocolate and soy milk until incorporated. Put the frosting into a pastry bag and cut 1/2-inch off the tip.
Chop the chocolate into small pieces and melt using a double boiler. Remove from heat and stir in the toasted cashews. Spoon the melted chocolate into cowboy boot chocolate candy molds and place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to set the chocolate. Remove from the molds and place candies on parchment paper until ready to use.
To assemble: Pipe a dollop of Black Chocolate Frosting on top of each cupcake. Place a Spun Sugar Hay bale on top of each cupcake and garnish with a Cashew Chocolate Boot.
Recipe courtesy Sticky Fingers Bakery, Cupcake Wars, 2011
Darra Goldstein is editor in chief of The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, an 888-page reference guide to all things sweet. "The book is really a compendium of human desires, a cultural history of desire for things that are sweet and what it has caused in the world, in both the realm of pleasure and also of pain," she says.