Tag Archives: cupcakes

Brown Butter Brown Sugar Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Frosting

26 Mar

There is a fine line between being the sort of neighbor that people love, and the sort of neighbor that people hate.  When my parents’ moved into their current house, they took the place of an older couple who had been living in the neighborhood for the better part of twenty years.  My parents have been told, more than once, that the previous owners took it upon themselves to, every week, remind everyone in the neighborhood when it was the eve of garbage day, and that they just wanted to make sure everyone took their garbage and recycling to the curb.  This story is always relayed to my parents with the sort of bemusement that borders on teeth-gritting repression of irritation.  Every week.  They told us every week.

In my neighborhood, I fear I am becoming the sort of neighbor who is fast becoming a favorite of children, but perhaps not the favorite of parents.  What with the amount of baking and recipe testing I engage in, I tend to have a lot of baked goods left over at the end of my experimenting.  Sometimes, I don’t feel like eating cake for three days in a row (not always, but sometimes), so I pawn my freshly baked treats off on the people around me, including my neighbors and their children.  My handouts have, thus far, been greeted with open arms, but I sometimes wonder if, in a short time, I will begin to receive a greeting not unlike that of the previous owners of my parents’ house.  Oh.  More baked goods.  Again.  Yes.  The children certainly are excited.

For the record, if I had a neighbor who was bitten by the urge to create a cake that was spiked with the nutty tones of brown butter and the deep flavor of brown sugar, I certainly wouldn’t hide when I heard my doorbell ring.  And if that same neighbor was driven to top said cake with a creamy, buttery lid of vanilla bean-speckled frosting, well, I don’t think I’d be capable of doing anything other than starting a pot of coffee because, my friends, we’re going to be needing some reinforcements.

As for now, however, I am still solidly on the side of being positively greeted.  There are, of course, should the situation change, always my husband’s co-workers to receive my gifted baked goods.  Failing that (which, who are we kidding, is not a real possibility, since when was the last time you heard of co-workers turning down free treats?), there is always the staff of my son’s school.  Basically, I’ve got a long list of recipients lined up, so, should I ever find myself saddled with baked goods aplenty, I think my neighbors will be safe. Whether being safe means, to them, being plied with baked goods or not, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Last year: Garden Spaghetti in a Lemon Butter Sauce

Brown Butter Brown Sugar Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Frosting Recipe    

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 ¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (5.5 ounces total)

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

2/3 cup light brown sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

¾ cup milk, at room temperature

In a medium saucepan or skillet set over medium heat, melt the butter, then allow to cook, stirring frequently, until it is brown and nutty colored.  The butter will foam at first, then start to spatter, and then turn brown.  Remove the butter to a small bowl, then place the butter in the refrigerator or freezer, stirring every five minutes, to firm up slightly to room-temperature consistency.  You will want the butter to become creamy-textured, but not hard.  This process can take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt, then set aside.

In a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the lightly chilled butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and then add the vanilla and beat for another minute or so until smooth and combined.

Mixing on low speed, beat in one third of the flour mixture, followed by half of the milk.  Beat in half of the remaining flour mixture, followed by the remainder of the milk mixture.  Add in the last of the flour mixture, then beat until just combined.  Be sure to stir the bottom of the bowl with a spatula or spoon to make sure there are no errant clumps remaining.

Divide the batter evenly among the 12 cupcake liners.  Bake on the middle rack for 15 to 20 minutes, until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out with just a few crumbs attached.  Cool the cupcakes in the tin for at least 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling completely.

Frost the cupcakes when they are completely cooled.

Vanilla Bean Frosting

10 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 ¼ sticks), softened to room temperature

1 teaspoon milk or cream

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

pinch of salt

1 vanilla bean

1 ¼ cups powdered sugar

In a large bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer, beat together the butter, milk or cream, vanilla extract, and salt.  Slit the vanilla bean in half lengthwise using a very small, sharp knife, then remove the seeds from the bean by scraping the knife lengthwise against the cut side of the bean, collecting the seeds on your knife as you scrape.  Scrape both halves of the vanilla bean, placing the beans in the butter mixture.

Beat the butter mixture until creamy, then add the powdered sugar and beat on medium-high speed until fully incorporated and very fluffy, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Makes enough frosting for 12 cupcakes.

Cider Pressing and Two Kinds of Cupcakes

20 Oct

A few weeks ago, when summer had let us know it was over by summoning its friend autumn to release the Portland rains, we celebrated the beginning of fall by hosting a cider pressing at our house.  I say that casually, as though we’re used to doing such things, but, for us, having a large group of people over is about as common as having a large group of bears over.  (Okay, so maybe people coming over just marginally wins over bears coming over, being as though we’ve had a bunch of bears over, let’s see, never, and we tend to have people over to our house at a rate of about one instance per year.  So, fine.)

Aversions to entertaining aside, the cider pressing was a huge success.  My husband’s aunt and uncle drove out from the coast with their cider pressing machine, set it up just outside our garage, and, as if by magic, hordes of people began to appear with apples and pears aplenty.  Hordes of people we had invited, but, still, hordes in any case.  One cousin of my husband’s brought several hundred pounds of pears from his own tree.  That’s tree, singular, not plural.  His truck, back bumper slung low to the ground, was filled with bin after bin of pears, and I could hardly believe that one tree had managed to produce so much fruit.  The kicker was, he said the tree had actually produced a fairly low yield that year.  Those hundreds of pounds of pears were a small harvest.

The pears, combined with apples of all sorts, made incredible cider.  Tart and sweet, it was the freshest beverage I think I’d ever had.  The biggest hit of all, however, might have been the cider press itself.  With its efficient design and wonderfully growling motor, it attracted people of all ages.  No matter if you were a child or an adult, there was no better place to be than standing at the helm of the press, feeding it with whole apples and pears, watching the press rapidly shred and pulp the fruit, then slowly and satisfyingly hand cranking the actual pressing plate down upon the pulp, squeezing out the fresh juice.

As the machine was starting to slow its production, we all convened in the kitchen to dish out an enormous potluck meal.  There was a fresh tomato tart, a selection of several incredible salads, grilled sausages, a baked polenta dish, macaroni and cheese made in a crock pot (seriously, did you know you could do that?  ‘Cause I didn’t and now I kind of feel like I’ve been missing out), pesto pasta, smoked salmon, Indian food, a peach cobbler, one gigantic chocolate cake, and, because I like no better excuse to bake than having the promise of many mouths to feed, two types of very fall-themed cupcakes.

Let’s be honest, even before cupcakes became the dessert de rigueur, then quickly became the most maligned and passé dessert on the planet (oh, how quickly food trends come and go), I think everyone could appreciate how wonderfully portable, casual, and delicious cupcakes are.  You don’t need a plate and fork when you eat a cupcake.  You don’t even need a table or chair, since you can eat a cupcake while walking around, kicking a soccer ball, or simply standing in one place and enjoying the company of friends.  But even better than the fact that cupcakes are handy, simple to make, and adored by children every where, is the realization that when you make cupcakes, you can make many types at a time, which means you can then eat many types, which I totally did, with no shame whatsoever.

Applesauce Cupcakes with Penuche Frosting

Applesauce Cupcakes

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground powdered ginger

¼ teaspoon salt

2/3 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

¾ cup unsweetened, unfiltered apple juice

1 cup unsweetened applesauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a muffin tin with 12 paper liners, or grease and flour the tin.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt, then set aside.  With an electric mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar until fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla.  Alternate adding the juice and the flour mixture, beating well after each addition.  Fold in the applesauce.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin.  The cups will be very full.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into a cupcake comes out clean.  Remove the cupcakes from the tin (if they are too hot and delicate to handle at first, you can allow them to cool for 10 minutes before attempting to remove them from the tin) and cool completely on a rack before frosting.

Penuche Frosting

Adapted from Pillsbury: Best Cookies Cookbook

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar

¼ cup milk

2 to 2 ½ cups powdered sugar

In a medium saucepan, combine butter and brown sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Cook at a light boil for 1 minute, stirring frequently, until mixture has thickened.  Remove from heat and cool for 10 minutes.  Add milk to cooled mixture and beat until smooth.  Beat in enough powdered sugar to reach desired frosting consistency (start with 2 cups, beat for a few minutes, then add more powdered sugar if you find your frosting is too runny).  Frosting will remain somewhat loose, as it is not meant to be fluffy.

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts

Gingerbread Cupcakes

¼ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

½ cup sugar

½ cup unsulphured molasses

1 large egg

1 ½ teaspoons ground powdered ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground allspice

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a muffin tin with 12 paper liners, or grease and flour the tin.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light.  Add the molasses and egg and beat until smooth.  Add the ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and flour, and beat until well blended.  In a small bowl, dissolve the baking soda in the boiling water (the mixture will foam up).  Add the baking soda and water mixture to the batter and mix until smooth.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin.  Bake for 20 minutes, until the cupcakes spring back when lightly touched.  Cool cupcakes for 5 minutes, then remove from tin and set on a rack to cool completely before frosting.

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 ounces cream cheese (a generous ¼ cup), at room temperature

2/3 cup powdered sugar

½ teaspoon finely chopped or grated lemon zest

½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and cream cheese together until smooth.  Beat in the powdered sugar until fluffy.  Add the lemon zest and lemon juice and beat until smooth.

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