Sunday, September 25, 2011

Apple Pie Cupcakes

Last week I mentioned that my two favorite flavors of fall are pumpkin and apple. Well, after opening one of those giant 32oz cans of pumpkin and making use of all the delicious goodness inside, I'm ready to move on to the wonderful world of apples! (This doesn't mean I'm done with pumpkins, by any stretch!)
I wanted to bring a bunch of cupcakes to a dear friend of mine who did a huge favor for me this week. She has two young kids, so an apple cupcake is a healthier, more acceptable flavor for them, which works well for me. After spending some time thinking about what flavors could meld well with apples and drawing inspiration from this idea, I decided I definitely wanted the flavors of this cupcake to echo those of a warm, buttery apple pie. I didn't just want apple pie filling in a vanilla cupcake, though. I wanted you to feel like you were eating apple pie in cupcake form - crispy, flaky crust and all.
My base was to be a brown butter cupcake. If you haven't already, you really need to brown butter in your kitchen. The nutty, buttery aroma fills your house. It's butter, only taken up 10 notches... The brown butter cupcake is like a toasted vanilla cupcake, which, in this case, reflected the crust of an apple pie. For the filling, I made a traditional apple pie filling and cut out a substantial chunk of the cupcake to fill it up. What did I do with the cut-outs, you are wondering? Dunno.. They seemed to disappear as I was cutting them.. :-)

After having discovered Biscoff spread a few weeks ago, I knew I wanted to incorporate this flavor into these cupcakes. So I made a Biscoff buttercream to top off my apple pie cupcakes with. Biscoff, in case you are not aware, is a European cookie. It's cinnamon-y and caramel-y and crunchy and satisfying. If you've ever flown Delta, you'll know that it's the in-flight cookie of choice. Biscoff spread is a molten, spreadable cookie-in-a-jar. Think Nutella, only different... in a good way. You have to try it. You can find it near the peanut butter and other spreadable goodies in your local grocery store. Try it, and let me know what you think.

My cupcake taster this time around was my hubbie. I had cut one of the finished cupcakes in half to photograph for this post earlier in the day so there were two halves sitting on the plate waiting for him. My hubbie said he would probably only have one half. He's not too big on sweets, especially apple pie. He'd rather have a beer than dessert... the thought is incomprehensible, especially as my husband! But to his credit, he always makes sure he tastes my creations and gives me his 100% honest critique on them. *LOVE* Ok, enough about him. I turned away from him for a minute and when I turned back, the plate was empty. He gave me a grin and said "that was the best cupcake you've ever made." He is not one to give compliments easily. He tells it like it is. *LOVE x 2*

Apple Pie Cupcakes with Biscoff Buttercream

Brown Butter Cupcakes:
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter (heated to brown butter point)
1 1/2 t vanilla
1/2 cup milk

Apple Pie Filling:
2 T and 1/2 T butter, unsalted and separate
1 T flour
3 apples (any kind), small dice
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
2 t Apple pie spice
Biscoff Buttercream:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, unsalted 
3-4 cups confectioners sugar
4 T Biscoff spread
1/4 cup milk, cream, or half and half
pinch of salt
1 t vanilla extract  

Preheat your oven to 350F. Combine flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a bowl. Cream the eggs and sugar in a mixer until thick and pale.  On low, add the butter, salt, and vanilla until combined. Then add the milk. Once incorporated, add the dry ingredients until just combined.
Bake in lined cupcake wrappers for 20 - 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out crumb-free. While the cupcakes are baking, make the apple pie filling. In a saute pan on medium heat, melt the 2 T of butter. Once the butter is melted, add in the diced apple and sugars and cook for about 5 minutes or until the apples begin to soften. Then sprinkle the apple pie spice on the mixture as well as the flour. Toss and cooke for another 5 minutes. Turn off the stove and add the remaining 1/2 T of butter. Combine well. Set aside to cool completely.
To make the buttercream: Beat the butter for a few minutes until light and airy. Add the salt and vanilla and then the powdered sugar a cup at a time, reducing to 1/2 cup at a time to determine the consistency you desire. Blend in the Biscoff  buttercream until well incorporated. At this point you can adjust the consistency of your buttercream with the milk/cream/half and half.
To assemble the cupcakes: Take a cupcake and gently cut out the center with a knife in the shape of a cone. You can take out as much or as little as you'd like based on how much filling you want in your cupcakes. Then add about a tablespoon (more or less depending on the size of the hole) of apple pie filling to the cupcake. Frost as desired.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Pumpkin love...

(Amended: *Recipe included, below*)
Two things come to mind when I come upon fall - apples and pumpkins... Aside from how beautiful each is in their own right, I absolutely LOVE baking with them, as you probably figured by now. Apple and pumpkin pies, breads, cakes... Mmmmm, just the thought. Well, I've eagerly started fall baking for this year and am bringing to you, this week, an absolutely heartwarming pumpkin cupcake. It's warm and cozy especially with a warm beverage - a hot latte, steaming mug of hot chocolate, or a comforting cup of tea.
The cupcake is a ginger pumpkin cupcake with little nuggets of crystallized ginger suspended throughout. I've topped it with a delicious spiced cream cheese buttercream - it's a buttercream because I've significantly cut back on the amount of cream cheese added to the frosting, so it's just got a hint of cream cheesiness. It's my new favorite cream cheese frosting! It's spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. I've topped the cupcake with a hit of butterscotch. Together, these flavors round out the season! It's a taste of Autumn in each bite..

Pumpkin Ginger Cupcakes & Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting
(Adapted from Elinor Klivans' cupcakes!)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
4 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 T canola or vegetable oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, small dice
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt
3 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups powdered sugar
2 T milk or cream
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Set oven to 325F. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger in a bowl. Using an electric or handheld mixer, blend the butter, oil, vanilla, sugar, and pumpkin until the mixture is fully combined. Add the eggs and crystallized ginger. Once incorporated, slowly add the dry ingredients until just combined.
Fill each cupcake liner with 1/4 cup of batter and place in the center of the oven for about 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a cupcake comes out clean.
While the cupcakes are baking, make the frosting. Beat the butter and cream cheese until smooth and uniform. Add the salt, vanilla, spices, and 3 cups of powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time. Adust the consistency of the frosting with the milk or cream. Beat for 2 minutes.
When the cupcakes come out of the oven, leave them to cool completely. Then frost them with the frosting.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Changing Seasons...

Even though there is nearly a month left of summer once school begins, I am always quick to jump in to all things Autumn! Blooming Spring flowers are optimistic - a sign of rebirth and renewal. Summer sun is relaxing and lazy. Warming up near a fireplace during the first snow of Winter is cozy and homey... But my heart belongs to Autumn. Leaves turning warm colors of brown, orange, and fiery red warm my heart amid the cooler temperatures. My two favorite holidays - Halloween and Thanksgiving - make Autumn my favorite time of year. Pumpkin picking, hayrides with my husband and kids, and seeing my daughter near the top of an apple tree trying to find the largest, prettiest, reddest apple in the orchard are memories I look back on dearly.
Which is why this week, I wanted to create a cake in the spirit of Fall. The base was an orange-flavored cake with decadent chocolate buttercream. I covered the cake with a homemade chocolate fondant and decorated with flowers and leaves in warm colors.

Since my children are so into baking and this blog, I like to display their works whenever possible. They get such a rush from it and it certainly doesn't do any harm to their confidence... Earlier this week, they made peanut butter play dough and, using some rainbow jimmies, molded some beautiful and edible pieces! They spent nearly two hours working away at this dough, taking little nibbles here and there and enjoying a mellow weekend. Happy Autumn everyone!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Black & Whites

If New York had a cookie it could call its own, it would be the black and white cookie. You can find them all over New York City in the many delis that saturate the blocks of nearly every neighborhood! And if you have never tried one, the next time you find yourself in New York, do yourself a favor and get one. They are a cookie unlike any other. The base is a vanilla cake-like cookie with the slightest hint of lemon. The frosting is a thin layer of half chocolate, half vanilla resulting in the well-known black and white design.
This cookie is my husband's favorite, which is fitting because he is a New Yorker, born and bred. While he was away on a recent business trip, I thought I would surprise him with something he loves upon his return. What better than his favorite black and white cookie, homemade!!

It's a fairly easy cookie to make - in fact it took me under an hour from start to finish, even after losing power in my house as I pulled out the final batch of cookies from the oven! The cookie base and the icing are both simple but the union of the two is a perfect marriage.