Monday, October 20, 2008

So. Cupcake Hero, huh?

We were given free reign last month and so I decided to do those pumpkin cupcakes. Even though a part of me kept saying not to do it. Just wait. Because I had a feeling that October would be something like pumpkin or squash. Just because I did pumpkin in September. And look! October's theme is squash. Damn. I couldn't very well do my pumpkin cupcake again. Well. I could. There's nothing in the rules that says I can't. But I felt weird doing anything pumpkin-related. So that was out. And I've done zucchini before. So that was out. I realised that cucumber is a squash. But I couldn't think of what I could do with it. Mainly because I didn't think too hard and I don't like cooked cucumber. I like it cold, raw, and sliced. Just as is. So I thought and thought. And I finally came up with an idea. Butternut squash cupcakes. Have I ever had butternut squash? No. Did I know what it looked like? Yes. Perfect!

So that was good. All I needed then was a recipe. So I wrote one out. Yep. I created my own recipe. Using stuff I'd never eaten before. Aren't I tricky? Anyway. I had my cake. Now all I needed was frosting. I wanted something with maple. I thought about it and came up with either maple cream cheese frosting or maple marshmallow frosting. I asked people their thoughts and I got an even split between cream cheese and marshmallow. So I did neither. I made a maple buttercream instead. Of which I forgot to put lemon juice in. (It helps the texture come together I realised. Because mine looked broken. Even though it was quite smooth and yummy.)

And then for garnish I decided I wanted to put a single pecan on. Toasted, I decided. I had never had toasted pecans. I had only had pecans once, ever. Which was two years ago when my great aunt mailed us a giant Ziploc bag filled with raw pecans from her trees. By the time they got here, they had started to mould. Did I eat them anyway? Yep. I would grab a handful, pick out the mouldy ones, and eat the ones that were fine. They tasted very maple-y to me. We got through about half the bag before the mould took over and we threw the rest out. But anyway. You can put some chopped pecans into the cake if you'd like. I don't, though, because my mom is allergic to them. And after much investigating through the store I discovered that it's cheaper to buy raw mammoth pecans from the bulk dispenser in the health food aisle than anywhere else. The bags in the baking aisle were the most expensive. Then there were bags in the produce section. Then the bulk area. I've taken quite a fancy to the bulk dispensers. I needed a few bay leaves for something I'm making later this week. I got probably five or so for seven cents. I don't need that much, but it works because it was only seven cents rather than getting a jar from the spice aisle for five bucks. Yay for being cheap. Forgive me. I ramble.

So the end result was a spiced butternut squash cupcake (which reminds me of pumpkin), a buttery maple frosting, with a maple-y crunch from the pecan on top. And the cake was very light, too. Unlike most other spice cakes I have tried that are pretty dense.

Oh. And after further investigation, my cake appears to have more spice than I have seen other recipes have. This is because I have tried many recipes where they don't have very much spice, so it doesn't have very much flavour. So I decided to see what my cupcakes would be like with less spice. I baked up an incredibly scaled down recipe (three cupcakes) and tasted them. Without frosting, they were still pretty good. I didn't like them -as much-, but still flavourful. Then I put on the frosting. Yeah. Keep the spices as they were.

I also tried to make a variation on black bottom cupcakes, but with a butternut squash cheesecake filling and no cocoa powder in the cake and I added cinnamon. It was good. But they turned out more like pre-frosted cinnamon cupcakes than what I had hoped they would be. I still ate them. All three. Because I scaled that recipe down, too.

With the remaining butternut squash puree I had, I found a pumpkin pancake recipe and just substituted butternut squash puree for the pumpkin. And.. I used the leftover maple buttercream as my butter on them. They were pretty amazing.

So finally. The recipes.

Butternut Squash Puree. (In case you need help with this.)

1 butternut squash

Pre-heat your oven to 350º F.

Cut the squash in half lengthmish from stem to.. whatever that circle thing is called. If you can manage to do it with a chef's knife or anything, great. I can't. I use the saw from our pumpkin carving kit. The one to cut the lid off. Yeah. It's the only surviving saw we have. Scoop out the seeds. You can either discard them, or rinse them off to roast later.

Brush some oil on a baking sheet. Lay the squash cut side down on the baking sheet. Bake for about an hour, or until tender. Turn the halves over, scoop out the flesh, and puree it in your food processor. Which is probably the easiest route. I don't have a food processor, though. So I put the flesh and a bunch of water into my blender to get it thoroughly pureed. Don't freak out about the water. After it's been pureed, line a colander with cheesecloth (read: paper towels) and set over a bowl. Pour the puree into the colander. Press some saran wrap onto the surface of the puree and put in the fridge to drain overnight. All the water that was added and extra moisture from the squash itself will drain leaving you with a thick puree. Ta-da!

Butternut Squash Cupcakes (makes 24; you can easily divide the recipe in half)

1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup (one and a half sticks) butter
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups butternut squash puree
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon baking soda (yes, that says tablespoon)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup vanilla yoghurt (it was supposed to be plain, but there was only one cup at the store that was all beat up)

Pre-heat the oven to 350º F. Line two muffin pans with cupcake papers.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix in the butternut squash and vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Alternately mix in the dry mixture and yoghurt into the butternut mixture, starting and ending with flour.

Fill prepared tins two-thirds full. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

Maple Buttercream

2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (which I forgot to add)
1.5 sticks (3/4 cup) butter, cut into cubes and softened slightly
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

Combine egg whites and salt in bowl of a standing electric mixer or other large bowl.

Stir together sugar and water in a small heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over moderately high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved and washing down side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. When syrup reaches a boil, start beating whites with electric mixer at medium-high speed. Once whites are frothy, add lemon juice and beat at medium speed until they just hold soft peaks. (Do not beat again until sugar syrup is ready—see below.)

Meanwhile, put thermometer into sugar syrup and continue boiling, without stirring, until it reaches soft-ball stage (238–242°F). Immediately remove from heat and slowly pour hot syrup in a thin stream down side of bowl into egg whites, beating constantly at high speed. Beat meringue, scraping down bowl with a rubber spatula, until meringue is cool to the touch, about 6 minutes. (It's important that meringue is fully cooled before proceeding.)

With mixer at medium speed, gradually add butter 1 piece at a time, beating well after each addition until incorporated. (If meringue is too warm and buttercream looks soupy after some butter is added, chill bottom of bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice and cold water for a few seconds before continuing to beat in remaining butter.) Continue beating until buttercream is smooth. (Mixture may look curdled before all butter is added, but will come back together before beating is finished.) Add maple syrup and beat 1 minute more.

Then frost cooled cupcakes and top with a pecan half (I think halve sounds better) if you desire.

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