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I heart cupcakes

February 20, 2011

Lots of people get flowers or candy for Valentine’s Day. I got both or neither, depending on how you look at it: Some rather insightful someones got me a set of paper cupcake liners printed and shaped to look like crimson roses in bloom.

They were so pretty, I almost wanted to display them as a paper bouquet or put them on a shelf and admire them, like art. But my kitchen gallery already has an exhibit of frilly pink liners that came in my Christmas stocking. Enough fond ogling. These cupcakes should bloom into a different kind of art. And what better guide than loves and obsessions? This would truly be a cupcake from the heart. Luckily, I’m someone with plenty of loves and obsessions.

Buttermilk, for starters. Buttermilk is a wonder and a marvel. As far as I’m concerned, it can do no wrong. I held nothing against it, for example, when my buttermilk panna cotta turned out terribly. I blamed Mark Bittman’s editor instead. Buttermilk is a long-standing obsession of mine, so I was naturally drawn to the The Gourmet Cookbook‘s single cupcake recipe: a buttermilk cupcake, of which Ruth Reichl, the editor, says, “Every cook needs one all-purpose cupcake recipe, perfect for a birthday party or bake sale. This is it.” To Gourmet‘s good sense and impeccable taste I wanted to add my own extra touches. For this, I turned to a more recent passion.

Making key lime pies for Super Bowl Sunday provoked a lime revelation. I was reminded of their color, their flavor, their delicious zing, and all of a sudden I wanted to put lime in everything. Homesick Texan posted a recipe for Sopa de Lima (a chicken-lime soup), and I’d instantly wanted to make it, but hadn’t had time. These cupcakes were an out. I added lime zest to the cupcake batter and piped homemade lime curd into the center. I’d never heard of piping lime curd into a cupcake, but I figured it was worth a try. It was. Every bite had a delicious combination of flavors and textures: sweet and tangy and custard and cake.

Meanwhile, I’d also been wanting to make caramel sauce from scratch, because it has always struck me as the kind of thing that seems hard until you try it. I was right. (Though it went through an awkward phase in the soft-crack stage when I had to switch thermometers). A dollop of brown-sugar caramel sauce topped with toasted coconut added warmth and depth to the cupcakes. They were bright and fresh with the lime. With the caramel and coconut, they were balanced and rich and sultry.

So I would say my obsessions got along nicely in the end. But I’m biased. You should try for yourself. Or adapt the components into other delicious desserts: lime-coconut cake, or broiled pineapple with caramel sauce, or buttermilk cupcakes with blackberry frosting . . . Follow your heart, like I did.

*     *     *     *

For the Lime Curd

(adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook)

6 egg yolks

¾ cup sugar

½ lime juice

3 Tblsp. half-and-half or cream

4 Tblsp. butter

2 tsp. lime zest

Whisk yolks, sugar, lime juice, half-and-half and butter in the top of a double boiler, or in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of water. Whisk constantly until the curd thickens and a few bubbles appear on the surface when you stop stirring. Transfer to a bowl, press plastic wrap on the surface, and chill at least an hour before piping.

*     *     *     *

For the Buttermilk-Lime Cupcakes

(adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

a scant tsp. salt

1 stick butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1 heaping tsp. lime zest

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in vanilla and then the eggs, one at a time. Add buttermilk and beat slowly until just combined. Add dry mixture in batches, mixing until just combined.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full and bake 18-22 minutes, rotating halfway through. Cool on a rack.

*     *     *     *

For the Brown-Sugar Caramel Sauce

(inspired by The Gourmet Cookbook)

1 cup packed brown sugar

½ cup evaporated milk

3 Tblsp. butter

Combine all the ingredients in a heavy saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves and then stirring less often until the caramel reaches 238F on a candy thermometer (about 8 minutes). Immediately transfer to a bowl and beat with a mixer until it becomes pale and spreadable. If it “curdles” into little clumps, add a bit of evaporated milk and keep beating. Use immediately.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. marilyn bourbon permalink
    February 21, 2011 10:09 am

    aren’t they beautiful… you have a new hobby, collecting unusual cupcake holders.

  2. J.L. permalink
    February 22, 2011 6:08 pm

    I love your blogs. I just had a double dose of panna cotta and then dived into the voluptuous cupcakes and am having a hard time coming up again. And it’s all a lovely vicarious experience. I mean how can you not just adore “eating” panna cotta (I didn’t know what it was) when you read that it “feels like eating a reflection of the moon”. Thank you for doing all the work… but I do want to go out and buy a lime or two, and gelatin (for the panna cotta).

  3. July 17, 2011 2:28 am

    Excellent Blog, Learning lots. Would love to know where you bought the cupcake liner/holder? As I would love to experiment from them.

    • July 17, 2011 7:33 am

      The cupcake liners are Wilton brand. You can find them at Amazon, Michael’s craft store … And they have other designs. The sunflower liners are beautiful.

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