Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Compliment-Guaranteed Cupcakes

I've baked a lot of cupcakes. These, however, are quite possibly my favorite. Bizarre, given that they don't even contain chocolate. I would have to say that this recipe - this frosting in particular - has garnered more compliments than all of the other cupcakes that I've tried thus far.

It's a strawberry cupcake, iced with amaaazing strawberry meringue buttercream frosting. This particular batch was for a birthday, so all of the pretty ones were given away. Here we have one adorable and still very, very delicious reject. Continue on for the recipe...

Listen, for those of you afraid to tackle a meringue buttercream, allow me to quell your fears. I hadn't ever attempted one prior to a month ago because I didn't own a stand mixer and my idea of fun does not include standing at my counter with my hand mixer until the end of time. Technically, it can be done with a hand mixer, but I'm sure glad I have my KitchenAid.

Yes, meringue buttercreams are slightly more complicated. A few more steps, a few extra things to wash, but in my opinion, they are infinitely more delicious. Another added bonus is it does not coat my counter in powdered sugar. Not too sweet, with a great texture that makes it easy to work with and holds up quite well in the summer heat and humidity. If only there was a similar solution for my frizzy hair...

Strawberry Cupcakes with Strawberry Meringue Buttercream
(makes at least 24 cupcakes)

For the cupcakes:
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter at room temp
2 1/4 cups sugar
3 large whole eggs + 1 large egg white
1 cup milk (I used 2%)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups chopped strawberries

For the frosting:
4 large egg whites, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter at room temp
1 1/2 cups fresh strawberry puree
Some version of a food thermometer - mine is a candy thermometer. If it is hands-free, even better!

Preheat oven to 350. Line your cupcake pans and set them aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugar, whipping until it has a light and fluffy consistency.

Add the eggs and egg white one at a time, making sure each one is fully incorporated before adding the next. Add the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of your bowl, and slowly add about 1/3 of your dry ingredients, mixing on low speed. Continue with about half of the milk, another 1/3 of the dry ingredients, the rest of the milk, and the last of the dry ingredients, scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition. Mix on low speed until just incorporated. Fold in the chopped strawberries with a rubber spatula.

With a ladle (or whatever your preferred method), evenly distribute the batter in the baking cups. Place in the oven on the center rack and bake for 20-25 minutes. It has been exactly 20 minutes for me every time I've made these, but everyone's oven is different.

Now, wash your dishes and get ready to give this frosting a whirl...

In the clean bowl of your mixer, combine the sugar and the egg whites. Place the bowl on top of a pan with about 2 inches of simmering water. Make sure your bowl does not touch the water. (if you have a double boiler, now is the time to use it -- I do not, so this is how I did it) Now please, if you haven't done this before, please be careful. This stuff gets hot. Use your judgement.

While the mixture is heating, keep whisking. This helps the sugar dissolve completely and keeps you from making a sugary omelet. Continue to whisk gently until mixture reaches 160 degrees. This is important - it helps your frosting achieve the right texture and also cooks your egg whites. Once it reaches 160 - remove the bowl from the pan, turn off your burner, and wipe the bottom of the bowl with a towel.

Carefully put the bowl back onto your mixer and whip with the whisk attachment. Bring the speed up to medium-high and whip, whip, whip. The mixture will get foamy, then really REALLY foamy, then sorta white and fluffy. Keep going until stiff peaks form. Your mixture should be smooth and glossy and the bottom of your bowl should be cooled off. If you're not there yet, keep whipping! Be patient, this frosting is so worth it.

When you've reached the stiff peak stage, it's time to add your butter. Keep your mixer going, reducing speed to medium, and add one or two tablespoons at a time, letting each one combine before adding more. If you add your butter too quickly, it will start to look runny and curdly. This is ok, just hold off on the butter and crank up the speed for a bit to get your smooth texture back. Then resume butter-adding. Once this is complete, switch to the paddle attachment and beat in your puree. The final step, and this is an important one, try not to spoon too much of it into your mouth -- save some for the cupcakes. :) Enjoy!

source: barely adapted from Martha Stewart

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