I had my very first bite of buttercream on a trip to New York City a few months back. Unlike my previous trips to NYC, this one was rather spontaneous: my father is a pilot and happened to have a layover in Manhattan for a weekend. He invited my brother and I up to stay with him and explore the city. Now, as many times as I’ve been to the Big Apple I’ve had the poor luck of 1) never being free when the Met was open and 2) never going to a fantastic bakery. I determined this time around to check both off my list.
We went through the beautiful and thoroughly amazing Egyptian exhibit at the Met our first day there. They had the expected artifacts – a decorated sarcophagus, large and small busts, carvings of animals – but they also had full walls of hieroglyphics, pottery and glassware, and incredibly detailed jewelry. I haven’t watched a Discovery Channel special in years (no t.v.), but I really don’t remember ever hearing about the Egyptians wonderful work with glass.
We also made it to two incredible bakeries in between The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway (!!) and shopping outings with a local friend. First, my friend took us to Two Little Red Hens bakery where their blackout cupcake made me want to pack up and move to the city right then and there. No joke, this cupcake is heaven and hell in a pretty papery cup: if I lived even remotely close to them I would be drawn to them like a moth to a flame and would probably have a heart attack by the time I’m 40 since I would have no power to stop the indulgence. I’m warning you, this cupcake’s dangerous, haha!
The second bakery we visited was one I had heard a lot about: the Magnolia Bakery was packed when we arrived in the early afternoon. We ordered lemonades, a few cupcakes, and their famous banana pudding. Their banana pudding is nearly as dangerous as the blackout cupcake at Two Little Red Hens, but I did manage to put the spoon down eventually. The cupcakes were delicious as well, but entirely different animals from the previous ones; they were light, airy, smallish cakes with generous swirls of buttercream on top (see? I’d get back on topic eventually). Unfortunately my camera’s battery died right as I was trying to capture proof of my visit, so I’m sorry for the lack of a photo. You’ll have to make do with this one of a cookie at Dean & Deluca’s instead…
Anyway, my first introduction to buttercream was a happy memory and so when I decided I wanted to make Deb’s applesauce cake a few months later – but yet didn’t want to shuffle to the store for the cream cheese required in the frosting – I came up with the crazy notion that I’d give buttercream a try since all the ingredients were already at my fingertips. Now, in retrospect (and after eating my creations) I highly suggest the ORIGINAL cream cheese frosting for these babies. I wouldn’t call my experiment a failure, per say, as both components were very tasty….but they simply do not go well together. I’ll explain below in Beezer’s Notes, but please just trust me on this. I’ll provide the recipes for both cupcakes and buttercream since that is what I’ve learned, but in the future I hope to make them with equally complimentary counterparts for each.
Applesauce Cupcakes with Vanilla Cinnamon Buttercream
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
For the Cupcakes…
2 C AP flour
2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
3/4 t cinnamon
1/2 t ground ginger
1/8 t ground cloves
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 C packed light brown sugar
1 t vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1½ C unsweetened applesauce
For the Buttercream Frosting…
1 C sugar
4 large egg whites
26 T butter, softened (3 sticks + 2 T)
2 t vanilla extract
1/2 t ground cinnamon
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and butter 2 jumbo non-stick muffin tins. I didn’t bother with paper cups since I was right in guessing that the heavy cake batter doesn’t rise all that much, but feel free to use them in lieu of greasing if you’d prefer.
- Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices in a bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla until pale and fluffy – about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each, before adding in the applesauce.
- At low speed slowly blend in the flour mixture until just combined. Deb warned the batter will look a little lumpy and mine certainly did, but she’s also right that it will turn out delicious and smooth once baked.
- Pour batter into cupcake pans and bake for 15 – 20 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Let the cupcakes cool for at least 15 minutes before turning them out to cool completely on a rack.
- While cupcakes are cooling, beat up the buttercream: whisk egg whites and sugar together in a double-boiler or (if you’re like me) in a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Keep heating and occasionally whisking until you can’t feel any sugar granules when you rub the mixture between your fingers.
- Transfer the egg mix to a stand mixer and whip on High until it has turned white and just about doubled in size. Add the vanilla and whip until fully incorporated. Finally, add 1 stick of butter at a time, whipping well between each. Continue whipping (it does take some time!) until the frosting has pulled together and develops a smooth sheen, about 5 minutes. Also, while I haven’t tried, I’m sure this can also be done using a hand-held electric beater and a LOT of patience. Has anyone succeeded this way?
- Top the cooled cupcakes with the buttercream frosting. Top with ground or freshly grated cinnamon if desired. Will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge.
I can’t call these cupcakes a failure even if they were somewhat unsatisfying. It wasn’t their fault. The cake was exceptionally moist and full of spiced flavor. It had a similar consistency to banana bread and I could easily convince myself that this could count as one of my fruit servings for the day. The buttercream was just about as impressive, it had a sleek shine to it and a wonderfully light billowy texture. The flavor of the buttercream was easily overpowered by the cupcake, though, and the two so completely opposite densities made eating the cupcakes a little awkward.
In the future I would love to make these cupcakes again. They are the perfect size and have a hearty structure for carting them around to potlucks and parties. I will definitely choose a more robust frosting, though, to better compliment the dense cake. Having a light sweet frosting with a fruit cake was also a bit odd as the zing of the more traditional cream cheese frosting seems to bring out the fruity flavors more. There was one commenter on Deb’s buttercream post who subbed it for cream cheese frosting on a carrot cake and loved it, so this confirms my suspicions that it may not have only been the densities at play here. Carrot cake is more savory than apple and the sweet buttercream may have balanced it well in that case. With this apple recipe, though, I’m going to try cream cheese next.
Overall Enjoyment: ♥ ♥ ♥