Brown Butter + Apple Spice Cupcakes

October 19, 2011

Somedays call for a mimosa at 8:30am. Anniversaries, guilty pleasure Sundays, and Wednesdays. This Wednesday, was a double whammy – not only was it the middle of the week and felt like it should be the end, but it was also Melissa’s Birthday. Mimosas required.

And, because it was the type of day where mimosas were required at 8:30am, AND because it was only Wednesday, AND because it was Melissa’s Birthday, it was also necessary to have cupcakes before lunch. Cupcakes with frosting before lunch.

As we sipped our bubbly, and licked the frosting from our fingers, there were a few of us that got to talking about cake (rather than work) and we noted (READ: JUSTIFIED OUR ACTIONS) that eating a cake like this, chock full of apples and almonds, as well as pumpkin and spices, made us feel a bit more like we were eating decadent muffins rather than cakes.

I grinned from behind my purple polka-dotted cupcake paper – of course, this is the point. This was an adaptation of an adaptation that I found deep in my little notebook – I added the apples and almonds as an afterthought and was very pleased with the result. The natural juices of the apples and pumpkin kept this cake moist, and the rich flavor of brown butter – well, that had to make it in there somehow. (I was already channeling energy for the Spiced Pumpkin Cookies with Brown Butter Icing that I’ll be whipping up now that the leaves have fallen.)

There was something about making cupcakes for a birthday that seemed especially fitting, but you could easily bake this cake in a loaf pan and serve it without any frosting at all, of in round cake pans and slather on the frosting doubletime. It’s completely up to you. Either way, you’re carrot-cake-loving friends might convert, as will your skeptical husbands and anti-cupcake eaters.

So, call this a breakfast cupcake, call it a decadent muffin, call it a reason to have a mimosa and dessert first thing in the morning. Whatever you do, call this one of the most moist, subtly sweet, and autumn infused treats you’ve had in a good while, a true staple cake to add to your repertoire, and say it with a smile. Enjoy! xo – L 

Brown Butter + Apple Spice Cupcakes
  1. 1/2 cup unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
  2. 1 tablespoon toasted hazelnut oil (or, more melted butter)
  3. 1 1/2 cups spelt flour
  4. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  5. 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  6. 1 teaspoon garam masala
  7. 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  8. 2 small honeycrisp apples, cored and diced
  9. 1 cup turbinado sugar
  10. 2 large eggs
  11. 1/2 cup roasted pumpkin*, pureed (or, canned if you must or are short on time)
  12. 1/4 cup milk (I used soy)
  13. 1/3 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
  1. **Feel free to double this recipe if you like gobs of frosting on your cupcakes!!**
  2. 4 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
  3. 1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  4. 2 1/4 cups organic confectioner's (icing) sugar, sifted
  5. 1/4 cup finely chopped crystalIized ginger, plus more for topping
  6. 1 tsp ground ginger
  7. A pinch of sea salt
  1. First, brown the butter so that it can cool while you prepare the other ingredients. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and continuing to warm until brown solids appear and a nutty aroma starts wafting from the pot. (This can take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.) You want the butter solids nicely toasted, but not scorched. Remove the pan from heat, stir in the toasted hazelnut oil and set aside allowing the butter to cool but not set.
  2. Preheat oven to 350F / 180C with a rack in the top 1/3. Line a muffin pan with muffin cups.
  3. Sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, garam masala, and sea salt into a large bowl. Give the dry ingredients a good whisk and then set aside. In a smaller bowl whisk the sugar, eggs, pumpkin, and milk. Whisk in the browned butter, being sure it isn't hot to the touch (if its too warm, it will cook the eggs! Gasp!) Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture, and stir until just combined. Lastly, fold in the almonds and apples.
  4. Using an ice cream scoop (or, as it is aptly referred in a professional kitchen – a portioner,) scoop the batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling just ¾ of the way to the rim edge of the cup. (Overfilling will cause the cupcakes to rise, overflow, and then settle without happy little mounded tops!) Bake for about 35-45 minutes, or until the tops of the cupcakes will spring back when touched with a finger. Do your best to avoid over-baking as the cupcakes will be best when moist!
  5. *To make pureed pumpkin: Roast large wedges or small cubes of skinned and seeded pumpkin, butternut squash, red kuri squash, etc. in a 375F / 190C oven until cooked and tender throughout. Puree with a hand blender until smooth.
  6. Next, make the frosting.
  7. In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with a whisk attachment (or, in a bowl with an electric mixer) beat together the cream cheese and butter on medium-high speed until soft and creamy. Reduce the speed of the mixer to low and carefully add the confectioner’s sugar ¼ - ½ cup at a time(if you have the mixer on too high a speed, or add too much sugar at once, the sugar will POOF right out of the bowl at you so be careful!) Once the sugar is combined, increase the speed to medium-high again, beating until light and fluffy. Add crystallized ginger, ground ginger and salt, beating until well mixed.
  8. Using a piping bag or palette knife, spread or pipe the frosting over cupcakes. Top each cupcake with a bit more crystallized ginger and refrigerate until ready to serve or for up to 8 hours.

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