Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, Internet!
I asked for help and man, did you EVER come through for me!
Thanks to all your advice, I am genuinely excited about Thanksgiving!
And yes, I may be totally loony tunes… but I am also super stubborn. I plan to ask my in laws to bring a dessert and possibly stuffing and – something I didn’t even consider until I read your comments – ALCOHOL. That is a great way to get them to feel like they are contributing! Plus, a little wine (or, let’s face it, a LOT of wine) can really help de-stress a stressful situation.
Anyway, I cannot properly thank you enough. Not just for your help with this Thanksgiving situation… But for showing up. For reading. For filling this space with helpful, loving comments. If I didn’t have this blog… if I didn’t have YOU… well, I know this past year would have been much more lonely.
* * * * *
This past weekend, I got a wild hare to make cupcakes. My desire to bake was influenced by two things:
- My husband’s deep and all-consuming love of frosting
- This post
Now let me tell you a little about my husband.
Of all the foods in all the lands, he loves cake and ice cream the most. And the cake must have frosting. But not just any kind of frosting… Oh no, my husband is a Picky Frosting Eater. (Which is fine – I understand about all things picky.)
So when I saw Mel’s recipe for magical frosting… Well, I couldn’t NOT make it, right? I mean, what kind of wife would I be if I ignored this chance to make him one of his all-time favorite foods?
Now, let me tell you a little about me.
I don’t bake.
This is not for lack of trying, Internet. I mentioned the other day that I made apple pie once. It tasted like rotten shortening.
I once mixed up olive oil and vegetable oil and made cookies that were not only greasy, but also bitter.
I once made a cake (from a mix) and homemade frosting, which was so runny it proceeded to soak into the cake and turn it into brown goo.
Baking… Not my strong suit.
But I was bound and determined to make my husband some cupcakes with frosting. From scratch.
(See above RE: loony tunes but stubborn.)
I found a delicious and fall-sounding recipe for pumpkin pie cupcakes.
I pulled out our Kitchen Aid mixer – which we haven’t used EVER despite getting it as a wedding present nearly two years ago – I went to the grocery store, and I got started.
Now, because I love you, Internet, and you deserve to add this recipe to your repertoire, I am going to tell you exactly how to make these delicious cupcakes.
And when I say “exactly,” I mean EXACTLY. Step by step. With all the super important secrets I learned from my cupcaking experience.
(Frosting recipe adapted from Mel’s recipe for The Best Frosting.)
Step 1: Make a list. It’s always a good idea to make a list before going to the grocery store. That way you don’t forget things or throw a bunch of good-sounding things into your cart.*
For this recipe, you need:
For the frosting:
1.5 cups granulated sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
1.5 cups milk (1% is A-okay!)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
24 tablespoons unsalted butter**
For the cupcakes:
1.5 sticks unsalted butter
1.5 cups dark brown sugar
1/3 cup + 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 cups cake flour
3 tsp baking powder
1.5 teaspoons baking soda
1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1.5 teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¾ teaspoon salt
3/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 large eggs
¾ cup buttermilk
1.5 teaspoon vanilla
15 ounces solid-pack pumpkin (not pie filling)
It’s a long and daunting list. And I’ll be the first to admit that I sometimes skip a recipe because it has a lot of ingredients. However, we had most of these ingredients in our cupboards. And OMG Internet, this recipe is WORTH IT.
Step 2: Make sure all your equipment is clean. There is nothing worse (at least not to a germaphobe) than trying to make cupcakes and discovering that you don’t have any clean bowls or measuring spoons. There is also nothing worse (at least not to a germaphobe) than failing to remember if you properly cleaned your Kitchen Ad mixer bowl and accompanying tools after you managed to get dirty water in all the cabinets and drawers to the left of your sink. Wipe the mixing blade down with a Clorox wipe followed by a soapy wet paper towel followed by a wet paper towel when you can’t figure out how to remove the blade from the mixer. Put everything else you could possibly need in the dishwasher and turn it on.
Step 3: Go to the grocery store. Make sure to bring your list! Dawdle in the Halloween candy aisle until you can no longer resist the lure of the candy corn. Throw a bunch of candy corn in the cart.
Decide that today is the day you need to redecorate your house for Halloween. Put an orange plate shaped like a leaf in your cart. Remove the orange plate shaped like a leaf from your cart. Get in line. Realize after you’ve put the last item on the conveyor belt that you forgot the nutmeg. Decide that nutmeg is not worth the hassle of getting out of line. Take a detour to Crate and Barrel where you pick up various fall-themed items and put them back, finally leaving with a package of 12 colorful leaf decorations for $9.95 and two lidded glass containers costing $1.95 each. Reward all your frugal shopping with a trip to Starbucks. Buy a pumpkin spice latte. Enjoy.
Step 4: Go home and put the groceries away. Discover that you already had two unopened packages of butter in your fridge. Pull out 4 sticks of butter and put them on the counter to “soften to room temperature.” Grab the stepladder and pray to the Baking Gods that you have nutmeg in the cupboard somewhere. Success!
Step 5: Read the recipes carefully. This is critical, Internet! And something that I usually ignore. But not this time!!! Discover that it makes the most sense to start the frosting… Then make the cupcakes… Then finish the frosting. Enjoy some of the Halloween candy whilst reading.
Step 6: Line up your equipment on the counter. Man, that Kitchen Aid mixer is heavy. Get out a “medium bowl.” This terminology makes no sense to me, Internet. “Medium” can mean a lot of things. And yet, I don’t have a better descriptor for you. You’re also going to need a fine-mesh strainer (although I used a regular old strainer and it was fine) and a medium saucepan, plus an assortment of measuring cups and spoons and a few spatulas. Spatulae? Spatuli?
Step 7: Start the frosting. Combine the flour, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in your medium bowl. (By the way – I picked a bowl that was too big. So I swapped it out at the last minute.) Slowly whisk in the milk until the mixture is smooth. It’s going to be really, well, milky. The sugar and flour dissolve quickly in the milk.
Step 8: Put your strainer over the medium sauce pan and pour the sugar/milk/flour mixture through it. This is apparently really important, based on the comments I read after Mel’s recipe. And it was necessary – the strainer caught a few un-dissolved pebbles of sugar.
Step 9: Cook the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly. I tried really hard to whisk constantly, Internet. But I did leave it alone a few times – for maybe a minute at a time – to wash out the bowl I’d mixed the milk and dry stuff in. Anyway, you whisk until the mixture starts to get so thick you can’t whisk anymore. According to Mel’s recipe, this should take about 5-10 minutes. It took me about 12 minutes, and the thickening happened really fast at the end. Mel’s recipe also says that the mixture will start bubbling and popping a lot at the end. And it sure did – it made these huge bubbles that popped all over the place, so much so that I lifted the mixture off the heat while whisking.
Step 10: Transfer the mixture to a clean bowl. (This is the bowl I cleaned while it was thickening.) Then set it aside until it’s completely cooled to room temperature. Mel warned that this was extremely important, a caution I did not take lightly. You can apparently refrigerate it… but I just set it on a trivet and put it out of the way.
Now it’s time to start the cupcakes! (Cupcake recipe adapted from Tara’s recipe for Caramel Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes.)
Step 11: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t forget to do this. Because it is really boring to stand around staring at a cupcake tin full of cupcake batter while the oven preheats.
Step 12: Prepare two standard-sized cupcake tins with cupcake papers. Or prepare one cupcake tin that makes just six cupcakes at a time because that’s all you have. It’s extra fun if you use Halloween-y cupcake papers to match the pumpkin flavor of your cupcakes. But if you want to be boring, you can use single-color papers.
Step 13: In a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium speed until fluffy. Tara says this should take about 5 minutes. Well, it takes more time than that if you’ve never used your mixer before, let me tell you.
Step 14: Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and pepper into a medium bowl. If you do not have a mixer, you can use the same strainer (washed and dried) you used to strain the icing in Step 8. You will likely get flour etc all over the edges of your “medium bowl” and perhaps on the counter and even some in the sink. If you forget to sift the spices with the flour, you can simply scoop them out of your “medium bowl” and resift the whole thing.
Step 15: Add the eggs, one at a time, to the mixer. Beat them into the butter/sugar mixture for about 30 seconds apiece. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the mixer with a spatula between each egg. If you tend to be unable to break an egg without getting pieces of shell into the yolk, you can break all three eggs into a small glass bowl, remove any errant shell pieces, and add them to the mixer from the bowl.
Step 16: Alternate adding the flour and milk mixtures to the mixer. Begin and end with the flour. Stand back from the mixer because it will puff finely sifted flour up at you and cover your blue tank top in a white mist.
Step 17: Beat in the pumpkin until smooth. Try to ignore its resemblance to cat food.
Step 18: Using a large ice cream scoop, fill the cupcake papers with the mixture. If you don’t have an ice cream scoop (who doesn’t have an ice cream scoop?) (also, didn’t we have an ice cream scoop during med school?), use a 1/3 cup measuring cup to fill the cupcake papers. Try to pour the batter directly in the middle of the cupcake depressions or the cupcake papers will tip sideways.
Step 19: Lick your fingers.
Step 20: Wash your hands.
Step 21: Bake for 18 to 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. I found that 17 minutes was perfect for this recipe, but I’m guessing it depends on your oven and the amount of batter you add to the cupcake papers.
Step 22: Transfer the rest of the batter into a large bowl so you can wash out the mixer bowl and the mixing blade. You will need these for the icing later.
Step 23: Check on the frosting. It will not be room temperature yet. Turn over the trivet in case that helps it cool faster. Stir the frosting mixture in case THAT helps it cool faster.
Step 24: Cut the now room-temperature butter into one-tablespoon pieces. Holy butter overload Batman.
Step 25: Turn on a Law & Order: SVU marathon because watching cupcakes slowly rise through the oven door is not all that interesting. Try not to get distracted by Elliott Stabler while you wait for the timer to go off.
Step 26: When the cupcakes are done, cool them in the pan on a wire rack for five minutes. Then remove the cupcakes from the tin and put them on wire racks to cool completely.
Step 27: Repeat Steps 18-25 until your counters are covered in delicious-smelling albeit bald pumpkin pie cupcakes.
Step 28: Once your frosting “base” is room temperature, – with no trace of heat whatsoever – add it to the newly-cleaned mixer bowl. Beat the mixture with vanilla on low speed until well-combined.
Step 29: Add the butter, one piece at a time, to the mixture. Beat the frosting for about two minutes or until all the butter is combined. Room temperature butter is sticky, y’all. You’ll want to scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl every once in a while.
Step 30: Increase the mixer speed to medium-high. Beat the frosting for five minutes until it’s light and fluffy.
Step 31: If you can’t leave well enough alone, add food coloring to the frosting and beat until well combined.
If you don’t have any red food coloring left, with which to make Halloween-y orange frosting, make do with green.
Step 32: Take photos of your colorful frosting in small glass containers.
Step 33: Let the frosting sit at room temperature until it stiffens up. This did not happen for me. Possibly because I couldn’t wait. Mel notes that you might be able to pipe the frosting if you refrigerate it for a while.
Step 34: Frost the cupcakes. I used both a knife (for the yellow frosting) and a peanut-butter-and-jelly spreader (for the green and white frostings) to frost the cupcakes. Both worked swimmingly.
Step 35: Test a cupcake. Or two.
By the way… The different colored frostings don’t have different flavors. I know because I tested them extensively. You’re welcome.
It’s a long process. Possibly because I make things overly complicated… Possibly because I am a baking novice and took eight times as long to do things as normal people would.
But the cupcakes turned out great! The cake is moist and flavorful without being overly pumpkin-y. The frosting is smooth and buttery and sweet enough for me – although my husband prefers frosting so sweet it hurts your teeth.
The end result? My husband enjoyed the cupcakes a lot. He said that they taste like the kind of cupcakes you’d find at one of those nowadays practically ubiquitous gourmet cupcakeries. He even took some into the hospital to share with his team! But he did admit – after much prodding – that he wouldn’t mind if the frosting were sweeter. I’ll experiment with level of sugariness next time.
By the way, this recipe produced 30 cupcakes and enough frosting to ice an elephant. Seriously. We still have frosting in our freezer. Which my husband loves, because he eats it with a spoon.
I hope you make these cupcakes! You’ll love them. Absolutely worth the work.
* The magic of list making does not always work.
** Don’t look at me like that! I didn’t say this recipe was healthy.
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