When you’ve been housebound for several days courtesy of consecutive mini monsoons and a nasty, lingering cold, when you’ve been ingesting little else besides watered down juices, cough syrup and chicken soup for said days, there’s not much that can quell cabin fever or whet the appetite. Not much except for brown butter and cinnamon, as it turns out.
In an attempt to return to The Land of the Living this week, I broke out my rain boots, and cocooned myself in a comfy sweater and the warmest “fashion” scarf I could find (all of my functional cold- weather gear is still folded and stacked in a Rubbermaid container that is conveniently out of my reach, even when standing on a chair, in heels, on tiptoe). Armed with tissues, cough drops and a bottle of Gatorade, I set out to run some Errands. They were ordinary, inane tasks, but the sense of accomplishment that welled up inside of me when I triumphantly returned from the mailbox, wearing clothes that didn’t necessitate a drawstring, hauling milk, flour and a can of pumpkin from the closest grocery store…well, I think you would have been proud of me, too.
When it’s cold and rainy, I like a warm oven to putter around and fuss over and so armed with the spoils from my victorious outing, I went to work on an autumn sweet. I settled on a pumpkin cupcake recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook despite the fact that it seemed rather ordinary: a basic cupcake batter swirled with canned pumpkin, just a bit of cinnamon to spice it and plain cream cheese frosting to top it off. This is when I decided that more cinnamon and brown butter was in order. Have you ever simmered brown butter for a cake? It’s lovely, providing an element of je ne sais quoi to a moist crumb, a rich and nutty flavor that people can’t quite put their finger on. These little cakes are moist and springy and barely sweet. Topped with sweet cream cheese frosting, which I peppered with cinnamon and candied ginger, they provide just the right warmth and spiciness that Autumn needs.
And the aroma of browning butter on a stove followed by warm cinnamon baking in the oven? Well, it was enough to snap me out of my funk and spark my hunger for life and good food again.
Pumpkin Brown Butter Cupcakes
with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook
For the cupcakes
1 cup all-purpose flour
a scant 3/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
a pinch of fresh ground nutmeg
a pinch of salt
3 tbsp unsalted butter, browned*
1/2 cup whole milk
6 1/2 oz canned pumpkin
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Put flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and butter in a freestanding mixer with paddle attachment (or use handheld mixer) and beat on slow speed until you get a sandy consistency and everything is combined. Gradually pour in the milk and beat until well mixed.
Add the eggs to the mix and beat well, scraping any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a spatula. Stir in the pumpkin puree by hand until evenly dispersed.
Spoon batter into paper cases until two-thirds full and bake in pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes, until light golden and the cake bounces back when touched. Let the cupcakes cool slightly in the pan before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
*For the small amount of butter that this recipe calls for, 3 tablespoons, the process of browning it won’t take long so it is essential to man your saucepan diligently. Place the butter into a small saucepan over medium heat. As the butter melts and begins to foam, swirl the pan over the burner, continuously. You will notice the butter solids separate from the liquid butter and settle at the bottom of the pan. Continue swirling until the solids begin to brown. Remove from heat and pour into a heat-safe container. Cover and set aside to cool at room temperature.
For the Frosting
2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
2 tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
4 oz. cream cheese, cold
2 large pieces of candied ginger, cut in small strips
Beat the sugar, cinnamon and butter together in a freestanding electric mixer with paddle attachment on medium-slow speed until the mixture comes together and is well mixed. Add the cream cheese in one go and beat until it is completely incorporated. Turn the mixer up to medium-high speed. Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, at least 5 minutes. Do not overbeat, as it can quickly become runny.
When the cupcakes are cool, spoon frosting on top and garnish with candied ginger.