Friday, January 26, 2007

Vanilla-Cardamom Cupcakes with Grand Marnier Buttercream and Candied Orange Zest

The cupcake is the perfect canvas for a chef to express herself by creating unexpected flavor combinations that delight and challenge the palate... That pretentious B.S. may have a bit of truth to it, but it is not the real reason why you should make yourself some cupcakes tonight.

You should dig deep into your pantry and find those rainbow-colored sprinkles and muffin cups you've been holding onto since the 90s because cupcakes are just a lot of fun. And I mean the baking AND the eating. I'm a real muffin fan and I love a simple frosted cake, but I don't know the last time I've eaten an actual cupcake. Thanks to the motivation I got from the witty Garret of Vanilla Garlic and the super-creative Cheryl of Cupcake Bakeshop, I rectified that situation this week. Cupcake fanatics that they are, Garrett and Cheryl challenged food bloggers to enter their own cupcake recipes in a round-up to be posted on their blogs on January 29.

I wanted to get a little wild (because bakers are a wild and crazy bunch) with a unique flavor combo that had definite grown-up appeal. Toasting and grinding the cardamom in my new mortar and pestle was the right decision, as the small amount of fresh spice perfumed not only the cake batter, but the whole kitchen, as well. You just know it's so much fresher than pre-ground spices. I was a little heavy-handed with the orange liqueur in my frosting, and why not? This is definitely buttercream for adults.

Sometimes, with a simple medium like the cupcake, garnish is everything. I had never made candied zest, and was happy to learn that it is a surprisingly simple technique that yields yummy results. The zest turns into sugary jelly candy and makes a beautiful topper, hinting at the flavor within. Another boon of the cupcake challenge is that I discovered something I never knew about my husband; the man is powerless when faced with adorable and delicious cupcakes. He ate four the first night we had them. Now I'll just have to figure out the best way to use this knowledge to my advantage...

I loved my first try at candy-making... find the simple instructions here.

First, crush the pods lighty in order to extract the seeds. Then, discard the pods and grind away, either with a pestle or in a spice grinder.

Vanilla-Cardamom Cupcakes
I used this recipe from Joy of Baking as a base. It calls for a bit less sugar than similar cupcake recipes. I loved that the cakes were not overly sweet and the flavors could shine.
Makes 12 regular cupcakes

½ c. butter, at room temperature
2/3 c. sugar
3 large eggs
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 ½ c. all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ to ¾ tsp. ground cardamom (start with 10 to 12 green pods, toast and grind it yourself for best flavor)
¼ tsp. salt
½ c. milk (I used 2%)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.

Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the vanilla along with the last egg.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cardamom (up to ¾ tsp. depending on the intensity you want; ½ tsp. yielded subtle flavor, but I would add more next time) and salt. Add half the flour mixture to the butter and mix on medium speed. Add the remaining flour and the milk, beat at medium speed, then increase to medium-high and beat until incorporated.

Pour the batter into the muffin cups and bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool for a few minutes in the pan, then remove the cakes and cool completely on a wire rack.

Grand Marnier Buttercream Frosting
Use any orange liqueur you want in this recipe. You can also substitute orange extract or flavoring for the alcohol.
Makes enough for 12 cupcakes, with leftovers

2 to 2 ½ c. powdered sugar
½ c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tsp. Grand Marnier, triple sec or other orange liquer
2 tblsp. freshly squeezed orange juice

Cream the butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed. Gradually add 2 cups powdered sugar, and beat until combined. Add the liqueur and orange juice and beat on medium high until incorporated. If frosting is too “loose” and liquidy, add additional powdered sugar ¼ cup at a time until you get a smooth, spreadable texture. If icing is too thick, add more orange juice or milk. Frost the cooled cupcakes and top with candied orange zest if desired.

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(the other) Julie said...

Gorgeous! The name alone is like a delicious little piece of poetry.

Ivonne said...


You did an amazing job! I'm especially in love with the Grand marnier buttercream!

Orawin said...

I need to learn how to make this or buy it somewhere.

Patricia Scarpin said...

Julie, your cupcakes are so lovely!

I love recipes with orange and I should give these a go sometime.

You have a powerful weapon now - anytime we need something from your hubby, you know what to do. ;D

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

I'm impressed!!! Cardamom is such a wonderful spice and I've only just discovered it.

Kristen said...

I noticed the cupcakes in the roundup, and then noticed again here. I think this recipe is calling to me... you did a fantastic job!

Julie said...

Julie: As a writer, that's such a nice compliment to get!
Ivonne: Thank you...I wasn't sure but the buttercream worked surprisingly well.
Orawin: That's how I feel about just about all the other cupcakes posted in the round up today.
Patricia: Mike likes to eat everything but I was really surprised that he is such a cupcake groupie:)
Tanna: I just discovered how amazing it is when you grind the cardamom fresh. The smell was amazing before I even started baking.
Kristen: Thank you...the round up is ridiculously enticing isn't it!

Lis said...

Ohhh my.. and you thought mine looked good? I'd kill for one (or a dozen) of these! I'd even be happy to eat the frosting with a spoon :D

Beautiful lil cupcakes, Julie!

sher said...

I love everything about these cupcakes. I think all the flavors are wonderful. Thanks for that.

Julie said...

Lis: Mike DID eat the frosting with a spoon. He wouldn't let me throw the extra away.
Sher: Thanks! Cupcakes are so easy too...I wonder why I haven't been making them on a regular basis.

husky said...

Wow! that looks so amazing! Great job! I like it a lot :)

Julia said...

I adore cardamon so when I saw this recipe I knew I had to make it for a friend's small foods party (I had pledged to bring cupcakes). I didn't do candied orange zest on top, due to time restrictions. Regardless, these cupcakes flew off the trays.

I've been challenging myself to make 50 new recipes a year and this was one of them. I loved making the cupcakes (and will make them again), and thanks for posting the recipe.

airyfairy said...

thanx for posting this recipe. i like the sound of vanilla and cardamom paired together...hmmm, i can just imagine the fabulous aroma! can't wait to try these!

Bre said...

I am slightly obsessed with cardamom and am so thankful to have found this recipe. I am heading to the store now with my daughter to get the missing ingredients and we WILL have cupcakes tonite!! Thanks!!

SunE said...

i've never used Cardamom, till yesterday, the scent throughout the house was amazing...i helped my 10 year old make these but we added something, we made an orange curd to put in them...just amazing flavor...

Elaine & Tehryn