Long time readers of this blog will know that I am lucky enough to have off on Fridays. While this is great for practical reasons like doctor’s appointments and getting my car’s oil changed, it also allows me enough time to actually do something I enjoy: bake. This past Friday, I was still riding the apple wave that started the weekend before when I went apple picking with some friends.
I knew I wanted to work with apples this week, but I also wanted to make something different. I was tired of just making cookies or brownies. It seems that I had been making a lot of those lately. Then I remembered that there was a “harvest-themed” recipe in the Magnolia Bakery cookbook. After looking it up, I knew that this was the recipe I had to make this week.
There were a few reasons why this recipe spoke to me this week.
The Harvest Apple Cupcakes ticked a few different boxes off my list for baking this week. Of course, it meant that I was able to tackle another recipe out of the Magnolia Bakery cookbook. And, as I already mentioned, I really wanted to take advantage of the seasonal fruit offerings and bake with apples. But those aren’t the only reasons why I wanted to make this recipe. This recipe was also a cupcake recipe. I think that last time I made cupcakes was for my own birthday celebration at work. And the time before that was for a co-workers going-away party when he took a new job offer.
This recipe also allowed me to try a new culinary technique: meringue buttercream. While it is no secret that I’ve baked cakes and cupcakes before, I’ve always made what is called “American buttercream.” This is where you incorporate powered sugar into softened butter, add a little vanilla extract (or other flavoring) and call it a day. However, actual buttercream — European-style buttercream — is different. It usually involves egg whites and a stove and cooking techniques. And that’s what these apple cupcakes called for: Meringue buttercream which allowed me to try my hand at being fancy for a little bit.
Making the Caramel Sauce
Even though this is a straight-forward recipe and can be made with other types of buttercream, I decided to go all-out and make everything as called for. Meaning, I would have to make my own caramel sauce. This was another new technique for me and let me tell you, it got frustrating. Mainly because my older, electric stove took a long time to cook that sugar syrup to the right temperature. In the end, it was pretty simple — just nerve-wracking. Loads of steam and hot liquid aside, it was kind of fun. Though the end result was not as caramel in color as I would have liked, but it still tasted good!
I kind of expected the caramel sauce to thicken once refrigerated, like the ones in the grocery store. But that didn’t happen. The good news is I have some caramel sauce leftover so I may be inclined to try the Billionaire Brownies again.
Making the Cupcakes and Frosting
Once the caramel sauce was done and chilling in the fridge, I moved onto the prep work for the actual cupcakes. Since these are harvest-themed, there are a lot of “fix-ins” that go inside the batter. Apples, cranberries, nuts, and raisins all go into the batter. The fresh cranberries I used had to be coarsely chopped, the Granny Smith apples I used had to be peeled, cored, and shredded, the pecans needed to be toasted in the oven then a knife run through them a few times until they were chopped nicely. It was a lot of prep work for cupcakes. I started to wonder if it would all be worth it.
Aside from the prep work that went into this recipe, nothing was strange or different. But, I did notice that the batter was filled with stuff. These cupcakes would definitely be loaded with flavor. I did get exactly 24 cupcakes though, which is not something that I can recall happening before. I usually always have extra batter leftovers no matter if its for cookies or cupcakes.
When these suckers came out of the oven, they actually looked like muffins. In fact, these would make perfect muffins for breakfast — all the flavors and spices really are a great way to start your day. If you leave the frosting off, you’d never know they were supposed to be a cupcake.
While the cupcakes were cooling, I decided to tackle the third and final portion of this recipe. By this point in the afternoon on Friday I was getting tired. I had done the dishes like four times, I was sweating from the heat of the kitchen, and my feet were starting to hurt. But, since I had plans Friday evening (and wanted to bring some cupcakes with me), I needed to keep going.
I, unfortunately, do not have any pictures of the frosting in process, so I’ll have to explain the process a bit.
This buttercream utilizes eggs whites, butter, a sugar syrup, and the caramel sauce made earlier in the day. First, you must heat the sugar syrup up to 240 degrees without stirring it. It’s kind of like making caramel which I had done earlier that morning. While that’s happening, you want to whip your egg whites to soft peaks. Once the sugar syrup is up to the correct temperature (mine took a long time due to the burner I chose to use), you slowly stream in this extremely hot liquid into the egg whites with your mixer running on high speed.
Once all of that syrup is incorporate, you have to lower you mixer to medium to let the entire mixture cool down. I was surprised at this step, but once I touched the mixer’s metal bowl and it was really hot, I knew why this step was so important. Then you’d want to add in your room temperature butter. I think I need a full pound! The butter was cut into tablespoon-sized chunks. You only add one at a time. And getting all 32 tablespoons or so of butter into the mixture took some time. By the time all the butter was in, the mixture looked more like soup. So I chilled the bowl in the freezer for about 20 minutes and when I took it out it was somewhat better. That’s when I added the caramel sauce. After mixing for another minute, it was looking like a cottage cheese mixture.
It tasted good, just looked weird. So, I popped it back into the freezer for a bit. When I took it out, I switched from the whisk attachment to the paddle because I remembered a trick I learn from a Claire Saffitz video on YouTube. She recently did a video on different types of buttercream and I remember saying that if this “separation” happens to just keep mixing it with the paddle until it comes back to normal. Well, low and behold, after about 5-7 minutes with the paddle on medium, the frosting looking like frosting!
Now that my buttercream resembled buttercream, I filled a pastry bag and piped some pretty cupcakes.
Once all the cupcakes were decorated, I put eight in the treat boxes I purchased from Walmart earlier in the day to bring to my friend’s house that evening. He was taking them to his family and he says they were a hit! (You can see the treat boxes in the cover photo of this post. The rainbow colors appeared due to the shiny silver of the boxes and the lighting in my kitchen.
Eventually, I was able to taste one too. So far, this was probably the most involved and technically complex recipe I’ve ever attempted for this blog. So the verdict? Amazing! All that effort was worth it. While I’d definitely make these cupcakes again, I think I’ll serve them as “muffins” in the future. The frosting was a lot of work and going the extra step of making your own caramel sauce (though worth it!) does require a lot of time. All in all, I’m glad this one is done. One more checked off the list.
I know this was a long post, so if you’ve made it to the end, thanks for sticking with it!