What if a successful afternoon of shopping the markets in a casbah, the Near Eastern equivalent of a town square, yielded a fragrant haul of cardamom, rose petals, almonds and pine nuts, and what if you were to take these flavorful aromatics and infuse a cupcake with them? Perhaps nobody has asked this question before (because, really, who thinks of such things?), though this journal intends to answer it.
First, start with a great recipe for almond cupcakes with buttercream frosting, as the Stuck on Sweet webpage offers. A wonderful foundation, and a good collection of Near Eastern flavors, as pictured below, adds intriguing – and delicious – twists:
Almonds are prominent in Mediterranean kitchens, of course, and so are pine nuts and pistachios. Therefore, a quarter-cup each of the latter two are finely chopped and are mixed into the batter. Cardamom contributes a complimentary sweetness that’s lyrically evocative of a sun-dappled almond grove, and thus a tablespoon or so of the ground spice went in too. Finally, a splash or two of almond liqueur keeps everything moist. Not exactly a Near Eastern ingredient, but who’s going to complain? Plus, it builds the almond profile.
The frosting is a rich buttercream that goes nicely with the moist cupcake beneath. A bit of rosewater (three tablespoons, to be exact) adds an intriguing profile that entices, yet doesn’t overpower. Similar to a fleeting glimpse through gilded latticework, or just beyond a closing door.
The recipe below follows the original instructions for almond cupcakes, with the thematic enhancements clearly indicated. These provide a bit of an exotic flair, while accenting the joyful flavors already present. Maybe the Shareef don’t like it, but perhaps others will.
(after a recipe for Almond Cupcakes with Whipped Almondbutter Cream Frosting)
For the cupcakes:
- 1 and 1/2 cups flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons almond extract (*1)
- 1 cup butermilk, at room tempeature
- 1/4 cup chopped pistacios (*2)
- 1/4 cup chopped pine nuts (*2)
- 1 and 1/2 tablespoons ground cardamom (*2)
For the frosting:
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 3 sticks butter, at room temperature
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons almond extract
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup boiling water
- 3 tablespoons rosewater (*3)
Start by making the cupcakes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and set a muffin pan with cupcake liners.
In a medium bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and ground cardamom.
In a stand mixer, cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Add the eggs, almond extract and vanilla extract and mix until smooth, about 30 seconds.
Mixing at low speed, add one-third of the flour mixture, then half the buttermilk. Repeat this step, and finally finish off with the last third of the flour. Add the chopped pistachios and pine nuts and mix until just combined, taking care not to overmix.
Fill the cupcake liners three-quarters of the way with batter. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly golden-brown, then remove from oven to cool on a rack.
While the cupcakes cool, prepare the frosting. Add the powdered sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Add the water to a small saucepan and set it over a high flame. When it begins to boil, pour the water into the mixer bowl and mix at low speed for four minutes, until the sugar completely dissolves and the mixture is smooth.
Add the almond extract, vanilla extract, salt and rosewater and mix for 30 seconds. If mixture has cooled to room temperature, proceed to the next step. If not, let it cool until it has.
Finally, add the butter and mix at low speed for three minutes. At present, the mixture will be lumpy. Increase the mixing speed to medium and whip until it’s the consistency of whipped cream, about ten minutes. (*4)
Put frosting into a pastry bag and pipe onto the cupcakes, garnishing with rose petals if you have them.
1 – Instead of the almond extract, I used three teaspoons of almond liqueur. Even if you’re making the “standard” almond cupcake recipe, keep the liqueur. The almond extract is redundant, as it’s little more than almond alcohol anyway.
2 – Obviously, omit these ingredients if you’re not creating today’s Near Eastern variety.
3 – Likewise, use rosewater only if this week’s creation inspires repetition.
4 – I put the mixing bowl in the freezer when the frosting was of the desired flufiness, then ran the whisk through it again at high speed for a few seconds. This gave it a firmer texture much more amenable to icing.