Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sugar and spice, Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Pumpkin is my realm. It has been for quite sometime. When I was fourteen or fifteen years old, I decided I was going to make a couple of desserts for a church potluck. I was going to make pumpkin bars, pumpkin roll, and pumpkin pie. I was going to make it all from scratch, and all from actual pumpkin, not canned. I boiled the pumpkin. I did that for several years. I boiled it, and  it was so waterlogged, after I removed the skin and pureed it I cooked it down to try to remove some of the liquid. I ran into a myriad of problems cooking the pumpkin this way. Some times it was very fibrous, and sometimes my recipe was way too watery.
I found out just a few years ago that there is actually a particular pumpkin that is used for the canned pumpkin. It has a flesh that can only be described as 'custard-y'. The usual pumpkins we buy for their appearance in the fall months usually do not have this attribute. These pumpkins are called 'sugar-pie' or 'pie' pumpkins. I have asked at grocery stores and produce stands, but everyone looks at me like I have two heads. I have since decided that I will either have to: A. grow my own pumpkins, or; B. resign myself to buying canned pumpkin, or; C. use the pumpkin I can find and deal with its idiosyncrasies.
So, I have yet to grow my own pumpkins. Every year something happens, the kids dig out my plants, they die, I forget to plant them in time, we move...etc.
I have also discovered that roasting the pumpkin results in a mellow, rich flavor without the extra water that I have to get rid of. I roast halved pumpkin, cut side down, on a stoneware baking pan at 350 for 1-2 hours, until the pumpkin is soft to the touch. After it cools I puree it and freeze it in 1 cup portions to use in recipes. It works fine in recipes. But I still just buy canned pumpkin if I have none left in the freezer.
These cupcakes are just another cupcake recipe. Not really. They are from one of my favorite cookbooks, and they are moist and delicious. They actually can be a cake, which I think would be amazing, but I was taking them to a party and I didn't want to risk disaster. They have a modest maple cream cheese frosting, sprinkled on the on the top, and I had someone remark that they were the best cupcakes they ever had. Not bad for pumpkin, huh?
If you made this into a cake, I would finely chop the pecans and sprinkle them all over the top and press them into the sides.

For the cupcakes
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 cups sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

12 ounces cream cheese
3/4 stick butter, room temperature
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, preferably grade B
1 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup pecan pieces, toasted and finely chopped, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 and position and oven rack in the center. Place muffin liners in pans.
Cream the butter with the sugar, beating in the bowl of the stand mixer on medium-high until very light in color, 4 to 5 minutes. You can also use a hand mixer and a medium bowl, although you may need to beat the mixture a little longer to achieve the same results. Scrape down the bowl with the spatula.
Beat the eggs and vanilla in a small bowl to blend. With the mixer on medium, add the eggs to the butter mixture. Add the pumpkin and blend well, scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary.
Alternate combining the wet and dry ingredients. 
Bake until toothpick inserted comes out clean, 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.
Make the frosting: Place the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a mixer or food processor. Blend until smooth. Add the maple syrup and confectioners' sugar and mix thoroughly.
Frost cupcakes, and sprinkle the tops with toasted chopped pecans or pumpkin candies.
Makes 18 cupcakes.

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