A friend of mine reached a milestone birthday this weekend, and I wanted to make her something special. Something warm and homey, while being fun and child-like at the same time. As I was hemming and hawing over what to make, I did what I always do when I’m indecisive, I take a walking tour of Target.
On my walking tour, I passed by some really cute little tumblers on the Easter display. Not that I was going to do anything Easter related, but these tumblers were cute, and would hold a cupcake really well. There we go! A literal cupcake in a child’s tumbler! We are never too old to be young at heart.
Now that I’ve settled on what I wanted to make, what kind of cupcake should I make? Something chocolate? Something tried and true? Something new? Spring was soon to be upon us, and that meant good bye to winter, and good bye to pumpkin goodness. Just like we were saying good bye to our twenties. So, one last whirl with the pumpkin goodness!
The cake was going to be a pumpkin cake, the frosting, a cinnamon cream cheese frosting, and to garnish, candied walnuts. Let’s do this!
First the candied walnuts. I took a couple of good handfuls of walnut baking pieces (Trader Joe’s is good for nuts) and put it in a bowl. Then I drizzled in some Grade A maple syrup. Just enough so that all the walnuts were nicely coated without sitting in a puddle of maple syrup on the bottom of the bowl. Then I tossed in a few shakes of various spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice and cayenne pepper, and gave it a good toss.
Since I was out of parchment paper, I lined one of my cake pans with aluminum foil, spread the mix into a single layer and threw it into the 350 degF oven that was waiting for the cake. After about 4 minutes, I took them out and gave it another good tossing and put it back in the oven. By this time, my apartment smelled amazing. Another 3-4 minutes and I took them out and let them cool.
As that was toasting up, I started on the cake. I really liked the recipe from Food & Wine for their Pumpkin Cake. The accompanying Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting looked really tempting too, but I really was not in the mood to make caramel (the possibility of super sensitive smoke detectors going off at 9pm did not sound like fun). I followed the recipe but made only one substitution. Instead of the prescribed 1.25 cups of light brown sugar, I instead put in a very loosely packed cup of brown sugar and a good swirl of Grade B Maple Syrup.
In the 12 cup muffin tin, I pam-ed and floured four of the cups, and lined the other 8 wells. I poured in the batter until they were between 0.5 to 0.75 full and put them in the oven for about 20 minutes. It actually took a minute or two less, so start checking at around the 15 minute mark.
The rest of the batter went into a cake pan (I cannot remember if mine are 8″ or 9″ pans) that was buttered and floured super duper fast (Even I surprised myself). That took about 35 minutes total.
As the cakes were either baking or cooling, I started on the frosting. 8oz block of cream cheese was beaten with about 3 cups of powdered sugar until smooth. Then in went about 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract. I used this vanilla bean crush since I thought it would be prettier with the vanilla bean specks in the frosting too. Beat until all of it is incorporated and delicious looking.
Once the cupcakes were all the way cooled, I took one of the unlined cupcakes and carefully pushed it into the tumbler. I used a ziploc bag filled with frosting and cut off a corner to pipe in the frosting on top of the cake. I figured this would be neater than trying to spoon frosting in without mussing up the sides. Once the frosting was in, I used a small spoon to make it look a little less like a bunch of oddly shaped worms living on top of a cake. Then I sprinkled in some candied walnuts.
For the cake I just spread the leftover frosting on top and garnished with the rest of the candied walnuts. A nice little casual dessert cake.
Final verdict? Well, I’m not sure if the birthday girl liked it. I gave them to her before we ate through a good percentage of the brunch menu at Locanda Verde (seriously, various pastries, sheeps milk ricotta, steak tartar. 8 hour tripe and eggs, and a caramel apple crostata…all so incredibly delicious, it made it worth the year of waiting to go there)
So hopefully, she has the opportunity to eat them sometime soon! I, on the other hand, believe wholly in quality control and tasted many of the components separately and as a whole. The pumpkin cake was amazing. It was light and moist and full of pumpkin spice flavor. It wasn’t very sweet which made the cream cheese frosting a good pairing. So full of cinnamon flavor along with that nice tang from the cream cheese. The candied walnuts were a nice garnish, although I think next time I might either put in more cayenne pepper or leave it out entirely. I was in the in between where it was present, but it wasn’t enough to get that kick they were supposed to give.
I do have one more can of pumpkin puree. Perhaps I might need to make this again…