Happy New Year to all of you, my dear readers! I hope you were able to celebrate in style! I had to work, but Paul and I celebrated on the 4th – our first day off together – with mimosas! It was a fantastic Sunday off together. I wanted to start the year off with a bit of a bang – a recipe for something I don’t make often, cupcakes. I don’t know why I don’t make cupcakes more often. I guess I’m just a big fan of cakes.
Either way, we have had a bag of pistachios in our pantry for a while now, and they have been pleading me to use them. I took to Pinterest, and that lead me to Keep It Sweet Desserts and the original recipe I used. This recipe was exactly what I wanted it to be – a multi-component dessert to keep me engrossed and busy, and something that seemed extremely indulgent while not being over-the-top and in-your-face.
Pistachios are the perfect ingredient that way. They are subtle and nutty, with that amazing soft green colour, but without having a completely overpowering flavour. I also had some cute Charlie Brown cupcake liners that I’ve been dying to use. They went perfectly with the cupcakes, because they were also green! (I’m a sucker for things that match!)
I published this last night, and realized this is my first post on Swiss Meringue Buttercream frosting. The first thing I have to say about this type of frosting is that it is very finicky. Trust me on that. I have made a Swiss Meringue frosting a few times before, and this brown sugar buttercream did give me some troubles. However, I did want to give you some tips.
Firstly, do not overcook the meringue mixture. Cook it to temperature, or, if you do not have a candy or kitchen thermometer, cook it until you can dip your finger into the mixture without harm. The mixture should be warm, not hot. Secondly, your butter must be room temperature. I cannot stress this enough. If it is too cold, the mixture will take extremely long to mix together.
Even if it begins to look soupy or curdled, don’t worry. It will come together. Trust me on this. Even though I took out my butter well in advance to making these, my butter was still too cold. After mixing for about 10 minutes, the frosting was still not coming together. I tried refrigerating the mixture to see if the butter was too warm, and it was a no go. Finally, I got the double boiler going again, and put the bowl of my mixer on the double boiler for 1 minute increments, whisking the whole time. When the butter reached the right temperature as I was whisking, I transferred the bowl back to the mixer with the whisk attachment, and it turned out beautifully.
I am telling all of my dear readers this so that they do not get discouraged. It may look like a mess. Stick with this frosting, and you will not be disappointed!
Yield: 2-2½ dozen medium/large sized cupcakes
1 c. roasted and salted shelled pistachios, plus more for garnish
3¼ c. flour (I used all-purpose – the original recipe states using part cake flour, but I didn’t have any)
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
1½ c. ice cold water
1 c. butter, softened
1¾ c. sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla
4 egg whites, separated
¼ tsp. cream of tartar
4 egg whites
1 c. brown sugar, packed
Pinch of salt
1 c. butter, softened and cut into tablespoons (tip – a ¼ c. = 4 tbsp.)
½ tsp. vanilla
For the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 325°F. In a food processor or blender, pulse the pistachios until they are almost all finely ground. Some bigger chunks are okay, it does not have to be perfect. This will add texture to the cupcakes. Do not blend for too long, or a paste can form. Transfer the ground pistachios into a medium mixing bowl. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk together, and set aside.
In the bowl of a mixer, combine butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add 1 egg white and vanilla, and beat until combined. Using the paddle attachment, add the dry ingredients and the water, alternating between them, but starting and ending with dry ingredients. If you only have one mixer bowl, transfer the batter to another mixing bowl and wash and dry the mixer bowl and whisk attachment extremely well.
In the bowl of the mixer with the whisk (they must be extremely dry – any water residue left will ruin the egg whites) attached, combine the remaining egg whites and the cream of tartar, and beat until soft peaks form. Gently fold in the egg whites into the rest of the batter. Scoop into lined cupcake tins, and bake for 14-16 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into one of the center cupcakes comes out clean. Let cupcakes cool in pan about 10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack until to completely cool.
For the brown sugar buttercream, set up a double boiler on the stove. This consists of a pot about ¼ to ½ full of simmering water, with a metal mixing bowl on top. The bowl must not touch the water.
In your metal mixer bowl, combine the brown sugar and egg whites, whisking until the mixture reaches 160°, or until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is warm. Transfer the bowl back to the mixture, with a shallow bowl of ice underneath the mixer bowl to help the mixture cool down. Use whisk attachment and beat until a creamy meringue forms. It should be thick, but not stiff, and the bowl should be cool. There is also the option of using a metal mixing bowl in the double boiler, then transfer the hot mixture to your cool mixer bowl. If you use this method instead, skip the bowl of ice. The mixture will cool down with beating.
Once texture is right and the bowl has cooled, add in the butter, 1 tbsp. at a time until combined. Add in vanilla.
Pipe or spread buttercream over cupcakes, top with extra coarsely chopped pistachios for garnish.
**This is a swiss meringue buttercream. This is so called because of the technique of using the egg whites, beating into a meringue, and finishing with butter. It may not come together at first, but don’t worry. It will eventually. Be patient, I promise! Swiss meringue buttercream frostings are always worth the effort – you will not be disappointed!**