Sunday, August 28, 2011

Banana Pe(Can You Dig It?) Cupcakes

What's the difference between a banana cupcake and a banana muffin? I've always wondered, when does a muffin become a cupcake? For the most part they have the same ingredients, so what's the distinguishing difference? The frosting? It must be the frosting. In the case of these banana pecan cupcakes, it's the caramel buttercream frosting.

You would think at some point I would learn to read through an entire recipe before I start making it. You would think. But, you would be wrong. I have started reading through the first few steps so I know what size bowls to use for what things, but once I get through that I stop reading. For this recipe I had the batter done and ready, except for the pecans, when I realized I was supposed to have toasted and coarsely chopped the pecans. In reality, this wasn't a big deal, but in my crazy world, once the batter is done I don't like to waste any time before getting the cupcakes into the oven. For some reason I think that it's bad for the batter to sit out any longer than absolutely necessary. Whether or not this is true, I have no idea. It could just be that I'm crazy.

Crazy or not, when I got to the part where I was supposed to fold in the pecans and be about my merry way filling the cupcakes, I realized I was supposed to already have the pecans toasted and chopped. I also realized there was a process to toasting the pecans that I had not intended, which included baking them in the oven for 8-10 minutes. This meant that my batter had to sit out for the time it took for the oven to preheat, the pecans to toast, the pecans to cool and then for the pecans to be chopped. Roughly 20 minutes or so. As already explained, this isn't my ideal, but my mantra throughout this entire process has been to follow all the steps as Martha would do them and to stay true to the original recipe. Yes, I've "bent" the rules a little bit before, but I'm doing my best to stay on the straight and narrow. So, toast those pecans I did. Once they were sufficiently toasted and chopped I folded them into the batter, filled the cupcake liners three-quarters of the way full and baked them for 20 minutes (turning halfway through of course). The 20-minute baking time was perfect, and after it was all said and done I had 30 banana pecan cupcakes on my hands.

Next up, the caramel buttercream frosting. Throughout this project I've started to get a pretty good education on making different frostings (started being the key word), but this particular frosting has been the most work up to this point. I was worried the entire time that this frosting wasn't going to come together and become my first failed cupcake. I didn't want that to happen. My track record has been so good! First step, make the caramel. For the most part this step consisted of me hovering over a pot of boiling sugar and water, swirling it every once in awhile and waiting for it to turn a "dark amber color". Finally it did so I could add the cream and watch it all bubble and burble (very technical term), and then proceed to let it cool while I worked on the other components.

Beating the butter was easy and self explanatory. Whisking the egg whites and sugar mixture was where I started to get nervous. It was supposed to turn to the consistency of stiff, but not dry (very important) peaks. It took awhile for this to happen. I was starting to worry that it wasn't going to happen at all, and I was going to be in caramel buttercream trouble. The recipe said I would have stiff peaks in 10 minutes... the recipe lied. It took longer than 10 minutes. I know this because I set the timer on my stand mixer for 10 minutes and at the end of 10 minutes I did not have stiff peaks (that's what she said). So, I turned my mixer back on medium-high and nervously watched for any indication that I was making some progress. I stopped timing the whisking after the first 10 minutes so I can't be absolutely positive about how long it took, but I'd be willing to guess that around the 20-minute mark, I had my peaks! Hooray!

Now that I had my peaks and could stop worrying about all my work being a waste (yes, I realize how that sounds), I finished up with the frosting. It was all down hill from there. It did take a good bit of mixing, roughly 5-10 minutes (thank you timer) with the paddle attachment, to incorporate all of the caramel into the egg white-butter mixture. At the end the frosting was a little thinner than I normally like, but it spread just fine and was quite delicious. The most important part!

I'm not normally nuts about nuts in my cupcakes, but in this case, and probably because I so finely chopped the pecans, I didn't mind them. The true test was having Bobby give them a try to see what he thought. Truthfully I didn't even want to tell him there were pecans in them because I was afraid he wouldn't eat them. But, he loves bananas and he loves caramel, they may just be his two favorite things... the odds were in my favor. Just as I suspected, he approved. He even said they just might be his favorite yet. Do I know my man or what?