Orange Curd Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Sometimes I get a recipe idea stuck in my head, and I have to make it. For the past week or so it has been a fresh orange layer cake, pictured perfectly in my head with its sunshine-yellow hue, tart-sweet flavor, and perfect crumb. I made one several years ago, following the recipe in The Cake Mix Doctor book. You start with a cake mix and “doctor” it up by adding fresh orange juice, zest and the usual eggs and such. I remember that cake fondly and somehow the memory of its deliciousness came back to bug me and wouldn’t leave me alone. Maybe it was because I had three oranges sitting in my fruit drawer, or maybe it was because I had leftover (bottled) orange juice sitting in my fridge, and since I don’t drink OJ these days, it felt like a challenge to use it up.

I ignored the idea for a while mainly because making a layer cake without a real occasion such as a birthday or a party seemed a little extravagant, plus there’s the fact that then there would be a whole cake in the house to eat and I wasn’t even sure if Sam would eat some. I even asked my neighbor, who loves sweets, if she would eat some and she declined. This past weekend, I finally gave in, deciding to make a smaller batch.

The thing is I really wanted a layer cake – not a single layer, not a square cake, a layer cake. What I love about layer cakes is the ratio of cake to frosting or filling, all perfectly portioned out so you can have the perfect bite. So how do you make a smaller batch? You can use smaller cake pans (which I don’t have) or you can do what I did and make one single layer and cut it into thirds (or halves) and make your fraction of a layer cake.

So I did just that. But when I went to stack my cakes, the cake was too dense and moist, and the curd filling I had made wasn’t thick enough, and the layers slipped and slid on top of each other while I desperately tried different ways to fix it. In the end I embraced the fact that it was an ugly cake, but hurrah at least I had made it! (I did not take any pictures of it…)

However, the flavor was also off. The cake I made had the flavor of too much baking soda and it was almost too dense to swallow. So a few days later I decided to try again, but this time I gave up on my layer cake dream and opted for a filled and frosted cupcake instead. The result: perfection. It is so satisfying to finally taste the thing that you craved, even if the original idea changed a little.

The gooey center is not in fact undercooked – it’s homemade orange curd!

This time of year, citrus is at its best, which makes it the perfect time to make these cupcakes. Plus if you live in a part of the country where the earth and trees are brown and barren, the ground is white with snow, or skies are gray, these bright sunny colors arrive at the perfect time of year to add some color to your winter.

Orange Curd Cupcakes with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

For the cake:

  • 1 +2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 + 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. orange zest
  • 2/3 cup orange juice (freshly squeezed or from a bottle)
  • 2/3 cup canola oil
  • 2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a cupcake pan with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, sift flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together. Add orange zest and rub into the mixture so that the zest doesn’t clump in one spot and it infuses the dry ingredients with the orange oils.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs, oil and juice until blended. Add to dry ingredients and stir to combine, being sure to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula.

Divide the batter between your paper liners (should make about 14), filling no more than 3/4 full. Bake in your preheated oven for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

For the orange curd:

  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. orange zest
  • 1 tsp. lemon or grapefruit zest
  • 2 T. lemon or grapefruit juice
  • 1/3 cup + 2 T. freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 10 T. unsalted butter, cold
  • pinch of salt

If you have a double boiler, get it out. If not, find a pot and glass bowl that fits perfectly into the top of the pot so that the bottom of the bowl does not go more than halfway down into the pot. Fill your pot with a few inches of water and bring to a boil. Make sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water as it boils. To the bowl add your sugar and zests and rub the zest into the sugar to release the flavor. Add the juices and whisk to blend. Turn the water down to a simmer and leave until the sugar begins to dissolve and the liquid is warmed.

In a separate bowl beat your egg yolks. Once the sugar and juice mixture has warmed, gradually add some, a spoonful at a time, to your egg yolks, whisking the egg yolks as you add (you don’t need to add all of the juice mixture). Once the bowl with the egg yolks feels somewhat warm to the touch, go ahead and add the egg yolk mixture to your glass bowl with any remaining juice and return it to the simmering water. Cook the mixture until it begins to thicken and coats the back of a spoon, 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and add butter in small cubes, whisking to melt the butter. Taste and add a pinch salt to bring out all of the flavor.

Once all of the butter has been incorporated, put all of your curd into a medium size bowl, press a piece of plastic wrap to the surface to prevent a skin forming and refrigerate to cool. (You will have extra curd so feel free to halve the recipe or save for another use.)

For the orange cream cheese frosting:

  • one 8-oz block of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2 T. fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 tsp. orange zest
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

Beat the cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl until light and fluffy. Add remaining ingredients and blend on low until sugar is incorporated enough to not fly everywhere. Scrape the sides and beat until well blended.

To assemble:

Once your cupcakes have cooled, take a small spoon and dig out a small hole in the top middle of each one, removing about 2 teaspoons of cake. (Set aside to eat later!) Fill each hole with your cooled curd. Frost with your cream cheese frosting and decorate as desired. Enjoy!

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Post 91 – Cupcakes for dinner!

That cozy time of year has started to settle here in Boston (for the moment at least – it was 85 this weekend!) and with that comes a change in the recipe routine. It’s time to start the soups, stews, and hearty meals that stick to our bones and keep us warm. Time to make all those pumpkin recipes you’ve been pining after on Pinterest. Well, my friends, do I have a recipe for you! Cupcakes for dinner! Feels like a treat, looks like a treat, and incredibly satisfying – how could you go wrong? (Wow, this post is already sounding like a sales pitch!)

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Of course I’m not talking about regular cupcakes – these are meatloaf cupcakes, personal meatloaves, muffin-shaped meatballs, meat-cakes or whatever you want to call them. They are quicker to bake than one big meatloaf and can be personalized and even decorated if you’re feeling fancy. I’m sure they would be a hit with young kids.

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Start with your favorite meatloaf or meatball recipe, grease (or line with baking cups) a muffin tin and smoosh that meat mixture right in those muffin cups. I adapted this scrumptious recipe for meatballs with pumpkin in them and I highly recommend it (just use canned pumpkin instead of the butternut squash to save time). Bake them at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes or until cooked through and nicely browned. NOTE: You might want to put the muffin tin on a sheet pan just in case the grease spills out and burns on the bottom of your oven.

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While they’re baking, chop up some potatoes (any kind), boil, and mash with a bit of butter and milk. Top your tasty meat muffins with your choice of mashed potato or sweet potato “frosting” – piped on if you’re feeling extra special (though if you leave the skins on the potatoes, as I did, piping is a little tricky so I just dollop-ed).

 

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Serve them up with your favorite roasted vegetables, salad, or sauteed greens. Delicious, easy, and sure to make you feel like you’re having a treat.

 

Meat Cupcakes

your favorite meatball/meatloaf recipe

OR

2 lb. ground beef

2 eggs

1 15-oz can pure pumpkin puree

3/4 cup shredded Parmesan

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1 tsp. ground cinnamon (sounds weird, but is so good)

3/4 tsp. Kosher salt

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare a muffin pan with cupcake liners or spray with a pan spray.  I made about 16 muffins with my mixture.

If you have time and so desire, toast your pecans for a few minutes in a saute pan on the stove or on a sheet pan in the oven. Be sure to watch them so they don’t burn. This should only take a minute and really enhances the flavor of the nuts. In a large bowl, lightly beat your eggs to break up the yolks. Add in the remaining ingredients (including pecans, making sure they’ve cooled a bit) and mix to combine all ingredients.

Divide the mixture between the muffin pans, filling the meat muffins to the rim. You could try mounding the mixture slightly too if you like that look, though they might make more of a mess. Bake in your preheated oven for 20 minutes or until a thermometer registers 165 and they are nicely browned.

Top with homemade mashed potatoes and serve. Yum!

Post 62 – Prosciutto Pinwheels and Parties

Have you ever heard the Shel Silverstein poem that starts: “I’m writing these poems from inside a lion and it’s rather dark in here…” ?

Well I’m writing this post from inside a congested head cold and it’s rather stuffy in here, which made me think of Silverstein’s poem.

It was a good weekend, a busy weekend, which is why I think I’m sick now. It started out Friday evening with a wonderfully acted play called The Yellow Boat, performed by the middle school at the school where I work. The kids did an amazing job and I was moved by their performance. Check out the script if you’ve never heard of it.  Warning, it’s a tear-jerker!

Saturday Sam and I prepared for our housewarming/birthday party – there were cupcakes and appetizers to be made, wine to be bought, and house cleaning to do, of course. People loved the chocolate frosting on the cupcakes (same as last year requested by Sam) and the appetizers went over pretty well too, despite a slightly runny cheese ball.

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blowing out his cupcake candles

blowing out his cupcake candles

In addition to party preparations I had another party to prepare for: a holiday party for a repeat Kitchensurfing client! Being asked to cook for him again was a great pleasure, but preparing heavy appetizers for a party of 40 by yourself can be a bit overwhelming. Here was my (over)ambitious menu:

Prosciutto Pinwheels (From Causing a Stir – shout out to my St. Paul’s folks back home!)

Baked Spinach Bites (also from CaS)

Shrimp Cocktail

Beef tenderloin sandwiches

Cucumber and smoked salmon cups

Spiced Nut Mix

Bacon Scallion Cheese ball (in the shape of a pine cone)

Bacon-wrapped Dates stuffed with pecans

Mini pumpkin cheesecakes

Apple cider caramels (post to come)

I spent much of the day Saturday either lugging groceries from store to home or racking up mileage in my kitchen going from fridge to counter to fridge and back. Sunday was equally busy as I spent it cooking (and cleaning) pretty much from dawn to dusk. Needless to say the work paid off. I remembered to bring everything (except the darn camera!) and the party was a hit! At the end of the party, the host toasted me and my companion (his housekeeper – without her I couldn’t have pulled off such a big party since she helped me clean everything and tray the apps). He even invited us to join the party and have a glass of wine. We politely declined in favor of dragging our tired bodies home instead.

Despite not using the labels I had brought to tell the guests what items were, (everyone thought the prosciutto pinwheels were cinnamon rolls – oh well) everyone thoroughly enjoyed the food. The runny, bacon cheese ball, which had been such a mess when I practiced it for our party guests turned out beautifully for Sunday’s party, and the spinach bites were a surprise sell-out! The day ended happily despite my lack of sleep Saturday night and I came home exhausted and happy to find the laundry done and dinner made by my ever-supportive and loving guy. What would I do without him?

The only negative consequence of a successful weekend is my poor health, so I recommend to you if you’re throwing a holiday party to keep it small and don’t cook for two parties back to back. I learned my lesson.

And if you’re hosting a party and you want an easy hand-held appetizer, the prosciutto pinwheels are sure to please and simple to make. Just make sure people know what they are! Happy cooking.

Prosciutto Pinwheels

(an illustrated recipe – from Causing a Stir)

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Thaw 2 sheets of puff pastry from a 17.5 oz package (see package for recommendations how)

IMG_3890Spread with as much or as little creamy, herbed cheese as you desire (Causing a Stir recommends 10-12 oz. of the Alouette brand cheese for 2 puff pastry sheets) leaving a 1/2-inch border on one side to seal (the picture above is before I had finished spreading all of the cheese).

IMG_3893Layer with thinly sliced prosciutto (3.5 oz per roll) to cover the entire surface, still leaving the 1/2-inch border.

IMG_3894Tightly roll (like a cinnamon roll) toward the edge that you left uncovered. Moisten the border with a bit of water and gently press it into the roll to seal the edge. Repeat with remaining puff pastry, cheese, and prosciutto.

Freeze the rolls for 45 minutes or until firm. Slice into 1/4-inch slices and bake on parchment-paper lined sheet pans at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool and serve!

I wish I could show you a picture of the result, but since I forgot the camera for the party I have nothing to show. Make them for yourself and you will see. Delicious and beautiful.

Here’s to more holiday (and other) parties!