Sunday, July 15, 2012

a fair trade

 When a friend asked me to make her frosting in exchange for some spectrum organics goodies she'd been sent by the company I agreed whole-heartedly.  Since her request had been rather unspecific, I decided to go with (hollowed out) banana cupcakes and cream cheese frosting.  While she had made clear she'd happily eat icing with a spoon, nutrition degree or not, I figured I'd do my best to help her avoid eating straight butter and sugar.

I was super excited to get going on these--I start teaching baking classes in September and want to dust off any rust that's gathered in the year since I last baked for the cafe, so I've been baking like a fiend lately.

Plus, I'd just purchased a cupcake carrier off craigslist and was aching to use it.

Using fresh cream cheese and eggs, and good quality butter and vanilla, will help elevate these cupcakes from good to great.   I'm lucky enough to get a big discount at my local co-op since I volunteer at their teaching kitchen, which means I can buy top quality and organic everything.  On a budget however, those are the ingredients I'd splurge on for this recipe.

Since each cupcake has been hollowed out and has 2-3tbsp of frosting, I felt it was necessary to put the frosting first in the name.  If you choose not to hollow out the cupcakes you can either save what's left, or just size down the recipe--cream cheese frosting is not a science, you can half or double or any fraction you want with the recipe and you'll be fine.

Cream Cheese Frosting with Banana Cupcakes
I love these cupcakes.  They stay moist for a few days, and are a little salty to offset the frosting.  The frosting itself is not too sweet, nor does it contain too much butter.  It's made with the idea that you'll be eating a whole lot of it in mind.

For the Banana Cupcakes (makes 12):

wet ingredients
3 overripe bananas
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, room temperature

dry ingredients
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder

directions (for beginners):

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Grease and line (or just grease.. up to you) a 12 cup muffin tin.  I like to get my oven running a good 30 min in advance, at least.  I don't trust ovens to actually be at temp when they say they are, so I rely on oven thermometers and a long preheat time.

Melt butter in a saucepan. (I know some do this in the microwave, I like controlling my butter but its all up to you) and meanwhile mash together your bananas in your largest mixing bowl. In the end, everything will end up in this bowl.  Mix your egg and sugar in with your banana.  Some like to lightly beat their egg first.  Go for it, if you want.  I just don't like cleaning yet more bowls and, since its a single egg and there are sugar granules to help break it up, I don't.  My main concern is just protecting my egg from the warm butter: I don't want my egg to cook at all.

When your butter is almost completely melted, turn the heat off. The melted butter is hot enough that the solid butter will continue melting, which helps your mixture as a whole cool off again more quickly.

Mix dry ingredients together.  None of your dry ingredients should be very clumpy to start with, so just whisking them together is fine.  Mixing dry separately from wet is important; if you don't, you end up with baking soda lumps.  Absolutely gross.

When butter is cool enough to touch, mix in with your wet ingredients.  Add your dry to your wet and fold ingredients together until just mixed.  Do not overmix.  It's not that this recipe is extra sensitive; it's just that overmixing is evil. (If you tend to overmix no matter what, consider using cake flour for baked goods.  It has less gluten which will help you out.)

Spoon your batter into muffin tin.  A quick release ice cream scoop with a 53 or 56mm diameter helps immensely, but is not necessary.

Bake until tops look dry and spring back when touched, and/or a toothpick comes out clean about 18 min. Never go by time alone, it's a good guideline to tell you when to check, but always keep an eye on what you're baking when it's in the last quarter or so of baking.  Humidity, ingredient quality, oven temp, and who knows what else will affect how quickly things bake.

Let your cupcakes cool completely before icing. I let them cool, then tupperware them, then leave them overnight and ice them right before serving.  Tupperware=good;  refrigeration=bad, when it comes to keeping baked goods moist.

Cream Cheese Frosting (generously frosts 12 cupcakes):

1 cup cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar (or more, to taste)
1 tsp vanilla

in a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer if you don't have a stand mixer.  Or by hand using a wooden spoon**) blend cream cheese and butter.   Sift some of the powdered sugar in, blend, sift some more, blend, and so on until all your sugar is incorporated.  Add vanilla, blend.  If your frosting is too thin, add more sugar until desired texture. 

To Assemble:

Using a paring knife, cut cylindrical holes into each cupcake.  Leave enough edge on the tops of each so that your frosting will completely hide your shenanigans. (This should be a surprise after all, right?) 

Grab a plastic shopping bag or ziploc bag and cut one corner about half an inch away from the tip. (Or grab your piping bag with tip already on, if you have a piping bag and tips... I used the ziploc trick.)  

Fold the bag inside out over your hand, and spoon icing into your bag.  Avoid air bubbles as much as possible.  When you have about a cup of icing, twist the bag shut and pipe!  Refill and repeat as needed.

Stuff in your mouth, and let your friends do the same.

** to mix with a wooden spoon, use the flat end of your spoon to "smear" the cream cheese/butter and sugar against the side of the bowl, turning as you go.  This is the by-hand way to cream butter and sugar too, fyi.  It's tiring.

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