White Spice Walnut Orange Cupcakes
Every year as the days begin to shorten and the oppressive heat begins to fade, swarms of grackles start dotting the landscape. The small black birds ominously flock from tree to tree, from power lines to roof tops and from fences to yards in menacing numbers. I play along and walk from my car to my house in a slow–hopefully they wont notice me–fear as I am reminded of scenes from Hitchcock’s The Birds. I inevitably drop something or snap a twig with my clumsy feet. Crowds of the dark birds stop their foraging and all turn their heads, locking their beady eyes on me as if to mark me as lunch. As quick as I grab their attention though they all hop into the air and glide down the street to safety.
They flood into every crevice of available space out of no where as if hiding through spring and summer waiting just for halloween. To some these great-tailed grackles are a menace. To me, they are a welcome sight. Their distinctive calls signal the coming fall and like the smells of apple pies baking they flood my mind with thoughts of years past. The idiosyncratic, scratchy, harsh songs delight my ears and promises a new season, new weather, and a time of celebration as holidays seem to precede, follow, sit in between and exist at the same time as numerous other holidays.
Soon mornings will be filled with brisk air, yards with halloween decorations, and kitchens with apples, pears, pumpkin, candy and more. Berries are traded for spices. Ice cream makers are tucked away and cookie cutters are given their own drawer again. While I often consider summer to be one long glorious holiday, I still consider autumn’s two holidays–Halloween and Thanksgiving–to be my favorites. And while I adore all the foods that symbolize summer, I find myself comforted and my heart warmed by the foods that make fall special.
The spices in this cupcake–the same I use time and time again in my apple and pear pies–remind me of cool weather, soft sweaters, and delicious food. The orange adds a sweet citrusy backing to the spices–a sort of goodbye to summer–and the walnuts add a delicious, nutty crunch. The white pepper adds a strange but delightfully scrumptious twist that makes these cupcakes one of my favorites. In fact, I ate three while I shot this post.
White Spice Walnut Orange Cupcakes
This recipe will yield 12 cupcakes. I have modified this recipe from a Bo Friberg recipe. As always you can substitute 7 ounces all purpose flour for the bread and cake flour.
5 ounces cake flour
2 ounces bread flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
5 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 ounces granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 cup buttermilk
4 ounces chopped walnuts
1. Line a muffin pan with 12 cupcake paper cups. Preheat an oven to 350°F.
2. Combine the flours, baking powder and soda, spices and pepper in a bowl. Mix until evenly distributed. Set aside.
3. Cream the butter and sugar together in another bowl until light and fluffy about 3 minutes.
4. Mix in the eggs 1 at a time. Add the vanilla and orange zest and mix in well.
5. Add half of the dry ingredient mixture to the butter mixture and mix well. Pour in the buttermilk and mix well. Add the remaining dry mix and mix until combined.
6. Toss the walnuts in just a little flour to coat. Add the walnuts to the batter and mix until evenly distributed.
7. Pour the batter into the lined muffin pan cups. The batter should just come to the top of each cup.
8. Bake at 350°F for 16 to 18 minutes until a toothpick comes out barely clean–a few straggler crumbs is ok.
Before icing the cupcakes be sure to let them cool completely. This cream cheese frosting is not as stiff as buttercream so you may want to refrigerate the cupcakes after icing.
Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
This recipe has been modified from numerous sources.
16 ounces cream cheese, at room temp.
3 ounces unsalted butter, at room temp.
12 ounces powdered sugar
2 teaspoons orange zest
1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. Cream the cream cheese until it is light and soft about a minute or two. Add the butter and cream another minute.
2. Add the sugar, zest and extract and beat, careful not whip air into it, until the frosting comes together.
3. Using an icing spatula or a piping bag and tip of your choice, ice each cupcake.
4. Sprinkle crushed walnuts over the frosting.