A Savory Pumpkinny Twist

This month’s Mystery Box theme is the color orange. Totally appropriate and delicious. The recipe I decided on could have been made with sweet potato, squash or pumpkin, and since I decided against sweet potato and couldn’t find canned squash in my neighborhood, I went with good old pumpkin. Oh, pumpkin. I do adore you. Especially with spices and chocolate. But not this time.

in a row

Though I do fully intend to get my spiced-pumpkin-and-chocolate fix (in the form of cookies, I think), I decided to go a little more savory and used sage and brown butter. Both excellent friends of the pumpkin. Both among my most favoritest of flavors. It is a trifecta of awesome.

The sprinkles just make them.

I was originally thinking of utilizing fresh sage and frying it, which I’ve utilized in both savory and sweet concoctions before. But I was planning on buying a plant at the Greenmarket, which was closing down for the day as I rushed through, and the potted herbs were nearly all packed up. No matter – I was hurrying on the way to Kalustyan’s (for teas and cocoa nibs and fun things to grind in my brand new spice grinder!) and ended up buying some beautiful dried sage there…which I promptly ground in the spice grinder once I got home. Hooray!

Oh pumpkin!

Dried sage really was the way to go, since it stands up to heat and makes for a stronger flavor in the finished cakes.

Since the cakes themselves would be plenty sagey, I figured I’d focus on making the frosting as brown-buttery as possible. I think I succeeded. The frosting is a French (or pate a bombe) buttercream, made with all solidified brown butter, and half brown and half white sugar, inspiring me to name it “Double Brown Buttercream.”

Oh brown butter speckles!

The thing about brown butter, though, as awesome as it is, is that it’s very unstable, having had its fatty solids all browned up. It liquefies really quickly at room temperature. That’s why I chose to use a yolk-based buttercream – to hopefully return a little fatty stability. It still needs to be kept relatively cool, but firms up fast once refrigerated. It is also unapologetically buttery, and not even pleasant to eat on its own. However, in small amounts on impossibly moist and flavorful cupcakes that just scream of fall, topped off with crunchy sprinkles (which are not optional for both aesthetic and textural reasons)…it is absolutely perfect.

March into my mouth!

One thing to note is that I made my cupcakes in one-bite size, which is probably the best way to consume these particular morsels. Because I didn’t want to deal with nearly a hundred cupcakes, I halved the recipe, which I do not recommend doing with an egg-foam based buttercream, because it is nearly impossible to make that in tiny amounts. I had to try twice but luckily noticed that it wasn’t going to work before I added the precious butter. So do this however you like, though I think it would be hard to get through all that butteryness on a full-sized cupcake. You can always just freeze the frosting and cake batter or baked cakes, though.

Pumpkin-Sage Cupcakes with Double Brown Buttercream

First, Make Those Cakes!

  1. 1 1/4 cup butter
  2. 1 cup brown sugar
  3. 1 1/4 cup white sugar
  4. 1 1/2 Tbsp ground dried sage (freshly ground, if possible)
  5. 2 eggs
  6. 1 tsp vanilla
  7. 15 oz. pumpkin puree (1 can)
  8. 3 cups AP flour
  9. 2 tsp baking soda
  10. 1 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350F. Cream the butter and sugars with the sage until light and fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl between additions and incorporating thoroughly. Add the vanilla and the pumpkin and beat until incorporated. If it looks a little grainy don’t worry; the dry ingredients will bring it back together. Combine all the dry ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk to combine and aerate (sift if you have clumps of anything). Add the dry mixture to the rest of the batter and incorporate on a low speed, stopping to scrape down the bowl a couple of times. Don’t overmix. Scoop into lined muffin tins and bake 20-25 minutes for full-sized cupcakes, 10-15 for minis. Cool completely before frosting.

Now Make That Frosting!

  1. 4 eggs yolks, room temperature
  2. 1 pinch salt
  3. 2 Tbsp + 2 tsp water
  4. 1/3 cup brown sugar
  5. 1/3 cup white sugar
  6. 1 1/3 cup brown butter (start with at least 1 1/2 cups of butter before browning, as you’ll lose some volume in cooking it), solidified and softened

Place the yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer and start beating them on a low speed with the whisk attachment. Add the salt and turn up the speed to high. Whip until pale, thick and noticeably increased in volume. Place the sugars and water in a saucepan and cook over high heat until it reaches the soft ball stage (248F). Pour the sugar down the side of the mixing bowl into the eggs and continue whipping until only slightly warm. Switch to the paddle attachment and turn it on to a medium-low speed. Add the brown butter gradually in small chunks. If the buttercream begins to get soupy or break in some way, stop adding the butter and turn up the mixer until it comes back together, then turn down the mixer and resume adding the butter until it is all incorporated. It will probably be fairly soft, so refrigerate it to firm it up a bit before piping.

And Now to Put It All Together!

  1. Cupcakes, cooled completely
  2. Buttercream, in a piping bag fitted with a large round tip
  3. Large green confetti sprinkles (also known as quins)
  4. Orange sanding sugar

Pipe blobs that look like slightly flattened spheres onto each cupcake, directly in the center. Don’t cover the whole surface of the cupcake – about half the diameter is all you need. Once they’re all frosted, apply the green sprinkles to the dead center of each frosting blob, using tweezers if necessary (I wish I’d had some but my almost freakishly tiny fingers did the trick just fine). Carefully sprinkle the frosting on each cupcake with the orange sugar, being careful to not spill too many on the cake itself (they’ll stick). Keep refrigerated and serve slightly cool (or else the frosting will be too melty and buttery).

Makes about 90-96 mini cupcakes or 24-30 regular cupcakes.

The winner of October’s Mystery Box Cupcake Challenge will receive prizes from:

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  1. That is a trifecta of awesome and the cupcakes look adorable! I can never get enough pumpkin in the fall (especially in the form of dessert.) Its cool how you figured out how to get that buttercream right.

  2. I can’t resist anything with browned butter. It must be truly heavenly in buttercream, too. So much so, that I fear I could eat a bowl of just the frosting by itself. LOL

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