Monday, February 6, 2012

Sugar Therapy

I tend to bake when I'm stressed, and the combination of crunch-time on my thesis and announcements means that I've been really stressed lately.  That, combined with a failed attempt at a night out, meant that by the time I made it to brunch at Ihop with my housemates I was in a pretty miserable mood.  On top of that I was feeling quite nostalgic for my flat in Edinburgh and the mornings when we would wake up after a night out and spend the rest of the day in bed eating junk and watching period dramas.
There is a phenomenal place to pop in for cupcakes on Hanover Street called Bibi's Bakery where we used to get cupcakes on days when a little sugar boost was just the thing.  My favorite from their everyday menu was the banoffee cupcake.  For those Americans who haven't come across banoffee before (it's not as common in the states, I don't think-we stick to 'banana cream'), it is traditionally a pie made of bananas, toffee (in this case aka dulce de leche, a caramel made from boiled condensed milk), and cream.  I'm actually not a big fan of the pie, but Bibi's cupcake version is amazing.  So the combination of nostalgia and stress led to an evening of experimentation and some delicious banoffee cupcakes, recreated at home in New York.
the final product-yum!
I read through a lot of recipes before I started, and here's what I ended up with:
Banoffee Cupcakes (adapted from Gina's Banana Cupcakes)
Makes 24

2 cups all-purpose (unbleached) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks butter (unsalted)
1 cup sugar (I went a little light on the sugar because of the filling and frosting, but if you like things sweet then use the full amount!)
1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs
4 over-ripe bananas (I only had slightly ripe ones, so they weren't still works, but you need to mash them extensively with a fork or potato-masher before adding them to the batter)
12 chewy caramels, cut in half (the kind you buy to melt down for caramel apples, etc.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine dry ingredients and set aside.  Cream (I bake by hand mostly but you can also use an electric mixer) butter and sugar until fluffy, then add yogurt and vanilla.  Beat in eggs one at a time.  Add mashed bananas and mix until thoroughly combined before adding dry ingredients slowly.
When fully mixed, scoop about 1/4 cup into a muffin pan lined with cupcake papers.  These puff up, but you want the liners to be about 3/4 full.

Now comes the tricky part.  I ran a test of 3 cupcakes before I put in a full tray, and I recommend you do the same to make sure the timing is right-everyone's oven is just a bit different.

Bake cupcakes for 8 minutes, then remove tray from oven (close the oven and do this on a counter so you don't cool the oven by holding it open!) and quickly place 1 caramel half into the center of each cupcake.  Leave a small amount sticking out of the top-they sink a bit and the cupcake will rise around the candy.  Put the cupcakes back in the oven and bake for an additional 12 minutes.

Remove from the pan as soon as they come out of the oven and let the cupcakes cool completely before frosting.

**The cupcakes bake for about 20 minutes total, so adjust the proportion of pre- and post-caramel addition baking times for your oven.

For the holidays one of my housemates gave me real vanilla extract from Mexico-it's so much better than the stuff I buy at the grocery store!  I used one of my favorite frosting recipes for these, because it's super simple and with good vanilla really tastes like fluffy heaven...and I'm not a frosting person.

Magnolia Bakery's Vanilla Buttercream (adapted slightly from the original)
Makes enough to lightly frost 24 cupcakes (Mine are very lightly frosted, but I had a lot left over)-if you plan to pipe frosting, or frost a cake, double this

1 stick of butter (unsalted)
3-4 cups confectioners' sugar
1-2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or more to taste if yours isn't as strong)

Beat butter, vanilla, and milk until creamy and not stick-shaped.  Add sugar 1 cup at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition (I don't recommend doing this by hand-I use an electric hand mixer. It's a LOT!).  When all sugar has been added and mixture is combined, set a timer and beat for an additional 5 minutes.  Frosting should become fluffy.

I will definitely be making these cupcakes again.  I finished them late last night, and out of 24 there are only 3 still left.  The only changes I would make are to use really mushy bananas and try replacing half the normal sugar with brown sugar...hmmm.
This is the thing I love most about baking, really: it's the only experiment you can eat afterwards.


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