“Why do your desserts take 8 hours to make?” John asked me, rather unhelpfully I might add, while I was slightly stressing over whether I had bitten off more than I could chew. Apparently, I had taken the challenge of “Thanksgiving with a Twist” a little too seriously.
I made these cupcakes for a pre-Thanksgiving potluck. The idea was to take the elements of a traditional Thanksgiving dish and make something unusual or fun out of it, something that would be sure to raise the ire or derision of your family if you dared to introduce it at the actual Thanksgiving table. That’s an experience I know too well, having spent the better part of my adolescence as a vegetarian with an extended family whose love of large roasts of bleeding red meat beast makes it difficult to even get a turkey on the holiday table. My brother was a terrific supporter though and helped me take the initiative a couple of times to make a vegetarian friendly alternative. One year, it was a coconut milk based red beans and rice; another year, we introduced a couple of “Thanksgiving Pizzas”: Boboli crusts, topped with mashed sweet potatoes, slices of canned cranberry sauce, turkey (on one, no meat on the other), Stove Top Stuffing crumbles, and Swiss cheese. The reactions from my family? Well, let’s just say that this episode of The Simpsons is a fairly accurate portrayal.
Despite the jeers of family, those pizzas were awesome, and I totally would have made them for my potluck, but I drew the dessert assignment instead. There was little need to engage in the “Which Thanksgiving Pie” debate since one friend, as previously (and incredulously) documented here, hates pecans and is not a fan of pumpkin in pie form. So that left me with doing a variation on apple pie.
My thoughts instantly went to this delicious blueberry pie cupcake I had from one of Seattle’s many cupcake boutiques. That cupcake was a moist, yellow cake with a center of blueberry pie filling and a swirl of light, vanilla buttercream on top, but the delicious surprise was the crisp wafer of flaky pie crust at the bottom of the cupcake and the cute little square of crust with a sprinkling of large crystal sugar as decoration on top. Recreating those cupcakes only in apple pie form was just the sort of baking challenge I craved and definitely summed up Thanksgiving with a Twist to me, only I doubted that anyone would be irate to receive one of these little bundles instead of a wedge of pie.
For these cupcakes, I adapted a recipe for delicious, golden yellow cupcakes, spicing it up with cinnamon, ground ginger and cardamom so it was more of a spice cake. I then scaled down the elements of my apple pie filling, including using my favorite apple, the honeycrisp, for the center of my cupcakes. For the frosting, at the time, I wanted a slightly sour contrast and so I made a creme fraiche frosting, lightened with a citrus touch from some lemon zest; however, if I exerted the effort to make these again, I think I’d go for the gold and make this amazing vanilla custard buttercream (yes, I baked the cake in that recipe, for same pecan/pumpkin pie hater friend) so that I could call these Apple Pie a la Mode Cupcakes.
Success! The cake was light and spicy, the filling was sweet but still retained the firm texture of the apple, and the frosting was tangy and refreshing. But the best part? Rather than putting the crust at the bottom of the cake, I sat it on top of cupcake batter that was about 1/3 of the way up the cupcake wrapper. Since the apple filling sits on top of the crust and is surrounded by another mound of cupcake batter it ends up completely hidden inside the cake. You take a bite and OMG! THERE’S A MINI APPLE PIE IN MY CUPCAKE!!!! In other words– so worth the effort in the end.
- 3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1.5 cups sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 2.5 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2.5 cups flour
- 1.25 cups milk
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp cardamom
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- 1 honeycrisp apple, peeled, cored and chopped into 1/4 inch sized pieces
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp light brown sugar
- 3/4 tsp cinnamon
- 2 pinches cardamom
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp lemon zest
- 2 dashes nutmeg
- 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
- 15 oz creme fraiche
- 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/2 tsp lemon zest
- 1/2 recipe Deluxe Butter Pastry Dough from Joy of Cooking
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1. Make pie crust according to directions. After dough has rested in your fridge for at least 1 hour, roll it out on a lightly floured surface to 1/4 inch thickness. Using a 2 inch biscuit cutter, cut out 20 circles and place on a silpat lined baking sheet. Using a 1 inch cutter, cut out at least 20 (can do more for snacking) smaller circles and lay out on another silpat sheet. Freeze for 30 minutes, then using a fork, lightly poke each circle several times to keep the crusts flat. Mix together the cinnamon and sugar and lightly sprinkle over the smaller circles only. Bake both sheets at 350 degrees F for about 12 minutes or until the crusts are light brown.
2. Make the filling (can be done while crusts freeze). Melt butter over medium heat in a small skillet. Add the apple and saute for 3-4 minutes so that each piece of apple is coated in the butter. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, salt, lemon zest, and nutmeg then sprinkle the mixture over the apples. Continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes so the sugar has time to dissolve and help the apples caramelize. Mix in the cornstarch and cook until filling slightly thickens. Remove to a bowl to help it cool to room temperature before assembling cupcakes.
3. Make the cupcake batter. Cream together the butter and sugar until pale yellow and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat until fully incorporated. Mix in the vanilla and beat again until fully incorporated. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger. Beat this into the cupcake batter in 3 batches, alternating additions with additions of the milk in 2 batches, until the batter is smooth.
4. Assemble the cupcakes. Line muffin tins with paper cupcake liners– I believe I ended up with a total of 18 cupcakes. Put 1 tbsp of cupcake batter in the bottom of each liner. Gently sit a 2 inch pie dough circle on top of each batter bottomed cup. Fill each cup with cupcake batter, so the total is about 2/3 full. Bake at 350 degrees F for 18-20 minutes or until light and golden. Remove to a wire rack to cool.
5. Make frosting by whipping the creme fraiche with the confectioner’s sugar, vanilla and lemon zest on medium high speed for about 2 minutes or until fluffy.
6. Using a paring knife, cut a cone of cake out of the top of each cupcake. The cone should be about 1 to 1.5 inches wide in diameter at the top and go down about 2/3 into the cupcake. The knife point will meet resistence when it hits the pie crust, so you’ll know you’re at the bottom of the cone. Cut off the tip of the cones (and snack on them– very important means of tasting your frosting and filling) so that way, the cake will sit flatly on top of the apple filling when you replace them. Fill the gaps with about 1 tsp of the apple filling and cap off with the cake rounds. Frost the cupcakes* with a thick layer of frosting and lightly set a cinnamon sugar crust circle on top of each. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon for extra color.
*If you’re feeling extra fancy, place 1/3 of frosting in a large plastic ziplock or pastry bag, then using a large star tip, make lined swirls of frosting on top of each cupcake that’s been plainly frosted with a layer of frosting. Place cinnamon sugar pie crust circles in the swirl of each cupcake.