The New Year’s Resolution that I’ve been working on this month is making butter. It’s a pretty great theme and has inspired several epic cooking projects. A few weeks ago we used the buttermilk that was leftover from the butter making process to make buttermilk-marinated-bacon-fat-deep-fried-chicken that was ….too good for words. It was dreamy. My arteries whispered things to me about how they wanted me to do it and they didn’t care what happened. I wish I had more of that chicken on a plate next to me right now. We have 100 baby chicks down in the coop, and now that they’re a couple months old I’ve spotted a few roosters. Sorry guys. A few of you are gonna be dinner. The post that I meant to write, before I got distracted by that fried chicken, was….
(just as ridiculous)
Oh yeah. It’s not so much that I want to make a bunch of really unhealthy food, I’m just really interested in learning new things in the kitchen (I swear). Up until this month, I had never made frosting before in my life, ever. I don’t even really care about eating it (I have a fried chicken tooth, not a sweet tooth), but I want to know how to make these things from scratch. I’ve worked as a professional cook in the past, and the fact that I can make really, really fancy savory things but literally cannot bake a simple chocolate chip cookie without totally ruining it somehow seems really absurd to me. I turned to Martha for a starting point, since her recipe for Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting was something that I’d noticed in the past. (Before the days of pinterest, back when you just bookmarked stuff in your web browser.)
So. What happened, even though these pictures make it look like a continuous sequence, I completely ruined the first batch of buttercream since I have zero experience doing this. My first batch turned out like runny pudding, which made me cringe since I just used my precious homemade butter for it. (It won’t go to waste, though, I think it will be great on something like cinnamon french toast). That means that the finished frosting that you see in these pictures is made with store-bought butter since I was worried about wasting a bunch of expensive cream making messed up batches of frosting. The moral of the story: It is so super important to follow the recipe and not change anything. If it says “stiff glossy peaks” it means “stiff glossy peaks,” not “until you get sick of listening to the stand mixer running on the highest setting,” (Yeah, I know).
The first step in this frosting is whisking together egg whites and sugar in the mixing bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Easy enough. (I’m assuming that most people don’t have the intermediate steps of going outside, turning on the generator for 15 minutes since power’s not set up to use a stand mixer right then, fending off the cat who is highly interested in frosting, and then bringing the whole deal back inside once it’s properly mixed.)Beat the egg whites and the sugar in a stand mixer set on high speed for 10 minutes, and it magically turns into beautiful, snow-white meringue. Once you see those stiff, glossy peaks, you can start adding in the butter, a little bit at a time. The frosting will look like it’s broken, but if you have faith in the power of the stand mixer and just let it keep going, eventually the frosting smooths out and becomes this lovely meringue buttercream. I was inspired by the orange tree blooming in the greenhouse and decided to scent this frosting with orange blossom water. The scent is so bright and ethereal, somehow, and so intoxicating. and the second confession of this post:
This frosting is good and all, but it’s really not my thing. I know, that’s weird. These cupcakes, though- even though I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, I’m crazy about them. For one, I baked something, and it actually worked. That in itself is a victory. What’s even more exciting is the way they came out. They’re not just good, they’re delicious, easy to make, and a great way to use up marmalade. The texture of the rinds mixed into the cupcake batter reminded me of pannettone, an sweet Italian bread that my mom makes every Christmas. I had debated puréeing the marmalade before I put it in the batter but I’m really happy I didn’t, because those toothsome slices of rind are what made these cupcakes so exciting. Oh, and I’m fairly certain you could call them muffins and serve them with breakfast if you want, and I can’t emphasize enough: the frosting is entirely optional. I think they might even be better with a simple powdered sugar glaze brushed on while they’re still hot than with all the fancy looking stuff I did this time. All I did yesterday was do my taxes and pay bills, so it seemed logical that I should spend the afternoon making cupcakes today. If you’re trying to waste time in the kitchen, it only makes sense that you should take this whole thing a step further and candy a bit of lemon rind to top off everything nicely. (Some people might do the dishes while the cupcakes are in the oven- I find a way to dirty even more of them). And there you have it! Make butter: check. Make frosting: check. Bake actual cupcakes that taste good and aren’t burned: check!
Orange Blossom Meringue Buttercream Frosting
This is adapted from Martha Stewarts recipe. The main reason I’m rewriting it here and not just linking to her recipe is that I shrank the size of the batch way down (since the last thing I need around is a giant bowl of frosting…. a small bowl is bad enough). If you want a big batch, just use her recipe here and add orange blossom water.
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Makes: frosting for 7 or 8 cupcakes
- 3 egg whites
- 3/4 c. sugar
- 1 1/3 sticks of room temperature unsalted butter, cut into pieces*
- 1 tsp. orange blossom water
Heat a pot of water up to a simmer on the stove. Combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Set the bowl over the pot of water and whisk together the sugar and egg whites until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture feels hot to the touch. Put the mixing bowl back in the stand mixer. Use the whisk attachment and beat the egg whites on high speed for about 10 minutes, or until you get stiff, glossy peaks. Keep the mixer going and add the butter, one piece at a time. The frosting will appear to have separated or broken, but just keep whisking on high for a couple more minutes until it smooths back out again. Switch to the paddle attachment and mix at the lowest speed for five minutes to get rid of any air bubbles.
If you’re using the frosting within a few hours, leave it out, covered, at room temperature so that it stays soft and spreadable. If you make it in advance, store it in the fridge and give it a few minutes in the mixer on low to soften it back up when you’re ready to use it.
*FYI: one stick of butter has 8 tablespoons or 1/2 cup. The original recipe didn’t really divide into perfect even numbers here, unfortunately, hence the 1/3 stick of butter.
This recipe came out so well – I’ll definitely be making it again. I used another Martha recipe here as a framework since, well… I don’t have my own secret cupcake recipe perfected. Soon.
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 7 cupcakes
- 1/2 c. sugar
- 4 tbs. unsalted butter
- 1 egg
- 1/4 c. meyer lemon marmalade (or really any marmalade….)
- 1 c. flour
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/3 c. milk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place cupcake liners in a cupcake tin and set aside.
Cream together the sugar and butter until it’s light and fluffy. Add in the egg and mix well. Add the lemon marmalade and mix well. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt and baking powder. Combine the flour mixture into the marmalade mixture, alternating flour with milk and stirring after each addition. Stir gently just to combine everything. Spoon the cupcake batter into the muffin tin, filling each cupcake liner about 2/3 full of batter.
- 1/4 c. water
- 2/3 c. sugar + 1/4 c. sugar
- peel from 1/4 of a lemon
In a small saucepan, combine the water and 2/3 c. sugar. Cook on high heat, stirring occasionally, to dissolve the sugar. Meanwhile, use a sharp knife to a cut a few strips of peel off a lemon, trying to get only the yellow zest and little of the white pith. Lay the peel on a cutting board and slice it into very thin strips. Once the sugar has dissolved and the syrup is boiling, add the strips. Cook for a few minutes on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. When the lemon strips turn translucent, turn off the heat and use a fork to remove them from the syrup. Toss the candied lemon strips in the remaining sugar and then lay them on a paper towel to dry. The candied lemon is ready to use once it’s cooled down.