Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pumpkin Beer Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Every fall, I get really excited for fall flavors. Anything involving butternut squash, apples, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and/or warm spices will spark my interest. Currently I'm obsessed with Dunkin Donuts' Pumpkin Spice Coffee. However if we're going to talk alcoholic drinks, then we have to discuss pumpkin beer.

There are many pumpkin beers on the market nowadays and I have to say that my favorite is Jack's Pumpkin Ale. Of course it's also the most difficult pumpkin beer to find, in my opinion. I've been checking for weeks in the liquor stores but I haven't struck paydirt yet. So, on a whim I decided to purchase some Sam Adams Octoberfest beer. I had no idea what it tasted like, but I knew I liked Sam Adams so this couldn't be all bad. But I loved it.

I'm not very good at describing the flavor of beer because I only know whether I like it or not. However I will say this: It's very smooth. Kind of sweet. Not hoppy (I hate hoppy beers). The flavor isn't actually pumpkin, but it reminds me of pumpkin and pumpkin spices. If you want to know more, you're just going to have to get your own Sammy Octoberfest!

For the past two years, it's been my goal to make cupcakes using pumpkin beer. And this year I was finally able to make this dream a reality. I adapted a Honey and Beer Spice Cake recipe to make the cupcakes more seasonal. (The adaptation could have gone a little better, but we'll get to that later.) I also decided to top the cupcake with a maple-flavored cream cheese frosting because I hear pumpkin and maple flavors work really well together.

Pumpkin Beer Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
cupcakes adapted from Joy the Baker's Honey and Beer Spice Cake
~30 cupcakes

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon all-spice
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) Sam Adams Octoberfest beer (or a similar seasonal beer)
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2) Combine the cinnamon, all-spice, nutmeg and cloves in a small bowl or container.

3) In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together, then set aside.
4) Use an electric mixer to cream the butter for several minutes, until white and fluffy.
5) Beat in sugars and spices and mix for about 3 minutes. It will look grainy at first, but just keep beating.
6) Add the eggs one at a time, beating for ~1 minute after each addition.
7) Beat in the pumpkin puree.
8) Add the flour mixture in three additions and the beer in two additions. Alternate between adding the flour mixture and the beer. Beat after each addition.
9) Beat the batter on high speed for 30 seconds. The batter will be loose and smooth.

10) Pour the batter into cupcake liners and fill about 2/3 of the way.

11) Bake 18-20 minutes.

12) Let cool before frosting.

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen's Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup maple butter
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1) Using a mixer, beat the butter for several minutes until white and fluffy.

2) Add cream cheese and beat until incorporated with the butter.

3) Add the maple butter and maple syrup and beat until incorporated.

4) Slowly add the confectioner's sugar. You can add more or less sugar depending on how sweet you like your frosting. Beat until fluffy.

5) Chill the frosting for about an hour or until it has set up enough to spread smoothly over the cupcakes.

OK, now comes the critique. I decided to be creative with this recipe and make some relatively big flavor changes. Unfortunately, I kind of forgot a few key things, such as,if I want to replace the honey in a recipe with something else, I should compensate for the loss of sweetness. Hmmm...that would be good advice.

Here are some of the changes I would make to my adapted recipes above:

- As I already hinted at above, the cupcake wasn't as sweet as I would have liked. In fact, the taste was pretty muffin-like. I would probably add another 1 cup of sugar to the cupcake batter to compensate for the loss of honey. I think using honey in the batter would make the cake a bit too moist. But that's just my personal preference. Use honey if you like.
- For my frosting, I thought that maple butter would give it a more robust maple flavor. Unfortunately this was not the case. I ran out of maple butter after using only 1/4 cup of it and had to resort to my roommate's maple syrup. I added another 1/4 - 1/2 cup of maple syrup so that the maple flavor would be pronounced enough. Next time I would probably just use a 1/2 - 3/4 cup maple syrup instead of using the maple butter.
- After taking a cupcake workshop this summer, I have a great desire to pipe my frostings whenever possible. I have yet to come up with a cream cheese frosting that's stiff enough to pipe. Even after refrigerating the frosting for about an hour, it wasn't stiff enough to pipe. I think this problem may have something to do with the cream cheese:butter ratio. Or maybe I needed to use more confectioners sugar. Any suggestions to help out with this recurring problem?

Otherwise, I really like the flavor and texture of the cupcakes (minus the need for more sugar). It was pretty light and fluffy and the pumpkin shone through. The frosting was creamy and allowed the maple flavor to seep into each bite of the cupcake. With some minor adjustments, this could be perfect.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lump Crab Po' Boy

As I was prowling the Tastespotting website, I stumbled upon a recipe for a Lump Crab Po'Boy. First of all, I was intrigued by the picture because it was gorgeous and I love me some good food porn. (Warning: this blog's pic is nicer than my po' boy pictures, but I'll explain why in a bit). Second of all, the website that was boasting this fine food specimen is called Unsportswomanlike Conduct. Each week (or every other week) she makes food that is inspired by a football team. The week she made the Lump Crab Po' Boy, she had the New Orleans Saints in mind. I can't really tell if she likes the Pittsburgh Steelers or not, but I wonder if she'll ever make a Primanti Bros. sandwich...Is there a suggestion box available?

Lump Crab Po' Boy
adapted from Unsportswomanlike Conduct
makes 2-3 sandwiches
  • 12-16 oz super lump crab meat (you can also use jumbo lump crab meat if you like, but super lump is fine as well -- and cheaper!)
  • 1 tbsp creole seasoning (I used Emeril's Original Essence, but any creole seasoning will do)
  • ~1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • ~2 tbsp ketchup
  • 1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
  • 1 shallot, diced finely
  • 1 tsp garlic, diced finely
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • squirt of dijon mustard
  • ~1/4 tsp paprika
  • ~1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2-3 Sourdough loaves
1) Prepare the crab: Toss the crab with the creole seasoning.

2) Prepare the remoulade sauce: Combine the remaining ingredients. Mix well.

3) Prepare the sandwich:
a. Slice the sourdough loaves 3/4 of the way through, making a pocket for the crab and remoulade sauce.
b. Add some remoulade sauce in the bread "pocket".
c. Stuff with seasoned crab meat.
d. Add more remoulade sauce on top of the crab meat.

The bread provided a bit of a crunch, along with a chewy texture. This was a nice contrast to the creamy, spicy crab and the remoulade sauce. Lettuce and tomatoes would increase the "crunchiness factor" and also add an element of freshness to this sandwich, but I was traveling and didn't have any, so I sucked it up. You can add them to your own sandwich when you make this recipe. Also, since I was traveling, the only camera I had on hand was my point and shoot, which takes OK-quality pictures. So there's the reason my "after" pictures aren't that great.

But this could be the simplest recipe to date! One of the things I loved about this recipe is that just about anything can be substituted in the crab mixture or the remoulade sauce. If you want to add some other spices to the crab, or if you love mayonnaise then my all means go wild. So feel free to modify the recipe to your heart's content. It's all about what you like, so make sure to make it your own.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Muttar Paneer - Attempt #1

This is a beautiful plate of food. I've been loving eating and making Indian food this year. I've also been wanting to step out of my Paneer Makhani comfort zone. One of the Indian dishes that I really wanted to make was Muttar Paneer (sometimes called Mattar Paneer or Matar Paneer...I don't know what the difference is, but the dish itself is the same). I had an extra package of paneer in the fridge so this was even more inspiration to make the Muttar Paneer as soon as possible.

I stumbled upon Nigella Lawson's Muttar Paneer recipe on the Food Network website. I love Nigella Lawson mostly because it seems that she's always talking about chocolate. I don't know if this is true but every time I see her on television or read about her in a book, there seems to be a chocolate reference involved. And that's all right with me. Additionally, the Muttar Paneer picture on the website was gorgeous. So I figured I'd take the recipe and run with it.

Muttar Paneer
slightly adapted from Nigella Lawson's recipe
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 14 ounces paneer, cut into bite sized cubes
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1-inch piece ginger, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup water
  • salt
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 2 (10-ounce) packets frozen peas
  • 1 teaspoon tomato puree
  • dash of habanero sauce
  • 1 cup chicken stock (you can substitute vegetable stock if you like)

1) Heat the oil a large skillet and add the paneer cubes, in several batches, and fry until they are golden. The oil WILL splatter, so be careful. (You can also dry fry the paneer cubes in the pan sans oil, but I haven't tried this. This is Nigella's suggestion.)

2) Remove the golden cubes and rest on a paper towels to absorb excess oil.

3) Pour all but ~2 tablespoons of the oil out of the pan.

4) Put the onion, garlic cloves, ginger and water into a blender (or food processor) and blend to a pulp.

5) Fry gently for about 5 minutes with a sprinkling of salt. Stir in the garam masala and turmeric and cook for another 2 minutes before adding the still frozen peas.

6) Dissolve the tomato puree and habanero sauce in the chicken stock and pour over the contents of the pan.

7) Stir again and turn the heat down to low, cover and cook for 15 minutes, tasting to ensure that the peas are tender.

8) Add the paneer cubes. Stir to incorporate. Allow the paneer to warm through.

9) Serve over rice or naan. (I used brown rice.)

Unfortunately, there's a reason that this post is labeled "...Attempt 1". I liked it, but I wasn't completely in love with it. It had just about every element I enjoy about this dish when I order it from an Indian restaurant:

- The sauce was spicy.
- The peas were sweet and they pop in your mouth as you begin eating them.
- The paneer was firm and slightly crispy due to the frying.

But overall something was missing. I think it has to do with the lack of spices in the recipe. Don't get me wrong, the dish was "spicy", as in there's some heat from the habanero sauce. However, there just isn't the same spice profile that I would get when i order this from Taste of India down the street. So, I'm definitely going to try again. I've started to drink the Muttar Paneer Kool-Aid and so I must must must find another recipe to make!

If you try this recipe and tweak the spices (or anything else), let me know what you do and how it turns out!