Sometimes it is easy to get in a rut.
A cookie rut. An exercise rut. A wearing the same $12 gap t-shirt every day rut.
We get a little comfortable with the usual. Cookies are easy and I’ve gotten great at them. I know what ingredients make the best dough, what amount of refrigeration time creates the best final product and what flavor combinations will always taste good (chocolate and peanut butter, obviously). I’m not being cocky, I just spend many hours most days making cookies for my business.
I’m not actually in an exercise rut right now, I’m in more of a Sean T kicks my butt every single day and I can’t wait until Insanity is over phase. And the t-shirts? Yeah, I can’t help it. I’ll stop when the weather cools down and I can break into my new fall wardrobe.
Sometimes these ruts are really hard to escape. But sometimes, all it takes is just a little bit of excitement over something new. At the start of Insanity I was excited because I wanted to look like those women in the video (ahem, no matter how many level 3 drills I do, it isn’t happening).
Well, ever since we went to Bi-Rite, I’ve had the brown sugar ice cream on the brain. That dark, almost burnt brown sugar flavor and the swirls of ginger throughout were such a perfect combination of flavors. I’ve been wanting to recreate that experience in a different way.
I don’t know how it happened exactly, but the idea of this cupcake just popped into my head last week. It was one of those moments where as soon as it happened, I had to do something. Brown sugar cupcakes were in and out of the oven before I really knew what hit me. What followed was a lightly flavored creamy swiss meringue buttercream and a sweet and salty crunchy topping inspired by one of my favorite bloggers. The result was almost too good.
Brown Sugar Cupcakes with Cinnamon Ginger Buttercream and Ginger Cookie Pecan Brittle
Makes 17 cupcakes
1 batch brown sugar cupcakes
1 batch cinnamon ginger swiss meringue buttercream
1 batch ginger cookie pecan brittle
Prepare cupcakes as directed below
While cupcakes are cooling, prepare brittle and set aside to cool
Once cupcakes and brittle are cool, make frosting; frost cupcakes with a spatula or piping bag and top with broken brittle pieces
Serve immediately; if you are making cupcakes in advance, do not top with brittle until just before serving
Brown Sugar Cupcakes*
Slightly adapted from Martha Stewart
1 1/2 cups (7 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 1/8 cup (10.25 ounces) tightly packed light brown sugar
2 extra large eggs at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/8 cup buttermilk
Pre-heat oven to 325 and line regular-sized cupcake tins with cupcake wrappers; set aside
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl; set aside
In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed using an electric mixer for several minutes; beat until very light and fluffy
Scrape the sides of the mixing bowl; add eggs, one at a time, beating on medium speed in-between until each egg is combined
Add vanilla and beat on high for one minute
Reduce speed of mixer to low and slowly add one half of flour mixture, do not overmix
Add buttermilk and then remaining flour mixture; turn off mixer before all dry ingredients are combined; remove bowl of mixer and slowly fold batter until dry ingredients are combined; do not overmix
Evenly distribute batter into 17 prepared cupcakes, filling about 2/3 of each cup
Bake cupcakes for 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean
Cinnamon Ginger Swiss Meringue Buttercream**
Adapted from Sweetapolita
1/2 cup egg whites (I used 3 extra-large but pasteurized egg whites work fine)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/8 cups (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground ginger (if you are using fresh ground ginger, start with less and add more to taste)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
<1/8 teaspoon table salt
Wipe the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk attachment, whisk, spatula and candy thermometer with a paper towel and vinegar to clean (if any grease is on these items your meringue will not work)
Place egg whites and sugar in mixing bowl over pot of simmering water; water should not be high enough to touch mixing bowl
Whisk mixture slowly but constantly until temperature reaches 160 degrees F, about 5-10 minutes
Remove from stove and attach bowl to electric mixer with whisk attachment
Put mixer on low to medium speed and whisk until meringue is shiny and thick and bowl has cooled down to room temperature; if bowl does not cool and meringue has formed, you can put an ice bath under the mixing bowl while it is mixing
Once ready, replace whisk attachment with paddle attachment and add cubes of butter one at a time mixing on low speed until the mixture is light and creamy; if mixture gets lumpy, keep mixing for several minutes; if it gets runny, place bowl in fridge for 10 minutes before continuing to mix
Stop mixer to scrape sides of bowl and continue to beat on low speed for another minute
Add vanilla, ginger, cinnamon and salt and mix on medium speed until the SMB is light and creamy
Ginger Cookie Pecan Brittle***
Slightly adapted from Dessert for Two
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup lightly chopped raw pecans
1/4 cup broken gingersnaps (about 3 cookies)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside
In a large microwave-safe bowl, stir together sugar and corn syrup; microwave mixture on high for three minutes
Stir in pecans, gingersnaps and salt; put in microwave for one minute and then stir; microwave for another thirty seconds keeping an eye on the mixture so as not to burn
Stir in butter and vanilla; microwave for 30 seconds; be careful bowl may get very hot
Stir in baking soda and immediately spread brittle onto parchment paper
Allow to cool for 30 minutes; break brittle into small pieces for cupcakes
If not using immediately, store in an airtight container for up to five days
*I wasn’t thrilled with the appearance of the cupcake by itself, it was completely flat on the top. Luckily, the taste and moist texture more than made up for it and the frosting covered up any lackluster looks I was worried about.
The cupcakes can be made up to one month in advance and frozen. Defrost for a couple of hours at room temperature prior to frosting.
**You can frost the cupcakes up to one day in advance and keep them chilled until ready to serve so that the buttercream does not melt. Serve at room temperature
***The brittle can be made a couple of days in advance and stored in an airtight container until ready to use. Top the cupcakes with the brittle right before serving for best results.