August 20, 2009

Peach Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Frosting

Even the dollops of frosting are sweating!

In case you’re sitting in an air-conditioned office with no windows right now (guilty), I just want you to know: It’s still decidedly summer. Hyper-summer even. So summer that I am a constant mess of mosquito bites and sticky curls, and my primary activity—when I can muster the strength to remove my face from in front of the air conditioner—is drinking cold beer. (Wait, I mean exercising, Mom! No seriously, exercising!)

But despite this omnipresent boggy misery, there was no stopping the summer-spirited recipe for peach cupcakes posted on SmittenKitchen last week. If stone fruit cupcakes are what we can expect as a product of the summer season, well than I’d say that the asphalt-melting, crazy-making heat is a reasonable sacrifice.

We ran out of cupcake liners, but my ever-resourceful and ingenious friend Vanessa fashioned these parchment paper liners. They make the cupcakes look simultaneously coy and rustic, yes?

Peach Cupcakes

Adapted from SmittenKitchen from which the frosting scheme was also shamelessly copied. Makes about 24.

3 cups cake flour (I used all-purpose unbleached)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Generous pinch of nutmeg
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup dark or light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups buttermilk* (or sour cream or full-fat yogurt )
3 large peaches, cored and chopped small (I went for a 1/3-inch dice)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg and set aside. Cream the butter and sugars together, beating until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl between each addition, and then add the vanilla. Gently mix in the buttermilk. Stir in the dry ingredients and fold in the peach chunks.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cupcake liners. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of cupcakes comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes for five minutes in the tins, then turn them out onto wire racks to cool completely.

*Remember, if you’re out of buttermilk or don’t want to buy any, you can substitute a mixture of milk and white distilled vinegar. In this case, add 1 ½ tablespoons vinegar to 1 ½ cups milk, set aside to let curdle for ten minutes, then you’re good to go!

Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, cornstarch and powdered sugar. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add the sugar-cornstarch mixture and vanilla, beat until frosting is smooth and light. Chill the bowl in the refrigerator until it thickens back up a bit, about 30 minutes, then spread or dollop on cooled cupcakes.

August 10, 2009

Gingersnap Mascarpone Nectarine Tartlets

As opposed to the sexy close-up, how about a demure far-away shot?

My first bag of the season of farmers market nectarines went bad after suffering for only a moment in this relentless city heat. I arrived home Sunday morning to find my tartlet plans thwarted by enormous angry flies and weepy, mangled fruit. My experience with DC produce has generally been depressing or gross, but in the still heat of a deadly weekend full of nectarine and peach casualties, I committed to transcending my own produce expectations so that I could finally and convincingly claim to friends in California that, “Christ no, I don’t miss the produce at all! Gosh, not even kind of!”

Lo and behold! As if the city knew I was about to shrug off my tenuous food allegiance, it bestowed five excellent, if bruised, nectarines upon me, and I made one of my favorite fruity baked goods to date. I might occasionally miss the ease of a California fruit excursion, but damned if I don’t love coaxing this fickle produce mistress that is the east coast into giving me a good piece of fruit every now and then.

Gingersnap Mascarpone Nectarine Tartlets

As Deb from SmittenKitchen suggests, this would be excellent with strawberries, or any kind of stone fruit, or a chocolate-wafer crust. I think you could add maple sugar to the filling and use blueberries with a graham cracker crust too and come up with something pretty awesome. I also recently saw peanut butter wafers at Whole Foods. I'm just sayin'....

43 gingersnap cookies, coarsely broken (about 3 1/2 cups of pieces—I used gingersnaps that were about the size of ‘Nilla Wafers)
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 8-ounce container mascarpone cheese
6 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon finely chopped crystallized ginger (optional)

4 to 5 small nectarines, halved, pitted, cut into thin slices
1/4 cup peach jam, warmed
Finely chopped crystallized ginger, or mint leaves for optional garnish (I passed on this)

For crust: Preheat oven to 350°F. Finely grind gingersnaps in food processor. Add melted butter and pulse on and off until crumbs are evenly moistened. Press mixture over bottom and up sides of six 4-inch-diameter tartlet pans with removable bottoms. Bake crust until color darkens, pressing sides with back of spoon if beginning to slide, about eight minutes. Cool completely (I did not cool mine completely by any means, and it was fine).

For filling: Beat first six ingredients in medium bowl until smooth. Beat in crystallized ginger if you’re using it. Spread filling in prepared crust. Cover loosely and refrigerate at least two hours and up to one day.

For topping: Overlap nectarine slices atop filling. Brush with jam. Sprinkle with garnish if you’re using it. Serve, or refrigerate up to six hours.