Butternut Squash Cupcakes with Sea Salt Caramel Frosting

I can’t believe how quickly this semester is flying by. Suddenly I’ve got midterms coming up this week. So what do I do? I bake. Seems logical, right? No matter how busy my schedule gets with a full-time course load and a part-time job (and life in general) I somehow always find myself in the kitchen with a whisk in hand. Ahh prioritising… still working on that.

As I was browsing one of my favourite baking blogs, Une gamine dans la cuisine, I was drawn to her recipe for butternut squash cupcakes since I had never baked with this vegetable before and it sounded original. Anytime a recipe calls for brown butter (beurre noisette in French, doesn’t that sound so much better?), you know it’ll be a winner. The brown butter releases a nutty aroma that blends well with the subtle butternut squash flavour and the spices. I decided to top these desserts with a sea salt caramel frosting. The combination was a hit. The spiced cupcakes paired perfectly with the sweet and salty caramel. I’ll definitely be making these again.

Warning: this sea salt caramel frosting is dangerously delicious. If left alone in the kitchen with a spoon, you might end up with some naked cupcakes.

Since it’s harvest season, I’m still deep in my veggie baking mood. The butternut squash has a very subtle taste in this recipe. It is a heart-friendly vegetable that is low in fat and high in fibre. Butternut squash is a healthy choice that has an abundance of nutrients that protect against heart disease. (though I realise adding a dollop of frosting might cancel out some of the benefits…)

Bon appétit!

Recipe adapted from Une gamine dans la cuisine: cupcakes, frosting

Yields 9 portions

• cupcakes:
1 cup of uncooked butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tsp. vegetable oil
6 tablespoons (3oz) unsalted butter
1 cup (4 1/2 oz) all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup tightly packed, dark brown sugar
1 egg
2 1/2 tablespoons whole milk
• frosting:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup whipping cream (35%)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 Tablespoons (that’s 1 stick) of salted butter, at room temperature
8 Tablespoons (that’s 1 stick) of unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

• cupcakes:
1) Preheat the oven to 350F and place 9 cupcake liners in a muffin tin.
2) Place the butternut squash pieces in a microwave-safe bowl and cook on high for 5 to 6 minutes or until a fork can easily go through a soft piece.
3) Using a food processor, puree the butternut squash with 1 tsp. of vegetable oil until smooth.
4) Measure 3/4 cup of puree. Set it aside and let cool to room temperature.
5) Over low heat, melt the butter in a heavy bottom saucepan. Turn the heat up to medium-high and cook the butter until it turns golden brown and releases a nutty fragrance. This is also known as beurre noisette. Be careful not to overcook the butter. Set aside and let cool.
6) Mix the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt together in a bowl and set aside.
7) Whisk the butternut squash puree, the egg, the granulated sugar, the dark brown sugar, and the cream together in a bowl until well blended.
8) Gently fold the dry ingredients into the butternut squash puree mixture with a spatula. Do not over mix.
9) Pour the brown butter and whisk until smooth.
10) Scoop the batter into the 9 cupcake liners and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the top of the cupcakes spring back when lightly touched (mine were in the oven for 28 minutes). Let the cupcakes cool in the muffin tin for 5 minutes before placing them on a rack to cool completely.
• frosting:
1) Bring the granulated sugar and water to a boil over medium-high heat in a saucepan. Do not stir the mixture.
2) Remove the saucepan from the heat once the mixture has turned a deep amber colour.
3) Slowly add the cream and vanilla. Stir until smooth. Set caramel aside.
4) Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the salted butter, unsalted butter, and salt together until light and airy.
5) Lower the speed while you add the sifted powdered sugar. Beat until well combined.
6) Pour the caramel into the butter mixture and beat until frosting is light and fluffy (if your caramel was too warm when you poured it, resulting in a runny icing, simply place the bowl in the fridge until frosting stiffens).

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