Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Valentine Labor Of love

Sweet Potato Cardamom Cupcakes 

Anyone who knows me, or reads this blog, knows I love experimenting with recipes, trying different flavor combinations, and looking for things that are pushing the edge of where my husband will go with his food. I love trying new and different flavors, new spices or herbs, combining things in different ways. As I watch TV and hear about some of the more "out there" flavor combinations, I long to try them. So, in the back of my mind, I am always running through different flavors and how to combine them and in what. 

For some weeks now I have wanted to make cupcakes, core them, fill them with something and then frost them. In general I am not over fond of making cupcakes at all. I like eating them; they are cake, after all, and I love cake. However, I prefer to make one large something as opposed to lots of small somethings, at least in the cake or pie department. But, I had never "cored" or filled a cupcake, and wanted to try this out. The flavors and combinations were what was keeping me from starting, because I couldn't settle on a combination I liked. Yesterday morning, since I had not gotten my husband a Valentine gift, I sat down and focused. The process of creating the recipes and making all the components were almost a 6 hour job. Another time, with recipes already created, I know that much of it can be made over the course of days and finished easily in a short period of time when needed.

I settled on a sort of Middle Eastern set of flavors to work with. I had been thinking of a pistachio cream for the filling for a long while, but the rest of the equation had escaped me. So, pistachio filling was a start. Then I focused on the cupcake component. I prefer white cake. My husband also loves white cake. We will both eat chocolate, but it is not generally our first choice. I did not want to make a carrot cake, despite how much he loves that. With the Middle Eastern flavors I was going for, it was the wrong canvas. I wanted a moist cake, and had once made a cake with squash in it. I had a 10-ounce sweet potato in the fridge. I set it in a pan of water and boiled it for an hour, then cooled slightly and peeled it. I put it through a ricer and ended up with a perfect 1-cup. I decided on a yellow cake, as no  matter what, it would be yellow with the sweet potato. For the flavors, I went with cardamom, black pepper, orange zest and juice, all Middle Eastern flavors.

A couple of months back, when grocery shopping, I found freeze dried strawberries, in among the regular dried fruits. I do not care for strawberries. I abhor anything fake strawberry "flavored." I like the real flavored cream that results from strawberries in cream - just not the berries themselves. So, since I had freeze dried strawberries, and my husband is a real strawberry fiend, I figured the flavor was real enough and I was not actually eating the fresh berries I do not care for. To give the frosting vaguely Middle Eastern flavor, I added rosewater. So, my stage was set. Then I started working on recipes.

I wanted to make the pistachio filling with an idea I saw on TV. They added pastry cream to a mixture with ground pistachios. I have a recipe for a pastry cream I have used for years. As a matter of fact, long ago I used to make it as a cooked pudding for my kids, as the flavor is so delightful. I made a batch of that first, while the sweet potato was cooking. Then, I worked on how to proceed with the pistachio part. I took some raw, shelled, unsalted pistachios I have had for a while and placed them in the food processor with some confectioners' sugar and processed that for about 5 minutes. It resulted in a pretty green powder. While it was already finely ground, I still worked the powder through a colander to take out any larger pistachio bits that might remain, though there was not much. I creamed some butter for about 5 minutes, then added in the pistachio powder. Once that was well creamed, I added in some of the cooled pastry cream and mixed. That went in the fridge to set.

I am going to post here the Pastry Cream, Pistachio Cream Filling and the Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting recipes. Tomorrow I will post the recipe for the cupcakes and the finalizing.

Pastry Cream

Pastry Cream
Makes about 1 5/8 cups (you will need 1/2 cup for the Pistachio Cream Filling)

1/3 cup sugar 
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a bowl, whisk together the egg with the yolk and set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine the first 4 ingredients. Using a whisk, mix in the milk. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat and whisking constantly, allow the mixture to cook for another 2 to 3 minutes to cook out the raw starch taste. With a small ladle, scoop some of the hot mixture into the eggs and whisk quickly to temper the eggs. Add in another ladle of the hot mixture and whisk. Off the heat, add the whole egg mixture back into the hot pan. Place the pan back over very low heat, whisking constantly for 30 seconds to one minute, or until the mixture just begins to bubble. Remove from heat immediately, or the eggs will scramble If desired, strain the mixture. Place plastic wrap directly onto the hot surface of the pastry cream and chill completely before using.  This can be made up to 2 days ahead and kept refrigerated.

Pistachio Cream Filling

Makes enough to fill 24 cupcakes

1/2 cup preferably raw, shelled, unsalted pistachios (or rinse salt off of regular pistachios and dry completely before proceeding)
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
Pistachio Cream Filling
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup pastry cream

Set the pistachios with the confectioners' sugar into the bowl of a food processor and process for at least 5 minutes, or until the mixture is a fine powder. With a mixer, cream the butter until very light. Add in the pistachio mixture with the salt and beat until well combined. Add the pastry cream and mix well. Chill. This recipe can be made 2 - 3 days in advance and kept refrigerated.

Strawberry Rosewater Frosting

Strawberry Rosewater Frosting
Makes enough to frost 24 cupcakes

1 (1-ounce) package freeze dried strawberries
6 ounces softened cream cheese
1 stick (4-ounces) unsalted butter, softened
4 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons rosewater

Place 1 cup of the freeze dried strawberries in a food processor and process to a very fine powder. (Save the remaining few bits to crush and sprinkle over the finished cupcakes). Sift this powder with the confectioners' sugar and salt into a bowl and set aside. In a standing mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter for about 8 to 10 minutes, until light and creamy. Stop the mixer and add all the sifted ingredients. Start on very slow to incorporate the dry ingredients, then add the rosewater and increase speed and beat well. Can be made 1 day ahead and chilled. Bring to room temperature and beat to bring back the texture before using.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.