*Just like with tanning, though, one can take it too far.
I'm sure I've mentioned before that I'm a major chemistry nerd (it was my undergraduate major), so I know all about the reactions involved in the browning of things like bread, coffee beans, and caramel that lead to supreme flavor. Thank you, Monsieur Maillard, for spelling it all out for us. If you have a nose, though, you don't need some dead Frenchman telling you that browning certain foods makes them smell amazing. (However, if you want to borrow any of my many, many textbooks from college, they're currently boxed away in the depths of my basement and I'd be happy to dig them out for you...).
Folks, the browned butter aspect present in both the cupcakes and their frosting is simply incredible. It adds a completely different depth of flavor to the soft, moist cakes, making them taste almost nutty even though there are no nuts involved. While that's pretty awesome, the scene-stealer here is the frosting. It's rich like buttercream but not as sweet and with a truly unique taste. Nearly everyone who had a cupcake demanded to know what kind of frosting I had made and why it was so delicious, and that's neither a lie nor an exaggeration.
So what're you waiting for? Try it yourself! Just don't let the cow candy get too browned--there's quite a distinction between browned butter and burnt butter!
Pumpkin Brown Butter Cupcakes
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes: 175 Inspired Ideas for Everyone's Favorite Treat
Makes 15 regular cupcakes or about 4 dozen mini cupcakes
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1-2/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 cup canned pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons milk, plus more if needed
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line muffin tin with paper cups.
In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat and cook, swirling occasionally, until butter turns golden brown. Skim foam from top, and remove from heat. Pour into a bowl to stop the cooking, leaving any burned sediment behind; let cool.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.
In another bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, both sugars, eggs, and brown-butter mixture.
Add flour mixture and whisk until just combined.
Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 20 minutes.
Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes.
To make the frosting, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, swirling pan occasionally, until nut-brown in color, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and pour butter into bowl, leaving behind any burned sediment.
Add powdered sugar, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons milk to brown butter, stir until smooth. If necessary, add more milk (up to 2 tablespoons) a little at a time, just until icing is spreadable.* Use immediately.
*If you prefer, you can add more powdered sugar to reach a piping consistency, which is what I did.