A Southern Grace: it's all about chemistry

December 14, 2012

it's all about chemistry


As someone with pale, pale, bordering-on-albino porcelain skin, I'd like to believe that browner isn't always better...except when it comes to butter and a few other select edibles.*

*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
Brown Butter Icing:
  • 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.


Sue/the view from great island said...

I thought I'd seen everything when it came to pumpkin, but this is a new one, and I love it! Your cupcakes look like beautiful little flowers!

Lucy @ Lucyeats said...

Mmmm I love all things pumpkin flavoured and the browned butter frosting sounds fantastic.

Is it me or did you get a new banner? I like the new font!

scrambledhenfruit said...

The thought of cow candy makes me smile. :) These sound wonderful, and the perfect little bite. I'm sure I'd need a handful of them!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Porcelain skin is awesome...

Your cupcakes look wonderful! That icing is amazing.



Lauren @ Healthy Food For Living said...

I'm a huge pumpkin fan, and am glad that recipes featuring the seasonal ingredient are still being posted! Mini cupcakes - especially mini pumpkin cupcakes - wouldn't stand a chance around me ;).

Joanne said...

Brown butter used to intimidate me so much, but I finally gave it a go two weeks ago and now I'm in love! Need these cupcakes in my life.

Beth said...

I made pumpkin squares with browned butter frosting this fall, and they were amazing. Not as cute as your cupcakes, though!

Jackie@Syrup and Biscuits said...

It is pretty amazing what a few extra minutes of heat does to the flavor of butter. Brown means flavor!

foodhoe said...

I love how the simple ruffles look, and brown butter icing sounds amazing on spicy pumpkin cupcakes!

Elizabeth said...

Amazing combination!

Barbara said...

Browned butter is my favorite....love that nutty flavor it brings to baked goods. What a super cupcake, Grace. All the goodness of pumpkin with that divine frosting!

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

Browned butter and pumpkin seem that a natural progression from ordinary to WOW.

Choc Chip Uru @ Go Bake Yourself said...

This looks really pretty and would taste perfect :)

Choc Chip Uru

Rosita Vargas said...

Luce muy rico es una delicia al paladar me encanta,pásalo bien en Navidad,abrazos y abrazos.

Nic said...

I am a fan of browned butter too, and now we can get that lovely canned pumpkin over here (at a certain time of the year!)

I Wilkerson said...

There really is nothing like browned butter! Every time I bake shortbread I am torn between going for the (standard) nice light color or the richer flavor that letting them go darker will bring.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I swear, if I were to ever develop a perfume, I'd add browned butter as a major ingredient! :D

Pam said...

Mmmmmm. Browned butter. YUM!

Erica said...

Wonderful combination,Grace!I love the flavor of brown butter.

Marjie said...

Your cupcakes are always so pretty, says the ghost-white commenter from up North! I could try this recipe for just a cake, right?

grace said...

@Marjie: i don't see why not!

Carolyn Jung said...

Browned butter makes everything so much more wonderful -- from baked goods to sauteed veggies to rice pilaf. I'm salivating already. ;)

cakewhiz said...

i could kiss the person who invented brown better.lol. it makes all my recipes taste SOOOOOO good! your cupcakes look wonderful :)

vanillasugarblog said...

did you use mini muffins?
is that martha's newest book?
i have none of her books; I just download everything from her website

The NoVa Girl said...

This looks SO amazing and extremely pretty! Love!

kimberleybue said...

Such cute little cupcakes! Love brown butter anything...

Laura said...

Mmmmm.... browned butter. One of my new favorite things. Awesome cupcakes.