The Bourbon Cupcake


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Bourbon Cupcake: Crystallized Mint Leaf, Lemon-Bourbon Frosting, Lime-Bourbon Syrup, Burnt-Butter Brown-Sugar Cake.

Ever since I had a drink at Fat Fish made with Vanilla Whiskey, Lemon, Lime, and Mint, I’ve wanted to translate it into a dessert. Namely, a cupcake. The biggest challenge was just trying to find a way to fit all those flavors into textures that would constitute one l’il cake. It’s no coincidence that the components require no less than four hyphens altogether.

When I came across Nigella Lawson’s recipe for Burnt-Butter Brown-Sugar Cupcakes, I knew it was now or never. It would diminish the role of the vanilla some since I wouldn’t be making the yellow cake that I’d been toying with, but it just felt right to match it with the bourbon. And the icing and cake would have vanilla extract in them anyway.

And I had some Jim Beam Bourbon Whiskey in the cupboard, so I decided that that would work.

So, yeah, it’s a good cupcake. The burnt butter and bourbon lead the way in flavor, and then sweet and sour of the citrus swirls in. And the bite with the mint leaf provides an intense twist. And there’s a respectable undercurrent of vanilla to it all.

Burnt-Butter Brown-Sugar Cake: This recipe that I used from the American version of the book (or this recipe for the British, metric version). These turned out nicely, even if their crumb was a little rough and they were very buttery. Next time, I’d decrease the butter by a couple tablespoons. Also, she says that the butter won’t take much time to re-solidify after being burned, but it does; I put it in the fridge and stirred it occasionally until it was solid but still soft.

So… about Lawson’s recipes… They don’t always work, do they? I’ve found her cake recipes to turn out excessively wet — with moist, steamy nooks filling the interiors and tough exteriors. When I noticed this in her Baklava Muffins, I thought she was either a baking mad genius or the opposite, because it was wetter inside than any other muffin I’d ever had, but it worked for the baklava style. When her Coca-Cola cupcakes just sank in the middle or never set, I wasn’t so contemplative.

But I’m beginning to see a pattern in all this. First of all, she often specifies slightly higher baking temperatures than most — 400F, instead of a more standard 325-350F. That would explain the wet inside/tough outside. But more importantly — and this is just my theory — I don’t think that much attention was given to translating her recipes from British specifications to American. There are scads of measurements like “1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons” and directions to use self-rising cake flour. And beyond that, I think that her flour is either different (flours can vary greatly among regions and countries), or it was converted to volume in a sometimes off way. So, what works for me is to a “dip and press” technique of measuring flour for her recipes — the technique that packs the most flour into the measuring cup because you dip the measuring cup into the flour and press it against the side to level it. Usually, I’d convert the recipe to grams or “spoon and level,” but the extra flour seems to help a lot. I wish that I’d just bought her book when I lived in London, so that at least I’d have consistent weight measurements.

Lemon-Bourbon Frosting: This recipe for the bourbon part. It’s a conf sugar buttercream, which I think of as American Buttercream (as opposed to French, Swiss, or Italian). Maybe I could have added lemon juice and/or peel to it for a lemon flavor, but I had some leftover lemon cream from the pavlova… so I folded them together. I tasted it, and added more bourbon. It worked well — it had the silky creaminess of a French buttercream with the comforting sweetness of an American buttercream.

And I’m not saying that you should make a batch of lemon cream just to make this wily frosting, but I’m not saying that you’ll be disappointed if you do, either.

The only catch about doing this is that the lemon cream, with all its eggs, needs to be refrigerated. So, once this frosting goes on the cupcakes, the cupcakes need to be stored in the fridge and brought to room temp before eating b/c the frosting gets pretty solid (especially with all the butter in the bourbon frosting). The crystallized mint leaf shouldn’t be chilled, though… so, sigh, keep those separately in an airtight container…. Or really, just make sure that the cupcakes get eaten before you even have to think about storage.

Lime-Bourbon Syrup: I wanted it to be pretty thin, so I used a 1p sugar: 1p water syrup, and then eyeballed in some lime juice and whiskey. I tasted it, and added more bourbon.

I brushed it on top of the cupcakes a few times before frosting them.

Crystallized Mint: I thought I could just make these like I crystallize grapes — brush with egg whites, coat in sugar, and let dry — but no. The leaves stay soft that way, and it’s pretty gross.

So, I found the recipe on this page, which advises baking them either slowly at a low temperature or quickly at a high temperaure. Baking them quickly resulted in this:

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That was also gross.

So, knowing that all I wanted to do was dry the leaves out some, I quickly prepared some more mint leaves, and put them on the hot baking sheet. When I checked them later, they were just dry and crisp. Woohoo.

5 Responses to “The Bourbon Cupcake”

  1. Sweet Napa » Blog Archive » Cranberry Curd Tartlets Says:

    […] « The Bourbon Cupcake […]

  2. Marit Says:

    Hi, I’ve used many ‘original’ Lawson’s recipies and they have always worked perfectly, so I suspect your theory about sloppy translation is right. I really enjoy your blog – hope you find an interesting job! -M

  3. Nina Says:

    Thank you, Marit! The book must have just come out when I was living in London in 2000, b/c it was e v e r y w h e r e… but I was too much of a tomboyish film person at that point to even think about leafing through it. Ah, follies of youth!

    In the future, I think that when I find a recipe of hers that I want to make in one of my books, I’m going to look for an online metric version… just in case.

  4. Garrett Says:

    Wow, this and the craberry curd. You totally beat me. I came across your blog when researching ideas for some cupcakes I plan to do. Namely a chocolate bourbon cupcake.
    Nice job and congrats on graduating. I so plan to add you to my blogroll.
    Shibby site and shibby recipes all around! Luvs it!

  5. Nina Says:

    🙂 Thanks, Garrett!

    It’s funny — I came across your blog earlier this week when I was figuring out pairings for cranberries… and I’ll soon be posting about a cousin for your pear & cranberry cupcakes — pear and cranberry pie.

    And a chocolate bourbon cupcake? Awesome. I’m looking forward to the post.

    I’m currently working on another pairing for bourbon: lapsang souchong tea. I think the smokiness from the tea’ll be quite shibby. 🙂

    And by the way, I went to the UC-Davis law school for a little while… and I miss the Davis farmer’s market more than anything else!

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