Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cupcakes For a Cause

I think I managed to make it to the ripe old age of about 24 before I broke down and sampled sweet potato casserole.  Something about the combination of vegetables and marshmallows just always made me wary.  Probably for the same reason that I won't drink that V8 Splash "fruit" juice.  They may have the kids fooled, but I know there's carrots in there.  Eventually I realized that sweet potato casserole is just a dessert masquerading as a side dish, and now it's a staple that I always look forward to this time of year.

When fellow blogger Thrifty DC Cook asked me to donate cupcakes for a bake sale benefiting the DC State Fair, I was more than happy to oblige.  This year's inaugural fair was an excellent event, and the idea of the bake sale was a focus on local ingredients with a fall theme.  While I couldn't manage to find any locally-grown marshmallows (that's a joke, people), I was inspired by another DC food blogger--Department Of Plate--to incorporate my new found love of sweet potato into cupcake form for the fall theme.  The bake sale is going on now at the 14th & U Farmer's Market, so DMVers act NOW NOW NOW and these cupcakes can be yours!  Come out between 9am-1pm to support the DC State Fair, meet some of the most awesome bloggers ever, and sample all of the excellent local vendors.

A couple of notes:  this recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart's cupcake tome--I halved it, as the original makes an astounding 28 cupcakes.  Also, I used a marshmallow frosting for this, but feel free to just use mini-marshmallows in honor of the original casserole.  And, if you don't have a kitchen torch, you can always just toast your topping of choice by popping them under the broiler for a few seconds, being careful not to catch your cupcake wrappers on fire, of course. Safety first.

Candied Sweet Potato Cupcakes
2 pounds (about 3 medium) sweet potatoes, scrubbed
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp coarse salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups miniature marshmallows (or marshmallow frosting, below)
Candied pecan pieces (optional, below)

1. Preheat oven to 400°. Pierce sweet potatoes with a fork and place on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake until completely soft and juices begin to seep from the potatoes and caramelize, about 1 hour. Reduce oven to 325°.

2. When cool enough to handle, slice potatoes in half lengthwise and use a fork to scrape the flesh from the skin into a bowl, discarding skins. Mash potato with fork until smooth. (You should have about 2 cups.)

3. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and both sugars until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in mashed sweet potatoes and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add the flour mixture in three batches, beating until completely incorporated after each.

4. Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, about 28 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes.
5. Make topping: Dividing evenly into 4 mounds, place marshmallows on a large baking sheet or nonstick baking mat. Using a small kitchen torch, brown marshmallows all over (or heat under the broiler). With an offset spatula, transfer mounds to cupcakes, and top with candied pecans.

Marshmallow Frosting
8 eggs whites
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1. Place egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in the heatproof bowl of an electric mixer. Set over a saucepan with simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar is dissolved and whites are warm to the touch, 3 to 4 minutes.

2. Transfer bowl to electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and beat, starting on low speed, gradually increasing to high, until stiff, glossy peaks form, 5 to 7 minutes. Add vanilla, and mix until combined. Makes enough to frost 2 dozen cupcakes.

Candied Pecans
1/2 cup pecan pieces
4 Tbs water
4 Tbs sugar

1. Place pecans, water and sugar in a small saucepan.  Stir to dissolve the sugar, and bring to a simmer. Simmer 7-10 minutes, until golden and coated.  Remove pecans to parchment and allow to cool.

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