Thursday, March 28, 2013

Ombre Almond Cupcakes

Happy Easter, Passover, and Cesar Chavez Day!  We decided that we loved the sparkly ombre trend so much that we wanted to carry it over to our baking.  Thus these ombre sanding sugar topped almond cupcakes were born!

We saw these cupcake liners in the sales bin at Michael's and just knew that we had to get them for a spring baking project.  Though we traditionally prefer Linzer-style cakes when it comes to almond cakes, this recipe yielded the lightest and most moist cupcakes ever.   And the Italian meringue buttercream is our "go-to" buttercream recipe.  We're already thinking that both these recipes can serve as great bases for other combinations -- hazelnut cupcakes with chocolate buttercream anyone?

Ombre Almond Cupcakes

DIY Colored Sanding Sugar

1/2 cup clear/white sanding sugar
Food coloring gel of your choice (we used AmeriColor's soft gel paste food coloring)

Place sanding sugar in a Ziploc bag.  Place a small drop of the food coloring gel into the bag (small drop!  A little goes a long way).  Seal bag and shake/knead mixture until uniform in color.  Be sure to break up any clumps.  Pour out mixture into a plate or bowl and allow to air dry.  Transfer back and store in a sealed bag or container.

Almond Cupcakes 
(adapted from this recipe)

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
1 2/3 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup ground almonds (we ground our own almonds in a food processor)
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line cupcake pan with liners.

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and ground almonds.  In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream butter and sugar with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs one at a time and then add the vanilla and almond extracts.   Alternating between the flour and the milk, beat until just incorporated, scraping the sides as necessary.  Fill cupcake pan 2/3 full and bake for ~20 minutes (this will vary with your oven) until a toothpick comes out clean.

Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool to room temperature before frosting.

Italian Buttercream
(We halved the recipe and substitute almond extract for vanilla extract.  Full recipe here)

1 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup water
4 large egg whites
2 cups unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
1 tsp almond extract

Combine 3/4 cups of the sugar with the water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Stir to dissolve the sugar then allow to cook without stirring until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the wire whisk attachment.  When the sugar has reached approximated 230 degrees F, whip the egg whites on medium speed to soft peak consistency.  Add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and beat until the egg whites hold to medium peaks.

When the sugar syrup reaches 240 degrees, stream the hot syrup into the egg whites with the mixer running on medium speed, allowing it to run down the side of the bowl.  Increase the speed to high and continue to whip until the meringue has cooled to room temperature and the bowl is no longer warm to the touch.

Add the cubed butter gradually, mixing after each addition until fully incorporated.  Blend in the almond extract and store in an air-tight container.  May be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Assembling the Cupcakes

Top the cupcakes with the buttercream (we piped them with a pastry bag fitted with a round tip and then smoothed the top with a pastry spatula).  Dip or sprinkle with the colored sanding sugar.  If you want to achieve an "ombre" effect, dip each half into the colored sanding sugar.  Place the cupcakes on a large baking sheet lined with wax paper.  Sprinkle the middle with your third colored sanding sugar.  The wax paper on the bottom will catch any excess sanding sugar and should have all three colors.  Sprinkle this mixture to finish the "ombre" effect.


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