Alexander Turns Ten: Burnt-Butter Brown-Sugar Cupcakes and Strawberry Supreme Cake

It's hard for me to believe that Alexander, my friend Dorothy's son, has just turned ten. This also marks my tenth year of baking Alexander a birthday cake. Usually Alexander tells me in person or over the phone what kind of cake he wants, or Dorothy passes along his request. But I suppose it's a sign of the times and Alexander's age that this year he sent me an email (with perfect spelling and syntax, I should add) requesting a Strawberry Supreme Cake, and a "surprise" cake or cupcakes.

I spent some time pondering the "surprise" cake request. Alexander still doesn't eat chocolate, so that narrowed it down quite a bit. I wanted something a little more interesting than vanilla, so I decided to try Nigella Lawson's recipe for "Burnt-Butter Brown-Sugar Cupcakes" from How to Be a Domestic Goddess. In theory, this is a quick and easy recipe. When I tried it, it was certainly easy, but it just took a bit longer that I had expected.

What Nigella calls "burnt" butter is what we would refer to as "browned" butter -- and I personally think that the latter sounds much more appetizing (I like the French term even better, "beurre noisette"). Both the cupcake batter and frosting call for browned butter, but it's butter that's been browned and then allowed to cool at room temperature until it re-solidifies but is still soft. I browned butter for the cupcake batter, strained it, and waited for it to solidify. I normally use browned butter in liquid form (although I have put browned butter in the refrigerator to solidify it), so I had no idea how long it would take. The recipe says the cooling process "shouldn't take long," but it took longer than two hours. Fortunately I was able to pass the time by baking the Strawberry Supreme Cake while I waited.

Once the butter is ready, the recipe is easy. You just stick the butter in the food processor along with cake flour (it's supposed to be self-rising, but I just added some baking powder to regular cake flour), sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, and baking powder. You blitz the mixture until smooth and add milk until you get a "dropping consistency" batter. You're supposed to get 12 cupcakes from a batch of batter, but I made a double batch and only got 17 cupcakes. The recipe says to bake the cupcakes at 400 degrees, but that seemed like it would be too hot, so I went with 375 degrees instead.
For the frosting, you need to brown more butter, strain it, and again wait for it to solidify. Then you beat the butter with powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla extract until you reach a "good consistency." The recipe instructs you to "smear [the frosting] messily over the cooled and waiting cupcakes" while it's still soft. I wanted to pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes, so I made sure it was a little stiff. Because I made a double batch of frosting but only had 17 cupcakes, each cupcake was piled high with frosting. I used a sprinkle of non-pareils for garnish. 

This recipe produces a tender and fluffy cupcake with a strong browned butter flavor. The frosting also has the nutty flavor of browned butter, but it was quite sweet. I think the frosting was a bit much, especially in the large quantities I had piped onto each cupcake. I wonder if a pinch of salt in the frosting might have helped tamp down the sweetness a little. (Alexander wasn't shy in opining that there was too much frosting for him -- I suggested that he coordinate with another boy at his birthday party who had licked off all the frosting from his cupcake as if it were an ice cream cone, leaving the cupcake itself untouched.) But at least for the rest of the elementary school set, the cupcakes were a hit.

Of course, I also made Alexander's requested Strawberry Supreme Cake. Instead of using fresh fruit in the cake, I added 40 grams of crumbled freeze-dried strawberries into the cake batter. For the cake filling, I made Rose Levy Beranbaum's Strawberry Puree and Sauce from The Cake Bible and folded it into some of the vanilla buttercream from the Strawberry Supreme Cake recipe; I filled the cake with the resulting pink strawberry buttercream and a little strawberry jam. I covered the cake in vanilla buttercream that I left white instead of dying it pink as I normally do, and garnished the cake with fresh strawberries.
I'm happy to report that Alexander loved his strawberry cake, finishing off two sizeable slices. Most of the adults in attendance also opted for the cake instead of the browned butter cupcakes. I consider both desserts a success.

Previous Posts:
Previous Alexander Birthday Baked Goods: Alexander Turns Nine (Antique Caramel Cake and Classic Carrot Cake Cupcakes); Alexander Turns Eight (Carrot Cupcakes and Strawberry Cupcakes); Seven (Fraisier); Six (Rose Levy Beranbuam's Carrot Cake): Five (Riva's Carrot Cake): Four (Red Velvet Cupcakes and Brownies): Three (Red Velvet Cake and Salted Fudge Brownies); and Two (Restaurant Eve Cake).