Gingerbread Cupcakes for a Special Birthday

November 21st, 2009

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Does anyone else have a noticeable uptick in friends’ birthdays around this time of the year? November to me is not just the month that marks the beginning of the holidays, but also the beginning of the birthday onslaught. I have my theories as to why (consider that Valentine’s Day occurs 9 months earlier…hmm…) but come November I always prepare myself for a blizzard of parties, presents, and birthday cakes.

Of course, one very special November birthday for me is that of the boyfriend (Fun fact: I have two sisters and both of their significant others have their birthdays this month as well. It’s a birthday barrage, I tell you!) I asked the guy what kind of cake he would like for his birthday and he replied, “Gingerbread!”

Naturally my guy is so awesome that he will actually pick a cake that’s seasonal :) Something dark, lush, spicy, and note-perfect for the holidays. Gingerbread has such a fabulously complex history as well – it was one of favorite cookies to research for my cookie book. The word gingerbread is a corruption of the ancient French word gingebras, and originally referred to preserved ginger, a costly and coveted spice during medieval times.

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It wasn’t until the 15th century that gingerbread was used to describe cakelike concoctions made with treacle and flavored with ginger. This spicy treat evolved differently around Europe: in some countries gingerbread remained soft and cakelike, while in other places it morphed into a dough that was pressed into wooden molds and baked into crisp, intricately imprinted plaques. In England treacle was still used to flavor gingerbread, while in other places molasses and honey were substituted. The German city of Nuremberg became famous for its honey-flavored version of gingerbread, known as lebkuchen. Formed in elaborately carved molds, lebkuchen were true edible art. Over in colonial America, the use of carved molds slowly gave way to simpler tin cutters, leading to the gingerbread cookies best known in the US today. Gingerbread in cake form isn’t quite as well known here, but if you like a little spice with your sweet, this may just be your thing.

I was really itching to use my mini cupcake pan again, so the recipe turned into gingerbread cupcakes topped with a swirl of lemon creme chantilly and a bit of candied lemon peel. I love the contrast between the rich, spicy cake and the clean tang of the whipped cream – like fresh snow on Christmas firs. No two gingerbread recipes are the same – like the bakers of old, you can use your favorite combination of spices. I like a mix of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. A generous measure of brown sugar swirled with dark molasses gives the gingerbread its robust, heady sweetness and enticing brown hue.

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Be sure not overbake these cupcakes, especially if you’re making mini ones. I also poured the leftover batter (once I’d filled up the muffin tin) into a loaf pan, which baked up into a really lovely, very moist little cake. Also, wait to frost the cupcakes until you’re ready to serve them, since the whipped cream can’t keep for very long outside the fridge and refrigerating the cupcakes will make them hard.

The making of these cupcakes also coincided with a package I received from Challenge Butter. Along with some cooking tools from OXO I got a selection of Spice Islands Spices that I was “challenged” to use to create a holiday dessert recipe. The spices turned out to be perfect for this gingerbread cupcake recipe! One can never have enough spices in the house, especially during the holidays – or a busy birthday season!

I hope you enjoy these little lovelies as much as the birthday boy did!

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Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Creme Chantilly

makes about 30 mini cupcakes

Cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups (210 g) all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 g) ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 g) ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 g) salt
  • 2 ounces (55 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (100 g) light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (130 g) dark molasses
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (115 g) whole milk

Lemon Creme Chantilly

  • 1 cup (230 g) whipping cream
  • 4 tablespoons (56 g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 g) lemon extract

For the cupcakes:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a mini muffin tin with cupcake papers.
  • Sift flour, baking soda, spices, and salt together into a medium bowl. Set aside.
  • Combine butter and brown sugar in a stand mixer bowl. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  • Combine molasses and eggs together in a small bowl. Add to mixer and beat until combined.
  • Add flour mixture and milk in 5 alternating additions, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Beat until well combined.
  • Divide batter among muffin cups, filling about 3/4 full. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove when a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool on wire rack.

For the frosting:

  • When ready to decorate, put whipping cream in a clean mixer bowl and whisk on medium until it begins to thicken. Add in the confectioners' sugar and whisk until soft peaks begin to form. Add lemon extract and whisk just to combine.
  • Scrape whipped cream into piping bag fitted with a small star tip and pipe swirls onto cupcakes.

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