Guinness is Good for You

Christmas has come and gone, as has the 4-day weekend that went along with it. The snow seemed to follow us down South this year, which is an extremely rare occasion in December. I didn’t like that part, but the rest of the trip, for the most part, was a blast.

Plus, the majority of the gifts I took home were cookbooks, or cooking paraphernalia of some sort. A girl like me can’t complain about that.

One of the highlights of said cookbooks was David Lebovitz’s newest brainchild, Ready for Dessert (thanks, Les!). I haven’t had the chance to read the book from cover to cover (yes, I do read cookbooks… shut it), but I most certainly hunkered down for a few moments after ripping the gift open to peruse long enough to find a seemingly sure-fire recipe to test out over the holiday.

It should be no surprise that I stopped, dead in my tracks, at a recipe with these two words: ginger and Guinness.

I’ve really developed quite an affinity for dark beers lately, and Guinness is an obvious go-to in that category – they are chocolatey, nutty, and perfect for this weather. I’m sure most any porter or stout would work here, and had I been in an area loaded with a plethora of microbrew choices, I probably would have gone for a Breckenridge Vanilla Porter or a Left Hand Milk Stout (gotta support the southpaws, since I’m one of ’em!), but really, you can’t go wrong with Guinness. Plus, it’s good for you, remember?!

Although I had no doubt (ok, a little, since the batter appeared ‘watery’), these cupcakes did not disappoint. They are light and fluffy, each bite into the ‘cake creating a small indention, but then a quick spring back – like the dough for bread when first kneading. The ginger and Guinness are definitely palpable, but so is the molasses, and we all know how much I love that. Naked, they are certainly sweet, almost cloyingly so, but the frosting, kicked up with a few squirts of lime, adds enough zip to provide perfect balance. They smell fresh, bursting with citrus and all things good in the world.

You could make them now, today, and finish up 2010 with a bang. Or you can hold out for a couple of days, and start the New Year off right – with more ginger, more molasses, and even better – more Guinness. That’s a resolution I can easily stick with, and you should too.

Guinness-Gingerbread Cupcakes w/ Lime Frosting
Adapted, barely, from David Lebovitz’s Ready for Dessert; makes 12

time commitment: 1 hour, plus cooling

printable version

1/2 c Guinness
1/2 c molasses
1/2 c vegetable oil
1/4 t baking soda
3/4 c packed light brown sugar
1 1/3 c ap flour
1 1/4 t baking powder
2 t g ginger
1 t g cinnamon
1/8 t g nutmeg
1/2 t salt
2 large eggs, room temp
1/2 c finely minced candied ginger, plus garnish

4 T unsalted butter, room temp
1 1/2 c powdered sugar
3 T lime juice
1 T whole milk

preheat oven to 350 F. line 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners.

in a large saucepan, bring Guinness, molasses, and oil to boil over med-hi. remove from heat and whisk in baking soda until dissolved. stir in brown sugar and let cool.

in a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, spices, and salt.

whisk eggs into cooled brown sugar / Guinness mixture, then whisk in flour mixture until incorporated, being careful not to overmix. stir in minced ginger.

divide batter among cupcake liners and bake 22-24 minutes. cool completely on a wire rack.

meanwhile, make the frosting. beat butter on high speed until smooth and with speed on low, add in 1/2 of the powdered sugar. scrape down sides, add the lime juice and the remaining powdered sugar, and beat again, finishing by adding the milk. beat until fluffy, and add more lime juice if desired.

frost cooled cupcakes with lime frosting and garnish with ginger, if desired.

Icing on the Cupcake

My (pound cake) gramma’s house, the house where my dad chased rattlesnakes, cured tobacco in the barn throughout his summers, and where he to-this-day parks his 1984 Nissan pick-up truck (the same pick-up truck in which I learned to drive stick shift, and the same one I stole Doral ultra-lights from in high school) is flanked by a now non-functioning outdoor wash basin and sink, a swing set, and a pe-can tree that stretches up towards the sun. I remember spending my summers there, and when I wasn’t in awe at my grandmother and her quilting club or climbing the rafters in the tobacco barn, I was picking pe-cans from that tree with my bro.

We loved us some pe-cans, and we may have loved picking them up and filling those buckets even more.

I’ve also been known to fancy a dollop of molasses on a buttermilk biscuit (and gladly licked the dripping syrup before fastening the jar); it seems only natural to be an avid fan of a sugar + molasses marriage, brown sugar.

These things, these humble ingredients, they work perfectly together. Brown sugar + pecans = soulmates.

And just in case the words brown sugar and pe-can aren’t really quite doing it for you, how about the word ‘caramel’? Thought so, it works every time! For me at least, and I’ve been known to eat the caramel topping without even eating the dessert itself, even when involved with a favorite of mine, bread pudding.

But this icing, oh, this icing; it’s madly insanely good. The strange thing is, I used to never be an icing girl. I used to swipe it to the plate, enjoying the cake itself far better. But homemade icing is a monster I cannot tame, and although the one that gets me is usually of the cream cheese variety, I think I found my oh so very close second.

Brown Sugar Pecan Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting
Adapted from Bon Appetit, makes 12

the icing is good as is, but i’ve heard you could leave out the egg yolks, if you like, without it affecting the overall taste or texture. next time, i’ll try that. the icing recipe makes enough for two batches of cupcakes, unless you use ALOT of icing, or unless you eat it from the bowl while you’re frosting (not that anyone would do that, right?!). as for the cupcakes, i added a little more sour cream to the recipe below to moisten them up a bit, and cut back on the baking time.

printable version

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 c all purpose flour
1/2 c cake flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t fine sea salt
1 1/4 c coarsely chopped toasted pecans
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c (packed) golden brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 c sour cream
1 t vanilla extract

1 c sugar
1/4 c water
1/2 c heavy whipping cream
2 large egg yolks
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/8 t fine sea salt
1 c powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 c coarsely chopped toasted pecans

Put rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 350°F. Spray 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick spray; line with muffin cups.

Whisk both flours, baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt in medium bowl. Stir in chopped, toasted pecans. Beat butter in large bowl until smooth. Add brown sugar; beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating to blend between additions. Beat in sour cream and vanilla. Add dry ingredients; beat on low speed just to blend. Divide batter among muffin cups.

Bake cupcakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool in pan on rack 15 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool.

Stir sugar and 1/4 cup water in medium saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to med-hi; boil until syrup turns deep amber, 6 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat; add cream (mixture will bubble up and try to harden). Stir over low heat until caramel bits dissolve; may require additional heat, if so – stir over medium heat. Whisk egg yolks in medium bowl. Very gradually whisk hot caramel into yolks. Cool to room temperature.

Using electric mixer, beat butter and salt in large bowl until smooth. Beat in caramel. Add powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Let stand at room temperature until thick enough to spread, about 1 hour.

Spread frosting over cupcakes. Top with a few pecans.