Beautiful Days and Brown Butter Cakes
24 Jan 2007

I'll let you in on a secret. It's not really all that dark and rainy in the Pacific Northwest. Sure, it rains sometimes. Sure, it's grey and cloudy sometimes. Particularly in the winter. But, those days are there for a reason. They provide a much needed contrast for days like today. Days, when I look out the window, and I am filled with glee at the warm sunshine streaming in and reeling in the blue-blue sky punctuated with just the occasional fluffy cloud. A day like today, in SoCal would likely go unnoticed and unappreciated. A day like today, might even be considered too cold. But, I know better. I am my probably my happiest on those surprise bluebird days after a long stretch of curl-up-on-the-couch grey drizzle. Which is kind of the way I feel about the almond brown-butter cupcakes I made yesterday for Chockylit & Vanilla Garlic's Cupcake Roundup. Perhaps in a world surrounded by gorgeous creations from Magnolia Bakery or Sprinkles, they would be overlooked. Standing up beside a red velvet or dark chocolate pomegranate, they may pale in comparison. But these little cakes, all on their own, are simply charming.

I found the recipe for the almond brown-butter cakes in The Last Course, by Claudia Fleming, and in fact, stacked up against page after page of luscious, over-the-top desserts, it was easy to flip by. But there was just something about the idea of the brown-butter that caught my eye and made me take notice. I'm glad I did, because these mini-cupcakes were a delight of texture and subtle sweetness. I topped some with an wispy orange meringue and left some plain. (PS: I wasn't planning on having a theme this week, but meringue seems to have taken over!)
Almond Brown-Butter Cupcakes (adapted from The Last Course, p 132) Makes about 15 small cakes The original recipe called for almond flour, but I didn't have any in the house. So, I substituted finely ground almonds which added more texture to my version. While I was at it, I also decided to use a whole wheat pastry flour instead of cake flour for an even nuttier flavor, upping the proportion a bit to make up for the missing almond flour. The original recipe also called for topping the cakes with sliced almonds. I left these off since I added almond grounds to the batter. 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter 1 1/3 cup confectioners' sugar 2/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour 1/2 cup blanched almonds, finely ground 4 large egg whites Preheat the oven to 400F. In a large skillet, heat the butter over medium heat until melted. Stir occasionally, and continue to heat until the milk solids start to turn golden brown. Strain the butter through a fine sieve and set aside. Sift the sugar and flour together in a large bowl (or the bowl of your electric mixer if you are using one.) Whisk in the almonds. Then slowly whisk in (on low speed) the egg whites until moistened. Continue whisking, a tiny bit quicker, and add the strained butter. Then, beat until smooth. At this point, you can refrigerate the batter if you are making it in advance. It should keep, well covered, for up to 3 days. If you are using paper liners, place them in the cups of a mini muffin tin. If not, butter and flour a baking tin. Spoon the batter into the cups, filling 1/2 way. Bake the cakes for about 15 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. Allow the cakes to cool completely. If topping with meringue, start the meringue while the cakes are cooling.
Sour Orange Meringue I used Seville sour oranges, for a nice, tart offset to the sugar in the meringue. If you don't have Seville oranges, you can substitute lemon for the juice and use the zest from any orange. 1 Seville "sour" orange 2 egg whites, at room temperature 8 T casters sugar Zest an orange to yield about 1/4 t. Then, squeeze it to give you about 1/2 t of juice. You don't need much of these at all for a strong flavor. Beat the egg whites to form soft peaks. Then, while continuing to beat, slowly add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, allowing each spoonful to be integrated before adding the next. The egg whites should turn beautifully glossy. Then slowly add the juice and continue to beat until it is incorporated. Fold in the zest. Pipe the meringue onto each cooled cupcake using a pastry bag with a small tip, or a ziplock bag with a small bit of the corner cut off. Dip the tip into the meringue and pull up to create little peaks and swirls. Place the meringued cupcakes onto a baking sheet, and set on the very top rack of your oven. Turn the broiler on high, and don't close the door! Watch them carefully and turn off the oven and remove as soon as they start to brown on the tops. Or, you could torch them each individually... I just think the oven trick is easier with so many cakes.

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