There are few things better in life than the tickle of creative energy that skitters down ones spine in a moment of genius. And I should know, because I TOTALLY had one :) Moment of genius, that is. And that, dear Cake Readers, is why today’s blog doesn’t just end with a recipe; today’s blog is a recipe.
It all started with that innocent trip to the mountains. After bringing home that glorious box of honeycrisp apples, my mind boggled with all of the things I could make. Apples. Apple pie. Applesauce. Apple fritters. Apple pancakes. Apple . . . cupcakes?
Well, why not?
The idea instantly took hold, and I spent the next few days brainstorming the idea. What would make the best apple cupcake? Cinnamon and apples, most likely. Maybe caramel? A healthy dose of vanilla? I even considered peanut butter (who doesn’t love apple slices with peanut butter?) I googled some recipes, but nothing fit the bill of the interesting yet totally delicious creation I could feel brewing within me.
As I churned out yet another apple pie last Friday, the answer hit me. Apple Pie Cupcakes! I was drooling already, and I hadn’t a clue what the cake would actually consist of. There were a few things I knew that I didn’t want: a spice-like cake, cream cheese frosting was out, as was anything too cloying. I wanted the flavors to be fresh, creamy even with a hint of its namesake as opposed to something too heavy handed.
As I turned the possibilities over in my head, I was forcibly reminded of when I was a kid of about eight or nine. I wanted so badly to be a good piano player. I could hear the beautiful music that I wanted to play in my head as I stood with my hands poised above the keys, ready to bring life to the composition. When at last I boldly struck out, the discordant mash of clashing notes never failed to surprise me. Why couldn’t I make the notes in my head come to life on the piano? Why must it always defeat me?
With the hopes and dreams of a perfect recipe floating through the ether, I was determined to bring the goodness to life. Most of the time, I am a recipe manipulator, tweaking tried and true recipes to hopefully improve some small part of them. This time, however, it was all me. Because of that, I knew it was possible that the resulting physical manifestation of the recipe in my head could be all wrong, jarringly out of tune as the notes of the piano had been so long ago.
By Saturday morning, my time was up: I had promised cupcakes to my fellow Heart of Carolina Romance Writers, and cupcakes I would deliver. Rolling up my sleeves, I pulled out all the normal ingredients for baking: Sugar, flour, vanilla and butter. Eggs, salt, baking powder, and a measuring cup filled with milk.
And finally, inspiration struck. What was apple pie without the crust? Pulling out the leftover crust dough from the fridge, I set to work rolling it out. I unearthed my biscuit cutter and cut round after round of crust disks. After filling my cupcake pans with liners, I dropped a disk of dough in the bottom of each, and tossed in the oven. Next, I whipped up the apple pie filling recipe, and popped that in the oven as well.
As the scent of pie filled the kitchen, I began to prepare my favorite vanilla cake recipe. For a bit of mischief and fun, I substituted applesauce for the sour cream, and tossed in a dash of cinnamon. The timer beeped, and I pulled out the pie crusts and apple filling. Excitement danced within me, and I grinned as I spooned the filling over the crust, then topped with the cake batter. It looked divine!
Into the oven the baby cupcakes went, and I set aside my expectations as I dove into the frosting. Even through the cake itself received a nice dose of cinnamon, I decided to go with a cinnamon vanilla buttercream frosting. It was a gamble, but I hoped that if I used a light hand, the flavors would please instead of overwhelm.
An hour later, the cupcakes were cooled, frosted, and awaiting the ultimate test. After a whole morning of preparation, would my recipe clash like the echoing roar of unskilled hands banging on a piano? Would it be like the Nutella incident of ’09, when I discovered sometimes even the most promising ideas could end in utter—and disgusting—failure? With hope and trepidation warring within me, I took my first bite. . . and nearly cried.
They were, my friends, near-tears of triumph. I may not be able to bring an instrument to life, but in this one moment, I made a handful of simple ingredients sing. The crunchy, flaking crust, the luscious, rich apple filling, the heavenly cinnamon apple cake and the light as air frosting melded like Mozart’s finest symphony, bringing joy to my heart and rapture to my taste buds.
I’ll never be a musician, never understand the language of music as played out over tiny black and white keys. But that day, I found that I did have the power to create beauty, just as musicians and composers have all through history. My medium was simply of a more culinary variety.
I hope that you try this recipe, my dear Cake Readers, despite the fact I know it is more labor intensive than usual. It is one of my finest creations, and I hope to share it with you, even if I can’t bake for you all in person.
On a side note, I must say that I find it ironic that the musical inclination gene may have passed me by, but it did indeed seed itself within my family—in my own brother, in fact, who once upon a time hated my hapless piano attempts most of all. He is now a continuous source of inspiration for me, pulling from the air the most beautiful of notes and setting them together in a way I could have only dreamed of as a child. For a ‘taste’ of my brother’s original creation, click here. For a taste of mine, scroll down :)
Apple Pie Cupcakes – a truly original creation by yours truly. This recipe makes 24 cupcakes
Crust: (and yes, you can just use the premade kind from the store) 1 full recipe will make enough for the crust bottom as well as the optional crust garnish
- 2 and 1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 cup shortening
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup ice water
Combine the flour, salt, and sugar, mix. Add shortening, and cut into flour using a pastry knife or two regular knives until mixture resembles coarse, pea-sized crumbs. Add water a little at a time, stirring with a fork until mixture clings together. Taking care not to over mix, divide the dough evenly and shape into 1 inch thick disks, wrap with plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator for 15 minutes.
- 2 apples - honeycrisp are my very favorite - Very thinly sliced and cut into small wedges (I use the apple peeler/slicer/corer that I got for $19 at the festival, but which they sell in novelty kitchen supply stores or online)
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 Tbsp cornstarch
- 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp. (a pinch) nutmeg
- 1 tsp lemon
Combine in bowl, tossing well. Place on a foil lined cookie sheet and put into preheated 400 degree oven for 20 minutes
Roll out pie crust. Cut out 24 small circles and place in the bottom of cupcake liners. Place into 400 degree oven for 10 min or until lightly browned.
Set apples and crusts aside to cool, lower the oven temp to 350, and make cake batter
- 1 stick butter – softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs – room temperature
- 1.5 cups self rising flour (or 1.5 cups cake flour, 2/3 tsp baking powder, and a pinch of salt)
- 1/2 cup milk – room temperature
- 1 heaping Tbsp apple sauce
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Cream butter and sugar for 3 minutes on medium speed. Add eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition.
Add 1/2 cup flour, then ½ of the milk and apple sauce, then 1/2 cup flour, the rest of the milk and apple sauce, then the final cup of flour.
Add the cinnamon and vanilla, mix.
Add a spoonful of the apple mixture to the top of each of the crusts inside the cupcake liners. Fill the rest of each cup with batter – about 2/3 to 3/4 full. For easy control and optimal neatness, place the batter in a gallon-sized Ziplock bag and snip one corner with a small hole.
Bake for about 14-16 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean from the middle of the cupcake. Cool on rack for 5 minutes before removing from pan.
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1/2 cup shortening
- 1 pound (about 4 cups) powdered sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2-3 Tbsp whole milk
Cream together butter and shortening. Add powdered sugar one cup at a time, moistening with milk 1 Tbsp at a time as needed. Add cinnamon, vanilla, and additional milk as needed for desired consistency.
Top cooled cupcakes with frosting and leaves formed from the leftover crust dough, brushed with egg and food coloring, and baked at 400 degrees until golden brown.
Is it a lot of work? Well, yeah. Is it worth it? Heck yeah!!