Thursday, August 27, 2015

Nectarine Peach Cupcakes with Mango Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting (aka Still Alive!)

It has been roughly 15 months since my last post.  If anybody is actually following this blog, I apologize for disappearing.  There are lots of reasons for not updating but they all boil down to the same idea: life happened.  My job got very busy, I moved, traveled to other countries, got a lung infection that knocked me out for 3 months, my father got meningitis, my sister had a baby, I got called for jury duty, my sister had a baby, and various other stuff.  Unfortunately the jury duty was not for anything even remotely resembling My Cousin Vinny.

When I am stressed out or low on time and/or energy, I end up baking the same set of trusted recipes over and over again.  Last month I decided that it was time to start trying new recipes again so I signed up for a cupcake potluck with the theme of "Summer Cupcakes".  This summer has been very bad in the Bay Area: for all intents and purposes, we are out of water.  There are large wildfires all over the state and the Pacific Northwest, to the point where sometimes the air looks like the smog back in LA in the 1970's.  We are supposed to get a massive El Nino this winter but I'm not putting any faith in the weather predictions.  I did not make "on fire without any water" cupcakes but I was tempted to.

My new kitchen is large but old and very run down, so there's no counter space and very little storage space.  The oven is so old and disgusting that I have to remove the battery in the smoke detector every time I turn it on since it produces enough smoke to set the stupid thing off.  I've cleaned the oven numerous times but nothing can remove the build up due to 40 years of use.  I get a real sense of accomplishment when I produce anything from this oven that looks good, tempered with some serious frustration about how gross and difficult to use it is.

Be grateful you can't see how dirty it is.  I gave it a serious cleaning after making the cupcakes but nothing really helps.

This is all of the counter space in entire kitchen.

IKEA to the rescue: the "pantry" is made of two bookcases that were on clearance without the backs attached, and the FÖRHÖJA kitchen cart holds the dish rack, fruit bowl, and more storage.  The large window is nice to have.

I didn't have anything in mind for "summer cupcakes" so I just googled it to see what other people associated with the phrase.  One of the results was Martha Stewart's nectarine cupcakes.  They look so nice and fruity and summery that I decided to give them a try.  I also liked the idea of her strawberry meringue buttercream frosting recipe so I decided to combine the two ideas, except using mangoes instead of strawberries since mangoes are my favorite fruit.

I had never made meringue buttercream and was really intimidated.  However, I also had a new kitchen item that I had never used before: a KitchenAide stand mixer!  My mother bought it for me for Hannukah last year since I've been talking about buying one for years.  She also forgot to take the tag off so I saw that she got it on super-clearance for 50% off.  Why?  It is virulently pink.  Seriously,  I'm not kidding.

Apparently this color is due to some association with the Komen Breast Cancer foundation aka "pink ribbons for breast cancer".
It's hard to see in this picture, but the top of the stand mixer is hitting the bottom of the cabinet.  There is basically no room for the mixer on the counter.

If you're going to make a meringue buttercream, you want to have a stand mixer.  You could probably get the same result eventually with a hand mixer but my best guess is that it would take over an hour.  This is the first recipe I've ever made that seems like it would be impossible to make without a stand mixer.  Whenever a recipe has called for a stand mixer, I've found an alternative.  I have no idea what you could use here instead except to beat it by hand.  No bueno.

While googling swiss meringue buttercream, I found this lovely post on how to fix problems with it and her raspberry swiss meringue buttercream recipe.  I decided to use this recipe instead of Martha's because some of the comments on Martha's recipe described some serious problems.

Tips for the cupcakes:  this recipe uses nectarines but you can use any stone fruit (drupe) with it.  I decided to use one peach and one nectarine because the nectarines were a bit underripe and I was worried that the flavor would be lost.  Commenters on the original recipe used nectarines, peaches, and plums and had no problems with any of them and their combinations.

Peeling and chopping the fruit is really messy.  I did this step before anything else in the recipe so that I wouldn't have juicy, sticky hands if something went wrong.  It's okay to lose some fruit to the peeling process.  If you can't peel a peach or nectarine, you can mostly likely leave the skin on.  It may make the texture a bit odd but should be entirely edible.  I also chopped the fruit up into small cubes to ensure that they would bake completely.

If you forgot to take the butter out of the freezer like I did, you can speed up the softening process by chopping it up into small cubes and then microwaving them on 15-20 second intervals.  The key thing is to make sure that they are soft enough to beat but do not melt entirely into liquid.  If you do over-microwave the butter and it is entirely liquid, put the bowl with the melted butter in the fridge for 10-15 minutes.  It will re-solidify.  When it's soft but not liquid, continue with the recipe.

Follow the instructions on alternating the addition of the dry and wet ingredients.  This will prevent lumps from forming in your batter.

It may seem like there isn't very much batter, but you don't actually use very much for these cupcakes.  I only filled 2/3's of each cup with batter and the rest with fruit.

The batter is quite solid and doesn't spread very much by itself.  You will need to spread it out so that the first set of batter in the baking cups completely covers the bottom of each cup, and the second set of batter completely covers the fruit.  A circular motion with a spoon or a spatula works easily.  Make sure to cover the fruit so that none of it is exposed to the air.  You want the fruit juices to stay inside the cupcake when the fruit heats up and cooks.  The juice will evaporate if the fruit is not covered.

The cupcakes will be domed when you take them out of the oven but they will deflate and become slightly concave as they cool down and the air inside them is no longer expanded due to heat.  If this shape bothers you, you can put anything on top of the cupcakes and it will be disguised.  Martha's recipe calls for whipped cream but you can use any topping, like a fruit puree or any type of frosting or chopped or sliced fruit (or any combination of these).

Nectarine Cupcakes
Original recipe from Martha Stewart

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • Salt
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 medium nectarines, peeled, halved, pitted, and finely chopped (1 1/4 cups)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). 

Sift together flour, baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir together milk and vanilla.

Beat butter and sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. With mixer running, add eggs, 1 at a time. Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating twice with milk mixture.

Line a standard muffin tin with baking cups. Fill each with 1 tablespoon batter, 1 heaping tablespoon chopped nectarines, and an additional 2 tablespoons batter. Bake until edges begin to turn golden, about 25 minutes. Let cool in tin.

Yield: 12 cupcakes

This recipe uses a small number of ingredients.

A peeled peach and an unpeeled nectarine.

I'm overly proud of my ability to peel a fruit in one strip.

Chopped peach and nectarine.

Creamed butter and sugar.

With the wet and dry ingredients added.

Cover the entire bottom of the baking cup by smoothing out the batter in a circular motion.  Half of the cups are spread out and half aren't.

Peach/nectarine mix added to the baking cups.

Smooth the batter over the entire top of the fruit by repeating the circular motion.  Half covered, half not.

The cupcakes will deflate and become slightly concave.

Tips for the frosting:  any fruit that can be pureed is an option for flavoring this frosting.  If you're using a fruit that has small seeds on it (like strawberries, raspberries, etc.), you'll need to cook the fruit with some water and then strain the seeds out.  I should have done this with the mango but I just pureed it straight in a food processor.  This left small strands of mango in the frosting but I was the only one who noticed.

Separate each egg white into a different container before adding it to the group of egg whites.  This way, if something gets into the egg you're separating, it won't ruin the entire group of egg whites.

To make a double-boiler, put a small amount of water in a pot that has a smaller diameter than the bowl of the stand mixer.  Place the bowl that holds the egg whites and sugar in the pot and check that the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl.

The sugar will dissolve as the egg whites heat up and mixture will turn white.  Keep whisking while the double boiler is on.  You don't need to whisk quickly but you do need to whisk enough that the mixture is moving.  I don't have a cooking thermometer so I had to estimate how hot the egg whites were.  When I could put one fingertip in the egg whites and they were hot enough that I couldn't hold my finger in there for longer than about 30 seconds or so, I decided it was an acceptable temperature.  This took about 10 or 15 minutes or so over a medium heat.  You don't want to scorch the egg whites but you want them to be hot enough that the sugar has cooked a bit into the egg whites and is completely dissolved.  The mixture will be very runny as opposed to how thick it was at the beginning.

The egg whites and sugar really do need to be whisked for 10 minutes after you take the bowl off the heat.  This is for two reasons: to get a lot of air into the mixture, and to cool it down.  You should not add the butter until the egg whites are about room temperature.  If you add the butter too early and it melts, the frosting will not come together correctly and it will be liquid-y.  If this happens, put the bowl in the refrigerator for 10 minutes or so to make the frosting more solid, and then continue beating.

The butter must be room temperature.  If you've forgotten to take it out of the freezer, chop it up into small cubes and microwave them carefully on 10-15 second intervals.  You need the cubes to be somewhat soft but not runny or liquid.  If the frosting becomes more liquid as you add the butter, it is because the butter is melting.  Put the mixer bowl in the refrigerator for 10 minutes or so to make the frosting more solid, and then continue beating.

Do not add the butter all at once.  I added 1-2 tablespoons every 15-20 seconds.  Watch for the butter to be beaten into the frosting before adding the next set of butter cubes.

The frosting will come together quickly after you've added the butter (slowly).  The consistency will be very firm and the texture will be very smooth.  Some of the commenters on Martha's recipe said that it tasted like butter.  I thought it tasted a little bit like butter but the fruit flavor covered it up.

I added the mango puree several tablespoons at a time because I wasn't sure what it would do the frosting.  The texture was not affected at all.  I ended up adding about 1/2 cup of mango puree overall.  Just in case the consistency was affected, I continued beating the frosting for several more minutes.

As the Brewer and the Baker mentioned, this frosting can be stored in the fridge overnight, but it looks curdled when you take it out and start beating it.  This is most likely because the butter is not dissolved into the frosting but was beaten into it in very small chunks, and it defrosts slower than the rest of the frosting, resulting in very small chunks in the frosting.  I followed the instructions and microwaved about 1/4 of the frosting to make it more liquid and to dissolve the chunks, and then poured it back into the frosting and continued to beat it for another 5 minutes or so.  It returned to the lovely texture and consistency that it had the previous day.

This frosting is very easy to pipe with.  Note that it is quite solid and you will need to squeeze out any air bubbles in the piping bag when you add in more frosting.  I was not careful when adding more to the bag and ended up with gaps in the frosting when I was piping that I had to go back and fill in.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 4 egg whites
  • 3 sticks of butter (24 tablespoons), cut into cubes and at room temperature
  • Optional: 6 ounces fresh fruit (berries or soft fruits) and 2 tablespoons lemon juice


If you are flavoring the frosting with fruit, make a puree with the fruit by either processing it in a food processor or by cooking it with 1/4 cup water over medium heat for 5 minutes.  Break the fruit apart and strain any seeds out if necessary.

Whisk the sugar and egg whites together in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Place the bowl over a simmering pot of water and whisk until the eggs are very hot (160 degrees) and the sugar has completely dissolved.  With the whisk attachment, whisk on high until the mixture is light and fluffy and has cooled (~10 minutes).  If you are flavoring the frosting with fruit, add the lemon juice and fruit puree and continue whisking.

Switch to the paddle attachment and drop butter into the mixer 2-3 tablespoons at a time.  Beat until well mixed and then frost completely cooled cupcakes/cakes.

Leftovers store wonderfully in the fridge for weeks. Set the frosting out 1-2 hours ahead of time and then mix using the paddle attachment for a couple of minutes on medium.

Yield: frosting for 24 cupcakes

The original set of ingredients for making the frosting.  Both the whisk and paddle attachments are in this photo.

Combining the egg whites and sugar.

Homemade double-boiler.  Make sure the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl.

After heating and whisking.

Beginning to whisk the egg white/sugar mixture.

After several minutes, the egg white have stiffened up enough to hold whisk impressions.
Switching the whisk attachment to the paddle attachment.

24 tablespoons of butter.

With the butter beaten in.  The frosting is quite stiff and nearly solid at this point.

Pureeing the mangoes.

Adding in the mango puree a bit at a time.  The frosting is very stiff even with all of the mango puree beaten in.

Storing the frosting overnight.

As described, it looked curdled when I took it out of the fridge the next day and started beating it.

Halfway through working it back into a better consistency.

Ready to frost.

My sad attempt at piping.

With mango puree topping.  They looked a bit like sunny-side up eggs.

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