Sunday, October 28, 2007

Cup Cake Hero: Cloves, the Spice That Says Fall!

Two months ago, Laurie at Quirky Cupcake started a really too fun blogging event called, Cup Cake Hero for all of us big kids at heart to celebrate that little bite sized morsel of large sized taste, the cup cake. Each month Laurie picks a theme ingredient that must be used in the cake, the filling or the frosting. Laurie then picks a winner and awards them not only a really cool t-shirt but also the bragging rights of being a Cup Cake Hero!

This month, Laurie is sharing hosting duties with Stefani over at Cupcake Project and they chose one of my all time favourite spices as the ingredient for October, cloves! As soon Laurie and Stefani announced the ingredient, I knew exactly what I was going to bake to try and win me the title Cup Cake Hero, my grandmother's oatmeal spice cake with penuche frosting.

Oatmeal spice cake is an old fashioned New England classic that you don't find baked all that often anymore. Full of hearty spices, what separates this cake from other spice cakes is the cooked oatmeal that is added to the cake batter. The oatmeal makes the cake moist and most amazingly light. Penuche was the original flavour for fudge and originated in New England. Since my grandmother was born and raised outside of Boston, she brought this recipe for frosting with her when she moved to Michigan to marry my grandfather. Penuche is made by caramelizing brown sugar and adding milk and vanilla only. It has a flavour reminiscent to maple syrup and now in New England, you often find penuche made with maple syrup in addition to brown sugar. When you eat a slice of oatmeal spice cake with the penuche frosting, it is like eating a mouth full of the classic New England fall; complete with brilliant yellow, orange and red leaves and the crisp apple scented air!

Now on to my story of making my Cup Cake Hero entry (with apologies to the band Foreigner for improving their hit song "Jukebox Hero")

As soon as I got home from work the day Laurie and Stephani announced the theme, I opened my recipe box to pull out the stained index card my grandmother had written her cake recipe on (there really is no recipe for the penuche frosting she used, you just watched her make it and learned the recipe) and then scurried to my pantry to pull out all the ingredients and stopped dead in my tracks in horror...I was out of cloves!!! So off to the Super Stop and Shop I went to pick up the cloves and something quick for dinner because after all, I had some serious baking to do. If only it was going to be that easy...
"Standing in the store, with my head hung low
Couldn't get the ingredient, they were sold out of cloves
Heard the roar of the PA, and could picture the scene
The guy I sent to the back, just about to scream..."

I ask you, what store runs out of cloves??!! Seriously, was everyone in Connecticut cooking with cloves? Was there a special on ham that week?? DID SOMEONE STEAL MY CUPCAKE IDEA??!!! Thankfully, this little tale has a happy ending. After about ten minutes, the guy came back with little box full of jars of cloves. Pscheewww.... wiping a bead of sweat from my brow, I headed home to start making cupcakes!!
"That one jar of cloves, felt good in my hands
Didn't take long, to mix and blend..."

This recipe comes together so quickly and easily. Making the oatmeal the old fashioned way with rolled oats takes longer than assembling the rest of the batter. That is until I discovered a few years ago that using quick cooking oats works as well as the rolled oats my grandmother's recipe calls for but takes less than 5 minutes to get to the right consistency; especially if you pour the boiling water over the oats, give them a quick stir and then set them aside while you make the rest of the batter. All in all, it takes about fifteen minutes of active time before you are ready to pop the cupcakes in the oven to bake. An added benefit of these little gems is that while they are baking your kitchen and any connected room smells yummy with the scent of the cinnamon and cloves.
"In the oven by the window, in a heavy downpour
Thought I smelled heaven, when I opened the door"

Once the cupcakes are out of the oven and on the cooling rack, you make the frosting. This step is actually more time consuming than making the batter because the penuche frosting I use is an old fashioned boiled frosting. The key to a good boiled frosting is low to medium temperature and constant stirring while the milk, granulated or brown sugar and butter come to a boil before you add the rest of the liquid and confectioner's sugar.
"Now I need to keep stirrin'
I just can't stop
Gotta keep on stirrin'
Penuche's got to get on top.
So I can be a cup cake hero, got sugar in my eyes..."

You also have to let boiled frostings cool about 10 to 20 minutes before you can use them to frost a cake. With my grandmother's penuche frosting, I like to let it almost set up then give it a quick one to two minute beating with an electric mixer. It makes it fluffy and spreadable. I like to schmeer a generous amount of frosting on top of my cupcakes and then finish them with a little accent of something fun. For the penuche frosting, it was a little sprinkling of chopped walnuts on top.

And there you have it, my entry for this month's Cup Cake Hero, Oatmeal Spice Cupcakes with Penuche Frosting!
"So I can be a Cup Cake Hero, got sugar in my eyes
I'm a Cup Cake Hero, Took one ingredient to put stars in my eyes..."

Oatmeal Spice Cupcakes with Penuche Frosting

Oatmeal Spice Cupcakes:
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 cup quick cook oats
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinmamon
1/2 nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Prepare a 12 muffin pan with papers, grease papers and set aside. Pour boiling water over oats, mix and set aside. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves into a medium bowl and set aside. In a large mixer bowl with a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy. Add sugars and mix to combined. Reduce speed and add eggs one at time, mixing until combined and add vanilla. Add oat mixture slowly and then add flour mixture and mix until combined completely.

Fill prepared muffin papers 3/4 full and bake 15 - 17 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Penuche Frosting:
6 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp milk (whole or 2%)
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup very finely ground pecans or walnuts plus extra for topping the frosted cupcakes

In small saucepan melt the butter over medium low heat. Add the brown sugar and stir until melted and blended with the butter. Slowly pour in the milk, mix well and bring mixture to a boil. Scrape mixture into a medium bowl and let cool 10 minutes. Add the confectioners sugar and vanilla and beat with mixer until smooth. Mix in nuts. Let cool until spreading consistency and frost cupcakes.

Top cupcakes with sprinkling of nuts