Spiced Apple Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

Apple season is here! In fact, according to this story, the season has arrived a bit ahead of schedule. So in honor of my favorite food, here’s a recipe for my apple cupcakes.

Spiced Apple Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting, photo by Squire Fox

It took me several attempts to figure these cupcakes out—to come up with a recipe that was full of apple flavor without being mistaken for a breakfast muffin. Among the experiments: a liquid apple butter center, a scattering of finely diced apples. Finally, I considered adding boiled cider, which is just very concentrated apple juice. It did the trick, adding rich flavor to the batter while also producing a very tender, identifiably cakelike product. Spiced cream cheese frosting was the perfect finish. Honestly, I can’t think of any cake that wouldn’t be improved by cream cheese frosting. And it’s so much easier to make than buttercream.

Recipe for Spiced Apple Cupcakes

Note: This recipe has a large yield, 24 cakes. I think this is a sensible amount for most birthday parties—plenty of people will eat two cakes each. However, you can cut the recipe in half fairly easily—most everything divides into two, except for the eggs and the boiled cider. In that case, use 2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk and 3½ tablespoons boiled cider. (You can order boiled cider from the King Arthur Flour catalog or from Wood’s Cider Mill at woodscidermill.com.). The frosting divides neatly in half.

Make-ahead tip: You can bake the cupcakes up to a week in advance. When cool, arrange them on a cookie sheet and put in the freezer. When frozen, transfer them to zip-top bags. You can make the frosting up to four days in advance. Bring everything to room temperature before frosting.

Equipment: 2 standard (2½-inch) muffin pans; paper liners

Makes: 2 dozen cupcakes

Active time: 1 hour • Total time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Ingredients for Spiced Apple Cupcakes

  • For the cupcakes:
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks; 227 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups (420 g) granulated sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups (510 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ⅓ cup (80 ml) boiled cider (see Note)
  • 1 cup (240 ml) whole or 2% milk, at room temperature
  • For the frosting
  • 2 (8 ounce) packages (455 g total) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick; 113 g) salted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups (240 g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method for Spiced Apple Cupcakes

Preheat the oven to 325ºF and set a rack to the middle position.

Using a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment or a hand-held mixer, combine the butter and sugar at medium-high speed until pale, very fluffy, and mousselike, 7 to 10 minutes (I usually average about 8 minutes). Stop every few minutes to scrape down the sides of your bowl with a spatula—you want everything evenly mixed, with no clumps of butter.

While you’re waiting for the butter and sugar to whip, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and ginger in a medium bowl. Whisk together and set aside.

When the butter-sugar mixture is fully whipped, add 1 egg and continue mixing at medium-high speed until fully combined. Repeat with the remaining 4 eggs. Add the vanilla.

In a small bowl, stir the boiled cider into the milk. It may look a bit curdled—that’s fine. Add about a third of the flour mixture to the butter-egg-sugar mixture and mix on low speed just until combined. Do not overmix. Add about a half of the milk mixture and mix just until combined. Repeat with the flour, then the milk, then the flour.

Using a ⅓ cup measuring cup or large spoon, fill each muffin cup two-thirds of the way. Bake until the tops of the cakes are firm but still pale and a cake tester comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.

While the cupcakes are baking, make the frosting: Using your standing mixer fitted with a whisk or paddle attachment or a hand-held mixer, combine the cream cheese, butter, confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. Beat well, scraping down the sides once or twice, until evenly combined. Set aside.

When the cakes are done, remove from the oven and let cool in the pan on a rack for

10 minutes before removing, then let cool for at least 30 minutes before frosting. Frost generously.

Revisited: Pleasures of the flesh

I originally wrote this post for my first blog, California Eating, back in September 2006. Since then, I’ve tried to get my hands on Pink Pearl apples every year, even after we moved back to Massachusetts in 2007. Sadly, my normal supplier, Randy at Kiyokawa Family Orchards in Oregon, reports that their entire 2011 crop was lost to a blossom freeze back in the spring. And I’m too late for the California crop! Too bad. Anyone know of any other WA/OR sources?

So here’s an apple you probably won’t find on the east coast: the Pink Pearl. Isn’t it pretty? Like the Gravenstein, it’s a summer variety, which means we’re now at the tail end of the season. Sigh.

The breed is popular with apple enthusiasts, but because it bruises easily and doesn’t keep well in storage, it never made it to the supermarket shelves.

To make matters worse, Pink Pearls are homely on the outside, with dull yellow-brown, faintly blushing skin and an uneven conical shape. I almost skipped over them at the farmers market myself. But they have a secret: inside, they’re positively vampy, with shockingly pink, sweet-tart flesh. Even the blooms are bright pink. The fruit is crisp and tastes of raspberries and lemon custard. In fact, I baked some Pink Pearls in a galette with raspberries and they were a natural pairing.

The first Pink Pearl was hybridized in Northern California in 1944 from another red-fleshed variety called “Surprise,” which, in turn, probably descended from an ancient breed of red-fleshed Turkish crabapples. “Surprise” apples were beautiful, but sour; a plant breeder named Albert Etter came up with with Pink Pearl as a way to breed more sweetness into them. So I’m giving thanks to him and to the farmers who keep these heirlooms in circulation.