Ah, fall. That time of year when your Facebook and Instagram feeds are inevitably bombarded with endless images of cliche “basic” activities. Pumpkin patch poses, apple picking, wine tasting, shoe selfies with fall leaves, pumpkin spice lattes (pumpkin spice anything, really), fall-scented candles, you name it. For better or worse, it’s happening, so you might as well embrace it. As for me, when it comes to fall, I
shamelessly admittedly am a VIP member of club basic. My friend Sean would argue, “Baking isn’t basic,” but I’m pretty sure incorporating all things fall into baking at least partially qualifies. Plus Buzzfeed agrees with me. In all seriousness, fall really is my favorite season for baking. It ushers in three solid months of festive flavors and sweets-centered occasions. Baking this time of year seems to do something for your stomach and your soul, spreading a little bit of joy with every bite (yes, seriously). As Buzzfeed so eloquently puts it, “Basically, fall is the best time of the year.”
So what better way to kick off what should really be dubbed my fall “basic baking” series than Apple Spice Cupcakes with Maple Buttercream? The excuse to bake these beauties arose when my friend Jillian emailed me last week in need of “a dozen of something” for a gameday barbecue she had on Saturday. She wanted something fall-themed and in Alabama colors, since the hosts were Alabama fans. Jillian is a fellow Gator, so the Alabama part of the request would have normally made both of us cringe, but since it was a bye-week for us it was slightly more acceptable. Plus I am all about that SEC love (insert “SEC! SEC! SEC!” chant here). So I set out in search of a fall treat that could incorporate red and white. Hmm. I quickly remembered that fresh apples were stock-piled in our kitchen from an apple picking excursion one of my roommates had gone on (only the most basic activities for 328, obviously), and then I had it: Apple Spice Cupcakes. They were fall-themed, timely (it was still a tad early for pumpkin in my opinion), and Alabama-esque. Plus they’d be a great warm-up for the lumberjack-themed “tree stump” layer cake and Maple Bacon Cupcakes I’d be making for a Congressman’s birthday party a few days later.
When piecing together the elements of these cupcakes, I was looking for something hearty and with chunks of real apples. I love a good spice cake, but that’s just not the vision I had for these. I also didn’t want to predictably pair these with a salted caramel frosting. Again, there’s nothing I hate about the caramel and apple combo, but it’s just not what I was going for here. I eventually found a great cake recipe incorporating real apples and just the right amount of spice, and decided on a heavenly-sounding maple buttercream frosting to pipe on top. Perfection. I had also snagged some adorable little Wilton cupcake toppers at Target that would add just the right finishing touch.
The batter for these cupcakes was incredible. I was a little nervous about the recipe because the batter was a little thick – almost doughy – at first. Once you fold in the apples, though, it reaches the perfect consistency and has the most wonderful aroma. A few minutes after you pop these in the oven your whole house will smell like fall. And then this frosting. You guys, I can’t (what? I told you this was “basic” baking). It is so light and fluffy with just the right hint of butter and maple, and it plays off the cupcake flavors flawlessly. I added a few stripes of red gel food coloring to the piping bag before filling it with frosting to get a fun swirl effect on the edge of the piping, and then placed the little apples on top. These smelled so good and looked so cute that a part of me wished I didn’t have to give them away. In hindsight, though, it was absolutely for the best. They were so unbelievably good – with the heartiness and spice of the cupcakes balanced out by the subtle richness and sweetness of the icing – that I inevitably would’ve consumed an embarrassing number of them.
The other up-side to this little project (and the fact that these turned out so cute!) was that I’d get a chance to experiment with my new camera some more. I quickly learned that a great camera is worthless if you don’t have a clue how to use it, so I had been doing lots of reading about food photography and how to best capture the look and feel you’re going for with a particular shot. For those of you also trying to learn, Sally’s Baking Addiction (one of my favorite baking blogs) has some great tips! After reading through all of her material, my pictures improved exponentially from the ones I had taken just the weekend before. It’s certainly an ever-evolving learning process, but it made styling and shooting the cupcakes that much more fun. And better pictures, in turn, make it that much more fun for you when you read these little posts. Everybody wins!
Except me when I had to give these cupcakes to their rightful owner. Now that it’s October, kick off the season with a batch of these delectable treats. They’ll definitely set the tone for what I’m sure will be a very basic fall for each and every one of you. And don’t worry, there’s much more “basic” baking to come.
Apple Spice Cupcakes with Maple Buttercream
Apple Spice Cupcakes (from French Press):
1 cup of sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup of flour
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp apple pie spice
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 finely chopped apples
Maple Buttercream (adapted slightly from Bakingdom):
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup shortening
4 cups (1 lb) confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon maple extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons heavy cream (I only needed 1!)
1. Bake the cupcakes. Preheat oven to 350 and line 12 muffin cups with liners. Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and spice in a bowl and set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add in the egg and vanilla and mix until combined. Then mix in the flour mixture. Once combined, fold in the apples. Divide the batter evenly between cupcake liners and bake for 18-20 minutes.
2. Onto this frosting. Beat the butter on high speed until creamy. Beat in the sugar until combined. Stir in the vanilla, salt, and syrup. Then add the heavy cream a little bit at a time (you want to make sure the consistency stays fluffy enough for piping, and doesn’t get too creamy) and whisk on high for 4 minutes.
3. Once cupcakes are completely cooled, transfer frosting to a piping bag fitted with your tip of choice, and frost as desired. Prepare yourself for a burst of fall flavor, and enjoy!
This post is dedicated to Sean Hayes and Jared Small, my favorite enthusiasts of all things “basic.”