Autumn Delight Cupcakes with Caramel Pear Butter and Brown Sugar Frosting

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Sometimes it’s the simplest sweets that pack the most profound punch. I mean, DaVinci did say, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” right? Ok, so these might not be “sophisticated” per se (I mean, let’s be real, it’s a cupcake, and there are far more sophisticated desserts than a cupcake), but still, the point is the same: sticking to basics can be the best way to bring the wow. And let me tell you, these light, clean, fresh fall flavors definitely bring the wow.

You know those situations you go into without any expectations at all – parties, work stuff, nights out, whatever – but actually end up having the best time ever? These cupcakes are a little like that – a pleasant surprise. A pleasantly sweet surprise. They’re not over-the-top decadent or outrageously rich, and their name does little in terms of shock value (come to think of it, “Autumn Delight Cupcakes” actually sounds dainty, not decadent). You know they’ll taste good, but you’re not expecting anything mind-blowing. And then you bite into one.

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These cupcakes start with a yummy vanilla bean cake – complete with real vanilla bean seeds. Using real vanilla beans gives the cake deeper hints of vanilla, while still providing the perfect pairing – or in this case, “pear”ing (sorry, I had to) – for any other flavors your little heart might desire.

Coupled with the cake is a caramel pear butter filling. By itself, it sort of resembles cinnamon apples or apple sauce, so I wasn’t too enthusiastic about it and didn’t expect too much. When paired – or, again, “pear”ed (ok, I’ll stop now) – with the other elements of these cupcakes, though, it is amazing. Just goes to show, yet again, that sometimes small expectations can lead to big surprises.

DSC_0032Topping off these surprising little sweets is a fluffy brown sugar buttercream. I’ve never used anything other than powdered sugar in frosting and didn’t know what to expect, but the results were amazing. The brown sugar adds a rich, nutty, buttery depth of fall flavor to the frosting, and plays perfectly with the other elements. Together, they definitely evoke feelings of all things autumn.

DSC_0008These are currently being saved for some fun Friday festivities at the 3-2-8 that will take place later this evening (and by “saved” I clearly mean locked away and stored out of reach so as to avoid each of us uncontrollably eating like 5 of these things before the party even starts), and, while I did test a tiny piece of the cored cake with a dab each of filling and frosting, I cannot WAIT to get my hands on a whole one. My official taster (my nearly-nine months pregnant boss) has declared that these are among the top contenders for best cupcakes I’ve ever made. I’m even doing a cake version of these for a friend’s birthday party tomorrow night. The flavors are that good.

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With Thanksgiving around the corner, we’ve just about wrapped up fall (crazy, right?!). Next week will be the final installment of what has certainly been a very “basic” baking series. I promise it won’t disappoint, so be sure to check back for another treat that would be a perfect addition to your Thanksgiving dessert spread! I’m sad to see fall fade away, BUT that just means that brighter things are on the horizon: CHRISTMAS BAKING. But I digress. Let’s stay focused for the time being and get you to bake these Autumn Delight Cupcakes. The simple, clean flavors team up for an unexpectedly wow-inspiring combination and truly are a nod to the art of simplicity. Simply stated, make these ASAP.

DSC_0016Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Caramel Pear Butter and Brown Sugar Buttercream (from The Kitchen Prep)

INGREDIENTS

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes:

1 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup whole milk

Caramel Pear Butter Filling:

1 – 1 1/2 lbs Bartlett pears (about 2 or 3 fairly large pears), peeled, cored, and chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 tablespoons apple juice or apple cider
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/16 teaspoon nutmeg
Tiny pinch of salt

Brown Sugar Buttercream:

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (mine was softened a bit)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
About 3 cups powdered sugar
2-3 tablespoons milk

INSTRUCTIONS

1. First, make your filling so it can cool while you back the cupcakes. In a medium pot, toss together apple juice or cider, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, and your chopped pears. Note that the lemon juice keeps the pears from browning, so you should toss them in as soon as they are cut. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the pears begin to release their own juices (this should take about 10-15 minutes). Turn the heat down to medium-low and continue to cook until the pears are very tender (about 10-15 more minutes).

Now scoop the softened pears into a blender or food processor and blend until almost smooth. It might be a good idea to let the mixture cool for a few minutes before blending so as to avoid any heat compression blender disasters. If you’d prefer a chunkier consistency, you can blend it a little less thoroughly.

Return the pear puree to the pot and stir in 1/2 tablespoon of lemon juice, as well as the brown sugar, nutmeg, and salt. Simmer on medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture has thickened to desired consistency (about 30-45 minutes).Allow to cool and use to fill the cupcakes, or store in the refrigerator for later use.

2. Now make your cupcakes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and fill muffin pans with 16 liners. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine granulated sugar and vanilla bean seeds until well blended. Make sure there are no big vanilla bean clumps! Then add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to the vanilla sugar. Mix until well blended. Beat in softened butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, canola oil, and vanilla. Pour liquid into the flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Pour milk in slowly, mixing until just combined. It’s ok if the batter is slightly liquid-y.

Fill each liner a little over halfway full and bake for 14-15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pans for a few minutes. Transfer cupcakes to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

3. Time for frosting! Beat the butter, sugar and cinnamon together until smooth and the sugar begins to blend in. This might take a few minutes. Slowly add the powdered sugar, one cup at a time and mixing until incorporated after each addition. Add milk, one tablespoon at a time, until your desired consistency is reached.

4. Now bring it all together. Core a small cone out of each cupcake using a paring knife, trimming the disc top off of each cone and reserving for later use. Fill each cupcake with the caramel pear butter, and replace the cupcake top to close. Fill a pastry bag fitted with your tip of choice with the frosting, and pipe onto cupcakes as desired. Serve and enjoy!

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