Undoubtedly, the month of February is here and that holiday that so many of us swoon over is upon us. Valentine’s Day is probably the one holiday that I just don’t understand. It is possibly due to my cynical self; but I just do not fall for it. In my opinion this is one of those days that has crazy expectations but to have one day for proclaiming and showing your love seems a bit absurd to me. I know many who think I am crazy. I have been told that I am weird for feeling this way. I was even once accused of only feeling this way because I already had a husband! But if you know me you would understand how I feel - there are 365 days in order to tell, show, and express how you care for someone…why do we need just one day to do it?
Since I know that there are many who disagree with me I decided to share something sweet for the sweetest of sweet days we have out of the year. As always I may not go the traditional route of chocolate to proclaim my affection. Instead, I choose Almond Cupcakes with an Italian Vanilla Bean Buttercream. I made these for Brian last week when I thought he needed something sweet to get though the week. A moist almond cake with bits of almond paste throughout only to be topped with a lightly sweet and silky icing is lovely if you ask me. I may not need Valentine’s Day to share them with Brian, but I will take the time out on this day to express to him that I love him. Okay, that is about as sappy as I get! To all of you out there, Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you share it with someone special, and maybe make these cupcakes with them!?!
Almond Cupcakes (makes about 16 – 18 large cupcakes)
Note: This is one of those recipes that you really need to use a scale for. Although I have tried to convert it the cups, but it never really works out. After years of tweaking this recipe is best when weighed out on a scale.
15 oz of AP flour
1 tbsp of baking powder
1 tsp of sea salt
8 oz of butter
10 oz of sugar
11oz of brown sugar
4 oz of almond paste
2 tsp of vanilla extract
1 tsp of almond extract
4 whole eggs
1 ½ cup of Milk
First, line your cupcake pans with your wrappers and pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees. In a small bowl whisk together your flour, baking powder, and sea salt then set aside.
Next, in the bowl of an electric mixer place your butter and sugars and mix together with your paddle attachment until it is light, fluffy, and well combined. To this add your almond paste and mix until your almond paste is broken down and well combined with the butter and sugars. You might need to stop and scrape down the bowl a couple times while doing this. To this add your vanilla extract, almond extract, and eggs. Be sure all is incorporated well before moving on.
Then, in iterations add your flour mixture to your butter mixture and then the milk. Do so in three intervals and be sure to scrape down the sides in between that all gets incorporated when mixing. Continue until all your batter is cohesive and well combined.
Finally, poor your batter into your cupcake wrappers until they are anywhere from 2/3 to 3/4 full. Bake your cupcakes until they are slightly firm to the touch and golden. About 25 – 30 minutes. (You might want to test by inserting a toothpick into the center and checking that it is clean when removed.) Let cool on rack and top them with icing recipe that follows.
Italian Vanilla Bean Buttercream
6 egg whites
1 ¼ cup of sugar
2/3 cup of water
1 pound of butter, room temperature
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
First, in a clean saucepan place the sugar and water together and mix lightly until the sugar is moistened. Place it over medium heat and wait until the sugar begins to boil. Using a candy thermometer be sure that the mixture reaches 238 degrees (also known as the soft ball stage of cooking sugar).
Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer place your egg whites and whisk on high speed until it begins to foam and doubles in size. Once doubled in size you can turn your mixer off until your sugar is ready.
Then, when your sugar reaches its temperature; and with the mixer running again on high, slowly pours the hot sugar syrup down the side of the bowl in a steady stream. Continue pouring the sugar syrup until it is all in the bowl of your mixer. Mix it all on high until your bowl begins to feel cool to touch. You will see that your egg whites will be at a nice stiff peek and glossy.
Finally, little by little add your butter to the mixture. You will want to be sure that each piece of butter is almost fully incorporated until you add the next one. At this point you will also add your vanilla bean. Your mixture might look like it is “broken” or un-smooth, but keep mixing and it will all come together as it cools down in temperature. When butter is fully mixed in and your mixture it glossy and smooth your icing is ready to use. You can smooth the icing on with an offset spatula or piped with a pastry bag fitted with a tip. (This can be held in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.)