(and an ample allocation of alliteration to all...) :o)
I haven't competed in any baking competitions for a while - Christmas is always kinda hectic without the added pressure of becoming Completely Obsessed about a single ingredient for weeks at a time... But when I saw the theme ingredient Jamieanne of The Sweetest Kitchen had nominated for this month's Cupcake Mystery Box... well. Let's just say, I haven't been quite this inspired by a theme ingredient for A Very Long Time. Because it's so different!! And yet... so everyday...
Yes, popcorn cupcakes. Genius, right? And a worthy challenge, because, well... how to use it?
I tried a few things. Following Jamieanne's suggested (though untried) recipe was, I thought, A Good Place To Start. And I must say, the raw batter tasted great. It tasted like buttered popcorn. Then I baked it, and it didn't anymore. Hmm...
Second attempt: Popping my own popcorn in our popcorn maker (ie using hot air rather than oil/butter/miscellaneous chemicals), blitzing it in the food processor, sieving it, then substituting it for some of the flour in Billy Reece's vanilla cupcake recipe. This resulted in an unmitigated baking disaster of massive proportions. Mixture everywhere in oven, sullen little cakey puddles at bottoms of muffin tin. That didn't even taste nice. Hmm....
Third attempt: SCORE! And thus I present to you, my Maple Macadamia Carnival Cakes. With a delicious, moreish, surprisingly sophisticated flavour, made slightly mad by topping them with maple caramel popcorn balls on a stick. 'Cause you can't be making popcorn cupcakes and take yourself TOO seriously...
But seriously, these are SOOO good. The subtle, smoky sweetness of the maple syrup and the buttery crunch of the macadamia nuts are the perfect backdrop for the creamy popcorn frosting. Don't you love it when a plan (eventually) comes together?
The winner of January’s Mystery Box Cupcake Challenge will receive prizes from:
Bake It Pretty; a $5 electronic gift card
Beanilla; 3 Madagascar, 3 Mexican & 3 Indian vanilla beans
ExoDesign; a wire whisk charm necklace
Hello Hanna; a pack of Sweet Stands cupcake stands
Miss Kitty Creations; a handmade cupcake charm of your choice
Simply Caked; 600 brown greaseproof cupcake liners
Sweet Cuppin Cakes; a prize pack worth $25
Tundra Books; a selection 3 very sweet children’s books
Thank you to all our prize sponsors!
And here's the recipe:-
1 bag of butter flavoured (or in my case, "Triple Butter Flavour Explosion!!!!!" flavoured) microwave popcorn
1 cup whipping/pouring cream (thin enough to pour, and around 35% fat)
1 cup full cream milk
175g salted butter
150g caster sugar
160g SR flour
100g Plain flour
50mL maple syrup (use the real stuff - it tastes stronger and better. Fact.)
75g macadamia nuts, chopped
125g unsalted butter
200g icing sugar
About 1/2 to 3/4 cup of Popcorn Cream (see below)
A pinch or so of salt
1/4 cup popping corn (or I guess you could buy ready-made plain popcorn if you don't have an air popper)
Whatever recipe you would normally use to make caramel, and the ingredients to do so.
50mL maple syrup
To make Popcorn Cream
Cook microwave popcorn as per the instructions on the pack. Blitz briefly in food processor or similar if desired (you're not trying to powder it or anything, just chopping it up a bit smaller to let more flavour out when you infuse it).
Next, heat the cream and the microwaved popcorn together in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then remove from heat, and push mixture through a sieve. Put the popcorny cream into the fridge, and the solid husky bits back into the saucepan. Add the milk, and bring to the boil again. This time, allow the mixture to cool completely before pushing it through a sieve. Add the popcorny milk to the popcorny cream, mix together and refrigerate. Discard popcorn husks.
To make Cupcakes
Cream salted butter and caster sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Sift flours together and fold about a third of this into the mixture. Combine milk and maple syrup and fold half of this into the mixture. Add half the remaining flour, the rest of the milk mixture, and finally the rest of the flour, folding gently between each addition.
Spoon mixture into cupcake cases, filling about two thirds full, and top each one with some of the chopped macadamias. These will toast happily on the top, creating a yummy crunch.
Bake at 180 degrees Celsius (350F) until they test clean (around 18-20 minutes)
To make Popcorn Frosting
Remove Popcorn Cream from the fridge, and blend it with a stick mixer or similar just until smooth. This will break down all the teensy lumps of popcorn that came through the sieve. It will also thicken the mixture slightly. This is fine, as the milk should protect the cream from whipping too much at this stage, but don't blitz it for too long - it should still be pourable). Beat unsalted butter in a stand mixer (or with handheld beaters) until pale. Add icing sugar (half at a time to avoid sugar blizzards) and cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add half a cup of Popcorn Cream, and beat briefly (the cream will whip quickly at this point, so don't overdo it). Taste, and have a look at the texture. Add salt to taste, and a little more Popcorn Cream if you want to (don't add too much or the mixture will start curdling), and beat for a few more seconds. Pipe or spread onto waiting cupcakes.
To make Popcorn Balls-on-a-Stick
Pop the 1/4 cup of popping corn, and put it in a heatproof bowl - don't season it with anything.
Make caramel, adding the maple syrup to your usual recipe. Let the caramel get as dark as takes your fancy (I did it quite light this time, as I was serving these mainly to kids, but personally I would have preferred it darker), and remove it from the heat.
Immediately pour enough caramel over popcorn to only just barely coat it (you don't really want a big lump of candy in this case - the caramel is mostly there just to hold the popcorn together and make it pleasantly sweet and mapley). Toss quickly and thoroughly using two large greased forks. When the mixture is just cool enough to touch (but still pliable), form popcorn into balls with greased hands, and insert a lollipop stick into each. Place on baking paper to set.
Insert a popcorn ball-on-a-stick into each frosted cupcake, and add colourful sprinkles!
All the fun of the fair! (or possibly topiary trees, as Husband just pointed out)