Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pumpkin cupcakes with gingersnap crusts & marshmallow frosting

One week from tomorrow, Matt and I will pile into my parents' Jeep and drive to Maryland for Thanksgiving.  I'm so excited! see family, you guys.  Not for food.

(Okay, a little bit excited for the food.)

The number of family members expected at my aunt's house has taken a hit -- make that a big thwack! -- this year, thanks to mid- and cross-country moves and military assignments. While we'll be missing those that can't make the trip (you know who you are!), it will still be fantastic to spend the day laughing, eating, drinking, and playing Catchphrase.

Over the past few years, we've made a tradition out of post-meal Catchphrase competitions.  I say competitions because the word "games" doesn't do enough to describe how into it we all get.  Teams are divided and redivided in every possible way: adults versus kids, men versus women, dark meat lovers versus white meat lovers, etc.  And we have so much fun.

I love that us "kids" (oldest now being 30, youngest 17) played an active role in creating a new tradition.  So many of the tried-and-true pasttimes that we currently enjoy have been around since before we arrived on the scene: using Pop-pop's beautifully calligraphed place cards, breaking the wishbone, delegating gravy-making to Grandma, and taking post-meal naps.

Ohhhh, the naps.  Stereotypical, yes.  Necessary?  Also, yes.

Necessary because they give everyone time to slow down.  Some use it tackle dishes, others enjoy quiet one-on-one conversations, and a few zone out entirely.  Regardless of specifics, there is a shared silver lining for everyone: room for dessert is made!

We usually keep things traditional by serving a variety of pies: Mom makes apple and cherry, Grandma makes pumpkin, and my aunt Karen (when in town) makes pecan.  I love 'em all but usually can't find it in my heart stomach to make room for a sliver of each.

In recent years, I've developed a prioritizing system when it comes to Thanksgiving dessert: I usually skip apple and cherry pies because I make them at other times of the year, and pecan isn't regularly available.  Pumpkin is the most rare, but I've usually made quite a few of those by the time turkey day arrives.  I wind end up favoring these irresistable shortbread cookies that my aunt orders from a local bakery because that's the only day of the year I can get 'em.

In other words, I want something unique.

If you're in the same boat and looking for something a little different -- but not too different - I've got just the thing to satisfy your sweet tooth: pumpkin cupcakes with gingersnap crusts and marshmallow frosting!

Inspired by one of my favorite cupcake recipes of all time, I adapted the s'mores formula to create a dessert fit for Thanksgiving, the last in this year's Everything But the Turkey series.  A gingersnap crumb crust anchors a spiced pumpkin cupcake that's topped with a fluffier-than-thou marshmallow meringue frosting.  All of the warm flavors you love about seasonal desserts are packed into one cute little package.

If loving a non-pie dessert is wrong at Thanksgiving, then I don't want to be right.  These cupcakes are absolute perfection in mini form!  When I was baking these, I couldn't help but think of s'mores; these are like the Thanksgiving version of the campfire favorite.  Moist pumpkin cake with a crunchy cookie bottom, yes and yes.  And that toasted marshmallow frosting?  Pillowy bliss, I tell you!

Hostesses and food-toting guests, rejoice!  These can be stored at room temperature, travel easily, and require zero cutting.  Just grab and go enjoy.  Plus, I think it's great to have another dessert option for those who aren't crazy about crusted treats (i.e. kids and many of my adult fruit-phobic friends).

Serve these pint-sized treats this holiday season and I guarantee your family and friends will be thankful for you and the sure-to-become-a-tradition cupcakes!  Remember that all aged traditions are new once :)

One year ago: Sweet potato pie
Two years ago: Caramelized onion & mushroom galette
Three years ago: Pizza burgers
Four years ago: Chocolate chip pecan pie
Five years ago: Classic buttercream frosting

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Gingersnap Cookie Crusts and Marshmallow Frosting
(inspired by this recipe)
-makes 12 cupcakes + 3-4 muffins

A quick note: I used a recipe that normally yields 12 muffins but, because of the added space from the cookie crust, I had some extra batter, which I simply used to make plain pumpkin muffins -- perfect for breakfast!  And, in case you're wondering, yes, the cupcake recipe can be used alone to yield deliciously light pumpkin muffins.

For the crust:
3/4 cup gingersnap cookie crumbs
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

For the cupcakes, using this recipe:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup dark brown sugar (or 1/2 cup light brown + 1 Tablespoon unsulphured molasses)
2 large eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 cup canola oil
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the frosting:
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar (or 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Fill 15 wells (two cupcake pans) with paper liners.  To make crust, combine gingersnap cookie crumbs, melted butter, and sugar in a small bowl, blending with a fork until all crumbs are moistened.  Press 2 teaspoons of crumb mixture into the bottom of each cupcake tin well and flatten with the bottom of a small glass.  Bake for 7 minutes. Remove and cool completely.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking soda and powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves; set aside.  In a medium bowl, whisk sugar and eggs until combined.  Add pumpkin puree, oil, milk, and vanilla, whisking until smooth and combined.  Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients, stirring just until blended and no white streaks remain.  Divide batter evenly among 15 cups.  Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 17 to 18 minutes. Cool in tin on wire rack for 5 minutes.  Carefully remove cupcakes, and cool completely right sides up.

To make the frosting, place egg whites, sugar, and vinegar in the heatproof bowl of an electric mixer. Set over a saucepan with simmering water.  Whisk constantly until sugar is dissolved and whites are warm to the touch, 3 to 4 minutes.  Transfer bowl to electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and beat, starting on low speed, gradually increasing to high, until stiff, glossy peaks form, 5 to 7 minutes.  Add vanilla, and mix until combined.  Use immediately by spreading or, with a metal tip and piping bag/Ziploc bag, piping onto top of cooled cupcakes.

To "toast" the marshmallow frosting, place cupcakes on a baking sheet under preheated oven broiler.  Watch closely, as cupcakes can burn quickly, and remove when tops have just begun to turn golden brown in places.  Enjoy immediately! Or, store cupcakes in a sealed at room temperature for up to 3 days.

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