Cupcakes are Peachy! Well, they are in this case; this case being a super duper moist peach infused cupcake spiked with just enough sizzling habanero pepper to tickle, but not burn, your palate, in a really, really good way. I like to call them peaches n’ steam cupcakes, and you’ll see why.
Ladies and Gentlemen, there’s a new challenge in town! Thanks to Marika of Madcap Cupcake for alerting me to this! Created by Sandy, the Cupcake Queen of Wisconsin, it’s called Iron Cupcake Earth, and every month there will be a new challenge with a particular and undoubtedly cool ingredient! Not only that – you can win actual prizes in this one! Winner(s) will receive prizes from Etsy Artisans (Cakespy), Cupcake Couriers, Taste of Home, Fiesta Products, Jessie Steele Aprons, Hello Cupcake by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson, and those are just some of the several sponsors who will supplying the goodies to the winner(s) in these challenges.
To join, all you need to do is email Iron Cupcake Sandy at IronCupcakeEarth@wi.rr.com with the following information:
City, State, Country
Referral: Parsley, Sage, Desserts, and Line Drives
How could you resist this? Baking cupcakes is a sweet and always rewarding prize on its own. To have a chance at winning a prize for doing so is the proverbial cherry on the icing (of a cupcake, of course), and a big, fat, juicy one at that! Don’t miss out on this one! I know I won’t! This month’s special ingredient is pretty hot..*drum roll* chili peppers!
AND NOW, to my entry..
I decided to take this challenge all the way up the Scoville chart with one of the hottest peppers in the world, a slot or two beneath THE hottest pepper in THE world (Naga Jolokia). The Naga Jolokia is about two rungs down from pure capsaicin (and believe me, if I could have gotten some of those, I would have!). I assume most of you know what pepper I’m referring to; the utmost tongue-burning, palate-pickling, finger-singeing pepper I could get my hands on..the Habanero.
When I made my decision, it brought back memories of a supposed ‘palate cleanser’ I had in the middle of a 5-course dinner several years ago. It was called Fire and Ice, and it was literally fire with barely a titch of ice. A small scoop of lemon sorbet packed into a small Habanero pepper. To say I barely felt the sorbet is an understatement. After huffing, puffing, sweating, tearing, and feeling as if every organ in my body had a bad case of sunburn, I decided this pepper was too much to take. This didn’t cleanse your palate, it burned off your taste buds!
Several years after my near-death experience, I had a delicious jerk shrimp that had just the right amount of heat. After discovering the shrimp was soaked in a marinade containing Habanero, I decided to give it another shot via using it in small amounts in certain recipes. The Habanero and I finally reached a compromise, and ever since, I like to incorporate small amounts of it into the occasional sweet or savory dish, depending on my mood or the recipe.
As you all know, summer is the best time for peaches. I always try to keep a bowl of fresh peaches on the table and some in the fridge for a cool treat during the dog days of August. Having all of these fresh, summer peaches on hand; when I heard about the Iron Cupcake Earth Challenge; my first thought was an amped up peach cupcake. Now that the Habanero and I were on good cooking and baking terms, it was also the first thing that came to mind when I saw we had to incorporate a chili pepper into a cupcake.
The Habanero was the easy part. My main dilemma was achieving a peach cake where chopped peaches or peach preserves folded into a white or yellow cake batter wasn’t the only way to impart peach flavor into the cake. I wanted to infuse an intense peach flavor into the actual crumb of the cake without having to use any kind of peach oils or extracts. I hit the market and stocked up on just about everything ‘peach’ I could find that wasn’t processed or artificial (eg: Peach Jello. A big, fat no). Fresh peaches (check), peach nectar (check), dried peaches (check), and some kind of peach liqueur, the latter conjuring up memories of drunken, soon-to-be-sick, teenage nights.
After experimenting with all of the above, I finally came up with something that’s definitely peachy, without using any peach oils/extracts or artificial flavoring. However, it took a little more trial and error than I initially thought. First, I tried it with fresh pureed peaches and diced dried peaches in the batter, and although tasty and peachy, it still wasn’t ‘peachy’ enough.
Back to square one. Maybe I could substitute peach nectar for the milk in my yellow cake recipe? Hmm..that could work. After discussing it with several baking fanatics, I was reminded that the milk provides a chemical reaction with the baking powder, and fruit juice should never be completely substituted for milk in any cake recipe. Maybe I could use half milk and half peach nectar? I had to at least try it. Well, there was a little more peach flavor, if you like a dense, kind of flat cupcake.
Back to the drawing board.
After thinking about it for another few days, it hit me one night as I was tossing and turning in bed after a bad day in general and a very bad Yankee loss. One of my favorite ways to use peaches, when I get the urge for them if they’re not in season and/or at their best, is splitting and roasting them then filling each half with something creamy, like a white chocolate mousse, creme fraiche, or ice cream. I got out of bed and Googled ‘roasted peach cake’. One of the sites that turned up just so happened to be one of my favorite blogs of yore (she’s on hiatus, at this time), Cupcake Bakeshop, run by a very talented gal who goes by the nickname Chockylit. Her cupcake was a melange of roasted peaches, blueberries and other goodies, but that was all I needed to see.
I incorporated some mashed roasted peaches (tossed with flour, so no extraneous bits would sink to the bottom of the cupcake) into one of my old standby yellow cake recipes. This time, though, I decided to re-hydrate the dried peaches for a more tender and peachier bite. With a little spice, almond extract, a silky, smooth peach curd filling (napped with Peach Schnapps aka drunken teenage nights), and of course, the Habanero, I came close to what I was seeking. The uber creamy cream cheese frosting, infused with peach and honey, took this cupcake to yet another level (Who doesn’t love cream cheese frosting?).
One bite of this cupcake, and you immediately think ‘peaches n’ cream’. However, since the Habanero was invited to this party, I decided a more apropos moniker would be..”Peaches N’ Steam” Cupcakes. Yeah, I know, corny, but I really like it!
Next time I’m going to cut off the underside of the cake plug so I get a nice, round circle of peach curd filling. The plug squished it down.
These cupcakes are pure peaches and cream, with a titch of heat to enhance the flavor even more. The amount of Habanero you use is entirely up to you, and in fact, you don’t have to use it at all. However, if you try it, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well it compliments the peaches and doesn’t cause any bodily harm (unlike my aforementioned near-death experience).
That said, I incorporated the Habanero into every part of this cupcake except the cream cheese frosting. The combination of the fruity heat and cool, creamy, tangy frosting is perfect. Overkill is not always a bad thing, but in this case, you could call the frosting a safety zone, or shall I say a ‘Fire Exit’? Then again, with some candied Habanero rings/bows and tingling Habanero lollipop-like toppers, maybe not.
Peaches N’ Steam Cupcakes
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup milk
- ¼ teaspoon almond extract
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- ¾ cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- ¾ cup fresh. roasted peach puree (directions below)
- 2 tablespoons flour
- ¾ cup diced dried peaches, rehydrated in boiling water
- 1 teaspoon very finely diced habanero pepper (more or less depending on how much heat you can handle)
- 4 egg yolks
- ⅔ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon tapioca starch (cornstarch or arrowroot starch is fine too) *
- 1 cup fresh peach puree (see directions in cupcake recipe)
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon Peach Schnapps or peach liqueur of your choice
- 6 Tablespoons of butter
- ½ to 1 teaspoon diced habanero, ground into a paste (use a mortar and pestle or a knife with gloves)
- 8 ounces cream cheese
- 1 stick unsalted butter (1/2 cup), room temperature
- 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
- 1 cup peach nectar, reduced to ¼ cup
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- Approximately 4-6 Habanero peppers, depending on their size, cut into rings (push the seeds out, and try to scrape as much rib out as possible, from each ring (USING GLOVES! If you don't use gloves, do NOT rub your eyes until you've washed your hands thoroughly with lots of soap and hot water!!) If the ring breaks, you'll tie or twist these into 'bows' once they're done cooking in the syrup, prior to drying them).
- To roast the peaches for peach puree; preheat oven to 350 F. Cut peach(es) in half, remove the pit, and roast cut side down on a lightly greased or parchment or silpat lined baking sheet for 20-30 minutes, depending on how ripe your peaches are. Scoop out the roasted flesh, and puree or mash until somewhat smooth (Leave oven at 350). Set aside roasted peach puree/mash to cool. In the meantime, place the diced, dried peaches in a bowl and pour boiling water on top of them to cover. Let sit 20 minutes, then drain and cool in a bowl covered with plastic wrap.
- Line the cups of a standard (12-cup) muffin pan with paper or foil liners. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt; set aside. In a liquid-measuring cup, mix milk with the vanilla and almond extracts; set aside.
- In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, or stand mixer with paddle, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
- With mixer on low speed, add half of dry ingredients, followed by milk-vanilla/almond extract mixture, then remaining dry ingredients. Do not overmix.
- Combine the roasted peach puree/mash with the 2 tablespoons of flour, then stir gently into the batter until it's well disseminated throughout the batter. Fold in rehydrated, diced, dried peaches and the finely the diced Habanero pepper.
- Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups (a small to medium ice-cream scoop is good for this), so each cupcake liner is about ⅔ full (You may have extra batter after filling each cupcake liner. DO NOT overfill each cupcake liner to compensate for this - just save it to make another 2-4 cupcakes, filling the empty muffin pan wells with water prior to baking, to insure even rising/baking).
- Bake at 350 F until a toothpick inserted in center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 21 to 27 minutes. Cool cupcakes 5 minutes in pan, then remove and cool completely on a rack before filling and frosting.
- In a bowl, beat the egg yolks with the peach puree, sugar, lemon juice, tapioca starch and Peach Schnapps (if using).
- Place the bowl over a simmering pot of water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water, and stir until thickened (completely coats the back of a spoon).
- Remove from the heat, and stir in the butter, one tablespoon at a time until melted and combined.
- Push the curd through a strainer into another bowl. Stir in the habanero paste. Place some plastic wrap directly on top of the curd and chill for several hours.
- Pour peach nectar into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil on high heat, then continue to boil until the nectar is reduced to ¼ cup. It should be thick and syrupy. If you can't find peach nectar, substitute ¼ cup peach preserves or jam.
- Beat butter with the cream cheese until combined.
- Scrape down the bowl and add the reduced peach nectar and honey and continue beating until smooth and uniform.
- Add the sifted powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth.
- Let chill for about an hour or two, covered tightly,
- Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Let come to a boil without stirring, then cook it to the soft or firm ball stage (Anywhere between 235 -250 F on a candy thermometer, unless you prefer the cold water test.
- Add the pepper rings and strips to the syrup, and let cook for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, and let cool. When cool, tie any of the broken rings into one knot bows ot twist some of the unbroken rings into bows, then place back into the syrup. Let sit overnight, then, using a slotted spoon, remove them to a parchment or silpat lined pan, separating them to dry. You want them somewhat sticky when set (think of those candied red and green maraschino cherries you find/use in Christmas fruit cake, that's the sticky factor you want on the pepper rings and bows). Reserve the Habanero syrup in the saucepan
- Cook down the reserved Habanero sugar syrup until it reaches the hard crack stage, 300 –310 F on a candy thermometer. Add some food color if desired. Turn off the heat, and let cool until thickened but still loose enough to drop (the consistency of honey is close to what you want). Drizzle candy designs on a parchment or silpat lined cookie sheet. They should set up pretty quickly.
- Cut out about a 1-inch circle from the top of each cupcake, almost all the way to the bottom. Pull out the 'cupcake plug', then fill each with a heaping teaspoon or more of the Peach-Habanero curd. Cut off some of the cake from under each 'plug', so it doesn't squish down the curd (Unfortunately, I failed to do that, hence why my filling is 'squished' down into more of a line then a circle) when you place it back on top of the filled cupcake.
- Spread or pipe frosting on each cupcake, then top with a candied Habanero 'bow' or ring. Stick a hardened Habanero sugar drizzle into the frosting, if using.
**Double the recipe if you want a lot of frosting - especially a somewhat high, decorative swirl, (if piped), on each cupcake. Unfortunately, cream cheese frosting doesn't hold a design as well as a buttercream or decorator's frosting, so put them in the fridge as soon you pipe on the frosting.
EXTRA NOTE - I achieved the striped frosting by brushing the inside of a disposable plastic pastry bag with red, orange and gold gel paste food color stripes before loading with the frosting. Parts of the frosting swirl that didn't have the gel color, I touched up with a fine brush dipped in that color.
ONE MORE EXTRA NOTE - You don't have to add the habanero to both the batter and curd. I usually just add it to the curd, depending on who I'm making them for.
As you can see, I mixed this batch up a bit, some with and some without the variety of sugar toppers I made. However, every one of them contained a candied Habanero bow or ring, for those who dared to take it on. OK, I’m over-exaggerating since it’s such a small bite and the slightly sticky sugar glaze kind of neutralizes the heat…well, for the first minute or so.
Vote for your favorite chili pepper cupcake! Voting will begin on Sunday, August 31st at 12 noon at NO ONE PUTS CUPCAKE IN A CORNER, where all the chili pepper cupcake entries will be posted. The voting will be open through Thursday, September 4th at 12 noon.