Hello, February, month for loved ones huddled close in your bitter cold nights. While I’m not much of a “girlie-girl” the rest of the year, I am pretty keen on Valentine’s Day, profusion of pink and all (pink being my least favorite color so it’s worth noting that it doesn’t bother me nearly as much when coupled with sweets and handmade cards with hearts drawn in crayon). Granted, I spent many a February single and wasn’t always so chipper about it, but even when I didn’t have a date, I was lucky enough to have a friends and family who were just as special. And of course the past several years with D has made winter days brighter and Valentine’s Day itself all the more fun.
This February I’m on a quest to come up with some truly outstanding and downright indulgent seasonal treats that would make any loved one glow when they find out you took the time to make it for them. The challenge, as you likely know, is finding anything locally grown this time of the year, let alone the typical fruits that go into sweet treats. If only chocolate were a local commodity and strawberries grew in snow!
Needless to say, we’ve got to get creative in order to celebrate a holiday like Valentine’s Day with desserts made from locally grown products. I actually have several smashing successes for you that I’ll be sharing over the next two weeks. To kick off this little “local sweet treats” event, here’s a recipe for Sweet Potato Cupcakes with Honey Ginger Buttercream Frosting.
I had a fairly pathetic harvest of sweet potatoes from my garden this past season thanks to a family of hungry moles that built their home under my raised bed and chewed out all the big flavorful roots on my vines. What they left untouched were only the slender crocked young roots that they no doubt thought weren’t worth their time to hunt out. Fortunately for me (haha), these spindly “leftovers” proved to be extremely sweet and tender, though I still would have enjoyed having those more mature roots resting in my cellar instead of some mole’s belly. As it was, the few that I still had on hand were the perfect base for these darling cupcakes!
In thinking up this recipe, I was most definitely inspired by the batch of parsnip cupcakes I made last winter. I wanted these cakes to be similarly warm in their spices and lusciously moist, but coy about their secret ingredient. And so they were. But what made them truly outstanding was how very tender and melt-in-your-mouth their crumb turned out to be. Notice I’m speaking in past tense here…these cupcakes, all two dozen of them, disappeared at an alarmingly quick clip. I had several, of course, but D was head over heels for them, which was exactly my goal, seeing as how he’s my sweetheart and all.
The buttercream recipe, which took advantage of the mild floral notes of my own bees’ honey and the zing of fresh ginger, was a real show stopper on its own. I don’t typically like buttercream frostings myself because they seem heavy and fatty in my mouth. I like a frosting with an abundance of air and sugar in it. But with the honey and ginger in this particular batch, I lost track of the buttery heaviness and instead focused on the sweet freshness of its flavors. It’s one frosting recipe I’ll be keeping in my back pocket for many a decorative occasion in the future.
Sweet Potato Cupcakes
Adapted loosely from Better Homes and Gardens
2 C. all-purpose flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
2 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 t. salt
1 C. butter, softened
1 1/2 C. sugar
2+ C. mashed sweet potatoes at room temperature*
1/2 t. ginger (freshly grated or dry ground)
1/2 t. vanilla
1 batch of honey ginger buttercream (recipe below)
*To make two generous cups worth of mashed sweet potatoes, use 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 inch chunks. Place in a saucepan with enough water to cover and set over medium heat. cover and simmer until very tender, about 15 minutes. Drain any remaining water off and mash with a fork until relatively smooth. Allow to cool.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 24 standard muffin tins with paper liners and set aside.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt; set aside.
In a roomy mixing bowl, beat butter until creamy. Add sugar and beat on high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add sweet potatoes, ginger and vanilla and allow the mixer to run for a few minutes to get the potato silken. Place the mixer on low speed and add half of the flour mixture to the bowl, mixing just until moistened. Take the bowl off the mixer and mix in the remaining flour by hand (batter is very thick), only mixing until everything is moistened (do not over mix).
Divide batter evenly among prepared tins. Bake about 20 minutes or until tops spring back when lightly touched. Cool in tin on wire rack for a few minutes and then remove to cool completely. Frost or leave plain. Store in an air-tight container. Once frosted, store in the fridge.
(makes 2 dozen)
Honey Ginger Buttercream Frosting
A Straight from the Farm Original
3/4 C. butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened
1 C. confectioner’s sugar
1/2 C. wildflower honey
2-3 t. freshly grated ginger
1/2 t. vanilla extract
Beat the butter in an electric mixer until creamy. Add the sugar and beat on high until smooth. Add the honey and ginger. Beat for another minute before adding the vanilla. Leave mixer run for 3-4 minutes on high.
(makes about 2 cups)