Monday, October 8, 2012

Key Lime Pie Cupcakes

A few weeks ago I went to a bridal shower for a friend who is getting married in Miami in a few weeks (her fiance is from there), so the theme of the shower, logically, was Miami.

I was asked to bring dessert and the first thing I thought of was Key lime pie.  But not everyone is into Key lime pie (although I think everyone likes Steve's Key Lime Pie, especially the Swingles), so I decided to bring, yes, cupcakes.

The capable hostesses had set up a mojito bar with fresh fruit for muddling and had made tostones, mini Cuban sandwiches (the vegetarian ones made with mushrooms for me were outstanding), and a few other small bites to fit in with the theme, not to mention a huge diamond-shaped pinata covered with ice-blue metallic fringe.  We were impressed.

A few days before the shower, I started planning how to make these, as I was unsure of how best to execute them.  I toyed with the idea of a graham cracker cupcake with a key lime curd filling and whipped cream frosting to mimic the construction of an actual key lime pie, but I decided against that, as I'm not terribly fond of filled cupcakes - filling is for cakes.

I decided on a more traditional cupcake - Key lime vanilla cake with Key lime buttercream frosting - but with a little twist to better evoke Key lime pie: a graham cracker crust at the base of the cupcake.

Key limes aren't in season right now - they'll show up in stores in February - so I used Nellie & Joe's bottled juice, which seems to be the best one out there.  I was very happy with it and would definitely recommend it - I believe it's available at Whole Foods and other specialty food stores.

The preparation of the crust added a little longer to the prep time of these cupcakes but it was in no way difficult, just a little time-consuming (and by time-consuming I mean it took an extra 20 minutes total).  The crusts brought a nice textural contrast to the soft cakes and also made it seem more like you were eating a Key lime pie instead of a cupcake.  The Key lime flavor in the cakes is subtle but present, and the frosting is bright and tart but not so much to make your lips pucker.

I usually don't eat more than 1 or 2 or my own baked goods - I thankfully don't have much of a sweet tooth - but I lost track of how many of these I ate.  I think they've rightfully earned a spot among my favorites.


Key Lime Pie Cupcakes
makes 16 regular size or 48 mini cupcakes

For the cupcakes
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
6 ounces graham crackers
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup whole milk, room temperature
1/4 cup key lime juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

For the frosting
4 large egg whites
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly cooler than room temperature
5 teaspoons key lime juice


Make the cupcakes

Heat oven to 350 F and put racks in upper and lower thirds.  Line 16 regular or 48 mini cupcake wells with paper liners and set aside.

Cut butter into a few chunks and heat until just melted (I do this on medium power in the microwave and it takes one minute).  Let the butter cool for a few minutes.

While the butter is cooling, pulverize the graham crackers either in a spice grinder, mini chopper, or a plastic bag with a heavy object such as a rolling pin.  (The last option is more fun but you won't get the graham crackers as evenly or finely ground - but use whatever you have available.)

Mix the graham cracker crumbs, butter, and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl until combined.  Put 1 1/2 teaspoons of the graham cracker crumbs in each one and use a measuring spoon to tamp down the crumbs.  Bake until fragrant and just starting to color, 6-7 minutes.  Remove the pans from the oven and let them cool on a wire rack.

While the crusts are cooling, make the cupcakes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment,  cream the butter, granulated sugar, and turbinado sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add one egg, and mix for 10 seconds.  Repeat with the remaining egg, mixing for 15 seconds until the mixture is fully homogenous, light, and thick.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add 1/3 of the flour mixture and mix on low speed until just combined.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add half of the milk, and mix on low speed until just combined.  Repeat with the remaining flour and milk, ending with the flour.  After all the flour has been added, add the key lime juice and vanilla and mix until incorporated.

Evenly distribute the batter between the lined wells of the pans and bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean and the tops of the cupcakes spring back when lightly pressed, 16-20 minutes for mini cupcakes and 20-24 minutes for regular size.  Make sure to rotate the pans and switch their positions after the cupcakes have begun to set, about 12 minutes into baking.

Let the cupcakes cool in the pans set on wire racks.

Make the frosting and assemble the cupcakes

Follow my recipe for Swiss meringue buttercream frosting.

After all the butter has been added and the frosting has come together, add the key lime juice a teaspoon at a time (to prevent curdling), mixing well between each addition.

Transfer the frosting to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe a generous amount of frosting onto each cupcake.

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