Banana Cupcakes with Brown Butter-Cream Cheese Frosting & Crunch Coating
As a general rule, I don’t care for frosting. I usually find it too sweet or too gritty or too just yuck. The exception to this general rule: the Brown Butter-Cream Cheese frosting that tops these tasty banana cupcakes. It was a total experiment, and, like Marie & Pierre Curie’s lab tests, the result was earthshattering (though slightly less radioactive).
I don’t make cakes and cupcakes too frequently, usually because I like to share baked goods that are a little less of a commitment. A slice of cake, a piece of pie, or a cupcake, all strike me as commitment desserts — you choose one and that’s it. I feel that since cookies are smaller, you can sample a few before the guilt-factor sets in. Therefore, if I’m going to make cupcakes, I’m going balls to the wall — I’m making sure that commitment is totally worth it for you!
The Virginia heat and humidity make my bananas ripen at breakneck speed. I buy green bananas in the store, and by the time I get home, they’re ripe. Okay, not quite, but the ripening rate really is alarming here! So, when a cupcake opportunity presented itself, and I was smacked in the face with isoamyl acetate (the compound responsible for that characteristic ripe banana smell) upon crossing the threshold of my front door, the cake flavor for my cupcakes was a no-brainer.
Part 1 of my quest for a committment-worthy cupcake: I wanted to play a bit with a classic banana cake recipe. What’s my favorite way to play with classic recipes? Brown dat butter yo!!! [For tutorial, click on over here] Whenever you brown butter, though, you inherently lose some moisture to evaporation, so a smidge of oil is needed to replace that lost moisture. Nobody wants dry cake.
Banana cake/cupcake/bread Pro-tip!: Mash the banana together with half of the called-for granulated sugar in the recipe, and allow to sit for 10 minutes before adding to the other ingredients. Why? This marination time allows the sugar to fully dissolve into the banana, resulting into a smooth, almost-liquid consistency that incorporates beautifully into whatever dough or batter you’re making. Straight-up mashed banana is too thick and heavy to mix in smoothly without overmixing. Overmixed batter leads to dense, heavy, unpalatable cakes. Cakes and Excalibur have much in common: ‘Tis a gentle hand shall rule the land.
Further cake enhancements include vanilla bean pod scrapings and mini chocolate chips. Regular-sized chocolate chips are too heavy for a light and airy cupcake — they’ll just sink right to the bottom during baking.
Now, about this frosting. Brown butter y’all — it really is the best thing. Ever. The nutty, aromatic deliciousness that results from a quick stove-top skillet heating transforms regular butter into something truly special. Really, even your plain old, generic brand, unsalted butter turns into absolute gold post-browning. Honestly, I’m super cheap, and generic butter is the only kind I buy.
I opted to fill my cupcakes with a chocolate ganache, but a simple dollop of creamy peanut butter would be equally divine! Just cut a shallow cone out of the top of each cooled cupcake prior to frosting, and plop in your filling. Added bonus: you get to eat all those little excised cupcake cones (you know, for quality control).
What is Crunch Coating you ask? I had no idea, until a I took a trip to Watkins Glen a couple of summers ago. The ice cream parlor we stopped at after hiking all day offered “crunch coating” as a topping option. Feeling adventurous, I ordered it sight-unseen, and was amazed. My soft-serve vanilla cone was handed to me covered in a mixture of crushed Cap’n Crunch cereal, salted peanuts, & rainbow jimmies. I was skeptical at first but in love immediately. It had the perfect salty & sweet balance to accompany the rich, creamy soft serve, not to mention the delightful textural experience!
Knowing that I would be transporting my cupcakes in Tupperware, across bumpy highways, I thought that a slightly-adapted Crunch Coating would serve double duty with these cupcakes: both flavor/texture bomb and protective armor. Good call, Carolyn, good call 🙂
Banana Cupcakes with Brown Butter-Cream Cheese Frosting & Crunch Coating
YIELD: 22-24 cupcakes
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, browned & cooled in fridge overnight
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 cup mashed banana (from 3-4 bright yellow bananas with lots of brown freckling)
1/2 a vanilla bean pod (optional)
2 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plain lowfat yogurt (not Greek, just regular)
2 1/4 cups sifted bread flour (i.e. sift into your measuring cup, then measure)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (Saigon cinnamon, if you have it)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (semi-sweet)
Remove chilled brown butter & eggs from fridge 1 hour before making cake batter.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and line 2 muffin tins with foil cupcake wrappers (if you use one 12-cup muffin tin, chill the tin between batches to prevent overbaking). Combine the mashed banana, 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar, & the scrapings from the vanilla bean (if using). Stir together very well, and set aside for 10 minutes.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the softened brown butter, remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar, & the canola oil, until pale & smooth, ~2 minutes on medium speed. Lightly break up the eggs with a fork, then add them to the creamed butter and sugar, along with the vanilla extract & banana mixture, beating on medium-high for 1 minute. Scrape down sides of bowl.
In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, use a fork to fluff together the sifted flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, & salt. With mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture, alternately with the yogurt. Stop mixer immediately after final addition of flour (some streaks of flour should still be visible). Use a rubber spatula and only 3-4 quick strokes to fold in the mini chocolate chips, incorporating the flour streaks as you do so.
Use an ice cream scoop or cookie scoop to divide batter between wrapper-lined cupcake wells. Bake on middle rack for 16 minutes, then move to top rack for an additional 3 minutes. Remove from oven once tops have lightly browned, tops no longer appear wet, & a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean of with just a few tiny dry crumbs (nothing wet!). Allow to cool in muffin tins for 3 minutes, then carefully remove to wire racks before complete cooling.
Brown Butter-Cream Cheese Frosting
1 stick (8 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, browned & cooled in fridge overnight
8 ounces regular cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 teaspoons heavy cream
Remove brown butter & cream cheese from fridge 1 hour prior to making frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the balloon whisk, beat together softened butter and cream cheese on high speed, until fluffy and totally smooth (you can also use a traditional hand mixer). With mixer on low, add powdered sugar a quarter-cup at a time. Scrape down sides of bowl, add vanilla & 1 teaspoon cream, and turn mixer to high for ~30 seconds. Assess frosting consistency, adding a touch more cream if you want to thin it out a bit. Fill pastry bag, fitted with your tip of choice, and chill 10 minutes.
1 cup Cap’n Crunch cereal (original or peanut butter)
1 cup salted peanuts
1/2 cup chocolate jimmies
1/4 cup mini Reese’s Pieces candies (in the baking aisle)
In a large freezer bag, add cereal & peanuts. Use a rolling pin or meat mallet to bash up the ingredients into smaller pieces (don’t beat it into a powder). Add chocolate jimmies & candies to the bag, and shake to combine.
Wait for cupcakes to cool completely before assembling (I like to make the cupcakes the night before, then chill them in the fridge until assembling on the following day — I really like cold cake!). Line your work station with some wax paper or newspaper for easy clean-up. If stuffing the cupcakes, use a paring knife to cut a small circle into the top of each cupcake, removing a cone-shaped segment of cake (see pictures above) — the resulting well should be no deeper than 3/4″. Fill wells with either creamy peanut butter or chocolate ganache. Pipe frosting onto each filled cupcake in desired pattern (artistry doesn’t matter here because you’ll be covering the frosting anyway — piping just makes the frosting process quick!). Spoon crunch coating over the tops of the cupcakes, and gently press to adhere coating to frosting, ensuring total frosting coverage — this part is quite messy 🙂 Chill 1 before serving.