Squashapalooza 2.0: Butternut Cupcakes

As promised on Thanksgiving, here’s the recipe for those killer butternut-squash cupcakes. Inspired by one of the most beautifully art-directed cookbooks I own, Jamie Oliver’s Jamie at Home, these moist, delicately scented cakelets are reminiscent of carrot cake—and from henceforth are my go-to, bring-along sweet for fall potlucks.

Plated
My new go-to, take-along dessert for a crowd.

Jamie dubs them muffins, but after I sampled a naked cake, I called an audible. Though they’re not super sweet, these things screamed dessert, not breakfast. Just so there’d be no doubt, I subbed the runny, sour-cream glaze Jamie spec’d with a full-on cake frosting. Classic cream-cheese icing spiked with a little citrus and cinnamon did the trick beautifully.

Butternuts
Officially now, Squashapalooza: Winter Edition rocks.
Frosted butternut cupcakes

Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life. Makes 18 standard-sized cupcakes.

For the cakes
  • one butternut squash (skin on), washed, deseeded, and roughly chopped (intact, mine was just shy of a pound)
  • 2-1/4 cups light brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour (unsifted)
  • 2-1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts (more, if you like)

Preheat the oven to 350º. Prep your cupcake tins with liner cups or by lightly greasing with oil, butter, or cooking spray.

Pulse the squash a few times in a food processor until it’s finely chopped. The texture’s up to you – just be sure to stop well before purée stage. If the bowl of your processor is large enough, you can do the rest of your mixing there. Mine isn’t, so at this point I transferred the squash to my stand mixer.

Guts
Scoop out the seeds, but there’s no need to peel. Baked, the skin adds a lovely texture.

Add the eggs and sugar; beat lightly, just to incorporate. Add the olive oil. Then, starting at a low speed, so your entire kitchen isn’t dusted with flour, mix in the dry ingredients. When well incorporated (but not over-beaten), add the walnuts.

Fill the cells of your tin(s) with the mixture. This is a pretty dense cake, so it’s not a big riser; you’re safe filling the cups 80 or even 90% full.

Bake for 20-25 minutes. When a toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out batter-free, you’re done. Cool the cakes on a wire rack until you’re ready to frost them.

Naked cakes
Naked cakes were pretty darned good on their own.
For the frosting
  • 6 oz cream cheese, cold
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract (or the seeds from half a bean)
  • 1-1/2 – 2 cups powdered sugar
  • zest of one clementine
  • zest of one lemon (note that you could sub Meyer lemon for both citrus here)
  • juice of half a lemon
  • a couple dashes of cinnamon, to taste
Frosted
Clementine and lemon zest, plus a hint of cinnamon, dress up a classic cream-cheese frosting.

Whiz everything together in a food processor just until smooth and creamy (over-beating can cause the cream cheese to break down and get grainy). Start out with just the 1-1/2 cups of powdered sugar, then add more gradually to get the consistency you want.

Frost the cakes as lightly or as robustly as you prefer. Garnish with more grated citrus zest.

These’ll keep for a few days (yeah, good luck with that). Just be sure to keep them cool, since there is all that dairy in the frosting.

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