This post was done in partnership with Watkins 1868 who sponsored this post by providing the ingredients and compensation to make it happen! As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and I was incredibly excited to work with Watkins 1868 — they offer a TON of different spices and baking extracts perfect for the kitchen, all in cute packages and bottles! Be sure to check out my Instagram account for a chance to win your very own Watkins 1868 prize pack full of fun ingredients and products. And of course, thank you for supporting Hummngbird High and all my sponsors!
For the last two weeks, the weather in Portland has been unusually sunny and glorious: bright blue skies, flowering trees, and warm (and almost too hot) weather. And while you’d think that, as a resident of a place that gets less than 150 days of sunny days a year, I’d be pretty excited about it all. But I actually was not. Instead, it catapulted me in sheer panic mode: because sunny weather in Portland means that summer is here, which is also when my cookbook manuscript is due and oh my god, oh my god.
But now that the sun is gone (sun never stays in Portland for too long; we’re back to our rainy gray days) and I spent the last two weeks finishing up the Breakfast chapter of my book, breaking in a new KitchenAid mixer, and hiring an assistant to help with photography shoots, my panic has subsided a little bit. I’ve been catching up on some things that I’ve put on the backburner for far too long. Like remember how I promised my friend Kate that I’d make her a wedding cake and I was secretly testing out different designs for her approval?
Well, she recently floated the idea of doing wedding cupcakes as opposed to a wedding cake, which I am completely on board for since they are so much less pressure than a cake itself. I made these cupcakes as a trial run for her wedding, using some of the wonderful spices and extracts that Watkins 1868 sent me. The cupcakes are flavored with ginger and almond, which also happens to be the (not so) “secret” ingredient in Kate’s incredibly tasty homemade granola that she gifts us all every Christmas (in mason jars, no less).
For the frosting, I was inspired by lilacs, which are everywhere in Portland right now and are 100% completely edible! They taste a bit like lavender, but not as intense, which is a good thing for all you haters who think lavender tastes like soap. I made some lilac sugar based on my friend Linda’s recipe and this Food52 recipe, but unfortunately, the sugar didn’t turn purple the way I hoped. So I used a few drops of The Watkins Co. Assorted Food Coloring to get the job done — a few drops of red and blue each to make the light lavender you see in the photos. Since Kate is a big hippie (I mentioned she’s getting married on a campground in the forest, right?), she balked a little bit when I told her about the food coloring, but calmed immediately when I told her it was all natural and made completely from vegetable juices and spices. Yay, wedding cupcakes!
- The lilac sugar is a little temperamental to make and requires a long drying time before using in the frosting recipe. I suggest making the sugar up to a week in advance, giving you plenty of time to prep it before the recipe and adjust for drying as needed. Once it’s prepped, it can live in your pantry for several months but will lose its flavor and scent the older it gets.
- If lilacs aren’t available where you live, you can substitute with another edible flower like rose or lavender instead. Similarly, if floral flavors aren’t really your jam, no worries! Use 3/4 cup regular ol’ granulated sugar in place of 3/4 cup lilac sugar in the frosting recipe for a classic vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream frosting.
Ginger Almond Cupcakes with Lilac Buttercream Frosting
- Special Equipment: a food processor
For the Lilac Sugar
- 3/4 cup (5.25 ounces) granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup fresh lilac flower petals and buds, washed with stems removed
For the Ginger Almond Cupcakes
- 1 3/4 cups (7 ounces cake) flour
- 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons (8.5 ounces) granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon The Watkins Co. Ground Ginger
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch ucbes
- 3/4 cup (6 fluid ounces) whole milk, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 teaspoons The Watkins Co. Pure Almond Extract
- 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
For the Lilac Buttercream Frosting
- 1/3 cup (3 fluid ounces) egg whites (from about 2 to 3 large eggs)
- 3/4 cup (1 recipe // 5.5 ounces) lilac sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks // 10 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon red food coloring (from The Watkins Co. Assorted Food Coloring Set)
- 1 or 2 drops blue food coloring (from The Watkins Co. Assorted Food Coloring Set)
For the Lilac Sugar
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine 3/4 cup granulated sugar and 3/4 cup fresh lilac flower petals and buds. Pulse until the blooms are completely broken down and fully incorporated into the sugar. At this point, the sugar will be damp. Spread it out on a parchment lined baking sheet to air dry overnight (though conditions will vary depending on weather — if you live somewhere more humid, you might need to dry it out for 48 hours), using a butter knife to break up clumps occasionally. Once dry, transfer to an air-tight container and use within 1 month.
For the Ginger Almond Cupcakes
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 (F). Line a 12 cavity muffin pan with cupcake liners and set aside.
- In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 1 3/4 cups cake flour, 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon The Watkins Co. Ground Ginger, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Beat on low speed until well combined, and add 6 tablespoons cold cubed unsalted butter a few pieces at a time. Continue beating on low speed until all the butter is incorporated and the mixture resembles a coarse cornmeal, about 3 minutes.
- With the mixer still running on low speed, stream in the milk and almond mixture and continue beating for another 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the remaining milk and egg white mixture in three paarts, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat for 1 more minute.
- Pour the batter into the lined cavities of the muffin pan, filling each cavity two-thirds full. Transfer to the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until the top of each cupcake is domed and lightly golden. The top of each cupcake should bounce back when poked. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes, before turning out onto the wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
For the Lilac Buttercream Frosting
- Fill a medium sauce pot with at least 1 1/2 inches of water and place over medium-high heat until steaming hot, then adjust the temperature to maintain a gentle simmer.
- Combine 1/3 cup egg whites, 3/4 cup lilac sugar, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar in a medium, heatproof glass bowl and whisk to combine. Place the glass bowl over the medium sauce pot to create a homemade bain-marie, ensuring that the bottom of the glass bowl does not touch the steaming water. Fix a candy thermometer to the side of the bowl and use a rubber spatula to occasionally stir and scrape down the egg white mixture from the sides of the bowl as it warms to 185 (F). This should only take around 10 to 12 minutes, so if the mixture is moving slowly, don't be afraid to turn up the heat!
- Once the egg white mixture reaches 185 (F), transfer immediately to the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Turn on the mixer to its highest setting and whip the egg whites for 10 minutes to create a glossy, stiff meringue that is cool to the touch (around 90 (F)).
- Once you've made the meringue, turn off the mixer and use a rubber spatula to scrape any excess meringue off the whisk attachment and back into the bowl. Swap out the whisk attachment for the paddle attachment and turn the mixer back on to a medium speed. Add 1 1/4 cups unsalted butter slowly, adding 1 or 2 tablespoons to the mixture at a time. Initially, the volume of the meringue will decrease dramatically and it will seem like the mixture is too liquidy — but as you add more butter, the mixture will thicken and cool. In the end, the buttercream should be thick, creamy, and soft but not runny.
- Reduce the mixer speed back to its slowest setting and add 1/2 teaspoon red food coloring until the mixture turns into a homogenous pale pink. Add 1 or 2 drops blue food coloring at a time until the mixture turns into a pale purple — be careful not to go overboard, 1 or 2 drops should do the trick! Use buttercream right away; even though the buttercream will look like it’s too soft, it’s actually a dream to pipe with. Unless it’s a super hot day (above 85-90 (F)), there’s no need to refrigerate it for it to stiffen — doing so will just make it harder to work with.