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Lately Tess is obsessed with Harry Potter. (If you have an HP fan yourself, you know what I’m talking about.) She started reading the series in September, and since then it’s been Hermione this (Halloween costume) and Hogwarts that (Hogwarts Express train for Christmas, pretty please), and lots of wizarding and spell-casting all around. (Though yikes no Avada Kedavra!)

Bite-size butterbeer

So when her class of third- and fourth-graders decided to write and perform a Harry Potter-inspired skit for a school assembly, the kids thought it would be super cool to have butterbeer cupcakes for their after-play “cast party.” Tess’s teacher is on the ball, so when she noticed that all the recipes she found online included artificial ingredients, she asked me to hook her up with the good stuff. I also volunteered to make the cupcakes. I tend to do that with school treats. But, most importantly, I’d totally blown the Harry Potter cake for Tess’s 9th birthday sleepover in December, so I owed the kid one.

When Tess was tiny, my sister and I took one of those Michael’s cake-decorating classes, where I learned that it’s really not that hard so long as you have some decent tools. So now I trot out my decorating skillz exactly once each year — for Tess’s birthday. This year, I had visions of an elaborate Harry Potter cake. But it required fondant. And since the commercial stuff is loaded with artificial junk and may not be vegetarian (if it contains gelatin), I figured I’d make my own. Except I’ve never made fondant. And I didn’t allow time for a trial run. So I ended up with, well, glue. Naturally colored and lovingly made glue, but glue nonetheless.

Huggable Hedwigs

Fortunately the girls liked plain chocolate cake just fine. And Tess sent them off in proper Hogsmeade fashion by giving everyone stuffed “Hedwig” owls with thank-you scrolls tied to their feet. But when the idea for the play came up and, with it, the opportunity to make a Harry Potter-themed sweet treat, well, I couldn’t say no to that.

So here you go: butterbeer cupcakes with no artificial butterscotch chips, butter flavoring or vegetable shortening. Though make no mistake: These things are not healthy. They contain a lot of sugar. They are very sweet. But they were a huge hit. (Even though I made mini cupcakes. Or maybe because I made mini cupcakes. Did I mention these things are sweet?)

All-Natural Harry Potter Butterbeer Cupcakes

Inspired by these Amy Bites cupcakes and this Smitten Kitchen butterscotch sauce

Like potions class, only tastier

Cupcake ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour*
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup maple sugar or appropriate amount of other minimally refined sweetener**
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup natural cream soda (I used Virgil’s)

Ganache ingredients
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup maple sugar or other minimally refined granulated sugar**
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Frosting ingredients
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup butterscotch ganache (above)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 16-ounce package powdered sugar**
Heavy cream, as needed

*We have a couple gluten-free kids in class, so I actually used Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free all-purpose flour. If I were to make these again, I’d sub whole-wheat pastry flour or whole-spelt flour instead, my usual baking flours.

**As I mentioned, these cupcakes were sweet, which was fine for the mini size I made. But if I’d had more time to experiment, I would have reduced the overall amount of sweetener. I’d also try a powdered-sugar alternative I make using maple sugar and (organic!) corn starch: mix 1 cup maple sugar with 1/4 cup corn starch in a blender, food processor or spice grinder.

For the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake tins with paper liners. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, and set aside. In a large bowl, cream butter until fluffy. Add sugar and beat until well-mixed. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add buttermilk, cream soda and dry ingredients in batches until well-mixed. Fill cupcake liners 3/4 full, then bake for 15-17 minutes. (Note: For mini cupcakes, I baked about 13 minutes.) Cool completely on wire racks.

For the ganache: Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add sugar, cream and salt, and whisk until well-blended. Bring to a gentle boil and cook about five minutes, whisking frequently. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Set aside to cool and thicken.

For the frosting: Cream butter in a large bowl until fluffy. Add cooled ganache and salt, and mix well. Beat in powdered sugar in batches until it reaches desired consistency, adding splashes of cream as needed.

Assembly: Fill a squeeze bottle or pastry bag with ganache and insert into the center of each cupcake, squeezing until filling begins to overflow. (Note: For mini cupcakes, I skipped this step.) Use a pastry bag (or a plastic bag with the corner cut off) to frost the cupcakes, then drizzle the tops with ganache.




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