Wednesday, February 13, 2008

blackberry buttermilk cupcakes

Blackberry Buttermilk Cupcakes 042

Yesterday was Abraham Lincoln's birthday, so I'm sure you, like me, celebrated by making four dozen Lincoln-themed cupcakes. Fortunately, I knew I would have four dozen people to gobble them up. (There are so few of us who consider feeding four dozen people an enjoyable task.) I suppose at this point -- if you've gotten over the fact that I think these things are fun -- you're now looking at the cupcakes and wondering how they could possibly pay homage to the Great Emancipator. Well, dear friend, read on.

I am nothing if not detail oriented. In fact, I thrive on those little touches that make something nice seem extra special. So when I decided to celebrate our 16th president with cupcakes, the search was on for the perfect flavor. Blackberries are the state fruit of Kentucky, where Abraham Lincoln was born, so it didn't take me long to pick them as one of the ingredients. I tentatively decided to make a coconut milk cupcake with blackberry filling and bought all the supplies to make a test batch. However, as I stared at the ingredients on the kitchen counter, something just didn't seem...right. I wanted a cake that would have been within the realm of dessert possibilities for old Honest Abe, so while coconut milk and blackberries sounds like a delicious combination, I don't imagine it was one he had access to. I suspect, however, that buttermilk was widely available, so with a quick swap of milks the cake flavor was decided.

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Now what to do about the frosting? Though I love to top my cupcakes with big swirls of buttercream, I realized during the test batches that the cake and filling are amazing enough to stand alone; they definitely would not be enhanced by fluffy mounds of super-sweet topping. A less-is-more philosophy would be best here, so instead of a swirly poof, my frosting was low profile and piped on in the most old-fashioned design I could think of -- floral.

And how would the frosting tie in to my theme? Well, this is where my attention to detail becomes maniacal charming. I embellished the cupcakes with the colors of the Lincoln presidential china service, a royal purple and metallic gold. The Lincoln service, chosen by Mary Todd Lincoln, has been the most popular presidential china pattern for souvenir wares since the late 19th century. (You can see it here.) To incorporate the colors, I piped a purple blackberry onto the top of each cupcake and painted each flower petal with a wide stripe of gold luster dust. (The pictures here make the purple frosting look dark, but the true color actually matches the china.)

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The life span of the Lincoln cupcake was a short one -- a quality much more desirable in cupcakes than people. I watched with great delight as our Board members ate them happily, some even taking home an extra for their spouse. At the end of the evening, only three cakes were left to pack into the cupcake courier. I think Abe would have liked them too, don't you?

Let us hope, rather, that by the best cultivation of the physical world, beneath and around us, and the intellectual and moral worlds within us, we shall secure an individual, social, and political prosperity and happiness, whose course shall be onward and upward, and which, while the earth endures, shall not pass away.
- Abraham Lincoln, 1859

Blackberry Buttermilk Cupcakes
with Buttercream Frosting
Makes 24 cupcakes

2 1/2 cups flour
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
Scant 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Seedless blackberry jam or spreadable fruit for filling (about 7 ounces)

Adapted from a recipe by Cheryl at The Cupcake Bakeshop
1 cup butter, room temperature
6-8 cups sifted powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup light vanilla soy milk

To make the cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

To the bowl of an electric mixer, add the buttermilk, canola oil, sugar, and extracts and beat at medium speed until combined. With the mixer on low, gradually add in the flour mixture, beating until just incorporated.

Fill your cupcake containers of choice 2/3 full and bake 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely before filling, frosting, or garnishing as desired.

[To fill the cupcakes like I did, cut a cone shape out of the top of the cupcake, add about a teaspoon of the filling, and replace the cone "hat."]

To make the frosting:
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter at medium-high speed until creamy. Add half of the sifted sugar, the vanilla, and the milk. Beat until combined. Gradually add the remaining sugar until the frosting reaches your desired consistency.

Optional garnishing:
After piping on the frosting, I painted edible gold luster dust onto each cupcake. (Luster dust comes in a small vial and can be found in the cake decorating section of places like Michael's, Hobby Lobby, or Sur la Table.) To do this, begin with frosted cupcakes that have been refrigerated until the frosting is firm. Add a few drops of clear vanilla extract to a small dish. Gradually stir in the luster dust until you reach a paintable consistency. In order to achieve the same color saturation as I did in the pictures above, add luster dust until the mixture is almost too thick to paint with. (You will need about 1/2 a vial for 2 dozen cupcakes.) Paint the dust onto the frosted cupcakes. Repeat this process as needed (the extract dries up quickly in the dish, so you will likely have to prepare the mixture more than once).


  1. Abe would be proud! Gorgeous and so yummy looking!

  2. Wow... I can't believe you actually piped icing blackberries.

    Very very cute!