I wasn't kidding when I said I've been thinking about rhubarb ever since I was treated to Tom Douglas's doughnuts and seasonal jam a while back. Not surprisingly, I wanted to stick it in a cupcake. I let the thought simmer in the back of my brain for a few weeks and eventually my inner cupcake compass led me down the path of rhubarb + cornbread + cardamom. It might sound unusual, but let me tell you, this combination is worth trying. (Trust me -- all the cool kids are doing it.)
Like many of my cupcake adventures, however, this one was not without its trials. For my first attempt at a cornbread cupcake I used a medium grind cornmeal. No good. Crunchy, dense, and decidedly un-cupcake like. For the second go around, I took a shot in the dark at the grocery store and purchased a box of Alber's cornmeal. It didn't give any information about the size of the grind, but when I shook the box it sounded soft (yes, sounded soft). It was also labeled as "degermed," so I bought it in hopes that the germ was really what made my first batch so crunchy. Fortunately, I was right. Cornbread Cupcakes - Take Two - came out with a soft crumb, just enough texture to let you know the cornmeal was there, and a distinct cornbread flavor.
The rhubarb compote also turned out to be a winning recipe. (I can imagine it would be good served with shortcake or ice cream as well.) Mine had more juice and less of the syrup that the recipe refers to, so in order to keep it from sogging down my cupcakes, I put the rhubarb in a strainer and pressed it lightly to extract the excess juice. (I used the reserved juice to garnish my cupcakes and give them their pretty bejeweled appearance.)
To top the cupcakes, I adapted my standard buttercream recipe by adding a little cardamom. Much to my delight, the cardamom was right at home with the rhubarb and cornbread flavors. If you've made my buttercream before, though, you know it is definitely sweet. The sweetness of this cupcake isn't as dessert-y as most cupcakes, so unless you want the frosting to be the dominant player, a light layer will suffice. (Even I used a bit too much.)
[Postscript: The cupcakes seemed a little dry to me the next day, so I would recommend serving them within 24 hours.]
Rhubarb Cornmeal Cupcakes with Cardamom Frosting
Makes about 12 cupcakes
A Dulcedo original
1 cup degermed yellow cornmeal
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup nonfat vanilla yogurt
Adapted from a recipe from Bon Appétit - March 2008
1 cup Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 1-inch-long strips orange peel (orange part only)
2 1-inch-long strips lemon peel (yellow part only)
3 cups 1/2-inch pieces fresh rhubarb (about 1 pound trimmed)
Pinch of salt
Adapted from a recipe by Cheryl at The Cupcake Bakeshop
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3-4 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 teaspoons vanilla
1/8 cup light vanilla soy milk
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
To make the cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the yogurt and vanilla. Add the flour mixture in two additions, mixing until just incorporated and there are no streaks of flour left in the batter.
Fill your cupcake containers of choice 3/4 full and bake for 20 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 make the compote:
Combine wine, sugar, orange peel, and lemon peel in heavy large saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add rhubarb and salt and simmer until rhubarb is tender but still retains its shape, about 9 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer rhubarb to shallow dish, arranging in single layer. Boil wine syrup in saucepan until slightly thickened and reduced to between 1/2 and 3/4 cup, about 5 minutes. Pour syrup over rhubarb and cool, then cover and chill until cold.
Compote can be made up to 3 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.
[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, the milk, and the cardamom. Beat until combined. Gradually add the remaining sugar until the frosting reaches your desired consistency.
[To give my cupcakes their bejeweled appearance, I drizzled some of the juice from the rhubarb compote over the frosting.]