The blog planning meeting went a little like this...
Halley: "So, MJ, can you plan on making some kind of cupcake for the green St. Patrick's Day email? But don't make them too, errr, umm, GREEN, OK?"
Me: "Sure, I can do that, I was thinking pistachio."
Halley: "Great, just not too green."
Now, I love Halley, King Arthur's director of online services (read: our Web boss), and I knew just what she was talking about. I do have quite an affinity for my extra-strong food colorings, and tend to be the brightest of the bakers (well, at least colorwise!). This was her gentle way of reminding me that eye-searing fluorescent green was off the table this time, and soft green was in.
And in a way, it was refreshing to work with a different palate of color and flavor. A restful taste, an old-fashioned taste. To me, pistachio is a flavor from the Howard Johnson's ice cream parlors of days past, or pistachio shortbread cookies that somehow cool your palate as you nibble.
Even saying "pistachio" is more like a sigh than a word. By the way, the only word I've found to rhyme with pistachio is mustachio, and I'm not sure that's a really real word.
These Pistachio Cupcakes are a textural cross between a cupcake and a muffin, studded with little bits of pistachio nut and topped with a silky buttercream. The cupcake uses freshly ground nuts and a touch of extra strong flavoring, while the icing uses very smooth pistachio paste.
To start, grind 1 cup whole pistachios with 1/2 teaspoon sugar in a small food processor. You won't need all the ground nuts, but it's far easier to grind a larger amount than a smaller amount.
Here's what the ground nuts look like in comparison to homemade pistachio paste and store-bought pistachio paste. You'll notice that the homemade paste is much coarser than the commercial brand. It's just a matter of having the right equipment.
We'll touch on when to use ground nuts vs. paste a little later on.
For the cupcake batter, add to your mixing bowl 1 1/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour Blend, 2/3 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1/4 teaspoon pistachio extra strong flavor, 1 large egg, and 5 tablespoons butter.
Pour in 3/4 cup ground pistachios (ground first, then measured). Blend together on low speed for 1 minute.
The batter will be very thick at this point.
Add 1 cup whole milk or half & half, then blend on medium speed for 2 minutes. The batter will become looser, but will still have some texture due to the nuts.
The cupcakes won't brown too much, just a touch on the edges. A cake tester will come out clean, and the tops will be dry to the touch.
Immediately take the cupcakes from the tins and set on a wire rack to cool completely.
While the cupcakes are cooling, rustle up 2 cups of prepared buttercream (I'm using Italian Buttercream, my favorite).
Now, here is where your choices of pistachio can vary. If you want the icing to have a bit of texture, use the plain ground nuts. If you want to go between smooth and crunchy, use homemade paste.* If you want your icing the smoothest, stick with commercially prepared pistachio paste, the smoothest of the three.
Oh, and remember the "green" conversation? I did use one single drop of leaf green food coloring to get the right shade of pale green.
*To make homemade pistachio paste, process 1 cup pistachios + 1 teaspoon sugar in a food processor until the nuts are finely ground. While the machine is running, drizzle in light vegetable or sunflower oil until the mixture smooths out like peanut butter. Process for another 30 seconds to blend well. Adjust the flavor with sugar or salt to your taste.
Being an icing lover, I cored some of these cupcakes with our handy little cupcake corer before icing them.
What do you do with the "cores" of cake? You make little tasty treats for the baker!
For topping the cupcakes, I wanted to break out of my traditional frosting swirl. If you follow the "v"s from small to large, you'll see a sort of figure-8 pattern emerge...
Repeat the pattern again, and you'll end up with a graceful almost Celtic looking design on the top of your cupcakes.
Experiment on parchment with a few different designs to see what tickles your fancy.
This pistachio buttercream proved to be a favorite in the test kitchen. We ate the leftovers on scraps of vanilla cake, quick bread, spoons, and someone who shall remain nameless even put some on an Oreo. Sue The mystery person said it was just dandy!
Enjoy these cupcakes for your St. Patrick's Day dessert, or any other day of the year. Pistachio deserves to shine, any time!
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