Spring, when days become longer and landscapes return to a verdant hue, is a season of celebration. Countless couples select this time of the year to tie the knot, so that many of us have at least one bridal shower or wedding marked on our calendars in the next few weeks. Then there are graduations. High schools and colleges cap the end of their academic year with commencements, and proud parents and friends plan festivities to mark the graduates' achievements. Add reunions -- family, high school or college -- and it's easy to see why spring rivals only the Christmas holidays for entertaining.
I often receive frantic calls about party menus at this time of the year. What most hosts are looking for are simple but memorable recipes. Often they need dishes that can be prepared a day or two ahead.
Since cupcakes seem to be having a popularity revival and since they can easily be baked and frosted in advance, I decided to create some for celebrating.
The directions for a yellow downy cake in Rose Levy Beranbaum's classic Cake Bible (Morrow, 1988) served as my starting point. After reading that this delicious cake batter works well for cupcakes, I decided to use orange juice in place of the milk called for in the original directions and also stirred in grated orange zest to heighten the citrus flavor. A touch of ground cardamom was another of my additions. My cupcakes are coated with a white chocolate cream cheese icing, also flavored with orange accents.
The tender cakes, capped with swirls of creamy frosting, can be prepared two days ahead and kept refrigerated. A single recipe yields 16 cupcakes but can easily be doubled. These festive cakes are also quite versatile. They look elegant on a silver platter for a bridal tea or shower but work just as well arranged on a straw tray for a casual graduation party in the back yard. I've already served them twice for two different celebrations, and both times they received glowing reviews.
2 cups sifted cake flour
1 cup sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 to 1 teaspoon ground cardamom (see note)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large navel oranges
4 large egg yolks
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut in small chunks and softened
White Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing (recipe follows)
Line a 12-mold standard (3-inch diameter) muffin tin with silver foil liners. If you have another muffin tin, line it with 4 additional liners. (If you have only one muffin tin, bake the first batch of cupcakes, then remove them from the oven and repeat with 4 more liners and remaining batter.)
Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, cardamom and salt into bowl of an electric mixer. Grate enough zest from oranges to yield 2 teaspoons. Then juice them to yield 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons. Whisk egg yolks and 3 tablespoons of the orange juice together and set aside.
Turn mixer on medium speed and add butter, remaining 7 tablespoons orange juice and orange zest to the bowl. Beat 1 1/2 minutes, stopping machine and scraping down sides of bowl with a spatula when necessary. Add egg yolk mixture in three equal additions, beating about 10 seconds after each and stopping machine to scrape down sides of bowl if necessary.
Fill each muffin mold about halfway with batter. You should get 16 cupcakes. Bake on center rack of preheated 350-degree oven until cupcakes are golden and spring back when lightly touched, 15 to 20 minutes. A tester inserted into the center should come out clean.
Remove and cool cupcakes 2 minutes in tins. Gently lift from pan to a cooling rack and cool to room temperature. Make White Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing. Ice each cupcake generously and place on a platter. Refrigerate cupcakes until icing is set, then cover with plastic wrap.
(Cupcakes can be prepared 2 days ahead. Bring to room temperature 20 minutes before serving.)
Note: Make sure the ground cardamom you use is fresh. It should have a strong, fragrant scent when opened. Use 3/4 teaspoon for a mild taste of cardamom or 1 teaspoon for a slightly stronger flavor.
White Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing
1 to 2 large navel oranges
4 ounces white chocolate broken in small pieces
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in small chunks and softened
1 1/2 teaspoons orange liqueur, preferably Grand Marnier
Grate the rind of one or both oranges to yield 1 tablespoon zest, and then juice to yield 1 tablespoon.
Melt white chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Whisk constantly until almost melted. Remove and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool to room temperature.
With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat cream cheese until smooth and no lumps remain, 2 to 3 minutes. On low speed, beat in melted chocolate, stopping machine and scraping down sides of bowl if necessary. Beat in butter, orange zest, orange juice and orange liqueur and continue beating until smooth, a minute or two more.