fruitcakes with meringue mushrooms

Cupcakes


4 ounces dried apricots, cut in ¼-inch pieces

4 ounces dried pineapples, cut into ¼-inch pieces

4 ounces golden raisins

¼ cup brandy

¾ cup all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

½ cup packed light brown sugar

¼ cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons honey

1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 cup pecans (about 4 ounces), toasted, then coarsely chopped


Preheat oven to 300ºF.  Line a standard muffin tin with paper liners.  Toss apricots, pineapples and raisins in a bowl with the liqueur.  In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.


With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and both sugars until pale and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated and scraping down sides of bowl as needed.  Beat in honey and vanilla.  Add flour mixture, and beat until just combined.  Fold in fruit mixture and hazelnuts by hand.


Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full.  (The recipe said it would be 12 cupcakes, but I ended up with 18, filling them as directed.) Bake, rotating tin halfway through, until cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 30 minutes (if cupcakes start to brown too quickly, tent loosely with foil).  Transfer tin to a wire rack to cool completely before removing cupcakes.


To finish, use an offset spatula to spread cupcakes with frosting.  Dust meringue mushrooms with cocoa and place on top of cupcakes just before serving.


FOR DECORATING


Seven-Minute Frosting


Made with beaten egg whites, this frosting is similar to meringue, but it is more stable and sturdy enough for piping.  And, like meringue, it also takes well to browning with a small kitchen torch.  Use immediately, as the frosting will  harden quickly (have your piping bag read).


1½ cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar

⅔ cup water

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

6 large egg whites, room temperature


Combine 1½ cups sugar with the water and corn syrup in a small saucepan; clip a candy thermometer to side of pan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves.  Continue boiling, without stirring, until syrup reaches 230ºF.


Meanwhile, in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk egg whites on medium-high speed until soft peaks form.  With mixer running, add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, beating to combine.  


As soon as sugar syrup reaches 230ºF, remove from heat.  With mixer on medium-low speed, pour syrup down side of bowl in a slow, steady stream.  Raise speed to medium-high; whisk until mixture is completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl) and stiff (but not dry) peaks form, about 7 minutes.  Use immediately.



Meringue Mushrooms


4 large egg whites

1 cup sugar

pinch of cream of tartar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

3 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped


Combine the egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar in the heatproof bowl of a standing electric mixer; set over a pan of simmering water.  Clip a candy thermometer to side of bowl.  Cook, whisking constantly by hand, until the mixture registers 140ºF and the sugar is dissolved (it should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips), about 3 minutes.


Transfer bowl to a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Starting on low and gradually increasing to high speed, mix until the meringue is completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl), and forms stiff, glossy (but not dry) peaks, about 10 minutes.  Mix in the vanilla.


Preheat oven to 200ºF.  LIne rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.  Transfer meringue mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a small plain tip (#6).  For caps, pipe dome shapes in various sizes, from ½ to 1 inch in diameter, onto prepared baking sheets.  Flatten tips with a damp finger. Pipe stems onto baking sheets, releasing pressure halfway and pulling up to form a peak.  Make one stem for each cap.


Bake the meringue shapes 1 hour, rotating baking sheets halfway through' reduce oven temperature to 175ºF.  Continue baking until meringue is completely dry to the touch, but not taking on any color, 45 to 60 minutes more.


Melt bittersweet chocolate in a small heatproof bowl set over (not in) a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally.  Using a small offset spatula, spread bottoms of cooled caps with a thin layer of melted chocolate, and let set.  Melt white chocolate in another heatproof bowl set over (not in) a pan of simmering water.  Let cool, stirring, until thickened, then spread over dark chocolate.  Use a toothpick to draw lines through the chocolate from center to edge of caps to mimic gills; let set.


Using a paring knife, make a small hole in center of each coated cap.  Dip one end of each stem in remaining white chocolate, and insert into a hole; let set.  Store mushrooms up to 1 week in airtight containers, and keep in a cool, dry place.


Melt bittersweet chocolate in a small heatproof bowl set over (not in) a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally.  Using a small offset spatula, spread bottoms of cooled caps with a thin layer of melted bittersweet chocolate, and let set.  Melt white chocolate in another heatproof bowl set over (not in) a pan of simmering water.  Let cool, stirring until thickened, then spread over dark chocolate.  Use a toothpick to draw lines through the chocolate from center to edge of caps to mimic gills; let set.


Using a paring knife, make a small hole in center of each coated cap.  Dip one end of each stem in remaining white chocolate, and insert into a hole; let set.  Store mushrooms up to 1 week in airtight containers, and keep in a cool, dry place.


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