Finding out someone’s favorite color doesn’t do much for me. “Oh teal? How interesting,” I say as I fall asleep standing up, collapsing into a heap and waiting for someone to kick me awake. But finding out someone’s favorite flavors is a different story. For my friend Michael’s birthday dinner, this past weekend, I texted his husband John to find out what kind of desserts he likes and John texted back: “He loves banana cream pie and pretty much anything peanut butter.” Banana and peanut butter: what a fascinating window into Michael’s soul! As I contemplated my own favorite dessert flavors (definitely anything almond; mostly because I grew up eating rainbow cookies which are made with almond paste), I started flipping through Karen DeMasco’s Craft of Baking–which was partially responsible for the crisp I just posted–and I stumbled upon the perfect Michael dessert recipe: Banana Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Buttercream.
Had I not texted John, I never would have selected this recipe for dessert. Not because it didn’t sound good, just because banana and peanut butter aren’t really my flavors–again, I’m an almond dessert guy–but what a lucky thing that I did because these cupcakes are off-the-charts amazing. Jim Parsons, who happened to snag one the next day, just Instagrammed: “Dear @amateurgourmet, these banana cupcakes with peanut butter icing were the best cupcakes I have ever eaten and that includes specialty bakeries, etc. Eating just one was not an option, so I will now go run on the treadmill. But I sincerely thank you for sharing anyway.”
What makes them so good? Credit Karen DeMasco: her recipe is just so specific–1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil, 1 large egg, 1 large egg yolk–you know it’s the work of someone who’s tinkered with this recipe in every possible way until she hit upon the ideal results. The only thing that I was worried about were the bananas that I bought from Gelson’s. I never like to make banana recipes on the day that I buy the bananas; ideally, I buy the bananas a week before so they turn dark black and become ultra banana-y and sweet. In this case, I didn’t have that option, so I followed the advice of Amanda Hesser, who I happened to be e-mailing with at the time: I roasted them in the oven.
That’s such a simple/smart solution to the underripe banana problem, I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before. You simply slice them in half vertically, put them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, and roast at 350 until they turn a little brown. The banana smell will fill your apartment and when you mash them up, you know you’re in good banana shape for the rest of the recipe.
As for the rest of the recipe, the banana cupcake batter couldn’t be easier: it’s all a one-bowl deal. Oil, banana, eggs, egg yolk, buttermilk, vanilla, you know the drill.
Sift in your dry ingredients and then use an ice cream scoop to scoop the dough into cupcake-liner-lined cupcake tins:
Bake for 20 minutes and then test with a piece of dry spaghetti to see if it’s done:
If the batter doesn’t stick, you’re good.
Now let’s talk about the frosting or icing or buttercream or whatever you want to call it. That part’s a little trickier. Basically, you’re whipping egg whites in a stand mixer but you’ve gotta heat them up first while whisking over simmering water. See?
I mean, it’s not the hardest thing in the world, but just make sure to whisk steadily by hand or the egg might cook with all of that heat. Just do it until the egg whites are warm to the touch then transfer back to the mixer and whip until you’ve got soft peaks like this:
After that, you work in room temperature butter and then the peanut butter:
You’ll struggle not to eat all of the icing straight out of the mixer bowl:
Then, when the cupcakes are cool, you top them with the icing and you can do that with an offset spatula, for that casual look, or do what I did: cut the corner off of a freezer bag, stick in a piping tip, and pipe the frosting on in circles. It’s actually really easy. And the results are pretty dramatic:
As suspected, the birthday boy (and others in attendance) were all very happy with this dessert:
So don’t waste time asking people their favorite color. That’s a snoozefest. Ask their favorite flavors and then turn those flavors into cupcakes; unless their favorite flavors are “tuna” and “cabbage” in which case, find new friends.
Recipe: Banana Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting
Summary: Adapted from Karen DeMasco’s “Craft of Baking”
- 3/4 cup sugar PLUS 1/4 cup for frosting
- 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
- 3/4 cup mashed banana (about 1 1/2 medium bananas, mashed with a fork, the riper the better; or roast ’em first!)
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
- 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract PLUS 1/4 teaspoon for frosting
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt PLUS 1/4 teaspoon for frosting
- 2 large egg whites
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
- Preheat the oven to 350. Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar and oil. Whisk in the banana, egg, egg yolk, buttermilk, and vanilla.
- In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Using a whisk, mix the flour mixture into the banana mixture until just combined. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling them three-quarters full (I like to use an ice cream scoop with a lever for this). Bake, rotating the tin halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Invert the cupcakes onto a wire rack, turn them top side up, and let them cool completely.
- To make the buttercream, fill a medium saucepan with 2 inches of water and bring it to a simmer. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the egg whites and sugar. Set the bowl on top of the saucepan, and whisking constantly, heat the egg mixture until it is warm to the touch, about 3 minutes. Transfer the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whisk on medium speed until the whites become translucent and shiny and form a soft peak, about 5 minutes more.
- With the machine running, add the butter, a cube at a time, and mix until combined. Increase the speed to medium-high and add the peanut butter, vanilla, and salt. Scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary, beat until the buttercream becomes shiny and creamy, about 10 minutes.
- Spread (or pipe) the buttercream over the tops of the cupcakes, swirling it decoratively. They’ll keep in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Preparation time: 30 minute(s)
Cooking time: 20 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 12