I found some variation of this recipe and tried it out last year when I spent a long while in the US. I was separated from my own kitchen and its comforts and tools, but it was second best – I was at my parents’ house, so mostly it was at least familiar and well-stocked, quite unlike the houses of friends where I have tried to host Thanksgiving dinners in the past.
The big problem for me about the original version of this recipe is that it called for making the pumpkin mousse from Cool Whip!? WHAT? I object to anything like Cool Whip on principle, but it’s especially unfortunate not to have an alternative. My first (and until now, only) attempt to make these required that I be flexible, so I used Cool Whip and sent all of these cupcakes off to work with my father. (And one of his colleagues apparently was looking at them all “googly eyed”.) It was fine, but I wanted to find another option.
My first thought, as I decided to make these as part of a big-bang, last-bake-before-summer (and the last bake in the old Oslo office), was that maybe there was a way to make a mousse from coconut milk (I did not want to mess with heavy cream or gelatin/stabilizers or anything of that sort). I read up on it and found that it is possible, but I only had some coconut milk that would not work in this case (in cans, you can refrigerate coconut milk, and the liquid separates from the thick, cream part of the coconut milk – you can then beat the thick part to make something like a mousse cream). I had some other kind of coconut milk that is all the same consistency throughout and would not separate.
Back to the drawing board. I thought for a while and realized that Swiss meringue buttercream is so smooth, light and fluffy that it could easily be used as a filling rather than a frosting and decided to give that a go. I ended up with a lovely filling and grateful taste testers and witnesses to my baking insanity (gracious Oslo colleagues) report that it is delicious.
Should you decide to take on the challenge yourself, here is the recipe.
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ cup softened butter
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cups milk
Heat oven to 375F, line a cupcake pan with liners. Whisk dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until smooth, add eggs, vanilla and ¼ cup of the milk. Beat for several minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy. Alternately beat in dry ingredient mixture and the remaining ½ cup of milk. Put about ¼ cup into each cupcake liner.
Bake at 375F for 20 minutes (until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean). Cool on a wire rack.
Pumpkin-spice Swiss meringue (technically frosting)
3 egg whites
¾ cups sugar
½ cup butter, chilled and cubed
½ cup pumpkin puree
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ginger
Mix pumpkin puree and spices together, set aside.
In a double boiler (or a glass bowl over gently boiling water) on low heat, heat egg whites and sugar until the sugar is dissolved (if you want to be precise, a candy thermometer should read XXX). Pour this mixture into a mixing bowl and beat (with a handheld or stand mixer) until stiff peaks form (you are basically making meringue).
When the mixture reaches this stage, add the cubed butter, small bits at a time. It will take some time for the mixture to reach a more frosting like, fluffy consistency (it will look watery and curdled at various stages). Just keep adding the butter and beating.
When it has reached a fluffy, mousse-like consistency, add the pumpkin mixture and beat until well mixed.
Fill cupcakes with this “mousse” once they are cooled. To do this, you will either use a half-full piping bag and insert the tip into the cupcake and squeeze into the cupcake until the top begins to rise. Or you can cut a piece out of the top of the cupcake and manually fill the hole you made (and replace the top), as I did.
Chocolate ganache frosting
5 ounces (about a cup or so) semi-sweet chocolate
5 tablespoons of hot coffee
1/3 cup of butter, cut into small pieces
Heat chocolate and coffee together, stirring until it reaches a smooth consistency. Once smooth, remove from heat and stir in the butter, adding slowly in intervals. Stir until butter is melted and whole consistency is spreadable and cool.
Spread the chocolate ganache over the top of your filled cupcakes.