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Crusader Cupcake 1: “Pink Velvet” Pomegranate Cupcakes

While I’d totally missed this article in last week’s Times highlighting the success of several cupcake entrepreneurs who’ve succeeded in bringing the overexposed treatlet to the Middle East, a friend pointed it my way with some subtle hinting. (This happens a lot.) Like many of the article’s commenters, she was taken with the idea of cupcakes that incorporated the flavors of the region but bemoaned the piece’s lack of recipes. Of the many interesting cupcakes mentioned, she’d gotten stuck on two in particular: a “Pink Velvet” made with pomegranate and another unhelpfully described  as a “halva cupcake”.

IMG_4259Well, I love a challenge, so here we are. Though I kind of loathe red velvet cake, the radioactively colored, curiously flavorless, and chokingly moist cupcake du jour here in D.C., a pomegranate-hued and flavored version seemed much more appealing, if only for the omission of gross amounts of Red 40. I turned, naturally, to Rose and The Cake Bible for a basic white cake. Using only whites instead of whole eggs, the pale crumb would better reveal the pomegranate’s color.  Topped with a cream cheese frosting and a drift of pomegranate seeds, I’d have a flavorful, colorful, pink velvet cupcake for the diva in all of us… that was the idea, at least. Using both pomegranate juice and pomegranate molasses in the batter resulted in cake with a noticeable fruity tang and a seductive, orchardy scent.  The color, however, was a somewhat disappointing beige. So, you could… I suppose… add a bit of food color. The cake is plenty delicious, though, and the simple cream cheese frosting complements the cake’s bright flavor.

I’ll get to the halva cupcakes–with saffron buttercream–later this week.

“Pink Velvet” Pomegranate Cupcakes
(Base Recipe: White Velvet Cake; The Cake Bible, Rose Levy Beranbaum)
Makes 12 regular cupcakes (Though I feel like my Chicago Metallic pans are smaller than the average, so maybe more like 9… just put a few tablespoons of water in any empty cups to even out the pan’s heating.)

IMG_42452 oz egg whites
¼ c cream
¼ c pomegranate juice
1/8 tsp almond extract
2 tbs pomegranate molasses
red paste food color (very optional)
1 ½ c sifted cake flour
¾ c sugar
2 ¼ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
6 tbs butter, softened

Center rack in oven and preheat to 350. Grease and flour muffin tin or use paper liners.

In a medium bowl lightly combine the egg whites, the cream, and the almond extract. In a cup, dissolve the pomegranate molasses and very optional food color in the pomegranate juice. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and pomegranate mixture. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed (high speed if using a hand mixer) and beat for 1 ½ minutes to aerate and develop the cake’s structure. Scrape down the sides. Gradually add the egg white mixture in the 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape down the sides.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pans.

Bake 24-26 minutes, or till the tops are set and a skewer inserted into the cake pulls just a few moist crumbs.

Cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pan and cool completely on rack.

Once cool, frost with cream cheese frosting and top with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds.

Cream Cheese Frosting
Dorie Greenspan, Baking from My Home to Yours

4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
4 tbs unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 lb confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/2 tbs fresh lemon juice

Beat cream cheese till smooth. Beat in butter until completely blended and smooth. Gradually blend in the sugar and continue to beat until smooth. Blend in lemon juice.

Beranbaum, Rose Levy. The Cake Bible. (New York: William Morrow Cookbooks) 1988.

Greenspan, Dorie. Baking: From My Home to Yours. (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) 2006.

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