Cherry Amaretto Cupcakes

I had every (good/virtuous/saintly) intention of posting a healthy recipe to satisfy myself and my fellow healthy, clean-eating, protein crazy kindred spirits out there.  Never fear, I’m working on it over the next day or so.  It’s a’comin’.  In the meantime, something for everyone else … oh who am I kidding?  As a very wise, very astute personal trainer friend of mine (aka Nikki at Cinchpt) keeps saying:

“If you’re going to have a cheat meal or treat, make it something truly fantastic that you will enjoy” … and variations on that theme 🙂

So in keeping with that sage ethos and a need for small portions, it’s cupcake time.  Again.  Hell, I bought a barrel full of cupcake liners and decorative girly stuff and I intend to use them.

I also just got me a bag of bitter almonds (technically they’re bitter apricot kernels).  They are what give amaretti biscuits that distinctive bitter almond flavour.  Ditto the Amaretto di Saronno liqueur.  Isn’t it divine?  Yes.  You wouldn’t eat these little kernels by the bagful though as they do contain traces of cyanide.  Used in small amounts in cooking though, they impart a lovely flavour that bitter almond essence can only hope to imitate.

Oh, I can hear the cries of despair … bitter almonds?  I can’t find them anywhere!!!!!!!!!!!!  If you’re in Melbourne, Mediterranean Wholesalers stock them and you may also be able to find them at specialty nut shops and continental grocers.  Elsewhere, try the same types of stores.  If you really can’t find them, do not despair.  Substitute fifty grams of sweet almonds, for the bitter almonds, and add two teaspoons of bitter almond essence to the cupcakes.  Crisis over.  The cupcakes will be delicious.

I love cherries and almonds and yes, I’m aware that I’m totally out of season again.  Well, pardon me for following a fine tradition of preserving and storing foods for the winter.  Snap frozen cherries, picked at their peak, are great.  So, when in season, use fresh.  Otherwise frozen are lovely.  You get that wonderful burst of summer.  If you are freezing them yourself, pit them first.  Pitting frozen cherries is a lesson in how to get frostbite and tempt the loss of digits.  It hurts a lot before the numbness takes over and you lose all feeling in your fingers.  Voice of experience … some things I just have to learn the hard way 😀

So cherries, almonds and mascarpone.  The cherry mascarpone frosting is luscious, fruity and creamy.  The amaretto cupcakes are soft and light as air.  Moist but not greasy.  They really do taste like amaretti biscuits 🙂

Just like an amaretto cherry cheesecake … only not.  It’s a cupcake.  Cherry-amaretto-spectacular.  And just a little edgy, which is good because I don’t know what evil fairy made me go for the pink pearly bits and lacy butterfly skirt thingy.

Makes 18 cupcakes

Amaretto Cupcakes
200 grams sugar
50 grams bitter almonds (i.e. bitter apricot kernels)
185 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 eggs
40 millilitres Amaretto di Saronno liqueur (optional)
170 grams plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder

Cherry Mascarpone Frosting
80 grams pitted cherries (fresh or frozen)
300 grams mascarpone
150 grams icing sugar
85 grams unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Make the cupcakes
Preheat the oven to 180°C.  Set 18 cupcake liners on a baking tray or use to line muffin tins.  Set aside.

Place 50 grams of the sugar and the bitter almonds in the bowl of a food processor and grind until fine.  Set aside.

Place the remaining 150 grams of sugar and the butter in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer and beat until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix well after each addition.  Add the bitter almonds and the Amaretto liqueur, if using, and mix until the batter is smooth.

Sift the flour and baking powder together.  Add to the batter and mix until the batter is light and fluffy.

Two-thirds fill the cupcake liners with the batter and bake at 180°C for about 20 minutes until risen and golden.  Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack before frosting.

Make the frosting
If using frozen cherries, defrost and drain them before weighing and using.  Purée the cherries and set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer, whisk together the mascarpone and icing sugar until thick and light.  Add the cherry purée and whisk again until smooth.  Whisk the cooled butter until it starts to thicken slightly.  Add the butter to the mascarpone cream and whisk until thickened.  Chill for about 15 – 20 minutes before using.

Fit a large piping bag with a decorative tip and fill with the mascarpone cream.  Pipe the frosting on to each cupcake.

They are at their best served on the day they are made, of course, but … un-iced cupcakes will keep for several days stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry spot.  Frosted cupcakes will keep for a day or two covered in the refrigerator.  Let them come to room temperature before serving.

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