Roasting Peacocks: Pumpkin-Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
November 20, 2014
Yes, it’s true, my childhood self expected to be reprising Cats on Broadway long ago. And yes, another self believed I’d at least be poet laureate by now. And yes, there’s still a part of me that thinks, every time, that the pretty piece of coal-colored licorice is going to taste so good.
But anticipation is hardly a guarantee for what ends up happening.
For instance, I’ve been thinking about making these cupcakes for weeks. I’ve been dreaming up the most festive, holiday-heralding recipe to showcase the fantastic vintage turkey toppers I found at a flea market during the summer. The summer! And I’ve been saving them for months to use right before Thanksgiving, my very favorite holiday.
This morning, I’d planned to start baking after a leisurely breakfast, and I was more excited than a kid on Christmas to pair each perfect cupcake with its own little turkey.
Imagine my surprise when I opened the package and discovered that my turkeys were actually peacocks. Who’s ever heard of a Thanksgiving peacock?
I had to pump the volume on iTunes Pure Pop radio to salvage the morning.
In any case, there was nothing for it but to forge on. Which was when I discovered that the other thing that never goes just how you expect it to is baking. My idea of a morning spent baking cupcakes was like this: I’d whisk around the kitchen, mixing bowl tucked beneath my arm, perfectly hand-shaped flour patches imprinted on my apron. Warm, cozy smells would drift through the apartment as early-morning sunlight softly landed on the window plants.
But no. This morning’s sky was grim, the color of refrigerated mashed potatoes. My hair was full of flour and the floor covered in splashes of cream cheese and butter. And then there was me, skip-dancing over sticky patches of floor in my pajamas while belting Taylor Swift and trying not to get sugar into the buttons of my camera.
I defy idyll.
Well, anyway. David’s been trying to get me to anticipate less and experience more. Though when he says it, it sounds more like, “Baby, stop being annoying.”
But I think what he means is that I sometimes let myself get worked up into such a frenzy for things I’m planning. I want them to go well, I want everyone to have a good time, I have a vision. So I stress and freak out and overthink every possible reaction and counter-reaction and potentially perfect or imperfect scenario so that I drive everyone around me, including myself, completely nuts.
And in the end, the event is always what it is – it’s usually nice. And all that worry – it’s usually useless.
All those months of anticipation for peacocks.
I’m trying to keep these thoughts in mind as I prepare for our annual Thanksgiving potluck. Though it’s hard to keep much in mind with my mouth full of cupcake. They’re light, yet moist, comforting and deep with winter spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice. The light, lemony frosting is a sugary dream…
But right. Thanksgiving. It’ll be good, no matter what happens, who shows up, or if it starts on time. We’ll be roasting peacocks.
Pumpkin-Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
My grocery store was out of “Philadelphia” – the German word for “cream cheese” – so I had to use a German substitute. It’s not the same. Real cream cheese will whip up into a thicker frosting. Also, feel free to substitute cooked pumpkin with applesauce if you don’t have any pumpkin on hand to cook. If you’re cooking from Germany, brown sugar can be found in Asian supermarkets. Do NOT confuse with raw sugar (sold in Germany as “brown” sugar). Makes 18 cupcakes.
For the cupcakes:
1 ¾ cups (220 g) flour
2 tbsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
¼ tsp. ground allspice
1 ½ cups (340 g) butter, softened
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
½ cup (95 g) brown sugar
3 tbsp. molasses
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
¼ cup (60 g) cooked pumpkin
1 tsp. bourbon (opt.)
For the icing:
1 8-oz. package (230 g) cream cheese
1 ½ cups (180 g) powdered sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350º F (180º C).
Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl: flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice. In a larger bowl, cream butter with granulated sugar and brown sugar. Add eggs, vanilla, molasses, pumpkin, and bourbon, and beat until smooth. Slowly mix in dry ingredients with a spoon until you have a smooth batter.
Line cupcake tin, then fill each liner with batter until ¾ full. Bake for 20-25 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean. Cool on wire racks.
To make the frosting, beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer until softened. Slowly add sugar, zest and juice, and beat until creamy, about 3 minutes.
Frost cupcakes when cool.