This old-fashioned cherry cupcake is just the thing for Valentine’s Day. I’ve updated a cake that my mother used to make for my sisters and me when we were children with all the flavors of a bourbon Old-Fashioned. The rosy pink color of the cake immediately brings to mind the Feast of Saint Valentine.
When I drink Old-Fashioneds, I seldom add cherries, but the cherries are essential to this cake. The cake is colored a beautiful rosy pink by the addition of maraschino cherry juice and a generous amount of chopped cherries that add texture, and moisture to the light white cake. The cake itself tastes like the best vanilla cake you have ever ate with a soft nod to the maraschino cherries. A fragrant orange-bourbon buttercream tops the cupcakes and completes the adult “Old-Fashioned” flavor.
I had remembered this cake fondly but sometimes the memory is better than the actual thing. Not so in the case of this cake. In fact, I made it twice recently while my mother and I visited my sister and her family. We couldn’t get enough of the cake and it is now my current favorite. After all, everything that is new was once old and vice versa. When making this cake for a mixed age crowd, you can make two versions of the boozy icing and eliminate the bourbon for the under 21 crowd. The orange buttercream brings a bright taste of sunshine to what can sometimes be dreary days in February, with or without the bourbon.
I never thought that this simple recipe would remind me of an important lesson. The day that I was baking the cupcakes for the photo, I ran into a legendary pastry chef. When I told him what I was making, he said “You cooks (as opposed to pastry chefs) have all the fun. Can you imagine what ‘they’ would say if I made a cake with maraschino cherries?” Because I love to make my food delicious and sometimes playful, it had never occurred to me that there might be ingredient boundaries for some cooks. I think that this is a good lesson for our holiday devoted to love: If you love it, and it makes you happy, don’t worry what other people think. These Old-Fashioned cupcakes make me very happy — and I think that they’ll do the same for you.
CHERRY CUPCAKE WITH ORANGE-BOURBON FROSTING
Start to finish: 40 minutes
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/8 cups granulated white sugar
2 ¼ cups cake flour or 2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ cup maraschino cherry juice
½ cup whole milk
½ generous cup chopped maraschino cherries (about 1 cup of un-chopped cherries)
4 egg whites, stiffly beaten
Preheat oven to 350 F
Using an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.
In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in alternatively with the cherry juice and the milk. Remove from electric mixer and stir the chopped cherries into the cake batter. Fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites.
Prepare a regular cupcake pan by placing liners in each mold. Fill each cupcake 3/4 of the way full. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Let cool on a rack and make the frosting.
Bourbon Old-Fashioned Frosting:
1 box (1 pound) powdered sugar
Pinch of fine-grain sea salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ generous teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon orange extract
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1-2 tablespoons bourbon, depending on taste
Zest of one large navel orange
Sift box of powdered sugar and salt or whisk well to remove any lumps. Set aside.
Cream butter until fluffy using a stand mixer or a hand mixer set on medium speed.
Slowly add the sugar. When the sugar is incorporated in the butter, add vanilla extract, cream and bourbon one tablespoon at a time until your desired consistency is reached.
Stir in orange zest at the end. Taste and add more bourbon only if you want it to taste a little boozier.
If it is too stiff, add a little more cream. If it is too loose, add a little more sugar.
Taste for balance and add a touch more salt and vanilla if needed. Spread on top of cupcakes or place in a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip and decorate in a swirl pattern. Top with a pink conversation heart or stemmed cherry, if desired.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the chef and pit master at online retailer CarolinaCueToGo.com and the author of three books, including “Taming the Flame.”