Banana Cupcakes, Three Frostings

Boy, did I make a lot of cupcakes during the past week! I made seven dozen for a late night of rehearsals of my son's high school play, "Once Upon a Mattress." A few days later, I made another four dozen for the cast party. It felt good when one of the leads stopped me at the cast party to tell me how much he enjoyed my cupcakes -- these banana cupcakes in particular. When he makes it big, I can say he liked my cupcakes.

I've made these banana cupcakes several times. They are moist and full of banana flavor. If you're like me and wind up with a lot of black bananas, they are a welcome alternative to banana bread. I've played around with various frostings and found that some work better with banana than others. Here are three I like best.

Since the cupcakes are quite sweet, I think they are best with a frosting that's not too sweet. One great alternative is a classic cream cheese frosting, pictured above.

My favorite frosting in terms of taste is caramel frosting. The drawback, though, is that it's hard to make the frosting look pretty. Because it's cooked, you need to let it cool to just the temperature to be able to pipe it. Too warm and it will not hold its shape; too cool and it will be too stiff to flow through the piping bag. I managed to pipe the frosting in the top photo. I added a little dollop of chocolate ganache in the middle. It didn't look that great, and the chocolate competed with the buttery frosting. I wouldn't do that again.

For the cast cupcakes, above, I just spread the frosting. I should have waited a bit longer for it to cool because it oozed down the sides a bit. I tried to gussy them up with some sparkly sugar and a candy pea (because the play was a spoof on The Princess and the Pea). They didn't look terrific but they sure were delicious.

I also tried to make a vanilla buttercream with chocolate swirled in it. The effect wasn't as attractive as I had hoped, and I thought it was too sweet to be paired with the banana cupcakes. The cast enjoyed them, though, so I included the recipe below.

I got the cupcake recipe from a food blogger named Evan, who also made these cupcakes with three frostings, but three that were completely different from mine -- Honey-Cinnamon Buttercream, and Peanut Butter Buttercream. So if you want to try those, go to her post.

Large Batch Banana Cupcakes
Adapted from Hello Cupcakes! by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson. I found the recipe on this blog post.

Makes 36 standard cupcakes (or 30 regular and a bunch of minis)

3 1/3 cups (417 grams) all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt (I used ¼ tsp because I only had salted butter on hand)
6 medium ripe bananas
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
2 1/2 cups (500 grams) sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

You'll need three good-size mixing bowls. In one, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In the second bowl, mash bananas and buttermilk.

In your third bowl – the stand mixer bowl, if you’re using one -- beat butter and sugar until fluffy. (If you don’t have soft butter, just let the stand mixer do its thing until the butter is room temperature.) Add the eggs, one at a time.

Add the flour mixture, alternating with the with the banana mixture in batches, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Stir in vanilla.

Spoon batter into paper lined muffin tins. If you happen to have Pampered Chef scoops, I used the large for the regular cupcakes, and the smallest for the mini cupcakes. Pop the pans into the oven.

Bake until light golden brown on top and a toothpick comes out with a couple of crumbs. My mini cupcakes took about 15 minutes to bake. The regular cupcakes took about 20 minutes.

Classic Cream Cheese Frosting

1 8-ounce package of regular cream cheese (I think this works best if it's somewhat cool)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar

Blend together cream cheese and butter. With mixer on low speed, add the vanilla, then gradually add the powdered sugar until completely incorporated.

This frosts about 2 dozen cupcakes. I used a large star tip to pipe the frosting.

Caramel Frosting (I've also seen this called brown sugar frosting.)
This frosts about a dozen cupcakes, so you’ll need to double (at least) to frost a large batch.

6 Tablespoons butter
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed (I prefer dark but light works fine)
6 Tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups (250 grams) powdered sugar

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the sugar and the milk. Bring to a boil and continue to boil for 1 minute (it's in bold because I often forget this part). Remove from the heat, add the vanilla and gradually mix in the powdered sugar. Let cool until slightly thickened. If you want to pipe it, you'll have to keep checking until it's at the point where it holds its shape but isn't too stiff. It's easier just to spread.

Swirled Vanilla and Chocolate Buttercream Icing
My own concoction. Use this with the banana cupcakes only if you like things really sweet.

2 1/2 ounces (or so) bittersweet chocolate chips
3 cups (375 g) confectioners' sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons whipping cream (I sometimes go up to 3)

Melt chocolate chips in microwave in 30-second increments. Let cool while you make the vanilla icing.

In a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, mix together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.

Add vanilla and cream. Continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream if needed for desired consistency.

Mix one cup of the frosting with the melted chocolate chips. Using a long icing spatula, make a stripe of chocolate icing down one side of a pastry bag. Fill the rest with the vanilla buttercream. When you pipe the frosting (I used a star tip), it will swirl.

Frosts 24 cupcakes with a generous amount of frosting.

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