When I recently came across candied rose berries at a favorite market of mine, I couldn’t help but stop in my tracks. The pastel pink beads sparkled with sweetness, and their scent was alluringly delicate and floral. Immediately inspired, I decided that these candies needed a dessert to both match and celebrate their exquisite qualities.
I could already see the cupcake crowns awaiting them in a delicious and dainty future. I wanted to be sure to avoid making the kind of pungent rose fare that can evoke perfume or soap, so I decided to pair rosewater with buttermilk, adding lemon to heighten the buttermilk’s creamy tang. The resulting batter was just what I’d hoped for: a welcome hint of rose in an all-around delicate dessert.
Buttermilk rosewater cupcakes (makes 16-18 standard size cupcakes)
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sugar
½ cup butter, softened
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¾ cup rosewater
2/3 cup buttermilk
¼ cup lemon juice
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line muffin pans with 16-18 cupcake liners. Sift together the first four ingredients; set aside. Cream the sugar and butter, mixing until pale and even, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla and beat until incorporated. Alternate adding the dry ingredients and remaining wet ingredients, mixing well after each addition. Finally, fold in the lemon zest. Fill lined cups about 2/3 full. Bake for 15-18 minutes, watching closely and removing from the oven as soon as a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove cakes from pan as soon as they are cool enough to handle (using a spoon can help), transferring them to racks or to a towel on your countertop to cool completely.
Rosewater meringue frosting
3 egg whites
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon clear corn syrup
3 tablespoons rosewater
1 tablespoon red beet juice*
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons lemon juice
With an electric mixer (preferably free-standing), beat egg whites on medium-high until frothy and opaque. Add 1 tablespoon sugar; keep beating until medium peaks form. In a small saucepan, whisk together ¾ cup sugar, syrup, rosewater, juices, and vanilla. Using a candy thermometer, bring to a boil until temperature hits 230 F. Remove from heat immediately, and with egg white mixture beating, slowly pour the syrup into the whites. Keep beating on high until bowl is no longer warm but is room temperature to the touch; this should take about 8 minutes.
Without delay, pile or pipe the icing onto the cooled cupcakes, making a rose design if desired. [To do so, start with a dollop of frosting in the center of each cupcake. Then, using a rose petal icing tip with the wider end downward, encircle the dollop with increasing numbers of petals (two, then four, then six, and and so on) as you rotate the cupcake.] This recipe makes plenty for a generous mound of frosting on every little cake. As a bonus, with its lack of oil or butter, this icing takes well to a kitchen torch if you like the look of toasted edges. (Just be sure to use caution and remove the paper cupcake liners first.)
With their tender, airy crumb and delicate rose flavor, buttermilk rosewater cupcakes are a simply lovely treat. Their creamy meringue frosting is a perfect match for the lemon, rose and buttermilk that enrich each bite. And with Valentine’s Day around the corner, a dozen rose cupcakes are perhaps as good a gift as the traditional flowers they emulate.
*No beet juice on hand? Replace with water at this stage, and if color is desired, gradually add a few drops of pink or red food coloring to frosting while beating.
Moriah VanVleet is the voice behind butter, sugar, flowers where this post first appeared.