I’ve had these cupcakes in my head for many months, and (happy joy!) it was finally time to realize the dream. They are the perfect flavor combination for Thanksgiving and the entire holiday season, as they evoke the warmth and coziness of this chilly and festive time of year.
No doubt you’ve had, or at least heard of, the combination of pumpkin and marshmallow, but… spekuloos?! What the…?? The magical wonderment of spekuloos came into my life in the summer of 2010 on a trip to New York City, when I discovered the Wafels & Dinges truck. My friend and I happened upon the wafel truck at the corner of Bleecker and Carmine Streets in the West Village, but they had just arrived and were not yet open for business. Sadly, we could not wait for these Belgian delights, as we were on our way to Radio City Music Hall; however, it was quite evident that I needed to find the truck again before leaving New York a few days later. Nowadays, Wafels & Dinges is so popular that they have trucks and carts stationed all over the city– thankfully, a wafel is not difficult to find when the craving strikes you. (I have taken it upon myself to educate as many New York residents and visitors as possible about the magnificence of the wafel truck. I think of it as one little way that I can make the world a better place.)
However, back in 2010, they were still a pretty new and tiny operation, and one had to hunt for the purveyors of these coveted wafels. I followed their Twitter location alerts for the next three days, sure that a wafel would soon be in my hot little hands. Unfortunately, the next day they had a private party and the day after that they were in Brooklyn, far from where I was. On my very last day, I managed to chase down the truck… just as they were closing down. I explained to the grinning Belgian gentlemen that I was visiting from California and had been desperately seeking a wafel for three days. They were so very kind to produce a fresh wafel from the depths of their mobile wafel lair, topped with a melty, creamy substance resembling… caramel, maybe? This was their signature wafel– a must for every Wafels & Dinges newbie. I hadn’t quite caught the name they had uttered: speck? speckle? huh? SPEKULOOS. The magical topping known as spekuloos (pronounced SPEK-uh-loos and sometimes spelled ‘speculoos’) is a spread made from crushed spekuloos cookies, which are a type of Dutch/Belgian spiced biscuit, somewhat similar to graham crackers. It is thick, warm, and oozes into all the little square wells of your wafel… I’ve been obsessed with it ever since.
…which brings me to these cupcakes. I’ve been imagining ways to use spekuloos over the past two years, and given my life’s mission to realize the best treats in cupcake form, naturally I had to develop a cupcake featuring spekuloos. In the meantime, Trader Joe’s began selling “Cookie Butter“, which made my jaw drop… It was spekuloos! It was considerably thicker than its New York counterpart, more like the consistency of thick peanut butter, but definitely the same unmistakable flavor.
I hadn’t come up with the perfect cupcake incarnation just yet, but then I made pumpkin waffles for breakfast one fateful Saturday morning, which I topped with said cookie butter, and the universe all of a sudden made sense: pumpkin cupcakes with marshmallow frosting stuffed with spekuloos! I had been thinking about the pumpkin/marshmallow combo for a while, but I felt that they needed another flavor to make them special. The pumpkin and spekuloos flavors melded so harmoniously in my mouth that I could scarcely contain myself. The gooey toasted marshmallow on top would surely be the perfect crown. And so, this creation was born in my cupcake-consumed mind… Would it taste as good as I imagined?
Thanksgiving seemed like just the right opportunity to try my little experiment. I did not have a go-to pumpkin cupcake until very recently, when I attended a cupcake “bootcamp” with Kara Lind from Kara’s Cupcakes (a popular San Francisco Bay Area cupcakery) at the new San Francisco Cooking School. Previous recipes that I had tried were either too pumpkin-y, too spicy, or too oily; Kara’s version has just the right balance of pumpkin and spice, and a beautiful, moist crumb– just what I had been looking for.
I felt that it was essential to the success of my cupcake to have the perfect spekuloos filling. I put together a simple recipe inspired by various recipes for peanut butter frostings, since the two “butters” are quite similar in texture. With a couple of minor adjustments, my filling was spot-on: creamy and dense with that distinctive spekuloos flavor shining through. I could definitely eat this stuff right out of the bowl. Not that I did that… much. 😉
The third and final element is the marshmallow frosting from my favorite s’mores cupcake recipe from Trophy Cupcakes in Seattle, as featured on Martha Stewart a few years back. I changed it up slightly by adding vanilla bean paste instead of extract, ’cause you know, vanilla beans are fancy n’ stuff. I would then “toast” the decorated frosting using one of my all-time favorite tools: the kitchen torch. Fire takes marshmallow frosting to a whole new level, as any campfire enthusiast knows. The trifecta was complete; it was time to begin.
Pumpkin Marshmallow Spekuloos Cupcakes
Yields 12 cupcakes
For the Pumpkin Cupcakes (adapted from Kara’s Cupcakes):
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- ⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 cup pumpkin purée, at room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup canola or vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
For the Spekuloos Filling:
- 2 ounces (½ stick) unsalted butter, softened
- ½ cup spekuloos spread (cookie butter)
- ½ cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon whole milk
For the Vanilla Bean Marshmallow Frosting (adapted from Trophy Cupcakes):
- 4 large egg whites
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or pure vanilla extract)
To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the wells of a standard muffin pan with cupcake papers and set aside.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg in a bowl and set aside.
Place the pumpkin purée in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-low speed for about 30 seconds or until smooth. Add the sugar and beat on medium-low to combine. Gradually add the oil and mix until combined; then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Increase the speed to medium and beat until the mixture is smooth and has thickened slightly, about 1-2 minutes. On low speed, add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, mixing each time just until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Your batter will be a homogenous orange and will have a medium-thick consistency.
Fill the wells of your prepared muffin pan ⅔ full; you will have just enough batter for exactly 12 cupcakes. Bake the cakes for 18-20 minutes, rotating the pan once halfway through. They are done when a cake tester inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean and the tops spring back when pressed lightly.
Let the cupcakes cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes. When cool enough to handle, transfer them directly to the rack to cool completely before filling and frosting.
While the cupcakes are baking, make the spekuloos filling:
Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 30 seconds. Add the spekuloos spread and mix on medium-low just until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl; beat on medium speed until fully incorporated, another 30 seconds or so.
Add the confectioners’ sugar and mix on low speed to combine, then increase to medium and beat until the mixture is smooth. It will be fairly thick at this point; add the vanilla and milk and beat on medium-low to loosen up the consistency. If still too thick, add more milk 1 teaspoon at a time. It should be a spreadable consistency. Transfer the filling to a small pastry bag fitted with a medium plain tip and set aside.
When the cupcakes have cooled to room temperature, you will need to scoop out their centers, for that is where your precious spekuloos filling will soon reside! Using either a cupcake corer (a serrated “plunger” tool that cuts and removes a portion of cake) or a small, sharp knife, cut out the middle of each cupcake. Retrieve your pastry bag and fill the hollowed centers of the cupcakes with about 1 tablespoon of filling. You will have leftover cake scraps, and you will more than likely have plenty of extra filling… You know what to do. 😉
Note: This filling would also make a fabulous, rich frosting that would be delicious on top of chocolate, vanilla, carrot, and many other cake flavors. Add about 2 extra teaspoons of milk so that the frosting pipes and spreads more easily.
To make the marshmallow frosting:
Place the egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in the heatproof bowl of a stand mixer. Set the bowl over a medium saucepan filled about halfway with simmering (not boiling) water. The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water. Whisk the mixture constantly until the sugar has dissolved and the egg whites are warm to the touch, 3 to 4 minutes. It will look foamy and have a very thin consistency.
Transfer the bowl to a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and beat, starting on low speed and gradually increasing to high, until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 7 minutes. You will see the mixture transform before your eyes from a thin, yellowish pool to a bowl of thick, ribbony, billowing white frosting! It will multiply several times in volume as well. Check the progress of your peaks periodically by stopping the mixer and detaching the whisk. Flip the whisk upside-down; if your peaks flop over, they are not ready yet. Keep mixing until the peaks stand up without the tips bending much. Once you have achieved your stiff peaks, add the vanilla bean paste, and mix until combined. Take care not to over-beat, as you will end up with a grainy mixture. This frosting should be used immediately, so I recommend making it as close to serving time as possible. (In looking at my photos, I realize that my peaks were slightly on the soft side. No matter, the frosting still worked great for piping and shaping.)
Transfer the frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a medium or large star tip; it will weigh barely anything compared to other frostings, since it is largely composed of air beaten into the egg whites. Frost the cupcakes with swirls, dollops, or any other design of your choosing. This frosting hold its shape beautifully, so feel free to use a variety of open and closed star tips and try some different shapes or designs. One of my favorites for this meringue-style frosting is this “bed-head” style, which is created simply with an offset spatula. Place a mound of frosting on top of the cupcake; you need not smooth it out or make it pretty. Touch the tip of your spatula to the frosting and gently pull it away. You will pull out a strand of frosting, which will hold its shape. Do this several times all over the frosting, and you will have something resembling a head of wild hair!
Once you have shaped your frosting on a few cupcakes, it’s time to fire up the torch! Hold the torch a few inches from the cupcake, and with a low or medium-low flame, gently heat the frosting all the way around using a swirling or circular motion. Repeat in small batches of cupcakes.
It’s important to exercise patience here because using a high flame or holding the torch too close or too long on one spot will lead to burning/charred marshmallow, rather than a light toasting! Ideally, you want a nice golden brown color, though of course if you prefer them darker, torch them a little longer at your own risk. The technique takes a bit of practice, but it is very useful for s’mores cupcakes or any type of meringue work.
If desired, garnish the tops of the cupcakes with shards or crushed bits of Toasted Pumpkin Seed Brittle, toasted pumpkin seeds, cinnamon-sugar, or crushed spekuloos cookies.
I was so pleased with these cupcakes, and I think they will become an annual tradition at the holiday table in my house. Give them a try—I hope you like them as much I do. Happy holidays to you and your loved ones! 🙂
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2012.