Lately I’ve been experimenting more and more with incorporating middle eastern flavors into my baking. This post is partially inspired by making Molly Yeh’s Halva Magic Bars recently – what a treat! I’ve been adapting them to make them less cloyingly sweet, so stay tuned for that recipe. This post is also inspired by Sally’s February Baking Challenge to make Swiss Meringue Buttercream. We’ve made swiss meringue before, but this is the first time we’ve made swiss meringue buttercream.
The secret weapon in these cupcakes is pistachio pudding mix! Let’s just say that we learned the hard way making Molly’s Halva Magic Bars that I can’t be trusted with a bunch of pistachios (shelled or not) in the house. This pudding mix is the best shortcut to incredible pistachio flavor without having to shell and process a bunch of raw pistachios. I also had some leftover halva (or halwa as he calls it) that I decided to place in the center of each cupcake for a little texture and additional nutty flavor. Halva is a sweet sesame-based paste that you can cut into squares and eat with your hands. Mr. Foodie says it was a staple sweet treat from his childhood, and I’ve grown to love its subtle sweet, nutty flavor. You can find it at any middle eastern grocery or online.
Then there’s the swiss meringue buttercream! This is tricky to make, and I appreciated Sally’s instructions on how to recover curdled buttercream because that is exactly what happened to mine by the time I was adding the third stick of butter. I noticed the texture change to this fluff instead of the silky consistency that Sally said I should end up with. No worries! I put it over simmering water and re-beat it as she instructed – et voila! Perfect swiss meringue buttercream. I chose to flavor mine with rosewater because it goes so well with pistachio. You can find rosewater in many grocery stores, any middle eastern grocery, and online. Note: a little rosewater in anything goes a long way!
Finally, I decorated them with edible dried rose petals also found in my local middle eastern grocery. Aren’t they pretty?
These cupcakes aren’t just lookers. The sweet, buttery frosting with its subtle floral taste and aroma works so. dang. well. with the pistachio cupcakes. The pudding works like a charm, and the little slightly-salty, sesame bite of halva in the middle is delightful. A slight warning for those of you who like super-sweet cupcakes – these are not for you. The combination of nutty pistachio and floral rosewater cuts through a lot of the sugary-sweetness of normal cupcakes. But that makes them just perfect for us 🙂 The full recipe is below. Enjoy!
Pistachio Halva Cupcakes with Rosewater Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Makes 24 cupcakes
For the pistachio cupcakes
1 1/2 sticks (12 T) butter, softened (30-40 min at room temp)
1 1/2 C sugar
2 C flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 packet pistachio pudding mix
1/4 tsp salt
3 large eggs + 1 yolk
3/4 C milk
2 tsp vanilla
24 pieces of Halva, about 1/2″ square
Dried, edible rose petals for garnish
For the buttercream frosting
This makes plenty to cover 24 cupcakes
*replace one tsp of vanilla with 1 tsp of rosewater for my version
For the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat the softened butter and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Combine the dry ingredients (except halva) into a bowl. Combine the wet ingredients into a different bowl. With the mixer running on low-medium, alternate the wet and dry ingredients until combined. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure it is incorporated. Place cupcake liners into cupcake tins. Pour a 1/4 cup of batter into each cupcake liner. Place one piece of halva (cut to 1/2″ square) into each batter-filled liner. Cover the piece of halva lightly with the batter in the liner (to avoid a “hole” in the top of each cupcake). Bake for 12-15 minutes (depending on your oven). Let rest on a cooling rack until cool. Using a star tip and pastry bag, pipe Sally’s Swiss Meringue Buttercream w/ Rosewater onto cupcakes (hint: if you start from the middle of the cupcake and spiral out, you get a nice rose-like design). My edible roses came in little buds, so I pulled the petals off, taking care not to let any of the little black “seeds” from the buds get into the petals. Sprinkle the petals over the frosted cupcakes.