Burnt butter and pecan cupcakes with pretzel icing

Gold? yellow, glittering, precious gold ?
No, Gods, I am no idle votarist.
Roots, you clear heav’ns! thus much of this will make;
Black, white; fair, soul; wrong, right;
Base, noble; old, young; coward, valiant.
You Gods ! why this? what this? you Gods! why,
Will lug your priests and servants from your sides :
Pluck stout men’s pillows from below their heads.
This yellow slave
Will knit and break religions; bless th’ accurs’d ;
Make the hoar leprosy ador’d; place thieves,
And give them title, knee, and approbation,
With senators on the bench [...]

-Shakespeare, Timon of Athens

Yeah I’m pretty sure equal prose and actions described therein could be inspired by these golden velvet cakes of mine. It’s true, it’s incredibly unsurprisingly true: these are indeed yet another of my permutations of red velvet cake. Will it never end?

They were going to be brown velvet cakes, but… they aren’t that brown. With the burnt butter, I was kind of thinking there might be a tinge of brown, but that just means that the brown velvet title is reserved for some future cake that very likely features the Valrhona cocoa powder that came into my possession recently. But for now, everything is golden.

I’ve never burned butter before, so I kind of winged it but it worked out brilliantly. The smell of it was enough to convince me to skip out any of the other flavourings I might have considered adding. Burnt butter in everything from now on.

And the pretzel icing… it’s rather wondrous. I surprised myself when I came up with that one. The idea seemed like it could work, I acted on the idea, and the result of the action was spectacular. So spectacular that I’m making the leftover icing into truffles because to let it go to waste would be an act of villainy.

Burnt butter and pecan cupcakes
220g unsalted butter
80g finely chopped pecans
335g (1 1/2 cups) caster sugar
3 large eggs
1/4 tsp salt
3 tablespoons lukewarm water
400g (2 1/2 cups) plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbs white vinegar

Start at least an hour or two ahead of when you’d usually start as the burnt butter takes up a bit of extra time.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat until liquid. Stir the butter frequently with a wooden spoon. After a while it will start to foam quite a lot. Keep stirring and scraping the bottom of the saucepan. The butter will start to turn a dark golden brown, although you’ll have to keep pushing the foam out of the way to see it. When it smells nutty and kind of caramel-y, pour it into a bowl and leave to cool for 15 minutes, then put it in the fridge to solidify. Once it has solidified, take it out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature to soften.

While you’re waiting for the butter to solidify then soften, heat the oven to 180°C. Toast the chopped pecans on a baking tray for 5 minutes, then allow to cool.

Cream the burnt butter and sugar together in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment until fluffy and light (about 5-10 minutes). Add the eggs in one at a time, beating well after each one. Remember to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula if necessary. Add the salt and lukewarm water and mix well.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Add the toasted pecans and stir through. Add about 1/3 of this into the other mixture and start beating, then slowly add about 1/3 of the buttermilk while the mixer is running. Add the next third of the dry ingredients and beat, followed by the next third of the buttermilk as before, and then repeat for the last time. Once the mixture is well combined, get a small bowl and put the bicarbonate of soda in it, then add the vinegar and whisk with a fork to make sure any lumps dissolve. Add this into the cake mixture and beat on medium speed for about 10 seconds.

Spoon the mixture into miniature cupcake papers lining the holes of a miniature cupcake pan, then bake for 8-10 minutes. Put a cake tester or skewer into one of the cakes to check if it’s done — the skewer should come out clean. If you’re making normal sized cupcakes, they take about 13-15 minutes. Once out of the oven, leave the cupcakes to cool in the pan for 10 minutes (they’re very delicate when still hot) then carefully remove them onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

Pretzel icing
100g pretzels (the hard, crunchy sort)
500g cream cheese, softened
100g butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla paste
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup milk

Process the pretzels in a food processor until they’re a mixture of coarse pretzel dust with a few small fragments of pretzel. Set aside.

Beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth in the bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment. Scrape the sides of the bowl down once or twice. Add the sugar and beat until well combined, then the vanilla and beat again, then the pretzel dust/fragments and beat again. The mixture will be very thick, so add the milk a quarter cup at a time, beating for a couple of minutes after each addition, to thin the icing out a bit and make it smooth.

Ice your cakes, decorate with pretzels if you wish, and you’re done.

  12 comments for “Burnt butter and pecan cupcakes with pretzel icing

  1. August 17, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    This red velvet business could go on forever and I would be quite content to be honest with you. Although the real question is, will I ever be able to make all of these variations? Without becoming 500 pounds. Hmm.

    I love pretzels in baked goods or sweet things. You are a genius.

    • Jess
      August 19, 2010 at 8:54 am

      Lab meetings. The solution is lab meetings. Bake cupcakes, then give them away as quickly as possible so you aren’t tempted to eat them all, and everyone gives you marriage proposals.

  2. August 18, 2010 at 2:11 am

    I recently read a photographer discussing how limiting your art to a specific category (such as self-portraits) really pushes your creativity. I think that can be applied here to your exploration of red velvet adaptations. And I really appreciate that many of these variations don’t have food coloring. This browned butter pretzel creation sounds amazing as I love sweet and salty combinations.

    • Jess
      August 19, 2010 at 8:57 am

      That’s a good point, having boundaries really does push your creativity. It’s also nice to have the safety net of a tested base recipe that pretty much always turns out a very good cake with a texture that people seem to find kind of mind-blowing, so tinkering with that usually has a good chance of ending well!

  3. August 18, 2010 at 8:23 am

    Wow, that frosting sounds to die for! Really, pretzels in frosting? Who would have thought!

    • Jess
      August 19, 2010 at 8:59 am

      When I thought it up, I googled to see if it already existed and was highly surprised to find that it didn’t! It’s amazing. I was trying very hard not to eat it by the spoonful while I was decorating the cupcakes. One spoonful for the cupcake, one for me, one spoonful for the cupcake, one for me……

  4. August 18, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    I kid you not, I was actually fluttering my hands at the computer while reading this. How do you do it, my dear? How? How do you always come up with these flavours that make my insides go squishy with wanting? Burnt butter and pretzels, burnt butter and pretzels…

    Please make something with orange or grapefruit in it soon so that my heart can have a moment to recuperate. Otherwise, you might do my head in. :P

    • Jess
      August 19, 2010 at 9:02 am


      On the weekend I just happened to make a recipe so full of orange (precious, precious blood orange, actually) that your stomach will want to climb up through your oesophagus and try to run away, it’ll be so terrified. Just you wait and see.

  5. August 19, 2010 at 10:02 am

    Aww, you *do* care! :D

  6. August 22, 2010 at 8:05 am

    Wow!! Pretzel frosting! What an interesting combination. You never cease to amaze with your imaginativeness.

  7. August 25, 2010 at 2:39 am

    Wait, you can burn butter and still get delicious cupcakes?! How come no one told me this. Recently, I tried a brown butter recipe and I totally burnt the butter. It was an utter disaster. Or so I thought. This recipe is sheer genius!

  8. Cheri K
    September 20, 2010 at 10:41 am

    Made these on Friday…INFREAKINGCREDIBLE!!!
    I made them standard sized and topped them off with a mini pretzel half dipped in milk
    chocolate…wish I could somehow send you a picture. Thanks for sharing this recipe.
    I already have requests to make them again!

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