A few days ago I saw some fennel bulbs and red beets that looked really enticing. It was in some fancy-schmancy grocery store way up north of the city. Even though the peak season for fennel is more during winter than spring, and beets are more of a summer thing, I had been wanting to use both of them in something sweet for some time, so I bought 2 fennel bulbs and 4 red beets.
When I got home I realized I had exactly 2 cups of almond flour in a bag with the expiration date “4/25/2014” on the bag. So I decided it was time to try making fennel cupcakes with red beet frosting!
The problem was not finding a recipe online that I could use as a guide for my own recipe. Google kept asking if I meant to search for “funnel” cakes, showing me lots of pictures of deep-fried funnel cakes at state country fairs. Nice, but not what I wanted.
I eventually found a recipe for fennel cake with anise syrup. After a few tweaks, I finally came up with the recipe below. Enjoy!
Fennel Cupcakes (adapted from Food and Wine’s recipe for fennel cake with Anise Syrup)
2 cups almond flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, whole
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium fennel bulb—halved, cored and thinly sliced
6 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon lemon juice, plus 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon anise extract
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 12-cupcake tin (standard size) with 12 cupcake liners. Alternately, you can butter and flour each cupcake mold, but it might be tricky to remove, so be warned. I used a baking spray, and it was very difficult to remove them without damaging the sides of each cupcake. (I’m showing the best sides in pictures, of course.)
2. Toast the fennel seeds in a small saucepan over a stove on medium high heat for about five minutes, or until fennel seeds are toasted. Remove from heat and when cooled, pulverize to a powder, using a blender or coffee grinder. Set aside.
3. Sift 2 cups almond flour with the fennel seed powder, baking powder and baking soda, and then stir with a whisk in a medium bowl to mix thoroughly. Set aside.
4. Chop fennel, removing leaves and core, cutting into thin slices. In a larger pan, add the butter and sauté fennel with a pinch of sea salt. Remove from heat when fennel is soft and translucent and slightly browned in places. Remove from heat and mix in 2 Tablespoons of brown sugar to fennel in a bowl. Set aside.
5. Separate 6 eggs, the yolks in a large bowl, and the whites in a medium bowl.
6. In the bowl with the yolks, add sugar and mix with a hand held mixer on medium high for about 8 minutes, or until lighter in color and when lifting the beater it pours down luxuriously and looks like a ribbon folding over itself many times. Add lemon juice and anise extract and beat again to combine, about 20 seconds.
7. Sift flour mixture over yolk mixture and fold the flour mixture with a rubber spatula into the yolk mixture. Add the cooled fennel with brown sugar and fold into batter until thoroughly combined. Set aside.
8. With clean and dry egg beaters, beat egg whites on medium until frothy, about 1 minute. Add 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice, and continue beating for several minutes, until stiff peaks form. Be patient, as this could take a long time. But if you try to speed it up by going at a higher setting, the egg whites will not be as stable as when you build it up slowly on medium.
9. Fold in about a third of the egg whites into the batter, quickly but gently, until there are no more white streaks. Continue with the rest of the egg whites, quickly and gently, until there are no more white streaks in the batter.
10. Working quickly, use a 1/3 cup measure to add batter to each cupcake liner, filling it to the top of each. You may have extra batter. Bake in the middle rack of the oven for about 20-25 minutes until toothpick test comes out clean and the top surfaces of each cupcake are dry and cupcakes are slightly browned on edges. Remove from oven and let cool for ten minutes in the pan.
11. If cupcakes are sticking to pan, use a small offset spatula to carefully “unstick” them in places and remove them from the pan. Set aside to cool completely before frosting them.
2 Tablespoons cooked grated beets
4 ounces(1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
1 Tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Cook one beet. Prick the beet all over with a fork several times. Microwave, covered, with a couple of tablespoons of water in a bowl, on high, for about 4 minutes. Cool.
2. Using a fine grate, grate the beet until you have a few tablespoons of grated beet. Wear plastic gloves if you do not want to stain your hands.
3. Blend butter with hand held mixer until soft and fluffy. Sift confectioners sugar over butter and add the milk, juice and extract, and blend well.
4. Add the grated beet and blend briefly until thoroughly mixed. You want to see flecks of grated beet evenly spread throughout the frosting.
Tip: Frost it anyway you desire, but I think using a 1M star tip to pipe rose-like swirls starting from the center of each cupcake top and going around counter-clockwise around the center and going outward, is the way to go; the tiny flecks of grated red beet floating on the pink frosting is a lot more visible when frosting the cupcakes this way.