Once again, I was planning to make something else this week. My best friend from high school was in town, though, and she and I went out to dinner one night at a local favorite Mediterranean restaurant. In high school, we used to obsess over Greek food, and in particular, baklava. This particular restaurant makes a smashing baklava, and suddenly, I was inspired! I pictured a cinnamon spice cake, walnuts, honey, and more cinnamon…yum.
I started by making a spice cake recipe, but eliminating most of the spices except for those you taste most prominently in baklava – cinnamon, cloves and little nutmeg. Typically, spice cake has cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves and nutmeg. In fact, I think you could leave out the nutmeg and be totally fine. The recipe I used called for whole milk, and I don’t generally keep that in my fridge. I happened to have 2% (usually have 1%) and heavy whipping cream, so I combined them together to make something kind of like whole milk. Good trick! I added walnuts to the batter for that baklava-esque flavor and texture. And then, I added almond extract – just a tad – to add that nuttiness.
Once again, I adjusted for altitude. Although, since I was using high altitude flour, I don’t think I needed to add as much flour as I did. I lowered the leavening ingredients and added extra liquid in the form of an extra egg. And they turned out quite nicely.
The real baklava-ishness (do you like how many adjectives I make out of baklava?) was planned to come in the toppings. The essence of baklava is so much in the honey and the nuts, as well as the pistachio garnish. I wanted a cinnamon-honey buttercream and then the actual baklava honey-nut mixture on top. In a move against my initial purpose of doing this, I looked up a buttercream recipe. I had promised myself when I started to only use base recipes and figure out everything else myself – but this time, I actually looked up a honey buttercream recipe. I wasn’t sure how the honey would change how it’s made. However, karma bit me: I looked up a BAD recipe. Whoops. Never again! So instead of having nice, fluffy buttercream, I had icing. Granted, it was decent icing, but it was definitely NOT the frosting I was going for. The problem? The recipe called for 1/3 cup honey, in addition to the regular butter and powdered sugar. Every other recipe I found added 3 tbsp, at the most. So, if you want icing, use a lot of honey. If not, don’t. I’ll include both options at the bottom.
The last step was the baklava honey-nut mixture. I used Elise’s baklava recipe, and extracted the syrup and mixed it with some toasted walnuts.
The trick was the syrup. The recipe called for letting it simmer for 7 minutes, but for us, that still resulted in a quite liquidy sauce. I would suggest letting it go a little longer for the best effect. And then don’t make the mistake we made in the picture above – mix the syrup with the walnuts in something different than the pan you toast the walnuts in – it’s too warm! We had to refrigerate the mixture a bit to get it to set. Whoops!
Despite all the gaffes, it turned out quite well. It really has the taste essence of baklava, but the texture is lacking. I don’t think there’s any way to make cake comparable to phyllo dough though….so all in all, good effort. Special thanks to Kimmie for helping!
Baklava Cupcakes with Cinnamon-Honey Buttercream Icing
Cinnamon-Spice Cupcakes (makes 24 – I halved this)
- 2 1/2 cups cake flour
- 3 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp cloves
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1 cup unsalted butter, room temp.
- 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 3 eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1/2 tsp almond extract
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
(High altitude: Substitute high altitude flour, reduce baking powder to 3 tsp, increase liquid by adding 2 tbsp milk or adding 1/2 – 1 egg, bake at 360 degrees)
Preheat oven to 350, prep cupcake pan with liners. Whisk together all dry ingredients in a medium bowl. In stand mixer, beat butter and sugars until fluffy. Slowly add eggs, followed by vanilla. Add 1/3 dry ingredients, mix, then add 1/2 the milk, and continue alternating until all just mixed. Fold in walnuts. Spoon into cupcake pan, about 3/4 full. Bake for 18 – 20 minutes, until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from oven, allow to cool.
Honey-Cinnamon Buttercream Icing
- 1 stick unsalted butter, room temp.
- 1/3 cup honey
- splash almond extract
- 1 – 2 tbsp cinnamon, to taste
- 2 cups powdered sugar
Beat butter and honey until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add cinnamon, mix till just blended. Add powdered sugar a little at a time, scraping down sides of bowl. Beat until incorporated. Will be icing – not buttercream. For buttercream FROSTING, use 2 – 3 tbsp honey, and follow the incorporation of the sugar with 3 – 5 minutes of beating on medium-high speed, until it reaches desired consistency. This will make a fluffier frosting.
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup honey
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 cups chopped walnuts
- 1/2 cup smashed pistachios, for garnish
Put first five ingredients into a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Stir well to dissolve sugar, and then allow to simmer over medium-low heat until thickened. (7-10 minutes) Allow to cool. Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in the oven or in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until browned. In a separate bowl, mix cooled toasted walnuts with syrup, adding a quarter cup of the syrup at a time and stirring until incorporated. Continue adding about half of the syrup until it reaches desired consistency. Reserve the rest for pancakes or something amazingly good.
After cooled cupcakes are frosted, spoon honey-walnut mixture over, and garnish with smashed pistachios. I recommend storing in a cool place during the summer so the honey-walnut mixture doesn’t melt.