Sweet Potato Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

(Writing from September 6, 2011.)
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I had abdominal surgery in March, and my dear, sweet mother came to stay with me for a week afterward to help out. I will be eternally grateful for this, and truly believe she played a big part in my being able to cut in half what was supposed to be an eight week recovery period.

While she was here, she cooked. I was fortunate growing up to have the mom who cooked. Damn, my mom can cook. She can cook anything, so we always had an incredible variety of foods, including healthy vegetables, and a salad with every dinner. There were never less than ten varieties of salad dressing in the fridge. We had baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut, acorn, and spaghetti squash, zucchini, and my favorite food since childhood: artichokes. I have met grown people who’ve never tried an artichoke, and it always makes me feel sorry for them.

Because I was exposed to a wide variety of vegetables as a kid, I grew up loving them. We didn’t have chips or soda around the house, but we weren’t deprived. All it did was keep me from considering chips and soda to be food options, and before I met my husband, I can honestly say that I never bought chips or soda when grocery shopping. I still don’t crave them like so many people I know who complain about these addictions. Soda pop makes me feel bloated and gassy if I have it, maybe because I so infrequently drink it. And potato chips taste mostly like cold grease to me. I don’t get it.

We got desserts growing up, however. There was ice cream, for example. Occasional cookies. My mom’s amazing strawberry-rhubarb pie. Homemade carrot cake for my birthday every year. I feel like my parents did a perfect job of finding the balance between teaching us how to eat healthfully without making us feel like the crunchy-granola-hippie children who don’t get treats. We weren’t choking down carob while the other kids had chocolate in front of us. (I actually really like carob… I’m not dissing carob! I’m not!)

Now I’m a parent, and am trying very hard to achieve this balance with my own son. So far, he seems to have my tastes, and has been known to say things like, “Don’t forget to put spinach in my fresh apple-carrot juice, Mom,” which makes me feel like I’m on the right track. You gotta love hearing your five-year-old ask for spinach juice. You just do.

In addition to my love of vegetables, my son unfortunately got my sweet tooth. Despite a healthy, non-deprived, balanced foodie childhood, I have had a sweet tooth for as long as I can remember. My sweet tooth disappeared once I got on anti-anxiety meds, so I think I was correcting or self-medicating some sort of chemistry in my head with sugar. But I do still occasionally crave something sweet.

I don’t care for meat, dairy, or eggs, and could really go the rest of my life without any of them, no problem, and I’m not a salty snack gal at all, but I can’t seem to completely step away from the sugar. I don’t buy cookies or processed versions of treats (BECAUSE I WILL EAT THEM… a shame spiral of self-loathing to follow), but I will still make baked goods for myself (and oh, yeah, I guess the rest of my family) occasionally.

So… as I was saying before my brain galloped off into so many fantastically compelling tales from yesteryear and the food of my childhood… my mom. I was talking about my mom staying with us for a week to help after my surgery.

Sorry. Trouble focusing. Too much sugar, probably.

Anyhow.

While she was here, she bought a can of sweet potatoes. Which is completely out of character for my mom, because as I mentioned above, she tends to cook the real, unprocessed versions of such vegetables. (I still don’t understand the marshmallows on sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving thing. Gag. Way to ruin an already-delicious vegetable.)

The weird can of sweet potatoes has haunted me ever since. Laughing at me in my pantry every time I stare at the contents, wondering what to make the boys for dinner. Hahaha, the can has been mocking, I’m a can of sweet potatoes, and you have no idea how to use me. Hahaha.

We are pretty financially strapped lately, to the point that we’re having to wait for paychecks to buy groceries. The aforementioned surgery and the hospital bills didn’t help the situation much, which has brought me plenty of guilt. Stupid body, costing my family money. So not wanting to waste any food, I have been wondering how to use the damned can of sweet potatoes for months now.

I finally stumbled across a recipe online that uses them. Sweet Potato Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting. And yesterday, while the boys went fishing, I baked banana bread (to use up some rotting bananas we had) and these cupcakes. Then I made cream cheese frosting for them from scratch, and it was amazing. They taste like southern rainbows and magic carbs that have been blessed by the horns of unicorns. If you like carrot cake or spice cake, you will like them.

I’m not going to try to pass them off as healthy just because they have vitamin A-filled sweet potatoes in them, because I wouldn’t insult your intelligence like that. They’re full of bad stuff. Enjoy in moderation. I’m actually freezing half of the batch so I will restrict myself to one a day.

(This recipe could be quite easily vegan-ized, as well, I’m sure, or use agave syrup/reduced sweetener. Might be a fun experiment.)

I get really excited when I have a baking success, so I wanted to share the recipe with you. Baking is like math, and one wrong measurement can throw off the whole equation. I love the challenge of it. I have also recently brought much shame to the German-Scandinavian side of my heritage by failing miserably at making two different types of breads, so it was heartening to have a little baking victory. (I’m Irish, too, so maybe I should stick with soda bread.)

The recipe I found for these cupcakes online included pecans, but I have a texture aversion to nuts in my baked goods, so I never use them. It also adds another element of time/complication to the recipe, so I’m leaving it out. (But you can view the recipe with nuts here: http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/sweet-potato-pecan-cupcakes-with-cream-cheese-frosting-10000001672936/)

Sweet Potato Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients:

2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
4 large eggs
1 (16-oz.) can mashed sweet potatoes
2/3 cup orange juice (I squeezed fresh oranges and left in the pulpy bits)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preparation:

1. Beat sugar and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating until blended after each addition.
2. Whisk together mashed sweet potatoes, orange juice, and vanilla extract. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture alternately with sweet potato mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition. Place foil baking cups in muffin pans, and coat with vegetable cooking spray; spoon batter into cups, filling two-thirds full.
3. Bake at 350° for 28 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean. Remove immediately from pans, and cool 50 minutes to 1 hour or until completely cool. Spread cupcakes evenly with Cream Cheese Frosting. Garnish, if desired.

To make the frosting, I blended an 8 ounce bar of cream cheese with 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, 5 tablespoons of butter, and 2 cups of powdered sugar. It rocked.

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