I love the character a small amount of lusty, robust, black walnuts gives to these cupcakes. Black walnuts grow in the eastern United States and as far west as the eastern sections of Texas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. The nuts have a very tough shell that’s hard to crack, and unless you live near where they’re grown, you’re most likely to find them in your market shelled and chopped. The nuts have an intense, smoky flavor, and they lend great distinction to many kinds of cookies and cakes. Brown sugar goes particularly well with black walnuts as do coffee, chocolate, and many spices.
Black walnuts are usually sold already chopped, but for this recipe they must be finely chopped. So get out your chef’s knife. Don’t use a food processor, which will turn some of the nuts into dust and others into a paste. If you can’t get black walnuts, regular English or Persian walnuts will work just fine. Be sure they’re finely chopped. Banana makes these cupcakes nice and moist and gives its own banana-y taste. For the best flavor, be sure the bananas are completely ripe. Their skins may even be black. Leftover cupcakes keep fresh in the refrigerator, well covered, for 2 or 3 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Here’s how to make these terrific cupcakes.
To measure flour, sift more than you need onto a sheet of waxed paper. Spoon lightly into a 1-cup and 1/2-cup dry measure to overflowing. Without shaking or banging the cups, sweep off the excess flour with a metal spatula or straight edge. If you have a kitchen scale, just weigh the 6 ounces of flour.
Butter beaten with the granulated sugar and vanilla until smooth and fluffy-looking.
After the eggs have been beaten in. Batter is smooth.
Oops! What happened. After beating in the banana the batter has a curdled look. But don’t worry, all will be well later.
These are the chopped black walnuts. See how dark they are?
The finished batter. After the last of the flour was stirred in the batter became completely smooth. The little bumps in the batter are the black walnuts. The batter’s ready to be divided into the cupcake pan lined with paper cups.
Cupcake batter spooned into the liners. Each cup is about 2/3 full.
The baked cupcakes are golden brown and nicely domed. They must be completely cool before being iced.
Zesty lemon icing. Smooth and creamy and ready to ice the cupcakes.
Plop generous dollops of icing, about 2 tablespoons, on each cupcake and spread with the back of a teaspoon to cover the cupcakes and make attractive swirls. Let icing set about 30 minutes before eating.
I couldn’t resist, so I bit into one almost immediately. Yummmmm!
Banana Black Walnut Cupcakes with Zesty Lemon Icing
1 1/2 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour (6 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2/3 cup mashed very ripe banana (weight of banana 8 ounces)
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup finely chopped black walnuts
Zesty Lemon Frosting
4 ounces (1/2 of an 8-ounce block) full fat cream cheese, at room temperature
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 ½ teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure lemon extract
Pinch of salt
2 cups (8 ounces) confectioners’ sugar, strained if lumpy.
1. Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 12 standard muffin cups with paper liners.
2. For the cupcakes, whisk the flour with the nutmeg, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. In another medium bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the granulated sugar and vanilla and beat on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes, until smooth and fluffy. Stop to scrape the bowl as necessary to keep everything smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each. The batter should be light and fluffy. Add the banana and beat in well. The batter will look curdled, which is okay.
3. With a rubber spatula, stir in half the dry ingredients only until incorporated. Gently stir in the buttermilk, then add the remaining dry ingredients. Stir with the rubber spatula just to mix well. The batter will be smooth. Add the walnuts and stir them in.
4. Divide the batter among the 12 muffin cups; each cup will be about 2/3 full. Don’t bother to smooth the batter; it will level itself during baking.
5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the cupcake tops are domed and golden brown and spring back when their centers are gently pressed. Do not overbake. Cool 5 minutes in the pan. Then remove the cupcakes from the pan and cool them on a wire rack. They must be completely cool before being frosted.
6. For the frosting. In a medium bowl with a hand-held electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, butter, lemon zest, lemon extract, lemon juice and salt together on medium speed until very smooth. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar and beat on low speed until the sugar is incorporated. Raise the speed to medium and beat about 30 seconds until icing is fluffy. Cover tightly with plastic wrap until the cupcakes are ready to be frosted.
7. To frost cupcakes, top each with about 2 tablespoons of the icing and spread with the back of a teaspoon to cover the tops and make swirls. Arrange the cupcakes on a serving tray. Let stand until frosting has set, about 30 minutes.
NOTE: You can sprinkle cupcakes with finely chopped black walnuts or chocolate jimmies, or colored sprinkles, if you like. I prefer them with no embellishments.
Makes 12 cupcakes.