Saturday, January 9, 2016

Iona Cupcake

Long story long, I saw these cupcakes on TV at that "Unique Sweets" show on Cooking Channel late summer of 2013. Immediately I knew these guys will be my go-to birthday cupcake come February.

Robicelli's are the main brain of this creation. They are a couple of professional, talented bakers who fell in love because of-guess what? Baked goods! After getting married, they set up this mom-pop bakery at the Dekalb Market (Closed; Robicelli's is somewhere else still doing what they are good at and more famous than ever.) down in Brooklyn making old-fashioned American baked goods into a 21st century masterpiece. (Why are all the perfect-tasting foods end up in Brooklyn, NY anyway?!) One thing I do know: these cupcakes were GLORIOUS!

Going back to this cupcake, the Robicelli's named "the Iona"-after a wacky record store owner in the movie "Pretty in Pink" (Molly Ringwald, 1986). Yes, these little guys were inspired by a movie and a "cheese plate". And there was no recipe-at all-of them online after I saw  the show 3 years ago but you can find it from their adult cupcakes cookbook that was selling for $25.00 at the time (plus shipping). Hell there is no way I am going to buy it for that price (yet! I do own the cookbook now for less than $10.00, free shipping; hardcover, like new.).

So it took me several months to scour-in every nook and cranny of the net-the recipe for this cupcake but to no avail. I did thought of just developing my own recipe out of the original Iona just by watching the show (It's an olive oil cake with shredded pear. The frosting was a French buttercream-which I have made several times before but with added crumbled blue cheese in it, etc..) but I really, really wanted to savor and taste the original Iona hence my obsession in finding the recipe. 

There were people who were talking about the book and blogging or posting recipes of other cupcakes from the book but NOT this! I was beginning to be suspicious that this cupcake was expensive, time consuming and a pain in the a** to make. I was nearly tempted to buy the cookbook-it was that close! To make it even more crazier: I messaged one of the food bloggers who owned the cookbook if she CAN spare the time (just a favor) to email me the recipe for the Iona. No reply (nyahaha!)

January came and went by-my birthday get together was all planned out and all the recipes for the other dishes were finalized except my birthday cake!

Right about the beginning of February 2014, the recipe appeared in the online Wine Spectator for their Valentines day wine special. "Hallelujah, it's about time!", I thought. 

The cupcake has Port wine reduction on it and Wine Specator thought that both can be an excellent topic for the month of the hearts: cupcake with a wine, the love story of bakers and the inspiration for the recipe: how cool is that? Plus it was a blessing in disguise for me! 

Which reminds me now: I saw the show 3 years ago but just found out the initial showing was on 2012. So you bet I have been missing a lot of reruns before I saw it a year later!

In the show, it looked like a breeze to make but reading the recipe gave me the creeps-literally! It did was expensive and a pain to make especially if you don't have the right equipment and patience-and yes I don't have both at the time (stand-alone mixer) I made them but I managed. I have to remember, it's for my birthday! I mean-who makes an extra special birthday cupcake but for yourself?!   

" Iona Cupcake" (taken February, 2014)

I am going to post the exact recipe from Wine Spectator instead of posting the one from the cookbook because the photo above was the result of that recipe (Save for the rustic style frosting technique, teehee!). As complicated as it is-this cupcake had some fans of their own in this little desert town and got rave reviews on the spot: one of my guests called up the next day and asked if we still have some cupcakes. We had 8 more and he dropped by and had 2. Why not?! 

Two days days after my quiet (I had only 8 guests and they came on intervals; night jobs) but successful birthday party, I privately messaged the Robicelli's on their Facebook page attaching the photo above and writing an encapsulated story of this cupcake. 

Here is their reply:

" Hooray! Those look outstanding! And yeah-they're a pain in the ass to make. We've made several hundred thousand of them. (smile emoticon) But all the work is from doing things the right way, and that's why we got our reputation! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!! " 

*** RECIPE ***

For the Port wine reduction:
1 1/2 cups Port

In a medium nonreactive saucepan, bring the Port to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, allowing the Port to reduce to a syrup that coats the back of a spoon. Set aside to cool.
In the event you over reduce your Port and it hardens when cool, add a few teaspoons of water and microwave on medium power in 10-second intervals until the reduction becomes a liquid again. Mix well and let cool once more. Set aside until ready to assemble the cupcakes. Makes about 1/2 cup reduction.

For the pear–olive oil cake:
• 2 cups of peeled and shredded Bosc or Anjou pears (about 2 large cooking pears)
• 1 cup granulated sugar
• 1 cup brown sugar
• 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 4 large eggs, beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line cupcake pans with 24 baking cups.
2. Place the pears in a large strainer lined with paper towels and cover with another layer of paper towels. Place a heavy bowl or pot atop the pears and let sit for 20 minutes. (This is an important step that eliminates the fruit's extra moisture that would otherwise make for a soggy cake.)
3. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine the pears, granulated sugar and brown sugar, and mix on medium-low until well-combined, about one minute. With the mixer running, slowly pour in the olive oil. Continue mixing until combined. Stop the mixer, remove the bowl and paddle, and use the paddle to scrape the insides of the bowl, making sure everything is fully incorporated.
4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, and add to the batter. Reattach the bowl and paddle to the mixer and mix on medium until just combined, then add the eggs and continue mixing until the batter is homogeneous (haha-in laymans term, it means "well integrated; combined thoroughly, etc...) about 10 to 20 seconds. Remove the bowl and paddle from the mixer and, once again, use the paddle to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, ensuring that everything is well-mixed.
5. Scoop the batter into the prepared baking cups, filling them three-quarters of the way. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. The cupcakes are done when the centers spring back when you touch them. Remove the cupcakes from the oven and let cool completely while you make the buttercream and walnuts. Makes 24 cupcakes.

For the blue cheese buttercream:
• 1 cup water
• 2 cups sugar
• 2 tablespoons corn syrup
• 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
• 5 egg yolks
• 1 whole egg
• 1/8 teaspoon xanthan gum
• 1/2 cup (4 ounces) fine blue cheese
• 1 1/2 pounds cold butter, preferably European
• 1/4 teaspoon guar gum (optional)


Candy thermometer, stand mixer with whisk and paddle attachments, pastry bag and fluted tip (you may substitute a sturdy plastic bag from which you have snipped a corner) 

1. In a heavy nonreactive saucepan, add water, followed by sugar, corn syrup and cream of tartar. The last ingredients help keep the sugar from crystallizing.
2. Put the pot on high heat. It's going to be there for a while. Be patient and keep your eye on it.
3. Put the yolks and egg in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment and turn to high. Just let it go! The eggs will triple in volume and go to the "ribbons stage." You can't overwhip!
4. Wait on the sugar—you're looking for 235° F, or the "soft ball" stage. When it happens, be ready to move quickly. Turn off the mixer and add the xanthan gum. Turn the mixer on to medium speed. Remove the thermometer from hot sugar. Lift the pan with two hands.
5. Rest the lip of the saucepan on the edge of the mixer bowl. Slowly tilt and pour sugar in a slow steady stream down the side of the bowl. Don't go too fast. If you do, there will be chunks of scrambled eggs in your buttercream.
6. Once the sugar is all in, turn the mixer to high speed. After two minutes, begin to add the blue cheese in small chunks until it has all been added. Beat the mixture until cool. Gauge this by putting the inside of your wrist to the outside of the bowl. It's more accurate than your hands.
7. Switch out the whisk for the paddle. Next we're adding the butter. It's too heavy for the whisk, and you'll end up breaking your stand mixer if you stay with the whisk. Start cutting the butter into thin pieces—you could shave it with a cheese slicer if you'd like. Add the butter piece by piece. (Pain in the derrière, yes, but we're making an emulsion. See, if you dump all the butter in at once, the butter and eggs will never combine properly, and you'll have a "broken" buttercream. You'll be able to identify this easily—it'll be a chunky, watery, hot mess. If your buttercream does break, you can fix it! Turn the mixer to medium-high, then add a little more butter, piece by piece, until fixed. Or try adding a little guar gum. This is very strong, so add a pinch and beat for a minute, then check.)
8. Once your butter is added, turn the mixer to medium-high to add some air—10, 20 seconds at most. Transfer the buttercream to a pastry bag with a fluted tip and set aside until you're ready to assemble the cupcakes.

For the candied walnuts:
• 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
• 1 cup walnuts, chopped
• 1/3 cup sugar
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 2 tablespoons water
In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter, then add the walnuts. Stir for one minute, then add the sugar, salt and water. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar is melted and the nuts are completely candied, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.

To assemble:
Pipe the buttercream onto each pear cupcake, sprinkle on the candied walnuts and drizzle about 1/2 teaspoon Port reduction over each cupcake. Serve with the Port of your choice.

 The original Iona cupcakes being sold at Robicelli's. Photo courtesy to Cupcakes Take the Cake

Recipe courtesy of  Wine Spectator  For more one of a kind grown-up cupcake recipes, please refer to the Robicelli's cookbook, link above and in all other bookstores nationwide and online.