Brown Butter Butternut Squash Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream

Two things I really, really love (especially this time of year): butternut squash and pumpkin. Usually the former is reserved for savory dishes like soup, risotto or mac and cheese, while the latter gets all the baking love. But not today! You’ve probably made pumpkin cupcakes a million times, but have you ever thought to sub butternut squash puree in place of the pumpkin? It might sound weird, but it’s fantastic!

Brown Butter Butternut Squash Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream

To be honest with you, I almost never do anything with butternut squash but turn it into puree. I love it in other savory dishes, but because Shane doesn’t like squash I rarely go to the trouble to make them just for myself. Butternut squash puree is so darn good that’s totally fine with me! The puree is sweet on its own but I always add more sugar, usually either maple syrup or brown sugar, to make it even more so. Show me a vegetable and I’ll show you a way to make it more dessert-like – maybe that should be my motto :)

Brown Butter Butternut Squash Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream

All that to say, I always have squash puree in my fridge. So it took no time at all for me to measure some out to use in these butternut squash cupcakes. If you don’t have puree at the ready, it’s really simple to make your own – just peel your squash, cut it into cubes and throw them in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and microwave for about 5 minutes, or until the squash is fork tender. Then throw the squash in your food processor (if there’s water in the bowl, drain that out first) and pulse until it’s a smooth puree – easy peasy!

Brown Butter Butternut Squash Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream

I’m a big fan of pumpkin cupcakes, but dare I say I liked this butternut squash adaptation even better?! The cupcake base is adapted from a pumpkin cupcake, with the squash puree replacing the pumpkin. I used brown butter to really enhance the already slightly nutty quality of the butternut squash, and of course there are plenty of delicious fall spices in the mix too. The cupcakes are moist and tender with a tight crumb and so flavorful. I would gladly have eaten them without frosting I liked them so much – that’s saying something!

But of course it’s not a cupcake with frosting so I forged on :) I was thinking of doing a cream cheese frosting until I remembered a salted caramel Swiss meringue buttercream I’d made last year. The sweet and salty frosting paired perfectly with these cupcakes, and I just adore its silky smooth texture.

Brown Butter Butternut Squash Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream

Pie gets all the love at Thanksgiving, but I say cupcakes are where it’s at! These would be perfectly at home on your dessert table this year.

Brown Butter Butternut Squash Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream
cupcakes adapted from The Baker Chick (originally from Martha Stewart), frosting adapted from Martha Stewart

{Note: This recipe makes a lot of frosting – you won’t need it all unless you really mound a lot of frosting on your cupcakes. You can either halve the recipe, or freeze the extra for up to 1 month. Feel free to use store-bought salted caramel sauce in the frosting, but if you want to make it from scratch, I like the caramel sauce in this recipe.}

Cupcakes
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup butternut squash puree

Salted Caramel Buttercream
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 large egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6-8 tablespoons salted caramel sauce

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line cupcake pan with paper liners.

Add the butter to a large skillet and set over medium heat. The butter will melt then begin to bubble and foam. Continue cooking, whisking frequently, until the butter becomes golden brown and smells nutty (be patient and watch carefully, it can go from brown to burnt quickly). Transfer to a heatproof bowl and allow to cool to room temperature.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. In a second medium bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs and cooled brown butter until well combined (be sure to break up any clumps of brown sugar). Whisk in the squash puree. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir together just until combined.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin tins, filling each about 2/3 to 3/4 full. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcakes comes out clean, about 20-22 minutes. Remove the pan to a wire rack and let the cupcakes cool for a few minutes before removing them to the rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting: Add the butter to a large bowl. Use an electric mixer to beat the butter on medium-high speed until it is light and fluffy, stopping to scrape the bowl as necessary. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the egg whites and sugar. Whisk to combine. Place the mixer bowl over a pot of simmering water, and, whisking constantly, heat until the mixture is warm to the touch and the sugar has dissolved. You can test by rubbing a bit between your fingers – it shouldn’t feel gritty at all.

Put the bowl on the mixer, and starting on low and gradually increasing the speed to medium-high, beat the egg white mixture until stiff, glossy peaks form – this will take about 8-10 minutes, and the bowl should feel cool to the touch when you’ve finished. Reduce the mixer to medium-low speed, and gradually add the butter, 1/4 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla.

With the mixer still on medium-low, gradually add 6 tablespoons of the salted caramel sauce, and continue beating until it is completely incorporated. Taste the frosting, and if you want a stronger caramel flavor, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of caramel sauce.

Transfer the buttercream to a pastry bag fitted with a tip. Pipe frosting into a swirl on each cupcake. Drizzle additional salted caramel sauce over the top, if desired.

Makes 11-12 cupcakes