butternut squash cupcakes with maple-sage goat cheese frosting
My butternut squash bonanza continues! Think of this as a play on pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. Except way better.
Honestly, I thought these up a year ago and never got around to making them. But they haunted me through spring and summer, and now that we’re back to peak butternut squash season, I had to make it happen.
So when last weekend’s Friendsgiving dinner got scheduled, it was a no-brainer. I knew exactly what I wanted to try.
That’s the beauty of Friendsgiving. My friends and I officially launched the make-whatever-you-want concept last year, after decades of being told by our families that, no, we could not make butternut squash soup as an appetizer instead of Bopop’s bowl full of grapefruit tradition, and no, we could not make a cornbread, sausage and peppers stuffing instead of the rustic bread, sausage, apple and onion standard.
So a week or two before Turkey Day, Kelsey made that cornbread stuffing, I made butternut squash lasagna, Joe made a beautifully lattice-top apple pie, and Jay made … drinks. It was a brown food carb fest, but it was fun and delicious and liberating. No one felt like they were a slave to family Thanksgiving traditions, which we all were then free to love and cherish the following Thursday.
But back to the cupcakes …
The sage-roasted butternut squash puree is mixed into a brown sugar-dominant cupcake batter. And the batter is spiced with all the best, quintessentially fall flavors: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and cayenne pepper.
Yes, cayenne. It adds a hint of heat that really sets these apart from just another pumpkin-ish cupcake. (On that note, if you’re serving this to toddlers, you may want to halve the cayenne or omit it altogether.)
The maple-sage goat cheese frosting is finger-dipping-and-licking-then-repeat good. Tangy goat cheese, earthy sage, and sweet maple syrup rounded out by a bit of cream cheese and powdered sugar – it’s easily my favorite out of every frosting I’ve ever made. I could eat it with a spoon on the daily.
But I won’t. Mostly because my pants are already a bit snug after skipping workouts for the entire 6 weeks since my wedding. Oops! Better get back on that horse soon, just after Thanksgiving …
Butternut Squash Cupcakes
Makes about 18 cupcakes
2 lbs. butternut squash, roasted and pureed (about 2 c. squash puree)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 bunch sage (about 6 to 10 leaves)
3/4 c. (1 1/2 sticks) butter
1 c. dark brown sugar, packed
1/3 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
Maple-Sage Goat Cheese Frosting (recipe below)
Roast and Puree Squash
Preheat oven to 400F. If using whole butternut squash, halve the squash, then peel it and scrape out seeds with a spoon. Chop into 1-inch cubes, and toss with 1 Tbsp. olive oil and sage leaves. Roast until very tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Puree using immersion blender, or transfer to food processor or blender to puree until smooth. Set aside to cool. Do ahead: squash can be roasted and stored (cubed or pureed) in airtight, refrigerated container for up to 5 days.
Preheat oven to 350F. Line cupcake pans with about 18 liners.
In a large bowl using a handheld mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat until incorporated. Briefly bean in baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices. In two or three batches, add flour, and mix until just incorporated (don’t overmix or the cupcakes will be dense and tough!). Stir in butternut squash puree.
Fill each cupcake liner 1/2 to 3/4 full with batter. Bake until tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 15 to 20 minutes, and rotate pans 180 degrees halfway through baking if needed. Transfer cupcakes to a rack, and cool completely before attempting to frost them.
Once cool, frost cupcakes with Maple-Sage Goat Cheese Frosting. Chill in refrigerator until frosting is set, about 30 minutes. Do ahead: frosted cupcakes can be stored in airtight, refrigerated container up to 3 days.
Maple-Sage Goat Cheese Frosting
Makes enough to generously frost 18 cupcakes
NOTE: for goat cheese haters, this can be converted to a Maple-Sage Cream Cheese Frosting by merely substituting cream cheese for the goat cheese.
1/4 c. maple syrup
1 bunch sage (6-10 leaves)
16 oz. goat cheese, room temperature
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
2 c. powdered sugar (and possibly another 1/2 c. more, depending on sweetness preference)
Bring maple syrup and sage to a boil, either by microwaving in a heatproof bowl for about 15 to 30 seconds or by heating in a pot over high heat for a few minutes. Remove from heating source, and let steep until very fragrant, about 3 to 5 minutes. Discard sage leaves.
In a medium bowl, beat goat cheese and cream cheese until combined. Add sage-infused maple syrup, and beat until well incorporated. Add 1/2 c. sugar, and beat until smooth and creamy. Taste, and repeat until frosting reaches desired level of sweetness. For me, this took about 2 c. sugar, but you may prefer it more or less sweet. Do ahead: frosting can be stored in airtight, refrigerated container for 5 days.