Many larger craft breweries are starting to keep chefs on retainer to come up with inventive recipes that incorporate or pair well with their beers. In honor of Seattle-based Pyramid Breweries celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, we thought we would try out a recipe sent to us by the brewery that features their Strawberry Blonde Saison spring seasonal. This most recent project that co-Powder Kegger Jessica Smith and I tackled had a few frustrating moments, but the result was oh, so worth it.
I wasn’t sure whether the chef at Pyramid had taken into account the fact that I would be baking these cupcakes at 9,600 feet above sea level, but we were about to find out.
I popped the top on the nearest saison and encountered the first hurdle. The beer started foaming like crazy out of the bottle and kept foaming as I attempted to pour it into the measuring cup. Seeing as I’ve poured thousands of beers in my life, I tend to think I have a pretty good handle on how to get it from bottle to glass without an overabundance of head, but this was just impossible. I let it settle while I mixed together the other ingredients, coming back occasionally to pour more beer into the cup.
The cupcake batter came together really quickly and easily without any additional hiccups, so I rewarded myself by drinking the rest of the bottle of saison. The instructions said to use a cooking spray directly on the pan, rather than using cupcake liners, so I complied. There wasn’t any indication how much these puppies would rise or how many cupcakes the recipe was supposed to make, so I experimented, filling some of the cups half full, some three-quarters and some completely to the top.
I baked them for the indicated amount of time and let them cool a bit before trying to remove them from the pan. With some struggle, I was able to scoop most of them out intact with a small rubber spatula. The cupcakes were sticky from all of the sugar but still fluffy and airy, like an angel food cake, probably from all of the air bubbles caused by the foam in the beer. They didn’t puff up much from their original poured size or, more likely, they puffed up and then flattened again due to the altitude.
The cupcakes were an overall success, but the frosting was another story. The frosting came together in two steps, a sauce and a base. The original recipe called for 2 cups of water, plus another cup of beer, in which to cook the strawberries. This proved to be way too much liquid, so instead of having a thick sauce when I was done, I had a bunch of cooked strawberry pieces floating around in almost three cups of water and beer.
I wasn’t patient enough to wait around for the liquid to cook off, and my strawberries were still mostly whole, so I thought I could solve the whole problem by throwing everything into a blender. Big. Mistake. I forgot to take into account how foamy the beer was, and the whole thing sort of exploded and burned the hell out of my hand.
The best way to soothe a burn is to put something cold on it, and opted to have that cold thing be another bottle of beer. Jessica was rightfully laughing at me at this point because I was covered in strawberry goo and juggling another crazily foaming beer. I put all the pureed bits back into the pot and kept it on low heat, hoping it would thicken up.
The other half of the equation, the frosting base, was much easier, as it’s a pretty simple cream-cheese frosting. I mixed it together and then added a cup of my still-runny strawberry sauce. The result was way too thin, so I added more confectioners’ sugar (a fancy and totally unnecessary name for powdered sugar) to thicken it up.
I quickly frosted the cupcakes, piling the icing in the center and watching it ooze to the edges. We ate our saccharine snacks over the sink, the still-too-thin frosting dripping over our fingers. And right when I started to think that the whole thing had been a borderline disaster, we both paused. These cupcakes were really, really freaking good. The beer made the cake super moist and added just a touch of sophistication to the frosting, and loosely covered with foil in a pan, the cupcakes were just as sticky and delicious a day later.
I guess we’ll call this one a win after all.