For bookgroup this month, we read Proof of Heaven, by Eben Alexander. It is an autobiographical account of neurosurgeon Dr. Alexander’s experience while he was in a coma. It is an interesting glimpse into his vision of the afterlife and how the experience changes him when he returns. We were meeting at my house this month and I wanted to tie our dessert into the book. So I decided to recreate the butterfly on the book cover which plays a roll in Dr. Alexander’s experience.
I ran out of steam (and time) after making 11 butterflies, so the rest I just topped with a fresh raspberry. I love these cupcake liners that look like a field of grass.
The cupcakes are made from a simple doctored white cake mix and are filled with a raspberry filling in the center. The icing is a Swiss Meringue Buttercream into which I beat some of the raspberry filling. No food coloring, just thickened raspberry puree.
Here is a picture of similar white cupcakes with raspberry filling (before I replaced their little cake caps that I cut out to make holes):
I first made these chocolate butterflies on cupcakes for Little J’s 6th birthday three years ago. Here is a link to a tutorial on making the butterflies:
(from Our Best Bites)
1 box white cake mix (Duncan Hines)
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 tsp salt
4 egg whites (or 3 whole eggs if you don’t need it perfectly white)
1 1/3 cups water
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract (use clear vanilla if you want a pure white cake)
1 tsp almond extract
Mix all dry ingredients with a whisk, then add wet ingredients. Beat with a mixer for two minutes until fluffy.
To make a round layer cake: Pour into greased, floured pans (fills two 8 or 9″ rounds) and bake according to cake package directions.
Tip: When cakes come out, cool for 5 minutes on wire rack, then wrap securely with two sheets of plastic wrap (in a “+” sign). Allow to cool all wrapped up (keeps the moisture from evaporating out) then pop in freezer on a cutting board to keep them flat. Once they are frozen, they are super easy to frost and defrost in about half an hour.
To make cupcakes: fill paper liners 3/4 full and bake according to box directions. Makes 36 regular sized cupcakes.
12 oz raspberries, fresh or frozen (about 2 1/2 cups of not crushed fresh berries)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 Tbs lemon juice
2-3 Tbs ClearJel or cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water
In a heavy saucepan, combine raspberries, 1/2 cup water, sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, crushing berries slightly with the back of a spoon. For a seedless sauce: strain the berries through a fine sieve, pushing the pulp through the sieve with the back of a spoon. Return seedless puree to the saucepan (rinse saucepan first if there are seeds clinging to the sides). Mix the cornstarch and water in a small bowl; stir into puree in the saucepan. Return mixture to a boil; lower heat and simmer for 1-2 minutes, or until slightly thickened and no longer cloudy. Chill before using.
Yield: about 1 3/4 cups filling (without seeds)
Raspberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream Icing
1 cup egg whites (about 8 large egg whites, or use “Just Whites” egg white powder, reconstituted)
1 1/2 cups sugar
pinch of salt
2 cups unsalted butter (4 sticks), at room temperature**
2 tsp vanilla extract (or use small amounts of other flavored extracts)
about 1 cup Raspberry filling (see recipe above)
In the top of a double boiler, stir together egg whites, sugar and salt. Bring water in bottom of double boiler to a low simmer; cook until the temperature of the egg whites reaches 160°F and sugar is completely dissolved (rub mixture between fingertips-it should not feel gritty). Mixture will be foamy and not a uniform consistency.
Transfer the egg white mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer. With the whisk attachment, whip until meringue is completely cooled and glossy peaks form, about 10 minutes. DO NOT ADD BUTTER UNTIL BOTH THE BOWL AND FROSTING ARE COMPLETELY COOL. Switch mixer attachment from the whisk to paddles. Add butter 1-2 Tablespoons at a time until incorporated. Mixture may appear curdled at times. Continue beating until butter is fully incorporated and frosting is fluffy and smooth. This will take about 10 minutes. Add vanilla and beat smooth. Add raspberry filling and beat until frosting is a uniform color (start with about 3/4 cup filling, beat, and then add more if you want a more pronounced raspberry flavor).
**BUTTER NOTE: butter should be room temperature soft, but not at the point of melting. If the butter is too cold, it will not incorporate well into the meringue, and you will have butter chunks. If the butter is over-soft, it will cause the icing to curdle while beating-this is okay, it isn’t ruined: it will just take longer (more beating) for the frosting to become smooth. If icing still won’t set, place in the fridge for 20 minutes, and then beat again.
Storage: Store frosted cake at room temperature (frosted cake will be fine at room temp for several days). This is a great icing that does not get “crusty” like a regular buttercream. To store leftover icing: store in a covered container in the refrigerator. When ready to use, bring to room temperature and beat until light and fluffy.
Yield: frosting for a two-layer round cake or about 24 cupcakes