For as long as we have known each other, my husband and I have talked about someday retiring to Maine and having a sailboat. Despite having never actually been on a sailboat. So last year I signed us both up for sailing lessons for his birthday. Next thing I know we own a small boat, and belong to a sailing club. In inland Ohio – strange, I know.
Our instructor offered to show us how to rig up our new boat, so we scheduled a time to meet him at the club. He helped us set her up, and introduced us to Peter, another member (and officer) of the club who happened to be there. Once the boat was ready to go, we figured we should go sailing.
So I’m standing on the dock, looking out at the water, thinking it’s windy. Too windy. But neither of us wants to be the one to cancel our first trip out on the boat. Plus our sailing instructor is also a meteorologist, so we figure he wouldn’t let us go out alone if the wind and weather were that bad.
So he goes home. And we sail down the lake. Then the sky gets darker. Long story short, the wind picks up, the boat gets hard to manage, and we run aground close to shore. In a little cove where the only way out is into the wind. And you can’t go directly into the wind in a sailboat.
After multiple attempts to get away from shore, including jumping in the water and pushing, we admit we are stuck. Not to mention panicking. We start to bring down the sails so we can figure out what to do. Just as I’m calculating how long it will take me to walk back to the club through the woods, Peter comes around the corner in a rescue boat.
My savior! He tows us back in through the wind and now pouring rain. We get back to the club and are immediately provided with beer, and we make some of the best friends we have there. So it was meant to be. And we all have a nice laugh about how the meteorologist sent the beginners out onto the lake when a storm was coming. He continues to argue that it wasn’t that bad. We continue to say he’s lucky Peter was around to save us.
So for the next event at the club, I let Peter pick the flavor for the cupcakes. He said Grand Marnier. I made Martha Stewart’s Orange Vanilla Bean cupcakes, drizzled with a Grand Marnier simple syrup, and Grand Marnier Italian Buttercream. They were fabulous (although I think Peter added another shot of Grand Marnier to his).
But this post isn’t about those cupcakes.
My husband thought they didn’t taste orange enough. He wanted a seriously orange cupcake. So I made these sweet clementine cupcakes for his birthday this year.
While the original plan was plain old orange, the navel oranges at the grocery store looked awful, and they became clementine instead.
For an adult twist, when I finished making the candied clementine slices, I dumped a few tablespoons of Grand Marnier into the leftover orange syrup, and used that to soak the cupcakes. Yum.
Sweet Clementine Cupcakes
Makes about 12
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
1/3 cup half and half
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed clementine or orange juice
3 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange extract
3/4 cup plus granulated sugar
1/4 teastpoon salt
2 teaspons baking powder
5 tablespoons butter, softened
Zest from two clementines, or one medium orange
Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Whisk together the half and half, juice, egg whites and extracts in a measuring cup or small bowl.
Mix the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Add the butter, beating at low speed until you get moist crumbs with no large clumps.
Add 3/4 of the milk mixture to the crumbs and beat at medium speed for one and a half minutes. Add remaining milk mixture and beat 30 seconds more. Add the zest, scrape down the sides of the bowl at low speed until combined.
Line a cupcake pan with liners of your choice, and distribute the batter in the cupcake cups so they are about 2/3 full. Bake for 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Transfer cupcakes to a wire rack to cool. Once they are cool, poke holes in the top with a fork and brush the tops with Grand Marnier syrup, if desired. Top with orange buttercream and a candied orange slice.
Candied Orange Slices
Adapted from Food and Wine
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus more for coating
2 clementines or 1 navel orange, sliced 1/8″-1/4″ thick
Grand Marnier (optional)
Combine the water and sugar in a medium non-stick skillet and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the fruit and continue to cook, stirring and turning them occasionally, until liquid thickens slightly and the fruit becomes translucent. This should take 15-20 minutes.
Reduce the heat to low and simmer an additional 5-10 minutes until the fruit is tender and the syrup is thick. Remove fruit and place it on a cooling rack.
Once the orange slices have cooled, put some sugar in a small bowl and add the slices one at a time, turning to coat. Store in an airtight container, separating layers with waxed paper, and refrigerate for up to two weeks.
If you want Grand Marnier syrup for your cupcakes, make it as soon as you remove the fruit from the pan. Remove the pan from the heat, and add a few tablespoons of Grand Marnier – enough to thin the syrup to the desired consistency.
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup water
6 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 1/4 lbs plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange extract
2 Tablespoons Grand Marnier
Combine sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Insert a candy thermometer so you can monitor the temperature.
While the sugar syrup cooks, place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer, and using the whisk attachment, beat on low speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and increase the mixer speed to medium-high. Beat until egg whites are fluffy and stiff, but not dry.
When the syrup reaches 240°F (soft-ball stage on your candy thermometer), add it in a slow, steady stream to the egg whites with the mixer running. Pour between the whisk attachment and the edge of the bowl, so that hot syrup doesn’t splash onto the sides of the bowl and harden.
Let the mixer run for 20-30 minutes until you have a nice, shiny meringue and the bowl is no longer warm to the touch. You can use an ice pack around the bowl to speed up this process.
Once the mixture has cooled, begin adding the butter bit by bit. If the mixture looks soupy or curdles, keep adding butter and beating. Once it reaches a spreadable consistency, add the extracts and Grand Marnier and mix to incorporate.