When I recently came across candied rose berries at a favorite market of mine, I couldn’t help but stop in my tracks. The pastel pink beads sparkled with sweetness, and their scent was alluringly delicate and floral. Immediately inspired, I decided that these candies needed a dessert to both match and celebrate their exquisite qualities. I could already see the cupcake crowns awaiting them in a delicious and dainty future.
I wanted to be sure to avoid making the kind of pungent rose fare that can evoke perfume or soap, so I decided to pair rosewater with buttermilk, adding lemon to heighten the buttermilk’s creamy tang. The resulting batter was just what I’d hoped for: a welcome hint of rose in an all-around delicate dessert. And a mild meringue icing proved to be the perfect mate (though other icings can also complement this cake nicely — see note below).
Buttermilk Rosewater Cupcakes (makes 16-18 standard size cupcakes)
- 2 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup sugar
- ½ cup soft butter or vegetable oil
- 2 eggs
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- ¾ cup rosewater
- 2/3 cup buttermilk
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line muffin pans with 16-18 cupcake liners. Sift together the first four ingredients; set aside. Cream the sugar and butter or oil, mixing until pale and even, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla and beat until incorporated. Alternate adding the dry ingredients and remaining wet ingredients, mixing well after each addition. Finally, fold in the lemon zest. Fill lined cups about 2/3 full or a little fuller. Bake for 15-18 minutes, watching closely and removing from the oven as soon as a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove cakes from pan as soon as they are cool enough to handle (using a spoon can help), transferring them to racks or to a towel on your countertop to cool completely.
Rosewater Meringue Frosting
- 3 egg whites
- ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon clear corn syrup
- 3 tablespoons rosewater
- 1 tablespoon red beet juice*
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- Candy thermometer
With an electric mixer (preferably free-standing), beat egg whites on medium-high until frothy and opaque. Add 1 tablespoon sugar; keep beating until medium peaks form. In a small saucepan, whisk together ¾ cup sugar, syrup, rosewater, juices, and vanilla. Using a candy thermometer, bring to a boil until temperature just hits 230 F. Remove from heat immediately, and with egg white mixture beating, slowly pour the syrup into the whites. Keep beating on high until bowl is no longer warm but is room temperature to the touch; this should take about 8 minutes.
Without delay, pile or pipe the icing onto the cooled cupcakes, making a rose design if desired. [To do so, start with a dollop of frosting in the center of each cupcake. Then, using a rose petal icing tip with the wider end downward, encircle the dollop with increasing numbers of petals (two, then four, then six, and and so on) as you rotate the cupcake. Before you know it, you will have reached the edge.] This recipe makes plenty for a generous mound of frosting on every little cake. As a bonus, with its lack of oil or butter, this icing takes well to a kitchen torch if you like the look of toasted edges. If you toast your icing, use caution and remove the paper liners first!
With their tender, airy crumb and delicate rose flavor, buttermilk rosewater cupcakes are a simply lovely treat. Their creamy meringue frosting is a perfect match for the lemon and buttermilk in each bite — and whether toasted or left pure, it delivers an unmistakable floral flavor. What’s more: a dozen rose cupcakes are perhaps as good a gift as the traditional flowers they emanate, whether or not there’s an occasion.
* Maybe next time… Lemon cream cheese frosting is another delicious and quite complementary alternative to the rose frosting, though it can’t be toasted. If you use it, very lightly brush the baked cakes with a bit of rosewater before frosting to ensure the delicate rose flavor stays at center stage.
Beet juice is included in the meringue frosting recipe for this pale pink color only. If you prefer white frosting or want to use a few drops of food coloring instead, replace the beet juice by doubling the vanilla and lemon juice.
Aside from frosting ingredients, you might notice that the cake batter has a lot of leavening. This is because I wanted a spongy, air-bubble-filled cake to match the dessert’s delicate flavors. If you prefer a slightly denser cake, try omitting one of the teaspoons of baking soda.
Finally, this recipe makes a great layer cake. Use oil instead of butter, split into 2-3 round cake pans, greased and either floured or lined with parchment. Bake at 350 F just until toothpick tests clean. Timing will depend on size and number of pans used. To be safe, start testing at the 12 minute mark and test in 5 minute increments thereafter, shortening the increments when it’s almost done. Lightly brush with rosewater before frosting.