Sweet Potato Cupcakes with Gingersnap Buttercream

IMG_1163Ah, sweet potatoes!  How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways:

I love thee in a salad, or in a loaf of bread.

In sweet potato pancakes when they're served to me in bed.

Roasted in the oven, marshmallow topping golden brown.

Dear sweet potato pie--who could ever turn you down?

You're hearty in a soup, so warming to my tummy.

I've never tried you in ice cream, but I'll bet it's super yummy.

I love thee--

Well, you get the picture.  I could go on, but I know you'd rather I stop.  Besides, rhyming is hard work, and my "quick" little blog post has suddenly taken a good chunk of time out of my afternoon.  I have a whole new respect for Dr. Seuss.IMG_1184

Yes folks, I love me some sweet potatoes.  I'll eat them in almost any format, except of course thosethat resemble cheesecake or come within 3 feet of a jar of mayonnaise.  Yuck.  I love the fact that sweet potatoes are a healthy food, heck, they're a bona fide Superfood, yet they almost taste a bit sinful.  Versatility is one of the sweet potato's assets--it's at home baked, sauteed, steamed, or pureed (sorry, I unintentionally rhymed again.)  My favorite way to enjoy these tasty tubers is peeled, cubed, and roasted in the oven until they  caramelize.  Mmmmmmm.......  Come to think of it, I might just make that tonight.  Pureed, sweet potatoes can serve as a good substitute for canned pumpkin puree in pretty much any recipe, less a little bit of sugar due to their natural sweetness.

These cupcakes were inspired by the cake that I made on last years Food Network: Ultimate Recipe Showdown, my Sweet Potato Layer Cake with Spiced Pecan Buttercream.  The cake itself is a bit time consuming, including what seems like 30 minutes of straight pecan-chopping.  This recipe still incorporates a similar moist sweet potato cake, but it uses hazelnuts instead of pecans, an homage to my favorite sweet potato pie recipe, which is topped with an indulgent hazelnut streusel.  This buttercream is the "quick" version, as opposed to the traditional buttercream that I used for the competition.  Using gingersnaps was another play on the sweet potato pie's gingersnap crust.

One final change that I made was to downplay the amount of spices in the recipe, although their presence is still detectable.  One particularly intimidating judge on URS scarred me for life when he described the flavor of the spices in my cake as "off-putting" and "vulgar."  Oh no you did-n't.  Hey, buddy.  That's my work of art you're knocking.  Whatev.  But then again, I did take his advice on this recipe.....just in case he was right.  Boy, did I pick a heck of a month to eliminate sweets from my diet.  Here are a few extra tips for preparing these festive fall cupcakes: IMG_1168

  • The cupcakes can be baked up to one day in advance prior to decorating, or they can be tightly sealed in zip-top bags and frozen for up to 2 weeks.  Defrost them completely prior to decorating.
  • The buttercream can be prepared up to one week in advance and refrigerated, tightly covered.  The hazelnuts will keep for up to one week, sealed in a zip-top bag.
  • To make the sweet potato puree, prick the unbaked sweet potatoes several times with a fork and then place on a foil-lined baking sheet.  Bake at 400F degrees for about 1 hour, until very soft; let cool.  Transfer the insides to a food processor and puree until smooth.
  • If you don't want to make the spiced hazelnuts, you can always just add toasted chopped hazelnuts to the batter.  You can also substitute toasted walnuts or pecans.
  • If you don't have gingersnaps, mix graham cracker crumbs with a bit of spices (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.) into the buttercream instead.

Sweet Potato Hazelnut Cupcakes with Gingersnap Buttercream

Makes 24 cupcakes


For the spiced hazelnuts

2 cups blanched hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

⅓ cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmegIMG_1161

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

4 tablespoons butter, melted

1 tablespoon brandy

For the cupcakes

1 cup sugar

1 cup golden brown sugar, packed

4 large eggs

1 cup safflower oil

2 cups sweet potato puree (from 2 large baked sweet potatoes)

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons brandy (optional)

2 ½ cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the buttercream (makes quite a bit!)

1 pound butter, room temperature

6 cups confectioner's sugar

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract or brandy

½ teaspoon kosher salt

3-5 tablespoons heavy cream

⅔ cup finely crushed gingersnaps

IMG_1175Prepare the candied hazelnuts: Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.  Spread the hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast until lightly browner, about 8 minutes.  Meanwhile, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and melted butter in a medium bowl, stirring to blend.  Add the toasted hazelnuts to the mixture, mix thoroughly to coat, and spread them evenly back on the baking sheet.  Bake the hazelnuts for 6 minutes longer, then drizzle them with the brandy.  Return the baking sheet to the oven once more and bake for 6 more minutes, stirring once.  Cool completely.

Prepare the cupcakes:  Keep the oven at 350F degrees.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat both sugars with the eggs at medium speed.  Add the oil and beat for 3 minutes.  Mix in the sweet potato puree, vanilla, and brandy, beating until well combined.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing until combined.  Stir in 1 ½ cups of the chopped hazelnuts.

Line two 12-cup cupcake tins with paper liners.  Fill each liner just over halfway full with the batter.  Bake the cupcakes until a toothpick inserted into the center emerges clean, 18-22 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Prepare the buttercream:  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter and confectioner's sugar on low speed until combined.  Increase the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy.  Add the vanilla or brandy and the salt and beat to combine.  Add enough of the heavy cream to reach your desired consistency, beating on medium speed for 1 minute longer.  Beat in the gingersnap crumbs until thoroughly incorporated.

Pipe or spread the buttercream onto the cupcakes.  Sprinkle the buttercream with additional crushed gingersnaps or the remaining chopped hazelnuts.

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  1. Thank you so much, Carrie!  Im so glad that the cupcakes are (still!) a hit.  Your comment started my 2013 off on a wonderful note!!

  2. I think I may have been the last to post a comment on these - it's been 3 years now and this is still the most requested cupcake at home and at work. Thanks again, Carrie

  3. My husband actually commented that these are the best baked good I've made in years - I didn't know how to take that, but was pleased the family enjoyed them. The hazelnuts and icing blend really compliment the cake. Coworkers also raved today. I plan to take a goodie basket to a client and am proud to include these...the pumpkin fudge I made...not so much 🙂 Thank you for a terrific recipe.


  4. Sweet potato ice cream is so, so good. I've made up several recipes for contests (never won, though).

    Your cupcakes are beautiful and sound delish. What size tips do you use for piping the frosting? It looks like you used two different sizes.

  5. What a great recipe! Love the brandy in the cupcakes too! A gingersnap buttercream on top just makes it perfect!

  6. i love sweet potatoes too! they are simply too comforting. and what a lovely way to prepare em - in cake! 😀 beautiful. x

  7. How strange, I was just discussing with a coworker how I can't even be near an open jar of mayo. I agree totally on that one! That's a rockin cupcake combo by the way....

  8. What an awesome fall cupcake! I love sweet potatoes too, so I can't wait to try these! They look fabulous & I love the idea of gingersnap buttercream - Yum!

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