Self-Frosting Sweet Potato Cupcakes

Continuing my spree of Happy Accident recipes, I bring you a cupcake that came out perfectly delicious but yet so unexpectedly bizarre that I hemmed and hawed about whether or not to even tell you about it. Like my habit of drinking wine while watching The Best Thing I Ever Ate episodes on Saturday nights, it was all just so Wild! And! Crazy! But in the end, because we're friends and regardless of how wacky the whole thing seems, they're really flippin' good. And truly, I really can't think of a more efficient cupcake making experience. I'm talking about a Self-Frosting Sweet Potato Cupcake, people. True story.

It all started out as an idea to riff on one of my favorite recipes, the Sweet Potato Pound Cake recipe from a darling cookbook that just feels like a big hug, Southern Cakes. Packed with earthy roasted sweet potato and gentle spice, it's completely addictive.

I thought I'd mix it up a little and bake the batter into cupcakes, and then do it up black bottom cupcake-style with a toasted pecan and cream cheese filling. But instead of the filling sinking into the centers of the cupcakes as they rose and baked, it sort of just swirled about and settled on the surface, making for a sweet, tangy, almost cheesecake-like layer on top of the tender, moist, spicy cake. Not too many more crave-worthy combinations than that, now, hmmm?

The awesome flavor and texture match here is what makes these cupcakes so great that they overcame their crazy factor. I should know, I mowed about half a dozen trying to decide. And miraculously, they're not bad to look at, either, with their pretty, swirly patterns. Self-frosting, self-decorating, basically automatic cupcakes. It's like the internet meeting baked goods or something. Or another metaphor that I'm just too crazed with vacation preparations to think of at the moment. But since I shared this magical cupcake recipe with you, can one of you invent a way to make laundry clean, fold and pack itself? Or at least figure out a way to beam us to the Midwest and avoid a 4 1/2 hour flight with a 22-month-old? Please and thank you.

Self-Frosting Sweet Potato Cupcakes
Cake recipe adapted from Nancie McDermott's Southern Cakes

I like to roast the sweet potato for this recipe--you just can't beat the flavor. Roast them in the skins at 350 for about an hour. During the last 10 minutes or so, throw in the pecans to toast them, then leave the oven on at 350 to bake the cupcakes, too.

Makes about 2 dozen

For the cakes:

1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk (low-fat is fine)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup roasted, peeled and mashed sweet potato (about 1 large)

For the topping:

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped toasted pecans

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the milk and vanilla.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar, and light brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the sweet potatoes, and mix until the batter is combined--it will look curdled and funky, but press on, it will smooth out when the other ingredients are added. Reduce the mixer speed to low, and add half of the flour mixture, beating just to incorporate. Add half of the milk mixture, beat to blend. Add the remaining flour, followed by the remaining milk, and beat on low until the batter is smooth. Fill the cupcake liners equally with batter, no more than halfway full.

To make the topping, beat together the cream cheese, egg, sugar, vanilla and salt until smooth. Fold in the pecans. Dollop the topping equally among the cupcakes, a very generous tablespoon on each.

Bake one muffin tin at a time until a toothpick comes out mostly clean, with just a few moist crumbs here and there, about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for a day, then refrigerate after that.

CakeShauna Sever