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Honey apple cupcakes with a dash of amaretto

These treats are bolstered by an Italian liqueur.

With its almond flavor and versatility, Disaronno amaretto is my favorite Italian liqueur.

I have found so many different ways to enjoy it in both cocktails and baked confections. In Italian, amaro means bitter. Amaretto refers to something that is a little bitter. Why is this sweet, almondy liqueur called bitter? The marzipanlike flavor is achieved through apricot kernel oil, burnt sugar and a variety of spices.

It is made from a base of apricot pits or peach pits, almonds or a combination. Most likely, when it was first made, amaretto wasn’t as sweet as it is today. Older recipes use the bitter almond local to Saronno, Italy, which gives the liqueur its name.

Back then, many families would make their own liqueurs and digestifs. In the 1500s, the artist Bernardino Luini, a former pupil of Leonardo da Vinci, was commissioned by the Basilica of Santa Maria delle Grazie in the Italian city of Saronno. He painted a fresco that can still be seen today. As the model for the fresco, Luini hired a young widow who was a local innkeeper. As a gift, she gave him a flask full of an amber liqueur she made by steeping apricot kernels in brandy. Her name is lost to history, but her likeness and her amaretto recipe live on.

Giovanni Reina discovered the innkeeper’s old recipe and it passed from one generation to the next. At the beginning of the 20th century, Domenico Reina decided to open a store in Saronno to sell food, including the liqueur, which he sold as Amaretto di Saronno Originale. This amaretto is still produced in Saronno and sold worldwide under the brand Disaronno.

Here is a simple apple cupcake you can mix by hand, for a quick breakfast or an afternoon coffee break. Freshly sliced Honeycrisp apples are infused with amaretto and honey and shine through as the star of this recipe. Let the apples macerate while you mix the batter; the remaining liquids are added to the cupcake batter for a burst of flavor.

If you don’t have almond flour, use sliced or blanched almonds finely crushed in the food processor.

Apple, honey and amaretto cupcakes

For the apple topping:

1 large Honeycrisp apple

3 tablespoons amaretto liqueur

1 tablespoon honey

For the cake batter:

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup almond flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon kosher salt

2 large eggs, room temperature

½ cup canola oil, or any flavorless oil, or melted butter

¾ cup plain yogurt or sour cream, room temperature

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon pure almond extract

1 cup granulated sugar

Make the apple topping: Peel, core and cut the apple into ¼-inch slices. Add to a medium mixing bowl and toss with the liqueur and honey, then set aside.

Make the cake batter: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the middle of the oven. Line 8 jumbo muffin cups with paper liners or coat with cooking spray.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In another large mixing bowl, add the eggs, oil (or melted butter), yogurt (or sour cream), vanilla and almond extracts and sugar, then whisk until smooth.

With a rubber spatula, add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stir just until smooth. Add the excess liquid from the apple topping, stir just until smooth and thick. With a large cookie scoop, fill each muffin cup 1/2 inch from the top leaving room for the apples. Place 2 to 3 apple slices on top of the batter.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until nicely puffed, golden brown and a tester comes out clean. Serve warm or room temperature.

Makes 8 jumbo cupcakes.

Source: Lorraine Fina Stevenski