These delightfully tender squash cupcakes are infused with aromatic clementines and topped with an elegant Italian meringue buttercream.
This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure is at the bottom of the article.
Like most families, mine has its collection of traditional desserts—sweet treats my mom has been making since, it seems, forever. Many of these classic-to-us recipes make a comeback during the holiday season, a time of the year when my mom is an especially prolific baker. Indeed, every holiday season, my mom starts baking our family’s traditional line-up of desserts in early December, and she drafts what she’s going to serve for holiday dinners weeks in advance, completing every task that she can before the holidays roll around. She’s an excellent planner (that’s where I must’ve picked up my list-making habits!), and although she looks for new inspiration every year, classic dishes frequently make a comeback—most often because we beg her to make them again.
Every year, I offer to help my mom. I love chatting about menu planning with her, and on the day of our dinner, I love sharing the responsibility of setting a beautiful table, serving nicely laid out plates, and, yes, earning a bit of credit for making everyone around the table happy. I most often offer to make dessert because it’s what I love making the most, and I like to think I’ve become pretty good at it. My mom always accepts my offer, but she also can’t help but serve her classic cookies and bars along with whatever elaborate creation I prepared. To be honest, her treats often steal the spotlight. I know my desserts are delicious and she doesn’t mean to undermine my efforts, but tradition usually wins during the holiday season.
So, every year, I try my hand at new recipes in the hopes some of them will carve their place into my family’s traditions. My obsession for citrus fruits often drives my creativity, and some of my long-time favorite citrus desserts for cold seasons have come to life during these end-of-year brainstorming sessions: an easy orange yogurt cake, an elegant French lemon tart, and a spectacular lemon and olive oil cake with toasted meringue.
A few years ago, I created these tender, aromatic, cute little clementine squash cupcakes. They were an instant hit. The idea of using squash came to me as I was pondering carrots and pumpkin, two savory ingredients often used in cakes to create incredibly tender treats. I had a butternut squash on hand, so I figured, why not grate and use it as I would grated carrots? Because it was winter season, I also had a crate of clementines in the fridge, so I combined the two and added maple to the mix as a sweetener.
These clementine squash cupcakes delightfully and harmoniously combine winter flavors in tiny bites that inevitably fly off the serving plates. The squash provides an incredibly moist crumb, the clementines introduce a delightful zestiness, and the maple gives the frosting an irresistible aroma. But what’s best about this recipe is that you can make the cupcakes right now, pipe the frosting on, and freeze them completely assembled. This all-around winning recipe has become a classic at my house—my son has even got into the habit of requesting them for his birthday parties!
Don’t wait for the next holiday season to make these clementine squash cupcakes, though: they’re the cutest dessert for all anniversaries, parties, and special occasions. During warmer months, you can use other citrus fruits to replace seasonal clementines, and you can even swap in good old carrots for the grated squash (refer to my tips, below, for more substitution instructions). There’s only one thing you shouldn’t skip over: that incredible maple Italian meringue buttercream. It’s so silky, rich, and elegant that you’ll want to eat it by the spoonful!
Aromatic clementines are so good in an array of desserts from chocolate chip cookies to French macarons! They’re seasonal and can usually be found in grocery stores from late November to early March. If you can’t find them, you can use any member of the orange family to replace the clementines. The obvious substitute is mandarins because they are so similar to clementines, but tangerines and even good old Navel oranges work, too. Simply make sure the amount of zest and flesh you collect from the substitute citrus fruits is equivalent to the amounts used in the recipe. Refer to the notes in the recipe below for more information.
Yes, you can substitute the same amount of finely grated carrots for the squash.
Italian Meringue Buttercream is a super-silky, rich, smooth frosting. To make it, you need to heat syrup to a certain temperature, beat egg whites, then pour the hot syrup into the egg whites to create a meringue. Soft, room-temperature butter is then beaten into the meringue to create the buttercream.
Italian Meringue Buttercream is a lot less sweet than your usual birthday cake frosting: the only source of sugar is the hot syrup that is poured into the egg whites to create the meringue.
There are several reasons why Italian Meringue Buttercream is worth the extra effort: it’s stable, holds incredibly well, and doesn’t crust upon resting. It’s also a great frosting to use for piping and decorating cakes.
Italian Meringue Buttercream and Swiss Meringue Buttercream are identical in texture and consistency, but the method to make them is slightly different. As stated above, to make Italian Meringue Buttercream, you boil the syrup first, then pour it into the beaten egg whites.
To make Swiss Meringue Buttercream, the eggs are beaten together with sugar in a bowl set over a pot of boiling water until it reaches a certain temperature.
Italian meringue buttercream contains a lot less sugar than your usual butter-based frosting. Italian meringue buttercream has a rich, creamy, silky texture, and the flavor of butter does come through more than in regular birthday cake frostings. For this reason, I recommend using the best quality butter you can afford. European-style butters and cultured butters produce especially good results. The rule of thumb is: if you enjoy the flavor of a small knob of a particular type of butter on its own, then your buttercream will taste amazing!
You absolutely can! I recommend freezing the fully dressed cupcakes (with the Italian Meringue Buttercream on!) in an airtight container roomy enough not to squash your piping work. To thaw, simply take the clementine squash cupcakes back out to room temperature 1 to 2 hours before serving.
Love zesty, citrus-centric dessert recipes? Then you’ll love my Citrus Desserts Cookbook! Filled with colorful, irresistible meticulously tested dessert recipes—including cakes, tarts, breakfast treats, and delicious bars, spoonable treats, and candies—Citrus Desserts features mouthwatering photography, countless clever tips, and variation ideas to make the recipes as versatile as possible. LEARN MORE
Tell me how you liked it! Leave a comment or take a picture and tag it with @foodnouveau on Instagram.
Disclosure Notice: This site is a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for the site to earn fees by linking to Amazon and affiliated sites.
If you click on an affiliate link, I may earn advertising or referral fees if you make a purchase through such links, at no extra cost to you. This helps me create new content for the blog–so thank you! Learn more about advertising on this site by reading my Disclosure Policy.