Notes: I bought this book before Valentine's Day as I was drawn in by the incredibly creative designs and decorations that are featured on every other page. Of course, being a Martha Stewart book, this is to be expected. For a dinner with my parents this week, I settled on making the almond-hazelnut cupcakes, topped with a chocolate frosting and caramelized nuts. I toasted the two nuts to a deep brown before grinding them, so that they would yield their maximum flavour. The batter also uses egg whites only, a real bonus since I had used the yolks earlier in the week for creme brulee. Using half cake flour made for very light and fluffy cupcakes. Unfortunately, the ganache I made was way too runny, and the evening that we ate these, it was more like a sauce dribbling down the sides of the cupcakes. The next day (when the photo was taken), I melted more chocolate and stirred it in to make a thicker frosting.
The candied hazelnuts were the most fun and challenging to make. Using small round toothpicks, I speared each nut to a depth of about a centimetre. Then, after melting the sugar to a medium amber, I swirled each impaled nut in the molten liquid. The other end of the toothpick was sandwiched between two heavy cutting boards resting on a cardboard box placed on a table. A Silpat underneath caught any dripping sugar. It was hard to get the sugar to the right temperature. It crystallized quite a bit (I agitated the pot too much) and cooled quite quickly, so I would dip a few then warm up the sugar, then dip a few more. The tails weren't as defined or tall as I would have liked, but it was a successful first attempt.
Overall, everyone enjoyed these extremely nutty cupcakes. They dry out very quickly, so make sure to keep them in an airtight container for storage.