Orange Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Walnut Glaze and Cream Cheese Frosting

It’s been crazy hectic around my house lately. The end of the school year is looming ever closer, summer trips and vacations back to the mainland are being scheduled and planned, and Flat Stanley has been visiting. Not to mention some crazy weather, including a crab storm. It’s not enough that we had some unseasonable stormy weather (which I actually loved the whole time), but then we woke up to a giant crab climbing our walls outside (yes, it really was giant…my fear goggles did not make it appear bigger than it really was…really). One crab quickly became two, and two grew into half a dozen before we knew what was happening.

We were drizzled with large crabs for two days. Culminating in five great big crabs scuttling around our front entryway, creeping me the heck out. To get to our front door from the driveway, you walk down three steps into a sunken little courtyard. The crabs had made their way down the steps and promptly gotten stuck. Bastards. I could hear them through the front door…sinisterly scraping their shells along the bricks, and tip tapping their pointy little devil legs through the leaves.

If you know me, you know this was practically my worst nightmare…crabs are entirely too spider-like for me. And you may remember how I feel about spiders. If not, let me tell you now: spiders are ALL evil, and they ALL must be killed on sight (I’m convinced they’re in cahoots with The Silence)…but sleep with one eye open, they have big families.

Fortunately, the hubster, armed with a head lamp and a flashlight, plus a long shovel, came to my rescue. He gently forced the crabs away from the house and back up the stairs, closed the gate, and proved to me, once again, that he’s my hero. 🙂 I did help, though, believe it or not. I provided the comic relief by yelping each time a crab lunged at the shovel, brandishing their giant crusher claws, and looking far more evil than I’m sure normal people would ever believe. I also stood in a far, safe corner and repeatedly said, in my best Finding Nemo impression, “Hey, heyyy! Hey! Heyyy!” I’m not entirely sure the hubster was amused, but I found it hilarious. Until another crab lunged.

What makes crabs sort of terrifying to me (aside from their arachnid leanings) is the fact that they believe they can take on anyone, anytime. Their pincers are, apparently, great equalizers. I’m sure each one of those armored spider wannabes believed to its very core that they could easily take down this tall 6’1″ bright eyed cyclops and his shiny, metal shield on a stick.

What does all of this have to do with the cupcakes you came here to read about? Absolutely nothing. But they were an excellent reward to sit down to after all of my the hubster’s hard work.

I first came up with the idea for these cupcakes after watching a cooking competition. Someone made a dessert involving oranges, figs, and cheese…and everyone loved it. I sort of thought it sounded disgusting, but then I figured that there must be something to it, since everyone liked it. I started brainstorming what I could do, but quickly eliminated the figs. No one in my family likes figs. I decided to replace them with something a little more accessible: walnuts. As for the orange aspect, that was easy, and I quickly came up with a recipe for orange cupcakes. The cheese was also easy, in that I went with a simple cream cheese frosting. The final addition was an easy brown sugar glaze. When I described them to the hubster, neither of us was 100% sure that these were going to be worth anything. I am so glad that we were wrong. These turned out to be one of the absolute best cupcakes I’ve ever made. They’re a little more work, thanks to the walnuts and glaze, but they are so worth it. Plus, the walnuts can be made several days in advance.

The simple, fresh ingredients in the cupcakes are unsalted butter (at room temperature), all-purpose flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, eggs, sour cream, and fresh squeezed orange juice.

They also have a healthy dose of finely grated orange zest.

I wanted to try something different with these cupcakes than the standard paper liner. I just thought they sounded so elegant, and I wanted them to look that way too, so I decided to bake them in a generously greased and floured (I used Pam for baking and it was perfect) popover pan. They came out tall and thin and lovely.

Instead of transferring these, bottom side down, to a wire cooling rack to cool, I flipped them over onto a clean, dry towel that was draped over a cooling rack. This helped prevent cooling rack lines from forming on them. It also helped them maintain their shape (the few that I tried to remove without flipping them out of the pan got a little squished).

I experimented with the right amount of batter per popover cup until I had the perfect amount. I knew it’d be about two tablespoons, because I’ve established that pretty much all standard cupcakes are, but sometimes heaping is better than level. In this case, the heaping tablespoons came out fine, but they had a little lip around the top and turned out kind of flat on top. In the end, two level tablespoons was the perfect amount of batter for the popover pan. The cupcakes didn’t bake up and over the edge, forming a ridge, and they had a pretty mounded top.

Next up was the walnuts and the glaze. For the walnuts, I used my own Spiced Walnuts recipe, but halved it and replaced the white sugar with brown sugar. As I said before, you can make them several days in advance, but honestly, they only take about an hour to make, so you can easily make them while the cupcakes are baking and cooling. As for the glaze, it’s just a simple mixture of unsalted butter, brown sugar, and water. Bonus: you will have extra spiced walnuts leftover…yum.

Once the glaze is ready (instructions below), I put all of the cooled cupcakes onto a wire cooling rack set over parchment paper. Next I generously drizzled each one with the brown sugar walnut glaze, allowing excess to drip off. You can add less glaze, or cook it a little thicker, if you don’t want it dripping down the sides. Another option would be to frost the cupcakes first, then drizzle the glaze over the frosting.

Now all the cupcakes needed was a swirl of cream cheese frosting (recipe below), and a pretty garnish of spicy walnuts and sweet orange wedges. Finally, I gave each cupcake a bare sprinkle of flake sea salt. I think they turned out to be so beautiful, and I am really proud of how delicious they are. If you make the walnuts and frosting a day or two early, the cupcakes and glaze come together in no time at all. Or you can make everything in one day, like I did, and only spend a few hours on them total (including baking and cooling times).

My only reservation about these is that, by baking them in the popover pan, they became pretty top heavy. While adding the glaze, frosting, and garnishes it helps to gently hold the base of each cupcake to make sure they don’t tip over. Also, I found that it’s much more stable to remove them from the cooling racks once the glaze is on, and add the frosting and garnishes once the cupcakes are on a flat surface.

My whole family, a couple of neighbors, and several friends really loved these cupcakes. I surprised myself with them, in that they ended up being so much more delicious than I anticipated. They’re an elegant, seriously scrumptious, and exciting dessert that work well for warm weather (thanks to the bright orange flavors), and equally well in cool weather, with the warm cinnamon and brown sugar additions. I have to say, in a completely biased way, that these are absolutely worth every second you spend making them. Plus, they were a well deserved reward for all of my hard crab-mocking work. Enjoy!

Orange Cupcakes
with Brown Sugar Walnut Glaze and Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes 18 cupcakes

8 ounces whole, shelled walnuts
3/4 brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup milk
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (the juice of one large orange)
1 tablespoon orange zest, finely grated (the zest of one large orange)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces sour cream

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon orange zest, finely grated
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup spiced walnuts, chopped

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Extra walnuts, small orange wedges, and flake sea salt, for garnish (optional)

To make the walnuts: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely before stirring into candy.

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, milk, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk over medium high heat until all of the ingredients combine completely, then stop stirring and bring to a boil. Boil the mixture gently until it reaches 240 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and carefully stir in the vanilla, avoiding the spluttering. Immediately stir in the walnuts, working as quickly as possible to coat them all. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat mat or parchment paper. Use a fork to break apart any big chunks. Be careful, as the nuts will still be quite hot. Allow to cool completely before serving or packaging.

To make the cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners, or generously grease and flour a muffin or popover pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a large bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl between additions. Stir in the zest, juice, and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Add one-third of the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Stir in half of the sour cream until just mixed in. Repeat this process with the remaining flour and sour cream until all of the ingredients are combined. Scrape the bowl, then stir the batter for another 20 to 30 seconds to make sure everything is mixed in.

Fill the prepared muffin or popover pans with 2 level tablespoons of batter in each cup. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes for standard cupcakes, or 10 to 12 minutes for popover cupcakes, or until the tops are just turning light golden brown. Transfer to a wire cooling rack (if using a popover pan, flip the cupcakes out onto a clean, dry towel that is draped over a cooling rack) and allow to cool completely before glazing and frosting.

To make the glaze: Combine the brown sugar, water, butter, and orange zest in a small saucepan set over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the mixture has reached the consistency of syrup. Remove from heat, stir in the vanilla until combined, then add the walnuts. Allow to cool for about 20 minutes before drizzling over the cooled cupcakes.

To make the frosting: In a large bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter together until completely combined. Add the sugar, one cup at a time, beating well between each addition. Stir in the vanilla until thoroughly combined. Beat the mixture well, until light and fluffy, adding up to a tablespoon of heavy cream, if the frosting is too stiff.

Recipes by Darla

Leave a comment


  1. says

    These look AMAZINGGG Darla- I tried making an orange and almond cake last night, inspired by a recent trip to Portugal and they weren’t quite sweet enough for my super sweet tooth! But I love the flavour of Orange in cake so will definitely be trying your cupcakes!

    And as for the crabs? Urgh!! That sounds like a particularly horrific horror movie!

  2. says

    okay…what on earth is a crab storm!…and how did they get to your house!? and then why were they on the house?! and then….and then….oh my goodness….this is something I never knew I had to panic about!
    I don’t like spiders, I don’t like crabs (not even to eat)…but don’t even get me started about anything slimy from the sea with too many legs….squid, octopus, jellyfish…..
    now I have visions of octopus storms and octopus stuck to the house….oh no!

  3. says

    These cupcakes are so pretty!! They sound really delicious – love all the different flavors in there. Plus, the shape of the cupcakes is so cute! Love it. 🙂

  4. Karyl says

    Oy! There was a crab storm in an IMAX movie we saw last year — which was marketed as a kid-friendly animal movie. Not a horror one like it should have been. Giant surround-screen was bad enough… I’m impressed you lived it. (‘Love the Nemo joke, by the way.) And thanks for the recipe. I love orange cakes and the popover treatment makes them look so pretty.

  5. says

    I was trolling for delicious, walnutty recipes and apparently hit the jackpot! Posted a link on our Facebook page for the fans to come see 🙂

  6. says

    Your cupcakes look amazingly decadent and delicious. I love anything with orange in it and I love how you’ve decorated them. Gorgeous!!

    Wow, I’ve never heard of a crab storm. How funny and creepy to have crabs crawling up your walls!

  7. says

    Your blog is beautiful. I’m so glad I found it!! I’ll be sure to follow along 🙂

    This recipe is absolutely perfect with me because I am OBSESSED with orange zest AND I just got a new popover pan. Thanks for the AMAZING recipe!

  8. Desiree says

    Hi Darla,
    I made your delicious cupcakes over the weekend. Your recipe was easy and ofun. The only issue I had was with the drizzle for the cupcakes. I think I cooked it too long or maybe I let it cook too hard for too long. After I boiled it I turned it down pretty low but it never seemed to stop a pretty good boil. It got too hard and VERY quicly as soon as I removed from heat and added chopped nuts. Any thoughts? Thanks for the yummy recipe! You site is officially bookmarked for future use!

    • says

      I think you’re right. It sounds like you cooked it way too long or too high. The mixture continues to bubble even at low heats because once all of the water cooks out, the remaining sugar mixture has a lower boiling point. It shouldn’t have been simmered for more than 10 minutes, but more importantly, it should be removed from the heat when it is about the consistency of breakfast syrup…even if that happens before 10 minutes is up. The reason is because the mixture is going to thicken further as it cools, and that process starts immediately after removing it from the heat. Adding the nuts and other ingredients further speeds up the cooling process, so if you cooked it beyond that syrupy, but still runny, consistency, then you moved past the glaze realm and into the candy making world. I hope this is helpful for next time. Glad you liked them otherwise!