Making Life Sweeter One Cupcake at a Time

By Story by: Susan Fuller Slack,CCP

Photography by Jeff Amberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cupcake craze that started in New York and Los Angeles hit the sweet spot of American consumers and spawned a culinary revolution. Just check out food and bridal magazines, culinary blogs, Food Network’s popular show, “Cupcake Wars” and any of the mind-boggling number of cupcake shops now operating throughout the country, including one in downtown Columbia. Cupcakes have evolved from homespun treats to designer status with a dazzling array of fashion hues, shapes and exotic flavors. Mile-high frosted cupcakes are lavished with fresh flowers and leaves – even edible lace, jewels and pearls. Elegant, sculpted cupcake liners and wrappers reflect every occasion and theme. Classy cupcakes show up regularly at fashion shows, sporting events, birthday parties, showers, weddings and backyard barbecues.

Cupcakes are still comfort food and aficionados love to bake them at home. On these pages we offer tried-and-true recipes from Susan Slack’s kitchen, made from scratch and from embellished box mixes, which are appreciated by folks short on time. We also offer luscious frosting and topping recipes with flavor variations, beginning on page 37. The cupcakes and frostings are all interchangeable, but you’ll find pairing suggestions as you go.

Beyond a few easy baking techniques, cupcake basics are simple. Use top-quality ingredients; be creative and don’t be afraid to experiment. Cupcakes should always be served sooner rather than later. When it’s time to present your miniature masterpieces, move beyond cupcake liners to consider serving containers like martini glasses, teacups and terra cotta flower pots.

 


Cupcake Recipes

 

Vanilla Butter Cupcakes
Yield: about 20 cupcakes
2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room
   temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fit paper cupcake liners into a cupcake pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt for 30 seconds. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter one minute on medium speed. Add sugar and continue beating about four minutes or until mixture is thick and pale-colored. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla. Add half the flour mixture and half the buttermilk. Beat at medium-low speed for 30 seconds or until flour is incorporated. Add remaining flour and buttermilk; blend one minute or until batter is smooth. Scoop 1/3 cup of batter into each cupcake liner. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until cupcakes test done. Cool five minutes then remove from pan to cool completely on a rack. Frost cupcakes with any of our frostings and decorate as desired.

 

 

Almond Cupcake Baskets

Bake Vanilla Butter Cupcakes according to recipe, with this change: reduce vanilla to 1/2 teaspoon and add one teaspoon almond extract. When cooled, slice each cupcake in half horizontally. Spread Almond Cupcake Cream on the bottom halves then put top halves back into place. Frost cupcakes; refrigerate until serving time. Slip each cupcake into a paper basket liner and decorate with fresh flowers.

Boston Créme Pie Cupcakes

Bake Vanilla Butter Cupcakes according to recipe. When cooled, remove the center of each cupcake with a round mini vegetable cutter, a tomato huller or small knife. Fill with Almond Cupcake Cream. Top with Chocolate Cupcake Glaze or Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting.

 

Coconut Snowballs

Bake Vanilla Butter Cupcakes according to recipe. If desired, substitute canned coconut milk (not low-fat) for buttermilk. Spread Fluffy White Frosting or Cream Cheese Frosting thickly over cooled cupcakes, then sprinkle generously with 8 ounces sweetened shredded coconut until completely coated. Serve at once, or store in an airtight container and serve within two days. To boost flavor, lightly toast coconut on a large baking sheet at 350 degrees for 6 to 7 minutes, until golden brown. Stir often for even browning.

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

Yield: 12 cupcakes
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon and nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon each cloves and ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room
   temperature
2/3 packed cup light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup grated tart apple
scant 1/4 cup buttermilk
dried apple slices
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fit paper cupcake liners into a cupcake pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda and salt for 30 seconds. In a medium bowl cream butter and sugar until smooth and light. Beat in egg and vanilla. Stir in applesauce, grated apple and buttermilk until smooth. (Mixture may look curdled.) Pour in flour; stir ingredients together about 1 minute or until smooth. Spoon batter into cupcake liners. Bake 13 to 15 minutes or until cupcakes test done. Frost cooled cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting, then top with Caramel Drizzle and a dried apple slice.

Strawberry Velvet Cupcakes

Yield: 12 cupcakes
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Dutch processed cocoa
3/4 cup safflower or canola oil
1 large egg
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup finely mashed strawberries
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon red food coloring
12 small, perfect strawberries, cut into
   fan-shapes
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fit red or white paper cupcake liners into a cupcake pan. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cocoa for 30 seconds. In a small bowl, whisk together oil, egg, sour cream, strawberries and vanilla; blend in food coloring. Pour egg mixture into flour mixture; whisk ingredients together just until smooth. Scoop 1/3 cup of batter into each cupcake liner. Bake 13 to 15 minutes or until cupcake tops are gently rounded and test done. Frost cooled cupcakes with Whipped Cream Frosting or Mascarpone Cream; decorate each with a strawberry.

Orange Carrot Cupcakes
Yield: 22 to 24 cupcakes
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
4 large eggs
3 cups grated carrots, using large side of
   box grater
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 generous teaspoon grated orange zest
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fit paper cupcake liners in a cupcake pan. In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and spices for 30 seconds. In another bowl, blend together oil, eggs, carrots, vanilla and orange zest. Add carrot mixture to flour mixture and stir until well blended. Spoon batter into cupcake liners until about 3/4 full. Bake 13 to 15 minutes or until cupcakes test done. Frost cooled cupcakes with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting. Further embellishment isn’t needed, but you could finish them off with sprinkles, tiny royal-icing carrots, finely chopped nuts or even a curled strip of candied carrot.
 

Fudgy Devil’s Food Cupcakes
Yield: 22 to 24 cupcakes
1 18.25-ounce box devil’s food cake mix
   (without pudding in the mix)
1 3.9-ounce box chocolate fudge instant   
   pudding and pie filling
4 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup semisweet or mint-flavored
   chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fit paper cupcake liners into a cupcake pan. In a large bowl, combine the cake mix and  the next six ingredients. Blend on low speed about 30 seconds. Raise speed to medium; beat about two minutes more or until batter is smooth and thick. Fill muffin cups 1/2 to 3/4 full. Sprinkle one teaspoon chocolate chips over the top of each unbaked cupcake. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until cupcakes test done. Cupcakes should be soft with a slightly moist crumb. Frost cooled cupcakes with Fluffy White Frosting or Chocolate Cupcake Glaze, or simply dust with powdered sugar. Make the chocolate decorations seen in the photo by piping melted semisweet chocolate or candy melts through a small round decorating tip into plastic candy molds.

Peanut Butter Cups
Yield: 18 to 20 cupcakes
1 18.25-ounce box moist devil’s food cake mix (with pudding
   in the mix)
1 cup buttermilk
3 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fit paper cupcake liners into a cupcake pan. In a large mixing bowl, combine cake mix, buttermilk, eggs, oil and vanilla. Blend on low speed 30 seconds then stop and scrape down sides of bowl. Beat on medium speed two minutes more or just until batter is smooth. Fill muffin cups about 3/4 full. Put 1 heaping teaspoon Peanut Butter Filling in the center of each unbaked cupcake. Bake 15 to 17 minutes or just until cupcakes test done. Peanut butter filling may test slightly moist; don’t overbake. Cool five minutes then remove from pan to cool completely on a rack. Bake remaining cupcakes. Frost with Cream Cheese Frosting, Peanut Butter Frosting or Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting. In our photo, the frosted cupcake is decorated with melted semisweet chocolate and a peanut butter cup wedge. For the chocolate, pipe melted semisweet chocolate or candy melts through a small round decorating tip in a circular pattern on the frosting.

White Chocolate Lemon Cupcakes
Yield: 22 to 24 cupcakes
1 18.25-ounce box French vanilla or white cake mix
1 3.3-ounce box white chocolate instant pudding and pie
   filling
4 large eggs
1 cup lemon-flavored, vanilla or plain yogurt (not low-fat)
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
grated zest of 1 large lemon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fit paper cupcake liners into a cupcake pan. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cake mix and next seven ingredients. Blend on low speed 30 seconds. Raise speed to medium; beat about two minutes more or until batter is smooth and thick. Fill muffin cups about 3/4 full. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until cupcakes test done. Frost cooled cupcakes with White Chocolate Frosting or Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting; decorate as desired. The cupcake in our photo is covered with yellow-tinted White Chocolate Frosting piped in a flower design through a large rose tip. Frosting can also be swirled on with a large plain round or open star tip or spread on with a small offset spatula.
Variation
For a stellar summer party dessert, prepare 12 jumbo-size cupcakes. When cool, trim out the center of each cupcake (try a round mini vegetable cutter) and fill with tangy lemon curd. Frost with Whipped Cream Frosting or Mascarpone Cream; top with fresh raspberries and mint leaves.

Flower Pot Cupcakes
Our “flowering” cupcake is shown in a silicone flowerpot from the Castle Blooming Cupcake Kit, which comes with six oven-safe reusable silicone pots. Before baking, wash molds with warm soapy water; dry well. Apply a light coat of vegetable oil or vegetable spray. Place pots on a sturdy baking sheet and spoon in batter to the fill-line inside each mold. Bake according to package directions until cupcakes test done. Watch carefully while baking; the usual time may need a slight adjustment. Cool completely. You can top cupcakes with your favorite frosting while they are still inside the flowerpots. Decorate with icing flowers, non-toxic fresh flowers or other edible decorations. Or carefully remove from molds and decorate, then return to flowerpots for serving. Add jelly beans or other small candies to the flower pots to keep cupcakes from sinking too low when placed inside. This also provides an additional hidden surprise. Kit is sold at area craft stores. Small, clean, lead-free terra cotta flowerpots can also be used for baking and serving cupcakes.

 

Frostings & Toppings

Almond Cupcake Cream
1/2 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup whole milk
4 large egg yolks
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon pure almond or vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Amaretto liqueur, if desired
In a large heavy saucepan, whisk together cream, milk, egg yolks, sugar, flour and salt. Cook mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly until it thickens into a sauce consistency. Remove pan from heat and stir in butter, almond extract and Amaretto. Scrape into a small bowl, stirring a few times until mixture cools. Wrap tightly and store in refrigerator until used. Makes about 1 1/3 cups. Use as a cupcake filling, varying the flavors as desired.

Caramel Drizzle
7 ounces caramels, unwrapped
2 to 3 tablespoons cream or evaporated milk
Melt caramels with cream or evaporated milk in a heatproof bowl. You can microwave the mixture in 30-second intervals, stirring in between, until smooth or place in a small bowl and set into a pan of gently simmering water, stirring often. Melted caramel sauce shouldn’t be hot when drizzled over frosted cupcakes.

Chocolate Cupcake Glaze
2/3 cup heavy cream
6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon corn syrup
In a medium, heavy bottom saucepan, heat cream until very hot. Add chocolate and butter. Remove from heat and set aside five minutes for the chocolate to melt. Add corn syrup; whisk briefly just until smooth. Let mixture cool briefly to slightly thicken. Dip cupcake tops into glaze then give a little twist and remove. Glaze can also be spooned over the tops. Let cupcakes set for 30 minutes after glazing.

Cream Cheese Frosting
11 ounces cream cheese, softened slightly, yet still cool
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners’ sugar, or as needed
1 to 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, to taste
In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla until smooth. Gradually add in confectioners’ sugar, beating on low speed until ingredients are combined. Raise speed to medium; beat one to two minutes until frosting is smooth and fluffy. If too soft to pipe, chill in the refrigerator 15 minutes in a covered container. Scoop frosting into a pastry bag fitted with a large round decorating tip for piping. Or spread on cupcakes with a small offset spatula or blunt edge knife. Leftover frosting keeps well two weeks if refrigerated in an airtight container.

Variations
Orange Cream Cheese Frosting: To the basic recipe, beat in the grated zest of one small orange. Substitute orange juice in place of lemon juice.
Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting: To the basic recipe, beat in the finely grated zest of one large lemon.
Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting: To the basic recipe, increase butter amount to a total of eight tablespoons; slowly beat in six tablespoons Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa until mixture is smooth. If too thick, stir in one or two tablespoons heavy cream or half and half.
White Chocolate Frosting: To the basic recipe, slowly beat in six ounces melted white chocolate. To melt chocolate, place in a microwave-safe container and microwave at medium power (50 percent) in 30 second intervals. To prevent scorching, remove pan and stir chocolate each time to determine if it is melted. (Melted chocolate may still hold its shape.)

Fluffy White Frosting
1 cup sugar
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup water
1 cup Marshmallow Fluff
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla or other flavoring extract
pinch sea salt
Put some water into a double boiler base and place over medium-low heat. Place sugar, egg whites, cream of tartar and water into the top part of the double boiler pan then place over simmering water. (Don’t allow the pan holding the egg whites to touch the water.) Using an electric hand mixer, beat ingredients on low speed, about four minutes, until soft peaks form. Turn off the burner and remove double boiler from the heat. Quickly add spoonfuls of Marshmallow Fluff, vanilla and salt; continue beating about two minutes until frosting is stiff. Frosting must be used immediately and is best eaten within two days. Yields enough for 25 cupcakes or 18 “mile-high” cupcakes.

Peanut Butter Filling
1/2 cup creamy or crunchy peanut butter
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
In a medium bowl, cream all the ingredients together. Spread over unfrosted cupcakes, cookies or between cake layers.

Peanut Butter Frosting
1 cup creamy peanut butter
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 or 3 tablespoons cream, milk or evaporated milk
2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, more if needed
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
In a medium mixing bowl, beat peanut butter, cream cheese, butter and cream until smooth. Gradually add two cups confectioners’ sugar, beating on medium speed until light and fluffy. If frosting seems too soft, add more sugar. Beat in vanilla. Makes about three cups.

Whipped Cream Frosting
2 cups heavy cream or whipping cream
1/2 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Chill a large mixing bowl and mixer beaters. Pour cream into chilled bowl; beat with electric mixer until soft peaks form. Sprinkle in sugar and vanilla; continue beating until cream forms billowy, stiff peaks that hold their shape. Do not overbeat or cream will become grainy. Frost cupcakes at once and store in refrigerator. Best served within one to two days.
To stabilize whipping cream for piping, sprinkle one teaspoon unflavored gelatin into two tablespoons cold water in a small bowl. When softened, set dish into a shallow pan of hot water; stir to dissolve. Cool melted gelatin slightly. Add in gelatin at the point sugar and vanilla are added. The small amount of cornstarch in confectioners’ sugar also helps stabilize whipped cream.

Variations
Spirited Whipped Cream: Instead of vanilla, stir in one to two tablespoons quality liqueur like Grand Marnier, Amaretto, Créme de Menthe or Myers dark rum.
Chocolate Whipped Cream: Include two to three tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder.
Mascarpone Cream: Whisk one cup of room temperature mascarpone cheese in a large bowl to loosen. Gently fold in the whipped cream. Don’t over mix or mascarpone will curdle. Use frosting at once.
 


Useful Tips

• Frostings are creamier and thicker than icings and glazes.
• Cupcakes tend to stick less in quality paper cupcake liners. If sticking is a problem, mist lightly with vegetable spray.
• Use an ice cream scoop to measure out 1/3 cup batter for each cupcake.
• Check cupcakes in the oven at the minimum cooking time. A couple of extra minutes could make the difference between done and dry.
• Use a metal cake tester, toothpick or wooden skewer to test cupcakes while baking. The tops should be springy to the touch.
• Piped buttercream frosting from a pastry bag gives a polished look. For “mile high” frosting, you may need to double the recipe. Leftover buttercream-style frostings freeze well.
• A variety of decorating tips are available for piping frosting: Try the Wilton #1M open star tip or Ateco #827 star tube for ridged swirls. The Ateco #6 round tip gives smooth swirls like those seen in the photographs.
• Gallon-size zip-top plastic food storage bags also are good for piping frosting. Fill 3/4 full. Small bags are good for chocolate.
• Cover and refrigerate whipped cream and cream cheese-frosted cupcakes. Remove from refrigerator 15 minutes before serving; add decorations. Unfrosted cupcakes freeze well; thaw in refrigerator then add frosting.
• For additional tips on making the edible cupcake decorations shown in this article, visit http://susanslacktasteofcarolina.wordpress.com.

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