I’ve been trying to behave. While everyone and their grandmother is Instagramming homemade sourdough or who-knows-what, I’ve been squelching my urge to bake, because how many cookies do I need to eat, seriously? I’m not saying I miss going into the office, but I miss having an outlet for all that baking.
I had to give in, though, when I found the recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Frosting on Sally’s Baking Addiction. Cupcakes were required, and immediately. How could I say “No” to chocolate and peanut butter? Besides, I reasoned, I could share these with my parents – there was no way my dad was going to complain about that combination.
I started out with my usual chocolate cupcake recipe, which I can almost make in my sleep. How good are they? The cat thought she needed to try them.
Why, kitty, why???
The frosting recipe was simple enough to follow, but made a way bigger batch than I’d usually use. Naturally this meant I had to go nuts piling it on, right? I mean, if I’m going to bake something utterly unnecessary, I might as well go whole-hog.
It was also really stiff, and I realized after piping the first couple that I should have added a touch more milk to it in order to soften it up. Normally, I hold a cupcake in one hand and rotate it as I pipe with the other; this stuff was a two-hand job. My hands were shaking so badly trying to get enough pressure on the piping bag that a casual observer might have thought I have some sort of neurological problem.
Despite the stiffness, the frosting wasn’t at all dry or hard, even after a couple of days. And its firmness may have been beneficial when one of them toppled off its plate onto the floor; it flattened a little bit but didn’t make a huge mess the way a softer frosting would have. In any case, they went over really well and were the perfect excuse to bake something.
When the Harry Potter books were initially released in the late 1990s, I more or less ignored them. They were clearly for kids (I mean, clearly), which I was not (I mean, clearly), and I found all the hubbub tiresome. Then the movies came out, and…I still didn’t care. Nope, not at all.
More than 20 years later, I decided it might be time to see what all the fuss was about, and picked up a paperback copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone last summer. I didn’t have high hopes, because the last two series I poked at to see what all the fuss was about were Twilight and Fifty Shades of Gray, both of which were utterly terrible. And actually, pretty much the same books, give or take a little kink.
Maybe it was because my expectations were so low, but I devoured Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, and then got the complete boxed set of all seven books for Christmas. Talk about your revelations: “Oh, so this is what everyone was going on about!” My biggest surprise came when I realized Harry was older than I am. Prior to reading the books, my only knowledge of him came from seeing newsy bits about the movies, whose main trio were all decidedly younger than me. But no! According to the books, Harry was born July 31, 1980, meaning that the Boy Who Lived rings in the big 4-0 this year.
Naturally, I had to bake something to celebrate. I’ve seen a lot of recipes for Butterbeer cupcakes floating around the internet, most of which make my teeth hurt to look at them. Harry may be older than I am, but I get the feeling that my lack of a sweet tooth renders me pretty old, too.
Instead, of completely sugar-bombing my test audience, I made some really simple Cheater Butterbeer cupcakes instead. How simple, you ask?
Start with these:
I promise I’m not sponsored by either General Mills or Kraft Foods, but I wanted something foolproof. When you empty the dry cake mix into your bowl, add the pudding mix, and then proceed as directed on the cake mix box (oil, egg, water, mixing times). Be sure to only fill the cupcake liners half-full as indicated – the pudding mix does not add the volume to the batter one might expect, and you’ll be short if you try to fill them 2/3 full as you would for any other recipe.
I baked mine in Gryffindor red, naturally:
I opted for an über-casual build-your-own-cupcake type of topping. Rather than make a stiff, pipeable frosting, I made homemade whipped cream. This was spooned on to the eater’s desired thickness – I thought that it would look more like the foam on top of a mug of beer that way. (And saved me dirtying a piping bag and tip – woo hoo!) A drizzle of caramel sauce sealed the deal.
Want to make this even simpler than it already is? Grab a tub of Cool Whip, or a can of it if you’re craving perfect peaks. Usually whenever I whip cream it’s got cream cheese in it to act as a stabilizer, and without that, it separates after about a day in the fridge and looks a little gross. I’m so glad I got perfect first-night shots here.
Also: although I chose to do mine up like this, some of my testers discovered that with leaving the cupcakes naked and adding the toppings later, they preferred cutting the cupcake in half and laying it flat-side down on the plate, to prevent tipping over later. This also allows more surface area for whipped cream and caramel, so win-win.
The addition of the pudding mix to the cake mix made the cupcakes slightly chewy, but wonderfully moist. The whipped cream was a marvelous balance against the sweetness of the cupcake and the sauce – although my testers also discovered that the cupcakes were good enough to be eaten with nothing on them, so you do you.
And with that bout of kitchen magic, I sit patiently to await my invitation to Hogwarts.
Although I am not by any stretch of the imagination a professional baker, I’m a relatively experienced one. I understand how to not overmix, how to check for doneness, and how to fold in the cheese. And while I accept that there are some things I will likely never have the inclination to attempt (croquembouche, anyone?), my Moby Dick white whale continues to be vanilla cupcakes.
It should be such a simple thing, right? But nearly every recipe I’ve tried has left me underwhelmed: they’re either dense, or dry, or some combination of the two. Maybe it’s because my chocolate cupcakes are fail-proof and so moist-moist-moist that vanilla pales (and fails) by comparison, but it still drives me nuts. My go-to cookbook, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, has a vanilla recipe that’s really similar to the chocolate, but with two tablespoons of cornstarch (and no cocoa, obviously). Was that what made it not-perfect? I’ve tried varieties that call for cake flour rather than all-purpose, to no avail. (I’ve also since read tips that recommend adding cornstarch to your A.P. if cake flour is unavailable, which really makes me think there’s a connection there somehow.)
Recently I came across this recipe, and was hopeful. Straight-up all-purpose flour, no separating of eggs (not that I inherently dislike separating eggs, but anything that calls for just the yolk or just the white invariably leads to wasting the unwanted part, unless you have an excellent recipe-stacking strategy to use up those leftover yolks or whites, which I do not), nothing funny.
And…they weren’t bad.
They came out a little browner around the edges than I would have liked, but all things considered…not bad. The batter was thicker than pretty much all of my other scratch recipes, and I think I overfilled them a bit because of this, which in turn necessitated baking them a minute or two longer than might otherwise be prudent. Whether because of bake time or simple batter composition, they were just a wee bit on the dry side, too. I could see making them again, but filling the cups less full – and mayyyybe adding an extra tablespoon of oil to the batter for moisture?
I topped them with a root beer buttercream icing, which paired so perfectly with the vanilla cake, like having a root beer float. Oh, and because you’ve probably noticed the liners by now…
Yep, those are absolutely Christmas liners. Everyone’s socially distancing – who was going to see these anyway? But look how pretty they are!
After my underwhelming success with vanilla, I went back to my old standby – chocolate – for a Father’s Day treat. There was pretty much no doubt in my mind that they had to be topped with peanut butter frosting.
To add a bit of texture and interest, I put a few Reese’s Pieces in a baggie and smashed them with a rolling pin before sprinkling the aftermath on top of the frosting.
This is the best combination…
They’re practically moist enough for themselves and the vanilla cupcakes, if cupcakes worked that way.
Light and moist and perfect, no crumbling at all.
Has anyone had tremendous success with light, moist vanilla cupcakes? Or am I better off box-mixing it?
You guys! I’m so glad the holiday season is behind us, and I can get back to my somewhat regular baking schedule. Anything I made over the holidays felt like an obligation rather than something I wanted to do, and with so many store-bought options around (I’m still eating dominoes), it felt futile anyway.
I was itching to bust out my cupcake pans and bake something just for the heck of it, and finally got my chance a couple of weeks ago. Oh, it felt goooood!
A couple of years ago, I had made this Brooklyn Blackout Cake for my mom’s birthday, and although cakes make a lovely presentation for special occasions like birthdays, they’re a pain to store the rest of the time. And although the homemade pudding filling turned out most excellently that time, I didn’t feel like standing over the stove having chocolate splatter at me.
Instant gratification pudding to the rescue!
After baking and cooling a dozen chocolate cupcakes (made with a 2:1 ratio of regular to dark cocoa powder), I made two boxes of instant chocolate pudding, but used only half the milk called for. In other words, two cups for both boxes instead of two cups for each. That gave me an ultra-thick pudding that wouldn’t run all over the place.
I cored the cupcakes, setting the cores carefully aside instead of just eating them (for example). I loaded up a piping bag with my pudding and filled each cupcake, then spread a generous layer on top instead of frosting.
The finishing touch? I grabbed one of my cores and crumbled it on top of each cupcake for that crumb topping finish.
Crumbs on top of your frosting (or “frosting”) might sound weird and dry, but the cake is so moist that dryness isn’t an issue.
Look at that luscious chocolate filling!
On the whole, I’m extremely happy with how these turned out, and how much easier they were to make and store than their layer-cake counterpart. My taste-testers gave them two thumbs up, so it looks like we have a winner.
It’s one of those terribly “basic” things to admit, but my heart beats a little faster when pumpkin spice latte season rolls around (it must be all that extra caffeine). In my defense, my infatuation is strictly with the latte, and not the hundreds of other pumpkin spice-inspired items available. I’ve carefully researched the coffee options, so you don’t have to. From worst to best:
4. McDonald’s Caramel Pumpkin Spice Latte. Their pumpkin spice latte used to be good, but the current iteration is far too sweet. Add to that the general chaos and lousy service, and this is a hard pass.
3. Starbucks. I think this might have been the original one, but it’s also really sweet and something else – I almost want to use the word “sludgy”, which is something your coffee should never, ever be.
2. Tim Horton’s. This is saying something. I’m not a fan of Tim’s overall, but their allegedly handcrafted latte is not wretched. It doesn’t have a terribly strong pumpkin or spicy flavour, but it’s not gag-inducingly sweet, either. If you want something warm, creamy, and soothing, this will take the chill off. (Bonus: The Pumpkin Spice Iced Capp is surprisingly decent, if you can get past the idea of a cold pumpkin drink. Just stay away from the whipped topping; that stuff could probably survive a nuclear bomb.)
1. Second Cup. The ne plus ultra of pumpkin spice lattes. I only wish there were more locations so that I didn’t have to brave the mall every time I want a fix. These are flavourful and not too sweet, and if you haven’t tried one, you must. You’ll never drink Starbucks again.
Ahem. Given that kind of attention to these drinks, it’s probably not surprising that the recipe for Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes from the Brown Eyed Baker called to me. I cheated just a little bit and used my pumpkin cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World as the base, only with the coffee and spices recommended by the BEB.
I used instant coffee instead of instant espresso powder because that’s what I had on hand. I also used a bit more than the 4 1/2 teaspoons called for, because it’s not as strong as the espresso. And although you certainly can dissolve 7 or so teaspoons of instant coffee in 1/4 cup of milk, you certainly should not taste it unless you want to never touch coffee again. Bleh. Luckily, by the time it’s mixed in with all the other ingredients, it just lends a nice coffee-ish flavour to the cupcakes without overpowering them.
I topped them with the cream cheese whipped cream as suggested in the recipe, and oh: you can’t go wrong with that stuff. It’s light and fluffy, but doesn’t deflate if it’s out of the fridge for longer than a few minutes. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but if you have leftover whipped cream, it’s also excellent on toast or gingerbread, or eaten straight out of the container with a spoon. I don’t judge. Some caramel sauce and Saigon cinnamon sprinkled on top sealed the deal.
They also release really nicely from their liners and stay moist. Dry cupcakes are the worst!
I made these over Thanksgiving weekend, and although I associate with a band of cookie fans, I have never seen a batch of cupcakes disappear so quickly. This is one recipe that stays in the roster for next year – or, you know, next weekend. 🙂
I know that red velvet cake is generally considered to be a southern dessert. That’s “southern” as in “below the Mason-Dixon line”, and not “Windsor” – being within spitting distance of the Ambassador Bridge doesn’t count, but I really, really wanted some sort of red velvet cupcake for Canada Day. It’s red cake! With white icing!
Silly me: if I wanted a patriotic dessert, I should have stuck with something simple like Nanaimo bars or butter tarts (again).
See, I’ve got issues with red velvet cake. The Crimson Velveteen cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World are moist and delicious, but, well, darkish. (The authors fully own this colour issue, arguing that their dessert is much classier than some of the day-glo red versions you see. Very well, but what if I want bright red?)
Last year I tried the recipe on the Brown Eyed Baker. Those puppies were nothing short of fire-engine in the picture on her site, but were just as dark as my original recipe and much less flavourful once baked. Talk about your bait-and-switch!
When I happened upon the red velvet recipe on Sally’s Baking Addiction, I thought I had died and gone to baker’s heaven. Sally is a full-on baking geek who understands the chemistry and technique involved in making a truly spectacular dessert. I followed her recipe to the letter, and was rewarded with lovely, brighter-red cupcakes. (The secret is using about half the cocoa called for in other recipes I’ve seen.)
They’re red and gorgeous and perfect! They look exactly like the ones on the blog (piping techniques notwithstanding). They rose, and formed these perfectly rounded tops upon which to pipe scads of icing
And they’re just as beautiful under the wrappers, too.
This is as striptease-y as it gets.
I so appreciated the methodology of the recipe: there’s butter for flavour; oil for moisture; buttermilk to make them tender; and two eggs, the whites of which were whipped and folded into the batter separately to keep things light and fluffy.
There was just one problem…they were kind of dry. Okay, really dry.
My test audience was split about 50/50 as to whether or not this was a dry cake. One conceded that “they were fine at first” and only got dry after a few days. On the other hand, whenever I ate one, I felt like I was playing that old party game wherein one tries to whistle while eating crackers. And I’ve made hundreds of moist cupcakes, so believe me, I know a dry cupcake when I taste one. So disappointing! The only thing I can figure is that the cornstarch in the batter dries them out – there’s cornstarch in the vanilla cupcakes from VCTOtW, and they’re nowhere near as moist as the other varieties.
It’s back to the drawing board for a red velvet recipe that’s at once moist and red; in the meantime, I think I’ll have to order a piece from Sals when the craving hits:
(Now that’s a red velvet cake!)
Update: After this fiasco, I tried the Betty Crocker red velvet cupcake mix-in-a-box, and once I got past the shame of using a mix, was forced to admit that they’re pretty darned good. Darker in colour than my scratch-baked cupcakes, above, they’re moist and light. And I still made my own icing from scratch, so that makes them practically homemade.
I should preface this by saying that I had a whole post planned out: “A Tale of Two Cupcakes, or: It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Blurst of Times.” However, cupcakes the second were more or less inhaled in record time, and may not have photographed as impressively (this is what I tell myself), and instead I was left with a bunch of pictures of cupcakes the first.
I had had some inklings of these cupcakes bouncing around my brain for a while, now, but I was inspired by the lemon-mascarpone cake on Life, Love, and Sugar. It looked really good, but I didn’t want to fuss with making my own lemon curd from scratch, and unless you’re feeding a crowd (I’m usually not), whole layer cakes are an annoyance to store.
I started out with the golden vanilla cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and added some lemon zest and juice, plus just a hint of lemon extract in addition to the vanilla. Oh, and maybe just a drop or two of yellow food colouring. Once they had cooled, I used my trusty corer and filled the insides with jarred lemon spread.
(Quick aside: I had a childhood friend who would eat peanut butter and lemon spread sandwiches for lunch. Shocking, I know! Schools used to allow peanut products on their property. We were made of tougher stuff then.)
While the thought of peanut butter and lemon spread together still makes me want to retch, lemon spread on its own is tangy and delicious, and did not make the cupcakes soggy – most important!
Instead of a mascarpone icing, I made one of my new favourites: the whipped cream-cream cheese icing from Brown Eyed Baker. It’s just fluffy and perfect, not too sweet, and if you have some left over and can manage not to eat it by the spoonful on its own, it goes great on fruit, toast, you name it.
What’s that? Quit waxing nostalgic about peanut-permissive schools and get to the pictures?
Cue the striptease music…
The cupcakes were moist on their own, but the lemon filling helped keep them moist over the next couple of days. And after sitting, fully assembled, for 24 hours, the flavours melded and the filling was just a bit less tangy and became almost an extension of the cake (flavour-wise, not texture-wise). I’m not sure about the best of times, but these were pretty darned good!
I feel like I’ve gotten away from baking cupcakes lately. Maybe because it’s all been done? I don’t tend to get too crazy trying new flavours or techniques, and there are only so many ways to blog about chocolate (“No!!”) or vanilla (“Really?!”) cupcakes. It’s a bit like watching someone’s really terrible vacation slideshow.
Whatever my reason, conscious or unconscious, I decided to make some mummy cupcakes for Halloween. And this time I did exactly what I didn’t want to do the last time I made them: I broke down and bought candy eyeballs by Wilton. In my defense, I saw no less a baking authority than Anna Olson use them. I can’t explain why, but I tend to trust her far more than I do most of those soi-disant “experts” on the Food Network – she actually seems to know what she’s doing. If these little shaped sprinkles (as the package describes them) were good enough for her, well, they’d be more than adequate for my purposes.
Adorable, right? My frosting process was thus: fitted with a basketweave tip, I first piped a strip across the cupcake to secure the eyes, and then added my bandages in what I hoped was a random pattern. I didn’t want to paint on a bloody-looking mouth this time, so I left negative space instead to let my dark-chocolate cake show through. Did you know that it’s really, really hard to randomly generate the mouth shape you’re hoping for? After the first couple, I started outlining the mouth before adding my bandages – only to discover that my cupcakes looked like they were wearing blackface. Ugh! Some of them look truly horrified at that unhappy coincidence; luckily the end product turned out completely inoffensive.
All was well until I stored the uneaten cupcakes in the fridge to be consumed the next day: when I pulled them out, some of them had arbitrarily dilated pupils – usually just one, but not every single mummy had that problem. I assumed that somewhere in the room temperature-to-refrigerated-to-room temperature cycle, condensation had formed and dripped on some eyes. They were kind of ugly, but still tasted fine.
A few days later, I made a batch of vanilla funfetti cupcakes for a friend’s birthday, and was able to use more of my candy eyes to Minion-ize them.
(You’re not losing your mind; those are two different sizes of eyeballs.)
These guys made me smile so much, and I was determined to keep them looking good, so I kept them well away from the fridge. But lo, by the next morning, some of my Minions were afflicted with the same ocular disorder that had plagued my mummies.
(I am so, so glad that I decorated these the day of his little birthday soirée, and that only the leftovers got bug-eyed.)
Having seen this happen with no significant temperature change, I can only guess that it’s not a condensation/temperature issue; rather, once the icing softens the eyes a bit, the pupils bleed.
Has anybody else had this problem with the Wilton eyes? Or is there some trick to keeping the eyes looking (ha!) the way they should, short of using them immediately before serving? At $4 a pack, I don’t think it’s worth fighting over, but I’m going to have to think long and hard before buying them again.
I haven’t done a ton of baking lately (including a “gee-but-I-really-wanted-to” Halloween treat), fixated as I have been on Christmas crafting, but a dear friend celebrated his birthday last week and I thought it was time to get off my heinie and get baking! This is somebody who, if you ask him, will request vanilla over chocolate every (every, every) time – and although I don’t have a problem with that, it’s been done. There’s just not a lot you can do with that. I still didn’t want to do the rather obvious chocolate option, however, so I put my thinking cap on. And, inspired by the best! freaking! donut! I have ever eaten, I came up with…drumroll….root beer float cupcakes.
In a nod to his usual preference, I used the basic vanilla cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and substituted in root beer extract instead of vanilla. Shocking, right? I had initially planned on a vanilla buttercream frosting to mimic the ice cream found in a float, but I was worried the root beer flavour wouldn’t carry through, so that is root beer buttercream gracing those beauties.
…because he is!
Waiting for a wish:
De-papered and -candled, and ready to eat:
I like that these are kind of like stealth cupcakes…to the casual observer, they could almost pass for an unassuming vanilla – they’re only oh-so-slightly less white – but pack a flavour wallop when you bite in! In fact, the birthday boy didn’t even question what they were when I first dished one up. It wasn’t until he was about halfway through that he looked up and asked, “What is this? It tastes almost fizzy!” I don’t know about fizzy, but like a favourite soda? Absolutely!
Did everybody have a great Mother’s Day? It took me longer than usual this year to come up with a cohesive gift/meal plan, but luckily that all fell into place within the last week or so.
My original intention had been to make the Tiramisu Pancakes from Chloe’s Vegan Desserts, but then I saw the IHOP commercial touting their new Cupcake Pancakes and Red Velvet Crepes, and darn it, I was moved. The nearest location to me that doesn’t require a passport still requires an overnight bag, so it was time to take matters into my own hands:
Behold: Confetti Pancakes, courtesy of the plain pancake recipe from Vegan With a Vengeance plus a handful of sprinkles thrown into the batter. (Note that “plain” is a bit of a misnomer; the batter has cinnamon and maple syrup and vanilla in it for flavour before my own addition, and is wickedly delicious.) And yes, that’s blueberry syrup drizzled on top.
My Birthday Cake Theory extends to Mother’s Day as well, so I whipped up a batch of chocolate cupcakes from VCTOTW last night and decorated them this morning. Now, as I’ve gotten older and less cute, I’ve been replaced by a furry, four-legged little sibling, and he provided me with decoration-inspiration.
It’s like looking into a decorating gel-covered mirror.