A Baking Adventure: Princess Cupcakes for Our Princess Niece

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Lylah, my 3-year-old niece, talked about her birthday party for 3 months. It started when her little sister, Lily, turned 1. “It’s my party? Those are my presents?” she would ask. Then when Leah turned a year old, we got the same questions, only to answer, “No Lylah, those are Leah’s. But your party is next!” As soon as items were purchased for her party, I was greeted with, “Auntie Jenny! Look at my princess party!” For the next few weeks, she talked about her princess party, which would have (of course) princess cupcakes.

We had all the fixings for a perfect 3-year-old princess party: My sister purchased a Wilton kit that had a Disney Princess cupcake stand, cupcake liners, and picks, and also bought the Disney princess frosting transfers. Crusader Stacy purchased purple metallic liners, which would be a complementing color, and I provided extra pink sugar crystals. Stacy came up with a plan of action for the frosting transfers, which included rolled fondant. After Leah’s party I’m now the fondant “expert” in the group, so I volunteered to help with the cupcakes.

I baked and frosted the funfetti and chocolate cupcakes the day before the party. We used Duncan Hines Strawberry Shortcake Flavor Creations for the pink frosting, which I had to add confectioner’s sugar to in order to pipe.

I did my best to pipe a flat swirl on the cupcakes that would be getting fondant circles placed on top.

I was really nervous about the transfers. I didn’t want to mess them up, because we didn’t have any extras, so I practiced with one a few days early and it worked great. The ink on the transfer didn’t get funky after a couple of days, so I was able to calm down a bit about preparing the cupcake decorations in advance.

The night before the party I prepped the fondant-transfer decorations, to place on the cupcakes the morning of the party. I rolled out the fondant, like I did for Leah’s birthday cupcakes, this time using the larger cutter to fit the whole top of the cupcakes. Then, following advice I found from Google searches, I used a damp cloth (AKA: a wet paper towel) to moisten the top of the fondant. The instructions for removing the transfer from the sheet worked perfectly and they peeled off easily.

I was really proud of trying something new again and it turning out well. The fondant with the transfers stayed perfect through the night (stored in an air-tight container), so the next morning I was able to finish up the decorating.

We rolled the edges of the frosting in sugar crystals, just to give it a finished look. Plus, a princess party needs a little extra bling!

I figured we would have enough time to sprinkle sugar on the pink frosted cupcakes when I got to the party location. Well, I’m glad I waited because as soon as I got in the car, on the way to the party, I noticed that the pink frosting had slide right off the tops of the cupcakes. It was a disaster. I’ve decided that moisture is a big issue with the Duncan Hines frosting and they are better off being left out to “set-up” (which is a problem when you want moist cake). Luckily I was going to be early anyway, so Stacy and I went into cupcake-rescue mode. We scrapped frosting and reapplied it to the cupcakes, sprinkled, and double-lined the wrappers, to hide some of the mess. The results? Not too bad.

Although it’s not exactly what I had envisioned, no one noticed. We did have a few pink survivors, which stayed at the forefront of the display.

The cupcakes with the fondant and transfers still stole the show and the birthday girl was giddy with delight over her princess cupcakes.

There was one casualty of this experience: my batter dispenser. A fallen hero, really. Cupcake baking hasn’t been the same without it, but it put up a good fight. So long, kitchen accessory. You shall be missed (until I’m able to get a new one)…

- Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Jenn (Westminster, MD)

Leah’s 1st Birthday: A Garden Gnome Party with Cupcakes

Crusader Stacy and I began brainstorming ideas for my daughter’s first birthday, oh, about 9 months ago…when she was 3 months old. Seems extreme, I know. But, with no weddings, showers, or other birthdays on the horizon, our creative party juices needed to be released. I saw a gnome/forest friend theme on Design Dazzle and really liked the cute little mushroom top cupcakes and matching jumbo cupcake. I thought, “I can do that!” I also liked that it seemed to be an original idea, and I still kind of love gnomes going back to my “David the Gnome” days.

After casually researching here and there, it was June before I knew it! I solidified the “Garden Gnome” theme after finding some cute garden decorations that I wanted to tie in with the gnomes. I designed my own invitations to set the mood and décor for the party, scanning in felt flowers and scrap-booking paper to create texture and layers.

The Cupcakes: Chocolate Strawberry and Lemon

The cupcakes ended up being more of a challenge than I thought they would be. I started with box mixes for the cake because I wanted that to be as easy as possible since I’d be making my own frosting and decorating the cupcakes in a special way.

This was my first time working with fondant. I purchased Wilton’s ready to roll fondant and found it very easy to work with.

I also purchased Wilton fondant decoration-cutters (basically cookie cutters) in different size circles. The larger one was for the big cupcake cake and the smaller one was for the regular size cupcakes.

I researched working with fondant and found out how to store it so that decorations could be done a few days prior to using them. This was very helpful in managing my time for party preparations!

The polka dots were for the chocolate strawberry cupcakes and cake. A week before the party I decided that, since I prefer adding flavor to my homemade buttercream, the chocolate cupcakes would be topped with a strawberry buttercream. I found a recipe on Baking Bites that looked easy and tasty. The frosting ended up not being as easy as I thought though, particularly to work with. It was very runny (probably a combination of the house being warmer, all the red food coloring I added, and the amount of strawberry puree used in this recipe) so I added a lot of confectioner’s sugar, probably 3-4 times what the recipe calls for. Now I know why fresh fruit buttercreams can be so sweet! Despite some trial and error with working with the frosting, the flavor was still good!

The next hiccup I encountered was with the lemon frosting. I’ve made this frosting before, so everything was going well until it came to piping. I planned on using a grass tip, but moments before getting started thought to myself, “Hmmm…I bet the lemon zest isn’t going to fit through the piping holes.” Sure enough, it didn’t work. Since I was already working with a particular size, I was limited with my options, but chose another decorating tip and got wonky results.

My hope was that after adding the Wilton decorating daisies (thank goodness for another time-saving purchase!) the cupcakes would look okay, and I think they did!

I baked the night before the party and we added the final touches right before the party started, just to make sure the food dyes didn’t bleed and the decorations didn’t succumb to the moisture in the cake and frosting. In the end, I never needed to be so worried and the cupcakes came out great!

Even though I chose to do fun, summery flavors, there was still something for everyone and I got more compliments than ever before. I think the strawberry buttercream will make an appearance again in the future!

The Party

I was really pleased with how everything came together. Fun decorations including felt flower arrangements, hand crafted signs, polka-dot balloons, garden gnomes, fake moss rocks, garden decorations, and labeled goodie bags.

We had a sandwich buffet in the kitchen for lunch, and beverages for children and adults outside, but the real star was the dessert table. It was set to impress. Planters turned into cupcake displays, Rice Krispies balls (one shaped like a mushroom and decorated to match…thanks to Crusader Stacy!), candy flower arrangements, fruit dip, and cookie dough dip. We also set out a basket of bags and cups and encouraged our guests to take treats to-go.

The party was so much fun and, even though Leah won’t remember it, she had a great time in the moment and that’s all that matters. Crusader Stacy and I always had the best birthday parties growing up, so I hope to do the same for Leah. Now I just have to start planning next year’s!

- Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Jenn (Westminster, MD)

Baking & Decorating Experiment: Hummingbird Cupcakes

On my mom’s recent visit to Maryland, she wanted Stacy and I to take her to a couple of our favorite cupcake places. One of those places was Kupcakes & Co., which we ranked number 1 in our Top 5 outside Baltimore City. While there, I tried their hummingbird cupcake for the first time. It was described as banana, pineapple, pecans, a little spice, and topped with cream cheese frosting, kind of like a spring-summer carrot cake. At the time, I thought this was a unique creation, but then I started seeing other places promoting their hummingbird cupcakes. I guess I’m still an amateur at this!

Having loved Kupcakes & Co.’s hummingbird cupcake, I decided that for my spring-into-summer recipe I wanted this to be the cake. I also wanted to dabble with decorating cupcakes differently, to practice some techniques. After researching the cake, I wasn’t sure if it would be sacrilegious to top a cupcake, based off a traditional southern recipe, with a springtime explosion. But these are my cupcakes after all! I found out that some recipes call for including coconut on top and thought this would be perfect for “grass.” I also wanted to practice piping flowers and hard royal icing decorations, so I did it all!

Since I knew I’d be spending time on the decorations, I wanted the cake to be easy. I scoured the internet for a recipe that used a box mix to start, but had more trouble finding one than I anticipated. I discovered that the cake was a standard yellow cake, so just when I thought I would have to wing it, I finally found Duncan Hine’s recipe (now I know to just start at their website)! The recipe calls for the addition of Maraschino cherries, but since I hadn’t found that in other recipes, or in Kupcakes & Co.’s version, I decided to leave them out. I also added a whole banana, instead of just half, and substituted walnuts for pecans. That was a last minute decision, after seeing how much more pecans cost versus walnuts. I had no idea!


(Cake ingredients)


(I love texture in cake. Look at all of those yummy walnuts!)

The cake part was really easy. I did make my own cream cheese frosting and after debating on which to go with, choose one from SlashFood. The reviews were good and it seemed similar to some of the other frostings I’ve made that start with a cream cheese base. I added extra confectioner’s sugar to get the consistency right, but I think that’s because I choose to do this on a warm day. I used to think making frosting was complicated, but not anymore (or at least not the recipes I use)!


(Four simple ingredients to the cream cheese frosting.)

Starting the decorating process, I dyed shredded coconut using green food color. I had read about adding the dye to a little water first, but it just made the coconut almost too wet to work with. In the future, I will just put the dye right in, shake it up, and see what happens. After the coconut was green, I took my frosted cupcakes and dipped them into the coconut to completely cover the tops.


(Since you don’t have to worry about what the frosting looks like, I just used a butter knife to slather it on.)


(I didn’t think so much of the frosting would show through the green coconut.)

Prior to getting the decorating started, I experimented with the royal icing. I knew a form of royal icing is used in gingerbread houses as the “glue.” I thought it was just water and confectioner’s sugar and found recipes that only called for that, but it wasn’t setting up the way I planned. More research led me to discover that in order for it to get really hard, you have to add Meringue Powder. Who knew?! I learn something knew every time…

Since I wouldn’t be able to go out until the next day, I tried creating some piped flowers. After trial and error, I now realize that 1) it was just too warm in the house to get buttercream to cooperate and 2) I need more piping tips to choose from.

After a trip out the next day, with my cupcakes only half decorated (and some with failed flower attempts), I was finally able to get the royal icing decorations done. The consistency still wasn’t where I wanted it, even after adding more water than called for (maybe this is why sifting first is so important?), but I worked with it anyway and I’m pretty pleased with how they turned out!


(Before piping, I sketched a couple of flowers and hummingbirds. Then I covered the sketches with wax paper, to use as a template.)

In the end, I had 3 versions of decorated cupcakes:


(I still wanted to make some traditional looking. I love the minimalistic look and I wanted to taste the cupcakes without the coconut, to see which I preferred.)


(My attempt at piping flowers. From far away, and at the right angle, they don’t look too bad…)


(Maybe not a traditional look, but I think they look great for a spring party!)

Flavor wise, the cake turned out great (but still not as good as Kupcakes & Co.)! I like the coconut on top because the cream cheese frosting turned out a little sweeter than I prefer, so the coconut toned it down.

Aside from having some great tasting cupcakes, I learned some new things. My favorite technique is the royal icing decorations. I feel like the possibilities for custom cupcake toppers are now endless!

What are some favorite things you’ve learned by challenging yourself in the kitchen?

- Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Jenn (Westminster, MD)

Butterfly Cupcakes for a Special Birthday Girl

When our sister, Alissa, approached Stacy and I about our niece’s 1st birthday party, we asked, “Are you going to have cupcakes?!” Her answer was, of course, “YES!”

At first I assumed that we would just do box mixes, store bought frosting, and then make them look pretty, but I was wrong. Alissa wanted to tackle something bigger for this party…homemade American buttercream frosting! She likes the sweeter, thicker frostings, and wanted to try and achieve that for this event. I was nervous. The only time I’ve ever made a homemade frosting that worked was when I added another flavor, like citrus or mint. American buttercream is such a tricky thing to create. So, I left it up to Alissa to find the recipe. I didn’t want to be responsible for ruining the cupcakes at my nieces 1st birthday!

We decided that we should have the cupcakes done the day before the party. After a lot of research on the theme, butterflies, we had everything we needed to pull it off. Alissa had sent out a beautiful invitations (designed by Stacy), we had party decorations, snack bags shaped like butterflies, butterfly sugar cookies, and the final item that would make the cupcakes come together…butterfly gummy candies which would make the perfect cupcake topper.


(The butterfly gummies, which we purchased online, arrived individually wrapped. So part of our process included removing them from the wrappers.)

As soon as my baby girl, Leah, went down for a nap, I got started on the funfetti cupcakes. The goal was to finish baking 48 cupcakes during her morning nap, let them cool, then frost them in the afternoon when the kids went down for their afternoon nap and when Stacy and Alissa would be there to help. While I was working on the second batch, the chocolate cupcakes, Alissa arrived with her girls and asked, “Are we sure this is going to be enough?” At the last minute we decided to throw in another batch of yellow cupcakes, just to be safe. Luckily I had a spare box mix in the pantry! And enough storage containers to house all of the cupcakes!


(I’m a lucky girl to have so many cupcake/cake containers!)

Just as planned, we were ready to start making the frosting when the girls went down for their afternoon nap. I pulled up the vanilla buttercream recipe Alissa found on my laptop and we got to work. We made some tweaks along the way, adding more vanilla extract, more whipping cream, and more confectioners sugar. I still didn’t think it came out as good as what you find in bakeries, but Alissa was happy with it, and that’s all that mattered! We made two batches and divided the frosting into separate containers so that we could use food dye and create four different colors. The colors came out so vibrant, a perfect match for the toppers!


(The purple buttercream with cupcakes ready to be frosted!)

With so many colors, and only my single bagless piper, we opted to use Ziploc bags to pipe the frosting. Starting out was a struggle for all of us. I eventually got the hang of it, but then started failing again at the end. Alissa was really eager to try some out as well. What she lacked in ability, she made up for in enthusiasm! We blamed everything for our (borderline disaster) piping skills, from the bags having too much air in them, to the holes being cut too big. I don’t know if it was the sugar rush from all the taste testing, or comfort in knowing that we were covering these up with butterfly candies, but we all managed to laugh at our attempt and stay in good spirits. Cupcakes are supposed to be fun, after all! And, what’s more fun then making them with your sisters?


(Some of the more successful results!)


(We choose to wait until the morning of the party to add the gummy candies, just so that any moisture from the cake and frosting didn’t make them get funky overnight.)


(The different color butterflies and bright frosting created a beautiful display. Perfect for a birthday party!)


(Lily’s special #1 cupcake.)

We all felt like the end results were great! The kids loved the cupcakes and, most importantly, the birthday girl loved them too!


(The Crusaders’ beautiful niece, Lily! Photo by Kenneth Adam.)

I’m still really curious how bakeries make their buttercream. There has to be more to it than butter, confectioners sugar, vanilla extract, and whipping cream. I think it’s a big secret amongst them, and they aren’t sharing! Figuring that out might be my next mission…Let us know if you have any suggestions!

- Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Jenn (Westminster, MD)

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“Love is Like a Box of…” Cake Mix!

I knew I wanted to do something special for my sweetheart on Valentine’s Day. He’s come to love cupcakes as much as I do and might as well be an honorary Crusader with all the tours and tastings he’s helped out with. So when I starting seeing all the great Valentine cupcakes being created by our favorite bakeries, I thought I’d just pick up something from one of them. However, while I was out running errands I saw some Valentine’s Day cupcake decorations and decided that I could just make my own cupcakes. I found liners and toppers for under $2! Then, while thinking about what cupcakes I would make, I passed by the Pillsbury Valentine’s Day Funfetti mix and coordinating icing with sprinkles. These were each under $2 as well! After some debate I decided that with the time constraints of having an infant at home, a boxed mix was the way to go. And $6 for two-dozen cupcakes was too good to pass up! Luckily my husband is easy to please when it comes to sweets.

So last Friday, I pulled my holiday cupcake paraphernalia out of hiding to bake cupcakes ready for the weekend…a sort of pre-Valentine’s Day treat.

I added a dash of pure vanilla extract to the cake mix, because the batter seemed to be lacking in flavor versus other cake mixes I’m used to. I would have liked to pipe the icing on all of the cupcakes, however there would not have been enough if I had. So instead I compromised and just did a few. In the end, I’m happy with the results!

Do you have any special baking plans for Valentine’s Day? We’d love to hear about them!

- Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Jenn (Westminster, MD)

Bring on the Holiday Fun(fetti)!

He’s cute, right? When I saw this cupcake topper and liner set while out doing some Christmas shopping at Target, I couldn’t resist getting it. I had already purchased what I thought would be my holiday cupcake liners, but these were far cuter. Then, I spotted Pillsbury‘s Holiday Funfetti cake mix and frosting!

Being the “non-baker” that I am, I often look to box mixes to help me out, but I’m not sure why I get so excited about Funfetti cake. All you have to do is add sprinkles to the batter. It could be any box mix or recipe, but it doesn’t seem to matter. I love Funfetti.

Just look at all those “fun” red a green specks in the cake. Do they add flavor? No. They are purely for our visual enjoyment.

I was a little disapointed with two things though (regarding the Funfetti frosting). First, there weren’t nearly enough red sprinkles. Luckily I have a tub of them at home, so I just added my own. Second, the frosting was more of a minty green, and not the sage green that is on the packaging. I could have tried tweaking it with my own food coloring, but it didn’t seem so bad that it was worth messing with.

End result?

An army of festive penguin cupcakes.

Love it. Enjoy!

- Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Stacy (Baltimore, MD)

Cupcake Inspiration for the Festival of Lights

With tonight being the first night of Hanukkah, the Cupcake Crusaders wanted to pull together some great ideas for how you can incorporate cupcakes into this 8 day festival. Below you will see easy ways to “jazz up” your cupcakes for this holiday, and even a link to some recipes for how to combine some of the traditional foods eaten during Hanukkah with cupcakes. We hope you enjoy this post!

Cupcake Wrappers
With these cupcake wrappers, you can bake your cupcakes in any basic cupcake liner, and then add an extra touch of festiveness.

1. Dress My Cupcake’s Star of David Hanukkah Cupcake Wrappers (Photo courtesy of Amazon.com)

2. Outisde the Box Dessert (Photo courtesy of Outisde the Box Dessert)

Cupcake Kit
Want cupcake liners and toppers that match? Check out this cupcake kit! It even comes with stencils to decorate your cupcakes:

Found on Amazon.com (Photo courtesy of Amazon.com)

Edible Cupcake Toppers
Want to impress your family? Add some of these edible cupcake toppers after frosting your cupcakes.

1. Clineff’s Confections Edible Cupcake Decorations (Photo courtesy of Clineff’s Confections)

2. Cakes and Kids (Photo courtesy of Cakes and Kids)

Make Your Own Cupcake Menorah

Follow these instructions on The Shiksa in the Kitchen’s blog to create your own cupcake menorah like the one above. The link includes free printable cupcake wrappers that you can download! (Photo courtesy of The Shiksa in the Kitchen)

Cupcakes for Hanukkah

I found a post from Kveller {A Jewish Twist on Parentings}‘s blog that contains several recipes that incorporate tradition foods eaten during Hanukkah. The recipes include Jelly-Filled “Sufganiyot” Cupcakes, Lemon Cupcakes with Olive Oil, Sage, and Sea Salt
and Deep-Fried Chocolate Cupcakes. They all look (and sound) delicious! (Photo courtesy of Kveller)

Not a baker? Why not order cupcakes?

Sur la Table is selling these adorable cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcake on their website. So, if you aren’t that great in the kitchen (join the club), you can simply place an order and have them delivered right to you. Delivery takes about 3 to 5 business days, but that would get them to you in time for the last night of Hanukkah. Or, try calling your local bakeries and cupcakeries. There are several that I’ve seen offering Hanukkah specific cupcakes, so you may be able to pick some up. ((Photo courtesy of Georgetown Cupcake)

We hope you have a great Hanukkah filled with good times, family, and cupcakes!

- Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Stacy (Baltimore, MD)