Bring on the Warm Weather with these Orangesicle Cupcakes

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I mentioned in my last review, that it had been a long time since I had done any real cupcaking because of my crazy grad-school schedule. It’s been even longer, however, since I made my own cupcakes. But I’m happy to report that my work-load has lightened up some (at least until I start my summer class), and I was finally able to bake again.

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What really inspired me to get back into the kitchen, was Pillsbury’s Orangesicle cake mix, which I spotted on a recent trip to the grocery store. I also had a coupon for a free Duncan Hines’ Frosting Creations flavor mix, so these cupcakes were fated to be made and devoured.

I baked the cake mix according to the directions on the box, but since I had to put my own homemade twist on them, I made a marshmallow fluff filling (just marshmallow fluff and confectioners sugar) and added the Orange Créme flavor mix to my homemade madagascar bourbon vanilla bean buttercream frosting.

OrangeCreamsicleCupcakes2(Making my own frosting and filling meant that I finally had the opportunity to use my fancy new measuring cups and sifter.)

After adding the flavor mix to the frosting, I wish I had gotten two packets. With the amount of frosting I made (and with all the vanilla bean paste I used), one packet just didn’t cut it. Luckily, I had some orange extract, so I added about 2 teaspoons and that gave it the orange flavor I was hoping for.

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These cupcakes came out moist and refreshing, perfect for the warm weather months. Crusader Elisa said that because of the marshmallow filling they reminded her of Hostess’ Orange Cupcakes, which she grew up eating and sadly can’t get anymore.

Crusader Jenn was my kitchen assistant while baking these cupcakes, and since we weren’t making them for a specific event, we decided to have fun with frosting. Normally we try to make them all consistent, but this time we just experimented. First we tried to add a swirl of glitter gel frosting:

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But that didn’t end up giving the effect we were going for, so we tried our hand at giving the cupcakes a Crumbs Bake Shop vibe, which we actually really liked:

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I’m so glad I had a chance to finally bake again. I’ve really missed it, and it was even more fun because Jenn was there to help and there was no pressure to make them perfect for an event. There was also the added bonus of being able to surprise friends, family, and co-workers with cupcakes they weren’t expecting to get. Eating tasty cupcakes is usually reason enough to get in the kitchen and bake, but putting smiles on loved-ones faces is even better.

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

A Baking Adventure: Mini Salted Chocolate Caramel FUN da-Middles Cupcakes

I don’t know if I’ve told you all this before, but I’m an avid coupon clipper. Crusader Stacy is responsible for getting me started after she subscribed to the weekend newspaper a couple of years ago. Now I’m a subscriber myself and enjoy sitting down on the weekends to browse through the circulars. It’s always an exciting clipping day when I come across baking coupons. I found myself on a trip to the grocery store with two, one for Betty Crocker FUN da-Middles and another for Duncan Hines Frosting Creations.

Since the Baltimore Cupcake Picnic was fast approaching, I decided I would put these two things together in mini cupcake form (please don’t think less of me for mixing brands).

Betty Crocker FUN da-Middles have a chocolate (or vanilla) center that you bake in the cupcake, which saves you time later having to fill them. It still amazes me how the chocolate center stays smooth and creamy. I may have overstuffed my mini cupcakes, but the frosting hid most of the bursts.

I decided to pair the vanilla-chocolate FUN da-Middles with Duncan Hines Caramel Frosting Creations. You can never go wrong with chocolate and caramel, right? I had to add confectioners’ sugar to the frosting because it was too runny to pipe.

I lined all my minis up to frost and add caramel and chocolate ganache drizzles.

I made my own chocolate ganache and used Smucker’s Caramel Sundae Syrup. I put each into a small bag and cut a tiny opening for more control over the drizzle.

Just to take the flavor to the next level, I sprinkled half of the cupcakes with course sea salt. The Crusaders all agreed that the salted cupcakes were our favorite of the two. The difference was mild, but it really rounded out the sweetness and gave it that little something extra to make the cupcakes special.

My overall thought on working with Betty Crocker FUN da-Middles is that they are pretty neat. My grocery store is no longer carrying the product line and it seems like a few other places I shop at occasionally don’t have them either. I guess it hasn’t been a popular item, but I’ve seen recipes I would like to try where I could modify the filling flavor, so I’ll have to be on the lookout for more. If you’ve tried FUN da-Middles before, let us know what you thought and if you changed up the mix.

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

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)

Birthday Celebration with Duncan Hines Frosting Creations: Cinnamon Pecan Cupcakes

I have a confession to make. My husband and I are crazy dog parents. Not quite as bad as this (tangent: if you haven’t seen the mockumentary, Best in Show, you really should, it’s hilarious), but still, we have our moments. Our most recent moment was for our puppy, Lana’s, first birthday.


(Yes, that is our adorable puppy, wearing a birthday crown, and posing for a picture. I told you we have our moments… Photo by Kenneth Adam)

We decided to have a “puppy party” with some good friends and encouraged them to bring their own fur babies. I haven’t ventured into the world of baking dog treats yet, but decided that since this was a birthday, and a gathering of mainly humans, I would finally use my Duncan Hines Frosting Creations to make cupcakes for the occasion.

A few weeks ago I purchased the Frosting Starter, the Cinnamon Roll flavor packet, and decided on a spice cake mix. I knew I had some time to decide how I wanted to modify this box mix and frosting, so after mulling over a couple ideas I went with Cinnamon Pecan Cupcakes.


(Mmmmm…. the final results were definitely tasty, but it wasn’t exactly what I had initially planned.)

Lately I’ve been modifying box mixes by adding a box of instant pudding, but with the spice cake, I knew that wouldn’t work. Instead, I Googled some easy modifications and replaced the oil with melted butter and the water with skim milk. I also added chopped pecans to the cake mix to give it that extra pecan flavor and added texture.

While the cupcakes were baking, I moved onto the pecan and brown sugar crumble I wanted to put on top. At first, I wanted this to be a nice gooey mixture, like a typical pecan cinnamon roll, but instead I got a crumbly mix. I’m not sure if I didn’t use enough butter or if I cooked the ingredients too long on the stove, but either way, since it still tasted great, I decided to go for it!


(Pecan and Brown Sugar Crumble.)

Once the pecan crumble and cupcakes were cooling I mixed up the Duncan Hines Frosting Creation. This was definitely the easiest part of this whole baking experience! While I don’t think it was any better than a cinnamon cream cheese frosting I made from scratch once before, it was still worth using since I had to focus a lot of my attention on the pecan crumble.

I didn’t want the pecan crumble to make the cake soggy, but I knew that I needed it to be placed in a frosting “ditch” to hold it in place, so I smeared a little frosting on the cake first to act as a barrier:

Once that was done, I filled my piping bag with the remaining mixture and added a ring of frosting around the edge, leaving a perfect space for the pecan crumble to sit:


(Luckily you don’t have to be too neat about this process since the crumble will cover up any extra frosting that ends up in the center.)

To scoop the pecan mixture on to the top of the cupcake, I used my Pampered Chef Small Scoop. It placed the perfect size dollop in the center of the cupcake.

Final results? A flavorful cupcake perfect for all occasions, especially breakfast!

If you want some ideas on modifying the Frosting Creations, you can visit Duncan Hines website here. Love from the Oven has also been doing lots of experiments that you can browse through here.

Have you tried Duncan Hines Frosting Creations yet? Did you modify it or just use as it was intended? What were your thoughts?

- Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Stacy (Baltimore, 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)

Modifying Box Mix: Chocolate Covered Pretzel Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting

Since I’ve embarked an a quest to bake a new recipe at least once a month, I knew that my February baking adventure would be for my husband’s birthday. The question then was how to create the perfect cupcake for him? Well, he loves chocolate. He loves peanut butter. And I recently discovered that he loves chocolate covered pretzel cupcakes (this can be credited to Baked by Melissa‘s December Mini of the month, Snow Covered Pretzel). With all this in mind, I decided to create a Chocolate Covered Pretzel cupcake with Peanut Butter frosting.

Knowing that I’m not a baker, I decided to start with Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Dark Chocolate Fudge cake mix, Duncan Hines Chocolate Amazing Glaze, and store-bought chocolate covered pretzels. However, I wanted these to be extra special, so I was determined to make a frosting from scratch.

I started with the cake mix. After doing some online research I found out that by adding a box of Jell-o pudding mix to the dry ingredients in the box mix, the cake would be a little more moist and rich. Since it was a special occasion, I decided to give it a try.

After the cupcakes were baked and cooled, I followed the heating instructions from the bottle of Duncan Hines Chocolate Amazing Glaze and added a bit of it to each cupcake before topping it with crushed up chocolate covered pretzels.

The final step was to make the frosting. After going through a ton of recipes, I settled on one I saved a while ago from the blog, Dame Good Eats.

The recipe included the following ingredients:

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 lb confectioners sugar, sifted
3/4 cups smooth peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-4 tbsp heavy whipping cream

The instructions from the blog called for a stand mixer, which I don’t have, so I made do with my hand-held electric mixer. I also don’t have a food scale, so after some simple math, I decided to use about 1 3/4 cup of confectioners sugar, which I did not sift because I also don’t have a sifter. (See? I’m not joking when I say I’m not a baker).

Here are the mixing instructions from Dame Good Eats:

In a stand mixer, beat the butter until smooth, on low. Slowly add in confectioners sugar, once incorporated, beat on medium for about a minute. Add in the peanut butter until creamy, then add in vanilla. Once incorporated, add in whipping cream until frosting reaches desired consistency. Beat on medium for about a minute. (scrape down the sides throughout as needed so that all of the ingredients are getting incorporated equally into the mixture).

At first, the frosting tasted a bit too much like confectioners sugar so I ended up adding in a little extra peanut butter. My guess is that my math was a little off and I used too much confectioners sugar. I also used all 4 tablespoons of heavy whipping cream. In the end, it turned out perfect!

After pipping the frosting I topped it off with an un-crushed chocolate covered pretzel.

I was super happy with the visual appearance of this cupcake. I don’t usually like to toot my own horn, but I felt like these were pretty enough to sell at a bakery.

As far as flavor goes, the peanut butter frosting was the shining star of the cupcake. It was smooth, creamy, and had the perfect peanut butter flavor. The cake was okay. It wasn’t as rich as I would have liked it to be, but it wasn’t awful either. It was a box mix, so you just have to accept it for what it is. However, I still plan to continue experimenting with making box mixes better. Also, next time I think I would not crush up the chocolate covered pretzels before placing them on top of the glaze (under the frosting). I think that because of all the moisture, those pretzels ended up getting a little soft. But that’s an easy fix, so next time I will just place a full pretzel on top of the glaze.

Overall, these cupcakes were easy to make, pretty, and very tasty. I would say this was a definite baking “win” for me.

Do you have any baking plans this weekend or this month? Let us know! We’d love to hear about it!

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

‘Tis the season for Peppermint Chocolate!

After tasting seasonal cupcakes from several delicious bakeries, I decided I wanted to try to create one myself for the winter. I did some research and selected a chocolate peppermint cupcake. A blogger at WeAreNotMartha.com raved about this icing, so I knew I had to try it. However her thoughts on the cake made me think that I should look around for another recipe. Without a personal referral and with my limited experience baking from scratch I found myself struggling to find one. How do you know it will be good? I decided not to chance it and looked up my old friend…Duncan Hines. I wanted these to be rich chocolate so when I saw their Triple Chocolate cake mix, I knew this was the one for me.


(Above are some of the ingredients I had to purchase for my baking adventure. Icing from scratch was a new experience for me!)

Following the instructions on the package, I mixed up the batter and the separate fudge mix. They had special instructions for cupcakes, which said to pour the batter into the cups first and then to dollop on a scoop of the fudge mixture, allowing it to sit on top.

After baking the cupcakes I was excited to see that that fudge sank, creating a chocolaty filling.


(In the future I’ll be more careful about how I put the scoop on top so that each cupcake has a more perfect fudge center.)

Next up…the icing. This was definitely the part I was most nervous about. First I prepped the candy canes. I wanted to do what the website suggested, mixing a peppermint powder in with the icing. I started by breaking the candy canes down. I attempted to crush them with a rolling pin, but even my (hardly used) marble rolling pin couldn’t accomplish this. Then I saw, out of the corner of my eye, my food processor. Perfect!


(The food processor demolished the candy canes down to a beautiful peppermint dust.)

I also crunched up some bigger pieces of candy cane, using the blunt end of a butter knife, to use as toppers later. After the candy canes had been taken care of, I moved on to the actual icing. I followed the instructions on the site, but when it came time to add 2 more cups of powered sugar after the initial 3 cups it just seems like the icing was going to be too thick. The instructions mentioned that you should just keep adding powered sugar until reaching the desired consistency, so I added the remainder of the bag I’d purchased; maybe half a cup. The flavor was where I wanted it too: Minty, buttery, and sweet.

I knew that with the sunken centers in my cupcakes, I really wanted to pipe the icing. But I don’t own piping bags and had not thought about this in advance. So I improvised using…A ZIPLOCK BAG! I was really pleased with myself for making this alternative work and with the results:


(I sprinkled on some of the peppermint dust and topped with some candy cane chunks.)

Not bad for a first timer using a Ziploc bag, huh?

Now for the important thing…how do they taste? All I can say is that the icing makes these cupcakes. It really is delicious. But, I can’t deny that that fudge center of the Duncan Hines cake mix takes these cupcakes to the next level. Normally a box cake mix wouldn’t be rich enough to handle the intensity of the peppermint icing. However, the chocolaty center creates a perfect balance.

So if you are feeling adventurous but don’t trust your baking abilities, allow yourself to take some short cuts. In the end you’ll be able to learn a few new tricks without overwhelming yourself and hopefully have an end product that makes the little extra work worthwhile.

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