Oh Hershey’s… How I love thee… but not this time.

I recently purchased two boxes of Betty Crocker Hershey’s cupcake mix on sale because, let’s be honest, how can you pass up a deal that includes cupcakes and chocolate?

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Each kit included the cake mix and filling for a dozen cupcakes, and the S’mores kit even included the crushed graham cracker for the base.

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I normally like to “fancy” up chocolate cake mix by adding a box of instant chocolate pudding and mini chocolate chips, but for this review I decided to bake them exactly as the instructions requested. I even left the container of chocolate frosting unmodified. Boy was that a mistake…

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Sadly, the cake for each cupcake was not good at all. It wasn’t that it was just bland, but it kind of tasted like what I imagine cardboard would taste like. I think if I had added pudding and chocolate chips it would have greatly improved the flavor. On the bright side though, the process for making these cupcakes was extremely easy.

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I haven’t made cupcakes yet that you bake the filling in the center of the batter, but it worked out really well. Some of the filling in the Hershey’s Chocolate cupcakes did explode a little out of the top of the cupcake, but luckily it wasn’t too bad.

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I would only buy this cake mix again if I intended to modify it. Adding some pudding mix and chocolate chips would only take a few extra seconds and I think the results would be so much better. What would take these to the next level even more, would be to use your own favorite dark chocolate frosting recipe, or modify store-bought chocolate frosting, as we have done before here.

Even though these cupcakes didn’t turn out as I was hoping, I’m still a box mix girl and probably always will be. I’ll leave the from-scratch baking to the pros, but I have definitely learned that adjusting a box mix is the way to go.

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

Taste Test: How does Chef Duff’s Cake Mix Compare?

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I did it again… While walking down the grocery aisle I was totally sucked in by colorful packaging, sale prices, and big names:

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We haven’t reviewed Baltimore local, Chef Duff of Charm City Cake’s, line of cake mixes and frosting yet because, to be honest, they are a bit pricey compared to the competition. The retail price for the above is $5.69 for a box of cake mix and $3.29 for a tub of frosting (I’m sure prices vary by location). On sale, I picked these up for $3.49 and $2.99, so still not super cheap. The box of mix did come with a large packet of pre-made peanut butter ganache though, so I was glad to see they hadn’t skimped on that.

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Even though we’ve heard that Chef Duff is not a fan of the cupcake frenzy (crazy, I know!), I decided to use this mix to make cupcakes instead of a layered cake. Take that Chef Duff! (Kidding! We actually really love him, his show, and that he calls Baltimore home).

In order to provide you all with an accurate review of the product line, we didn’t modify this mix or frosting like we normally like to do and the only “extra” thing I decided to purchase was Peanut Butter Oreos to add on top (if you haven’t had these, what are you waiting for? Seriously, run to your nearest grocer).

When I mixed the batter according to the directions it appeared very runny and the dry ingredients didn’t seem to mix easily in with the wet, causing little chunks throughout. Shrugging this off, I filled the baking cupcakes and set the timer on the oven. The instructions called for 20 to 25 mins, but that seemed really high to me, so I decided to bake for 16 minutes (my normal cupcake baking time) and add more time if necessary. I’m glad I did that because they were completely finished baking when I checked them.

Once they cooled, I cored the center and added the peanut butter ganache. The texture of it was perfect for the filling, and the bag it came in made filling the cupcakes easy and mess free. Since I was filling the cupcakes, I didn’t chill the ganache as the box suggests, but if you are going to spread it on a layer cake, I definitely think you should. It might be too runny otherwise.

Before I frosted the cupcakes, I did a little taste test of Duff’s Chocolate Fudge Frosting, and was glad I did. It was really rich and overly sweet, like typical pre-made store bought frosting. I decided a thin layer with a dollop on top would be the perfect amount.

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Overall these cupcakes were good. Not great. Not Special. Just good. Although, I was able to get 25 cupcakes from the mix, while with other brands I’m lucky to get 22. Also, it was nice to have something included in the box to use as a filling, but in my opinion the cake and frosting were just as good as any of the competitors’.

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I’m not sure if I would seek out Chef Duff’s mixes in the future. I may pick up a box from time to time, if they are on sale and I fall into the gimmick trap again, but otherwise I think I’ll stick with my old friends, Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker, and Pillsbury.

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader Stacy (Baltimore, MD)

Chocolate Hazelnut Cappuccino Brownie Bites

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Sometimes things come together perfectly and sometimes they don’t, but often it’s a little bit of both. That’s exactly how I feel about these Chocolate Hazelnut Cappuccino Brownie Bites. The flavors and final product came together perfectly, even if there were bumps along the way. Well, maybe it was just one bump. But it was a pretty big one… I’ll start from the beginning.

Several months ago, Crusaders Jenn, Elisa, and I bought tickets for Wicked Divas with Stephanie J. Block and Julia Murney at Wolf Trap in Vienna, VA. Last summer, we saw the fabulous Idina Menzel at Wolf Trap and had seats about three rows back. While sitting that close is amazing, part of us envied the concert-goers who were spread out on the lawn with blankets, wine, and tons of food, so this year we decided to do the same.

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(Cheers ladies! Jenn and Elisa enjoying some wine while we wait for the concert to start at Wolf Trap)

In the weeks leading up to the concert we began discussing who should bring what. I volunteered to bake something sweet because it’s been FOREVER since I last baked—April to be exact—and I already had the perfect dessert in mind.

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I had everything I would need to pull this recipe together. The Jif Mocha Cappuccino Hazelnut spread was purchased on a whim using a coupon, knowing that at some point it would be great for frosting, and the brownie mix was one of those “I need chocolate” moments while walking down the aisle at the grocery store. Don’t act like you haven’t been there before…We know you have.

These two items were sitting in my pantry begging to be combined. Initially, I intended to make a dozen mini brownie “cupcakes” topped with chocolate cappuccino hazelnut frosting, in addition to a square dish of plain classic brownies. After tasting the batter (I replaced the water in the recipe with hazelnut coffee) I thought these mini brownie cupcakes would be perfect, but I still had to bake them, and that was where my recipe went askew. I severely overestimated the baking time. They didn’t burn, but once they completely cooled, they were solid like rocks. I couldn’t even get the baking liners off and I’m pretty sure they would have broken our teeth. Determined to make this dessert work, and with a square dish of perfectly cooked brownies, I moved on to the frosting.

I started by searching the internet for a Nutella frosting recipe (since this Jif spread is basically a knock-off version) and found that I had a decision to make: buttercream base or cream cheese? Not being able to decide on my own, I called my reinforcements (AKA: Crusader Jenn or Elisa…which ever answers the phone first). I told Jenn I was leaning towards cream cheese because I thought it could be interesting, but that I was also worried it might taste weird. Her response was, “Would you eat Mocha Cappuccino cheesecake?” My answer, “Ummm…hell yeah!” It was decided then: cream cheese.

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(Try to resist the urge to lick the screen. I dare you.)

I found a recipe on the blog Can You Stay For Dinner that seemed very simple, which of course I love, and the blogger, Andie, seemed to really like it. The only ingredients required were cream cheese, hazelnut spread, powdered sugar, and milk. One thing I did differently—something I’ve never done before—was sifting the powdered sugar before mixing it with the other ingredients. It made a HUGE difference. The frosting was so smooth and creamy, and the cream cheese gave the flavor a good balance that wasn’t too sweet.

While making the frosting, I had time to process the fact that my cute little mini brownies were a no-go, and instead decided to use a cookie cutter to shape the remaining brownies into individual sized circles before topping with frosting.

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Even though the brownie bites didn’t turn out exactly as I planned, the end results were still amazing. The mini cakes looked fancy on our new flower plates (birthday gifts from Elisa) and I’m sure we made a few people around us wish they were a part of our picnic. It was the perfect dessert to share with two of my favorite ladies while sipping wine and listening to the sounds of the symphony accompanied by two great Broadway performers.

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader Stacy (Baltimore, MD)

A Baking Adventure: No Frosting? No Problem!

Have you ever found yourself wanting cupcakes when all the bakeries were closed? You have all the ingredients in the pantry for cake (or in my case, a box mix), but nothing for frosting? I know I’ve been in this situation. I was pregnant, craving yellow cake, and NOTHING could get my mind off of it until I had it. So I baked 2 dozen vanilla cupcakes, even with no frosting, or frosting ingredients, in the house. After the cupcakes came out of the oven and I devoured one (or maybe two…) with no toppings, I browsed the fridge and freezer to find creative frosting options I could use throughout the week.

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I had fresh strawberries and was lucky to find Cool Whip in the freezer (actually, I pretty sure I always have Cool Whip in the freezer). It was perfect for a strawberry shortcake cupcake! The next night I decided to take it to the next level.

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I got fancy and layered the cupcake with whipped cream, mixed berries, and cake. Messy to eat, but oh so good!

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Being pregnant, I of course craved ice cream at some point, so I cut the top off of a cupcake, creating a little “cake bowl.” What you do with the top is up to you. I managed to save it for photos (how I resisted is still a mystery!), but no one here will judge if you eat it as soon as it’s cut off the cupcake.

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Lastly, one night I was craving chocolate and peanut butter. I attempted to make frosting by mixing peanut butter with Marshmallow Fluff, but it still stayed fairly dense. That’s okay, it was still delicious! I also melted semi-sweet chocolate chips and spooned it on top.

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At the time I wanted the chocolate to harden to create a “shell,” so I chilled the cupcakes for a little while. Looking back I think the melted chocolate would have been amazing too!

The great thing about leaving the cupcakes “naked” after baking them was that I was able to tailor each to my cravings and got a lot of variety. I’m not one to run out every time I’m craving something I don’t have. Instead, I use what I do have to recreate my craving or act as a substitute. So, the next time you think, “I need a cupcake!” but don’t have all of the obvious ingredients, think about us and get creative! Do you have any frosting alternatives that you like to use? Let us know!

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

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: Cadbury Creme Egg Cupcakes

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I don’t think I need to explain the awesomeness of Cadbury Creme Eggs, right? There’s something about them that causes excitement for their return every spring. So it seems only natural for the cupcake-lover in us to desire a merge between these wonderful morsels and cupcakes.

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Because of this desire, there are A LOT of Cadbury Creme Egg cupcake recipes on the internet, but when I saw one from Pizzazzerie (one of my favorite blogs) it really stood out to me. I shared it with Guest Crusader Jen because teal is her favorite color and she loves Cadbury Creme Eggs more than anyone I know. She was visiting me the following weekend and quickly requested that we make them while she was here. So we did!

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After looking at Pizzazzerie’s recipe, Jen and I decided to make a few modifications. While I would have loved follow the chocolate cake (from scratch) recipe, we decided to use a boxed mix, adding in a pack of pudding for extra moisture. It turns out that this was a really smart choice because I managed to forget the eggs in our batter! Thirty seconds after placing the cupcakes in the oven, we had to pull them out, fish out the chocolates, dump the batter back into the bowl, just to mix in eggs and start all over again. Can you imagine how much I would have messed up a scratch recipe? It was not my night to bake!

Another small change we made was using mini Cadbury Creme Eggs instead of the full-size ones. The full-size chocolate eggs would have been better in the end, but it would definitely be more costly. The mini eggs sunk to the bottom and melted more than it seems the full-size do. One tip a friend gave me is to freeze the candy first and then it doesn’t melt as much during the baking process.

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I did make my own frosting, using Pizzazzerie’s recipe. Instead of almond extract I substituted pure orange extract, since Jen isn’t keen on almond flavor. I like almond, so I’m sure that would be an amazing complement to the Cadbury Creme Eggs, however the orange gave the frosting a hint of citrus flavor that went perfectly with the chocolate. I’ve only ever used fresh oranges for flavor, so I was concerned about overpowering the cupcake with citrus. For that reason, I only used 1/2 a tablespoon of extract. In the end, Pizzazzerie’s recipe yielded the perfect consistency for piping frosting (and also had a great flavor before adding the extract). It will now be my go-to buttercream recipe.

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Jen and I of course kept the teal color, since that was one of the elements that originally attracted us (and it matched the Easter cupcake liners perfectly). The piped frosting created a “nest-like” look around the chocolate egg, which I loved. Once done, I couldn’t help but think that these might be the prettiest cupcakes I’ve ever made! Well…maybe the teacup cupcakes were a close contender…

We hope you are able to indulge in some fun cupcakes this weekend. Have a Happy Easter!

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

Guest Recipe Review | Cherry Almond & Cherry Coke Cupcakes

Fellow blogger, Tiffany from Fizzy Party, loves planning parties and baking cupcakes as much as we do. Today, she is sharing two recipes she made for an office party that took place last month. Thanks Tiffany!

I’m so excited to have a guest post here on Cupcake Crusaders. Not only am I a HUGE fan, but, like the Crusaders, I too love cupcakes. I have so many recipes I want to try and, thank goodness, I have co-workers who enjoy tasting all the minis I bring to work.

For February, I had the opportunity to try two different recipes (Woo Hoo!) for a Valentine’s Day treat party at work, which the whole office building was invited to. I made Cherry Almond and Cherry Coke cupcakes. Here’s my assessment of the two:

Cherry Almond Cupcakes

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The Cherry Almond cupcake recipe came from Better Homes and Gardens. I made these full size since they had a cherry in the middle. I prefer making mini cupcakes because they’re the perfect bite sized afternoon pick me up, but if I had made minis the cherry would have taken up the whole middle! The cake on these was moist and the cherry added a little surprise, but the frosting was just okay. My co-workers who tried these also said they were just okay. I think they were a little bland. This is one recipe I’m glad I tried, but doubtful I’ll make again.

Cherry Coke Cupcakes

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The recipe for these Cherry Coke cupcakes is from Confessions of a Cookbook Queen. When I went to take the mini cupcakes out of the pan I squished one. Oops! (But you know I had to taste it). Even with one cup of coke added to the batter, the cake tasted just like chocolate cake. I was disappointed. I continued on with the frosting hoping it would add to the cake. When I tried the frosting by itself it was super sweet and again, I was disappointed. It was already 9:00 p.m. the night before the party and my co-workers were counting on my bringing two kinds of cupcakes. So I frosted all the minis and quality controlled one. Oh MY! You take the disappointing just chocolate cake, add a little too sweet frosting and POW! The flavors burst onto your tongue. My co-workers raved about this flavor and even ate more than one. This recipe is a must make and a keeper.

– Review by Guest Crusader, Tiffany, from Fizzy Party