Baking Adventure: Tea Party Cupcakes

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Our friend was putting together a tea party for her daughter’s 10th birthday, so when Crusader Stacy and I were asked if we wanted to help make cupcakes we immediately began brainstorming. We’ve been wanting to host an adult tea party of our own, but this event would have elegantly dressed tables, fun stations for nails, hair and dress-ups, and a photo booth, so we knew these cupcakes couldn’t be ordinary.

Stacy&Jenn
(Crusader Stacy and I also got to have a good time with the dress-ups and photo booth. Photo by Kenneth Adam, who donated his services for the day.)

Stacy suggested an idea she found, using chocolate or royal icing to create a “handle” on the cupcakes. After having experimented with royal icing in the past (and knowing how temperamental white chocolate can be), I choose that option. The birthday girl had one request, she wanted the cupcakes to have filling. Since she loved the Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes we’ve made before, I made those using a different raspberry filling and also made Vanilla Marshmallow cupcakes, a new flavor for me.

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The Vanilla Marshmallow cupcakes were very simple. I used yellow cake box mix, added in a packet of vanilla pudding mix, and then filled them with marshmallow fluff. For the frosting, I started with store-bought frosting and added in some extra butter, confectioner’s sugar, and vanilla extract, until the taste and texture was where I wanted it. Then I divided the vanilla frosting into two parts, so that I could match the color to the party theme.

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I was really pleased with how the colors turned out. They matched perfectly! The cupcakes were very sweet, but for a bunch of 10-year-old girls, that was good. It turned out to be a very chic party and all the girls had a terrific time!

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I’ve never been to a better tea party. Even if I was there as “the staff” I had a great time and picked up some ideas for when Stacy and I do finally have our own party.

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

Blueberry Lemon Cupcakes: A Baking and Decorating Adventure

Words can’t describe how infatuated I’ve been with this flavor combination this summer. Since large cartons of blueberries have been on sale at the grocery store, I found myself with a freezer full of them needing to be turned into something delicious. What could be better than a lemon blueberry cupcake, with blueberry filling and lemon frosting? Nothing. That’s what.

In my typical half box/half homemade fashion I searched for a recipe that would be easy but tasty. I settled on a modified box mix recipe on Better Crocker‘s website for the cake and frosting, and a filling recipe from Mother Thyme‘s blog.

The box mix recipe intrigued me because it called for the addition of cream cheese in the batter, which isn’t something I’ve done yet. This made the cake really moist and a little more dense which worked well with the addition of the fresh blueberries.

Putting a filling inside of a cupcake was a first for me, so I proceeded with Crusader Jenn’s and Crusader Elisa’s method of using a grapefruit knife to cut out the un-needed cake, which ended up working really well. Recently, my sweet husband gave me a new baking gadget specifically for filling cupcakes, called a cake plunger. I’m really curious to see how it works and if it saves on time and/or gives just as good (or better) results than the grapefruit knife.

When it came time to add the blueberry filling to the cupcakes, I decided that the scrumptious mixture needed to be a bit smoother than the recipe produced, so I pureed it to get the texture I was looking for. After pureeing it, the filling was perfect.

Unlike Jenn and Elisa’s technique of using a small spoon to add the filling to the cupcakes, I decided to use a piping bag. The spoon seemed like it would be way too time consuming and messy, and I’ve seen bakers all over the internet use a piping bag, so I decided that was the way to go.

I’m so glad I decided to go that route. The cupcakes were filled in no time, and it was a totally mess-free and fuss-free process.

For the lemon frosting, I added cream cheese to the recipe I found on Betty Crocker’s website. The cream cheese helped to cut the tartness of the lemon and add another dimension that complemented both the lemon and blueberry flavors well.

After the cupcakes were baked and frosted, I split the batch of 24 in half and decorated some with just a simple single blueberry and the other half with a fun beach theme inspired by Party Pinching‘s Pez Flip Flops. I knew that I would be using the beachy ones for the Westminster Cupcake Picnic and wanted them to be extra awesome.

Simple decor:

Super fabulous (or at least pretty cool…) summer beach decoration:

For these cupcakes I started by dipping the frosted cupcake in blue sugar crystals to act as the water. The flips flops were as easy as adhering flower shaped sprinkles to a Pez candy with melted white chocolate. Then, for the beach balls, I used large candy buttons which I had randomly purchased a couple weeks prior at my local dollar store and applied white chocolate and red candy melts to create the alternating colors.

Unfortunately the cream cheese frosting was having a little bit of trouble holding up in the warm weather, so some items shifted around a little bit, but overall I achieved the look I was going for and everyone at the picnic seemed to enjoy both the decorations and the flavor. I would definitely say these were a big hit!

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Stacy (Baltimore, 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)

From the Archives: 2009 Tony Awards Cupcakes

Last night the 2012 Tony Awards hosted by Neil Patrick Harris (us Broadway nerds refer to him as NPH) aired on CBS and I was reminded of one of my favorite Tony Awards shows (also hosted by NPH) that took place in 2009. That year I saw all four shows nominated for best musical and best original score, five of the shows nominated for lead actor in a musical, four of the shows nominated for lead actress in a musical, and so on (you get the point…it was a BIG Broadway year for me). Having seen so many shows just made the Tonys that much more entertaining, and to top it off, I was visiting my friend (one of our Guest Crusaders), Jen, who lives in New York City and hosted a Tony Awards party complete with cupcakes. Even though we weren’t physically at the Tonys, you could feel the energy throughout the city and we had a blast testing our hand at decorating:


(It’s hard to read, but that says “2009 Tony Awards.” As I said above, we were TESTING our hand at decorating, not perfecting it…)


(Hair was one of my favorite musicals that year. Clive Barnes described it perfectly: “What is so likable about Hair…? I think it is simply that it is so likable. So new, so fresh, and so unassuming…” I attempted to replicate the 2009 Cast Recording on this cupcake. It wasn’t easy, and it took FOREVER. By the time I finished this cupcake, Jen had decorated most of the others.)


(Even though I wasn’t able to see the revival of West Side Story before the Tonys, I really loved the artwork from the film soundtrack so decided to decorate this one mimicking the fire escape and type treatment.)


(Jen did a great job decorating this Shrek the Musical cupcake and I loved eating it!)


(All 15 cupcakes (mainly decorated by Jen)! If you are curious, the cake was Funfetti. Jen and I have a shared love of Funfetti cupcakes. 🙂 )

I wasn’t able to make any cupcakes this year for the Tonys, and unfortunately I haven’t seen many of the shows that were nominated or won, but that doesn’t keep me from watching. I always look forward to seeing the performances and deciding what the next show I want to attend will be (the first two on my list are Once and Newsies). Maybe next year I will try to decorate cupcakes again. I would hope that over the past three years I have developed a more steady hand and with another year of practice, they could look amazing!

Have you ever made cupcakes for an awards show or themed party? If so, we would love to hear about them!

– 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)