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)

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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)

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)

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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IcedGems LOVE-ly Dozen

When Rebecca (my friend at work and guest Crusader) saw that IcedGems was going to do something special for Valentine’s Day, she emailed me right away! Of course I wanted in! Who wouldn’t want to share a little cupcake love on the day we “officially” celebrate love!

In mid January IcedGems announced on their Facebook page, “Start placing your orders for our Valentine’s Day Dozen Special! For $32.50 the box includes 3 strawberries and champagne, 3 chocolate lava, 3 birthday cake and 3 red velvet… all decked out for Vday… The box will be tied with a ribbon and a red rose…”

We called to place our order and counted down the days! As promised, yesterday they were delivered to our office.

(Chocolate Lava)

(Birthday Cake)

(Red Velvet)

(Strawberry and Champagne)

These cupcakes not only looked perfectly decked out for the holiday of Love, but tasted lovely too. Rebecca shared them with her team at work and I took one of each flavor home with me. This was definitely a sweet part of my Valentines Day!

My favorite was the Strawberry Champagne. Did you have cupcakes on Valentine’s day? Which was your favorite?

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

“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)