Baking Adventure: Bourbon Black Forest Cupcakes

BlackForestCupcakes1

I’m not usually a big fan of Black Forest cake. I like fresh cherries, but can’t seem to get into anything else that has cherries in it, or a cherry flavor. That was until Guest Crusader Beth, from Sweetness Follows, gave me a jar of her Bourbon Cherry Jam. As soon as I tried it, I knew I wanted to use it in a cupcake (you may remember we used her Raspberry Chambord Jam in Chocolate Raspberry Chambord cupcakes).

BlackForestCupcakes_Jam
(Sweetness Follows jams are available on Etsy in seasonal flavors.)

I had un-frosted chocolate cupcakes in my freezer, waiting to be turned into something good. After thawing, I filled them with the delicious jam. Since I didn’t have to bake or cook anything, the first two steps made these the easiest cupcakes I’ve ever made.

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The first two steps being so simple, I decided that I needed to do something to challenge myself…this is called a “Baking Adventure” after all. So, instead of picking up a tub of Cool Whip or can of whipped topping, I decided to make my own.

I’ll be honest, I was scared. I watch Food Network, I know making whipped cream can make or break a dessert (I’ve seen it happen on Chopped). The cream may never set properly or you can over whip it. There’s such a fine balance to making it successful.

BlackForestCupcakes_WhippedCream

Well my fear was for nothing, because my whipped topping was PERFECT. I found a recipe on AllRecipes.com for Black Forest Cake, which included the frosting. I only made a half batch, so I used 1 1/2 cups of heavy whipping cream, but instead of the small amount of confectioner’s sugar, I slowly added in about 1/2 cup so that it would be stiffer (hoping I wouldn’t mess it up!). The recipe didn’t tell me how long to whip it with an mixer, only to do it until it formed stiff peaks. I opted to pull out my hand mixer, thinking that I might over whip it with my standing mixer.

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In the end I was really please with how the frosting piped, yet was still super airy (just like what you’d expect from the aerosol can stuff). The cupcakes were pretty good and not overly sweet, thanks to the liquor infused jam and light frosting. What I really loved was how simple they were and I learned not to be afraid of making my own whipped cream! I need to get my hands on more Sweetness Follows jams, since they are so good in cupcakes!

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

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Take a “Plug” out of it! Cupcake Tools put to the Test

Everyone has different tools and techniques to create a filled cupcake, and we Crusaders thought it might be fun to test different filling tools. Having baked and filled cupcakes for over a year now, you’d think I would have fancy tools to cut out the “plug” (aka the piece of the cupcake that you take out so you can fill it) but I don’t. A small curved pairing knife that my Nona gave me has always been my tool of choice, so this tool test gave me the perfect excuse to buy some fun new kitchen items. After reviewing suggestions from our Facebook page, Crusaders Jenn, Stacy, and I decided which tools we would test, and I set out to bake some cupcakes.

FillingTools
(The six tools of choice.)

I found the Betty Crocker box of the Hot Chocolate cupcakes (which Crusader Stacy had made and reviewed) for half price and decided to use them for my test cupcakes. Once the cupcakes were baked and cooled it was time to put my tools to the test.

Cupcake Plunger
CupcakePlungerPlug

While this really did a fantastic job of removing a perfect plug, I think the amount of cake it takes out is too large. It seemed as though there was so little cake left around the edges that it might not stay together when you pulled the wrapper down. If the diameter of the plunger were just a little smaller, this would be the perfect filling tool, especially because the push plunger makes removing the cake plug super easy.

Mini Scoop
MiniScoopPlug

I only just got the mini and large scoops for Christmas, so having a chance to use the mini for this tool test was exciting. Sadly, it didn’t work perfectly. You really have to use your fingers to hold the cake while you scoop and then the filling hole it creates is too shallow and wide, again diameter is an issue.

Melon Baller
MelonBallerPlug

Who would have thought, a melon baller?! The melon baller I purchased has two ends, one large, one small, so I used the small one as the test. Similar to the small scoop, I had to use my hand to hold the cake while scooping. This did create a smaller filling area, but still felt a bit too shallow for the perfect filling amount. Not a bad little tool to have though, and now I can make those cute little melon balls this summer.

Large Piping Tip
PipingTipPlug

This was an interesting suggestion, but one that worked pretty well. The larger tip easily pushed down into the cake and removed the plug, but getting the cake out of the tip was the harder part. Using a toothpick made it a little easier, but the plug still ended up breaking into two pieces. Not a total tragedy, but not the easiest tool when you have to have another implement to help you clean out the cake plug.

Apple Corer
AppleCorerPlug

I was very skeptical about this, but was also very excited to purchase this tool… and my excitement rose when I used the apple corer to create the filling hole. Not only does the corer cut right through the cake, but because it is has an opening you can push the plug right through the bottom. It creates a very uniform hole and you can also make it as deep as you’d like. This might create a hole that is a little smaller in diameter, but it works very well.

Tiny Pairing Knife
TinyKnifePlug

Having had lots of practice with this tool, it didn’t fail me in this tool test. What’s nice about cutting the plug out with a little knife is you have complete control over how wide and deep a plug you cut, creating the perfect amount of space for your filling. This might be the simplest tool, but it is still my favorite of the bunch.

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(The finished hot chocolate cupcake! Filled with marshmallow fluff, WOW were these good)

None of our tools were failures, they all made room for filling, but some did work better than others. The best tool really does depend on what size you would like the filling hole to be and how much filling you want in the cupcake. Or perhaps you are just set in your ways like me, and prefer using a trusted tool and technique. Either way, I’m looking forward to using all of these tools for other baking and cooking experiments. I’ve already thought of other ways to use the cupcake plunger (cookie cutter anyone?) and can’t wait to core some apples.

Next tools to test: what tool to use to put filling into that hole! I use a tiny spoon or a piping bag… but who knows what our readers and followers might suggest!

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

Elisa’s “From Scratch” Baking Experiment: Vanilla Chai Holiday Cheer Cupcakes

Holiday flavors are a favorite of all three Crusaders. In fact, every year we can’t wait for our first pumpkin spice latte of the season, then again for the gingerbread spice or peppermint mocha. So when Crusader Stacy mentioned participating in the CAKEfyiHoliday Treat Party” I jumped at the chance to make a sweet treat that would challenge my baking skills and have a holiday flavor. Immediately I thought of vanilla chai, not only because I equate it with cold weather and twinkling Christmas lights, but because it is one of my favorite flavors.

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After quite a bit of research online I decided to create my own version of a vanilla chai cupcake, filled with white chocolate and vanilla bean fudge, topped with vanilla chai buttercream frosting. Choosing this recipe for both the cake and frosting, I adapted the chocolate fudge sauce recipe I used as the filling for the Chocolate Blackberry Syrah cupcakes I baked back in March.

First I had to make the “chai mix.” Easier said than done when all you have is cardamom “pods,” which you have to shell, and then the food processor won’t grind them. Thank goodness Crusader Stacy was helping me in the kitchen for this baking experiment, because she suggested a hammer. (Actually, her first suggestion was a mortar and pestle but I don’t have one of those, something I have to remedy in the near future!) After carefully hammering the cardamom into submission on my lovely granite counter top, I added the other spices and had my own chai mix. *On a side note, while you can get instant chai and use that instead, I didn’t find any that either weren’t missing some of the spices or had extra chemicals or ingredients that weren’t supposed to be in the mix, so even my chai mix is “from scratch.”

The kitchen already smelled amazing and I was only just getting started. The batter came together without any hiccups, then came making the filling. This was exciting at first because I got to use a Madagascar vanilla bean that had been sitting in my pantry begging to be used. I simmered it in the cream and then scraped all the tiny beans out of the pod and back into the hot cream. I then added the white chocolate chips, but after letting the mixture sit and whisking it together, it just didn’t thicken correctly. Crusader Stacy saved the day again because she immediately started researching what went wrong (not a high  enough chip to cream ratio) and found this solution from The Rescue Baker. It was nice to know I wasn’t the only one who had made this mistake. Once the filling cooled in the fridge (we made the frosting while we waited) we put it back into the mixing bowl and whipped it – creating more of a whipped cream filling than fudge, but it tasted fantastic.

ChaiCupcakeCloseUp(Check out the holiday toppers I found. So cute and they add a nice holiday touch.)

Once everything came together it turned out to be one tasty cupcake! Crusader Stacy said it was the best I’ve made yet, and the other friends I shared them with also enjoyed the holiday flavor. Moist and spicy cake, yummy icing, and a whipped vanilla bean white chocolate filling (that turned out better than expected.) What a great holiday dessert to share! We hope you enjoy all the holiday treats that are a part of the CAKEfyi “Holiday Treat Party” and if you are looking for a chai cupcake recipe, look no further! Happy Holidays and Vanilla Chai Cheers to a New Year!

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

Quick, Easy, and Seriously Delicious: Chocolate Rasberry Chambord Cupcakes

A couple weeks ago I was tasked with baking cupcakes at home, with only a few days notice, for the Baltimore Eats Food Bloggers’ Happy Hour. Initially I thought I would buy cupcakes and bring them, but after discovering that Tiffany, from Baltimore Eats, was going to make her cupcakes I thought, “I can do that too!” (and save some money in the process…).

With only a few days until the event I decided I was going to use what I had on hand instead of making an unnecessary trip to the grocery store. The only cake mix I had was something I picked up on a whim at a dollar store a month or so ago.

I had never seen Mrs. Fields cake mix, so I was instantly intrigued and figured I’d use it eventually, and I was right. I also had a handy can of pre-made chocolate frosting that I had picked up during a sale at the grocery store at some point. Normally after finding those two items one would think I was all set to go, but I’m a Cupcake Crusader, I can’t bring cupcakes that are from a box and tub to a happy hour that would be filled with food bloggers! So, I continued looking for inspiration and came across some Dove Dark Chocolate Raspberry candies and a recent gift of Raspberry Chambord Jam from my friend and Guest Crusader, Beth Lacey (AKA: Jam Making Goddess for Sweetness Follows and all around awesome person).

I knew that the jam would blow everyone away and really take these simple cupcakes to the next level, but I wasn’t quite convinced that the canned pre-made frosting was going to go over quite as well. I also knew it would not hold up to being piped out on top of the cupcakes, so I turned to Google to help me modify that and make it better. Luckily I came across this article from Bukisa.com. It said to make canned frosting taste a little more homemade, and to make it stretch even further, just add some powdered sugar to it. For the chocolate frosting it also mentioned adding in some cocoa powder if you wanted to keep it tasting rich and dark. After reading this, I got super excited becuase I realized I had the perfect thing waiting to be used:

After our bake sale for No Kid Hungry, I received a huge package of goodies from Scharffen Berger which Jackie from La Casa de Sweets had set up as a thank you gift for the teammate that raise the most money (other than herself). Now I finally had a reason to use it.

Armed with new knowledge, fancy cocoa powder, sublime jam, left over candies, dollar store box mix, and on sale frosting, I was all set.

As always, I added a box of instant pudding to my cake mix and threw in a bunch of semi sweet chocolate chips for extra measure, then baked the cupcakes as directed. I followed the instructions from Bukisa.com for the frosting and was really happy with the results. Once the cupcakes cooled, I carved out the center with a grapefruit knife (after I did this my husband gave me my new cake plunger gadget which I still haven’t used) and then filled the cupcakes with Beth’s amazing Raspberry Chambord Jam. After adding a swirl of chocolate frosting in my favorite rose-like fashion, I topped each cupcake with half of a Dove Dark Chocolate candy. I may or may not have eaten some of the candies sans cupcakes too…


(I think I should make this my life’s motto…)

The final results? Dark, rich, tart delightfulness. These cupcakes that were thought up in a pinch might be some of the best cupcakes EVER (well, at least the best cupcakes I’ve ever made). Of course I have to give all the credit to Ms. Beth Lacey because her jam really paired perfectly with the luscious chocolate. It’s amazing what you can create with ingredients you have sitting on the shelves.

– Post by Cupcake Crusader, Stacy (Baltimore, 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)

Elisa’s “From Scratch” Baking Experiment: Basil with Strawberry Filling Cupcakes

Finding new and interesting cupcake concoctions to try baking has been a fun journey. This month, knowing that I’d be sharing my baking experiment with real bakers and fellow cupcake lovers at our first Cupcake Picnic made me very nervous. I trekked on though, and after help from Jenn and Stacy on flavor ideas, I decided to create a basil cupcake with a strawberry filling and a buttercream icing.

Basil is one of my favorite herbs to cook with, and baking with unusual ingredients (like my first experiment with Lavender) is a challenge I love taking on. After searching to no avail for a simple basil cake recipe, I settled on this recipe and decided to leave out the lemon. The strawberry filling was another hurdle, but I found a great “filling” recipe on Wilton’s website. As for the icing, I decided to use the knowledge I’ve gained from my past baking experiments to create my own icing recipe: 1cup butter, 8 oz cream cheese, 4.5 cups confectioners sugar, 1.5 tsp vanilla extract. I gathered my ingredients and was set to bake!

Making the basil sugar was really fun and the batter was a beautiful yellow color with green specs floating throughout. After strictly following the directions for baking, I let them cool while I made the strawberry filling. It seemed odd to use corn starch for a fruit filling recipe, but it really worked well with the organic strawberries I received as part of my CSA, and created a bright red filling. I then cut the plugs out so that I could fill the cupcakes.

This was my first taste of the cake, and WOW, was it good! Sweet and savory, light and moist, herby, but not grassy tasting, I was very excited. I even saved the “plugs” to eat later because they were that good. Then I filled them with the cooled strawberry filling and worked on creating my icing.

Using my fancy piping tips, I piped on the very light icing to complete this baking experiment. As I am still am amateur piper, some turned out cute and some were a little off, but overall they looked pretty good. Stacy and Jenn agreed that I should freeze them overnight in an airtight container so that they would be nice and fresh for the picnic on Saturday. (Thanks to them both for helping me figure out the best way to keep them perfectly fresh and yummy!)

I took 12 cupcakes to work (I made 24 total) – as my co-workers tend to be the first people to try my experiments, so I wanted to get their reactions before I took the cupcakes to the picnic. They seemed to be a big hit, which gave me the confidence boost I needed to take the rest of the cupcakes to the picnic with my head held high.

Eating one myself was the true test though, and I’d say that this experiment was a complete success. I love the subtle but sweet flavors of the cake, filling, and icing – this is definitely a cupcake I will bake again! The more I bake, the more I want to bake, so now I can’t wait for the next challenge… who knows what crazy flavors we’ll come up with!

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

Healthy Cupcakes: Key Lime Meringue

Continuing our healthy crusade, Rebecca has another recipe for cupcakes with fewer calories, less guilt, and a little bit of key lime.

I recently took a trip down to Savannah, GA to visit my best friend, and while out shopping, I came upon Key Lime juice! Being the Key Lime lover that I am, I knew I needed to figure out a recipe for a healthy Key Lime cupcake. I searched WeightWatchers.com, but ended up modifying a recipe I found for a Key Lime cake.

There are a few substitutions used to help cut the calories and fat in this cupcake, such as incorporating whole wheat pastry flour, yogurt (in place of some of the oil), and meringue (instead of frosting). That leaves these cupcakes at a friendly 4 Points Plus.

Key Lime Meringue Cupcakes Ingredients

CAKE

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 tablespoons key lime yogurt

LIME FILLING

  • 8 oz nonfat sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/3 cup lime juice, preferably Key lime
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest, preferably Key lime

MERINGUE

  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place baking papers in cupcake pan. Whisk all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour and salt in a medium bowl. Then, beat 4 eggs and 2/3 cup sugar in the mixer on medium-high (4-6) speed until pale yellow and doubled in volume. It will be very foamy. Drop the vanilla and lime juice in the cake mixture. Gently fold in oil and yogurt into the egg mixture. Add the flour mixture and gently stir until just incorporated. Scoop the batter into the cupcake tins. Bake for 16 – 18 minutes and cool completely (about 45-60 minutes)

For the lime filling, whisk condensed milk and lime juice in a medium bowl until combined and refrigerate until thickened. 30 – 45 minutes.

For the meringue, beat egg whites in the stand mixer on high until soft peaks form. Pour in ¼ cup of sugar in a slow, steady stream and continue beating until stiff peaks form.

I then piped in the lime filling with a pastry bag and spread a thin layer over the top of each cupcake. They were then topped with meringue and I lightly burned the meringue with a small kitchen torch. (The recipe I found online said to brown it in the broiler, but I was concerned with burning the cupcake wrappers.)

I was very impressed with the key lime flavor, but wasn’t in love with the texture of the cake. The filling helps to add moisture, but I believe the technique of whipping the eggs and sugar together before folding in other ingredients, could have something to do with it. Perhaps I over beat it or wasn’t gentle enough when mixing in the dry ingredients, but the bite of a fresh Key Lime Pie with meringue is there! These were also fun to make and because we didn’t have a kitchen torch, I enlisted my boyfriend, Jim, and his large propane torch from the garage to add the lightly toasted top to the meringue.

– Recipe by our Healthy Guest Crusader, Rebecca (Baltimore, MD)