A Baking Adventure: Peanut Butter & Jelly Cupcakes

I love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And I’ve had some REALLY good PB&J cupcakes from wonderful bakeries. So when I heard about Project PB&J, a blogger cooking contest celebrating National PB&J Day, I thought, “I can do that!” In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have been so confident…

After reading the contest guidelines, I knew I couldn’t come up with my own recipe for the cake, and I wasn’t sure that just adding a couple of ingredients would be changing someone else’s recipe enough. The longer I thought about it, the more I ran out of time. So in the end this is what my cake recipe turned out to be:

Cake Ingredients:
– 1 Box of Betty Crocker Yellow Cake mix
– 3 eggs (as per the box instructions)
– 1 ¼ cups of oil (as per the box instructions)
– ¼ cup of water (as per the box instructions)
– About 1 cup of chopped peanuts
– About 1 cup of diced strawberries (Fresh or frozen: If using frozen, thaw and drain as much water as possible)

(I always like to rally my ingredients to make sure I’m not missing anything.)

(Diced strawberries and chopped peanuts: I used the food processor to chop the peanuts. They came out  finer than I planned, but still worked to create a nice texture.)

I decided that my big modification was adding the chopped peanuts and strawberries to the batter. I really wanted that crunchy texture from the peanuts because I’m a big fan of crunchy peanut butter. I decided that the strawberries would help balance it (and fruit in cake usually works).

Cake Instructions:
Pre-heat your oven according to the instructions on the box. Mix the batter according to  the instructions on the box. Mix desired amount of peanuts and strawberries into the batter. Bake according to the instructions on the box. Easy enough, right?

(Batter with the chopped peanuts.)

(Batter with strawberries. Also my first time using silicone cupcake liners.)

(Baked cupcakes. The silicone liners have a “fill” line, however I think I could have gone above that to create a higher top on the cupcakes.)

Once the cupcakes cooled, it was time for the filling!

Filling Ingredients:
– Your favorite jam or preserves (in this recipe, that means strawberry preserves). If you want to get fancy, you can make your own!

Filling Instructions:
Take the cooled cupcakes and cut holes in the center, like a bowl, to hold the jam. Spoon the jam into the center.

(I decided to remove the cupcakes from the silicone liners prior to filling and topping. I don’t recommend doing this if there will be a filling!)

(Baby spoons work REALLY well for getting filling into those tiny holes!)

Now on to the frosting! A couple of years ago I created a peanut butter frosting on a whim, mixing together peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. I remember it turned out really well, but just in case, I also purchased Cool Whip for this experiment. And, I’m glad I did! The peanut butter and marshmallow fluff did not come together the way I had hoped, so the Cool Whip saved the day.

Frosting Ingredients:
– Creamy peanut butter
– Marshmallow fluff
– Cool Whip

Frosting Instructions:
Mix together a couple dollops of peanut butter with a couple dollops of marshmallow fluff. Then add in a couple dollops of Cool Whip. Don’t worry about folding the ingredients into the Cool Whip to maintain that airy texture. The marshmallow is too sticky, so just stir it all up until it’s mixed well. Then add in a couple more dollops of peanut butter and stir. I tried to keep it so it had a swirl texture. I failed. But it still tastes good! So if you fail too, don’t worry. As you can see, this is all experimental anyway!

Now time to top the cupcakes with the frosting! This is where I had more issues. I couldn’t decide what to do. I did a couple of cupcakes with the frosting piped on, but didn’t like the results. Then I just tried spreading the frosting on top, but also didn’t like that. I think it was because the frosting and cake looked monotone and I really wanted a pop of color from the jam, which would hint to what was inside. In the end I settled with swirling the frosting to expose the filling and bring some to the top.

(Luckily I made some of the cupcakes in these foil liners, which really helped keep them together!)

(Some of the options I worked on for the cupcakes taken out of the silicone liners.)

When it comes to this recipe, I probably shouldn’t be too hard on myself. The cupcakes actually were tasty, especially since I’m not a baker by any means. The texture of the cake was great with the chopped peanuts. It was exactly what I’d hoped for! And the ratio of strawberry preserves, peanut butter flavor, and yellow cake are perfect. I still can’t help but to think that there’s nothing “special” about the results. No more so than if I’d just made a plain peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It’s exactly like a traditional PB&J, but in cupcake form. However, sometimes that’s okay, right?! I’ll let you be the judge.

Let us know if you decide to try this recipe or have your own PB&J Cupcake recipe! And visit Once Upon a Loaf for more information on Project PB&J!

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


Cooks ‘N Cakes: Home of The Two-Touch Cupcake

Over the past month the Crusaders have been working hard to prepare for another series which was supposed to be featured on another blog. Unfortunately, this fell through, so instead, we will be featuring this series on our own blog next month. This series will highlight our Top 5 favorite places outside of Baltimore City (but still within a short driving distance). This means we have eaten A LOT of cupcakes. So, for February, we decided to share some of the new spots we’ve visit, but you’ll have to wait until March to see our final Top 5 picks. 🙂

One of the places we visited for the first time was Cooks ‘N Cakes located off the Baltimore National Pike in Ellicott City, MD. This new cupcake spot opened their doors in December 2011. Their tagline, “Home of the Two-Touch Cupcake” means that they have made a commitment that no more than two hands will create a cupcake from batter to frosting. They believe that this allows them to make each cupcake spectacular and not just “a dime a dozen” like some critiques believe.

After seeing all their posts on Facebook, we couldn’t wait to test this latest addition to Maryland’s cupcakeries, so Crusader Elisa and I finally made it there about a month after their grand opening.

We were visiting a couple other places that day (cupcake research is a tough job…), so we limited our selection to 4 cupcakes: Butter Me Up, Childhood Friend, Spiked Punch, and Coffee Craze. They placed the cupcakes in an upside down cup, which is a recent packaging idea that I’ve seen and LOVE. The cupcakes don’t move around and they arrive at your destination with the frosting and decorations still in place.

Elisa and I took our cupcakes over to Crusader Jenn’s house later that night. We also had cupcakes from other locations that we stopped at earlier that day, so we were happy to have help eating them all!

We started with the cupcakes from Cooks ‘N Cakes. Here are our thoughts:

Butter Me Up:
(Vanilla Butter Cake with Butterscotch Buttercream and Chopped Pecans

The cake on this cupcake was very dense, similar to a pound cake in texture and flavor. The sweet butterscotch frosting worked really well with this mild cake and overall the flavor was nice, nutty and sweet. The one thing about this cupcake that is worth mentioning though, is the unevenness of the cake and frosting (as you can see in the picture above). It wouldn’t have been a big deal, except we were cutting it into several pieces and some taste testers didn’t get as much of the delicious frosting.

Childhood Friend:
(Vanilla Butter Cake with Strawberry Jelly Filling and Peanut Butter Buttercream)

Unfortunately, I think I was the only one who liked this flavor. The others thought it left behind a strange aftertaste that made this a cupcake they would not get again. I’m not sure how I didn’t notice it, but I actually enjoyed this cupcake. The frosting was smooth and sweet and PB&J cupcakes tend to be a favorite of mine.

Coffee Crazy:
(Devil’s Food Cupcake with Cinnamon Coffee Buttercream)

The first thing I want to mention is that the cake on this cupcake was very short, like it didn’t rise while baking. Also, from the description it didn’t seem to be a devil’s food cake to us. I’m not sure if they were trying something different that day, but the cake wasn’t very chocolaty and it actually had a burnt coffee taste to it. The aroma of this cupcake was amazing though, and the frosting was equal to that. I also didn’t taste any hints of cinnamon in the frosting and I’m wondering if the coffee flavor in the frosting overpowered everything? The upside of this was that when eating the cake and the frosting together, the burnt coffee taste in the cake was eliminated. Two of the four of us would have gotten this cupcake again, even if it didn’t seem to match its description.

Spiked Punch (Saturday Special):
(Vanilla Butter Cake with Chocolate Buttercream and Raspberry Grand Marnier Filling)

This last one was definitely the overall crowd pleaser. The chocolate frosting was considered perfect by everyone and the raspberry filling was amazing. (Like, unbelievably amazing.) We really can’t say enough good things about this cupcake!

All in all, I would definitely visit this cupcakery again. They have so many flavor options and while we were there, they had samples left out to try. Elisa and I each thought the vanilla buttercream from one of the samples was amazing and the chocolate cake from another sample was very moist and light. Next time, we would definitely like to try some full-size cupcakes including those flavors.

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