Two Year Anniversary Giveaway!

** THIS GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED**

July is a month of birthdays for the Crusaders’ family. Crusader Stacy and Jenn will be celebrating their 31st birthday next week. Our littlest crusader, Leah, just turned two. Our dad (who might as well be an honorary crusader since he goes on so many adventures with us) has a birthday at the end of the month. And…Our blog just celebrated it’s 2nd anniversary on July 7th!

We can’t celebrate without including our followers, and the best way to do that is a giveaway! We think you’ll love some of the great summertime items in our Grand Prize package!

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For starters, we are including Pillsbury’s Orange Creamsicle cake mix and frosting, which Crusader Stacy used as a base for her Orange Creamsicle cupcakes.

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We also picked up extra boxes of these cupcake candies just for our winner. Check out our review here!

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Some other items we’ve included, that are always popular, are:
– Cupcake Chapstix (there was a lot of excitement over this with our last giveaway!)
– A Cupcake-To-Go container
– Fun summer cupcake liners

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And then there are the cupcake items we just can’t resist:
– Cupcake gift bags
– Cupcake duct-tape (because duct-tape fixes everything, so why not have cupcakes on everything?)
– And more!

This year we also doing a 2 FOR TWO! What that means is, since this is our second year we are going to send a goody bag to a 2nd place winner! So now…how to win?!

There are several ways to enter and each entry counts:

– Comment below telling us your favorite cupcake flavor
– Like us on Facebook*
– Follow us on Twitter*
– Follow us on Foursquare*
– Follow us on Pinterest*
– Sign up to follow our blog via email or WordPress (sign up located in the right column on the homepage)*

* Please comment below after you sign up to follow our blog, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter, Foursquare, and/or Pinterest. Your comment below will act as an entry into the content. If you already have connected with us via social media, please make note below for your entry.

The contest will close on midnight next Monday, July 22, 2013. A winner will be drawn at random and announced on Wednesday, July 24, 2013.

Please let us know if you have any questions. Good luck!

– The Cupcake Crusaders

NOTE: We are only able to ship within the USA. Sorry to those who don’t qualify!

** THIS GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED**

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Potluck Perfection: Pillsbury’s Key Lime Cupcakes

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We see them in the grocery stores; the brightly colored seasonal boxes with cakes and cupcakes that make your mouth water. For some of us there’s a voice in our head that says, “But it’s a box mix!” and that means artificial flavor and color, and therefore a lack of quality that we might have become accustomed to. And then there’s the rest of us who say, “OMG those would be perfect for that picnic, cookout, or potluck we’re going to this summer!” knowing that the summer months are going to be busy and we just need something easy.

I’m a mixture of both. As much as I crave a nice, gourmet quality cupcake, I haven’t outgrown my roots in boxed cake mixes. So, succumbing to the bright summer colors, I bought Pillsbury’s Key Lime cake mix and frosting (as well as their Pink Lemonade, which is still in my pantry  you may remember that we also tried their Orange Creamsicle earlier this season).

I battled with the urge to doctor up the cake and frosting, to customize them in some way. I originally wanted to pipe the frosting, but knew that I wouldn’t have enough in the tub for two dozen, and it wouldn’t set properly. And I really wanted to be able to give you an honest review of what you get straight from the box.

My solution? To make a homemade white chocolate ganache filling.

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For the filling I used white chocolate chips and, instead of butter (which can discolor the white chocolate) or heavy cream (which I just didn’t have), I used 2% milk. I had to let the ganache cool first because it was too runny when warm, but it worked beautifully even with milk.

I kept the decoration simple and the frosting minimal since it’s so sweet. Topped with some shaved white chocolate pieces, I was pleasantly surprised with how pretty they were in the end!

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The cake and frosting were both tangy, but there was definitely an unmistakable “fake-ness” to the key lime flavor. It actually made my tongue tingle a little (like when you eat too many Pixie Sticks or sour candies…I know I’m not alone here, right?!). But the cake was super moist and fluffy, one of the reasons I come back to box mixes time and time again. The white chocolate was the PERFECT pairing for this cupcake. It brought down the artificial tang (and tingle), and added that custom, high-end quality I was looking for.

I brought the cupcakes to my calligraphy guild’s pre-summer social. There were so many treats, all homemade of course. My cupcakes looked amazing, but the real test was: How would they stand-up to these people who clearly appreciate family recipes? Well, people literally gawked when I told them it was a box mix. So, they either agreed with me and the white chocolate ganache added the needed pizazz, or they just aren’t as picky as I worried they might be. Either way, if you are in a bind and need a quick dessert this summer, I think you’ll be safe picking up this box mix.

– 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: Mocha Brownie Cupcakes

Up until the week before our DC Cupcake Picnic I still didn’t know what I should make. There would be other bakers there, so the idea of baking from scratch had me nervous but then again, could I make a box mix impress? While at the grocery store, I planned to redeem my coupon for Duncan Hines Frosting Creations and decided on their Mocha flavor. Perusing the isle, I also found some brownie mix on sale: Mocha flavored! The wheels in my head started turning…if I did a brownie instead of a cake, maybe I wouldn’t have to worry about too much scrutiny from the pros. And I always know how brownie mix turns out. Rich, fudgy, delicious.

After making my purchases I gave more thought to my creation. I decided to use brewed coffee instead of water in the brownie mix, just to be sure the coffee flavor really came through, make a dark chocolate ganache filling, and top with shaved dark chocolate.

One of the tricky things about baking brownies in cupcakes sheets is the bake time. I didn’t want to over cook them, so I put it on 18 minutes to start and added 2-3 minutes as needed until they were done. They ended up coming out perfectly, though!

As with most of my other baking experiments (like these Lemon Raspberry cupcakes) I cut holes in the center for the filling. Then, using a small pot and glass bowl (my homemade double boiler), I made the dark chocolate ganache with dark chocolate chips and heavy whipping cream (I learned to do this with my Orange White Chocolate cupcakes and assumed the whipping cream would work in the same way with dark chocolate as it did with white chocolate). I didn’t measure anything out, just eyeballed it. After filling the cupcakes, I decided to also spread the ganache on top so that you could see some of it after frosting the cupcakes.

After mixing up the Duncan Hines Frosting Creation I tasted it and was pleasantly surprised! The base is really sweet, but the flavor add-in toned it down and created good coffee kick. I piped the frosting on top of the brownies and sprinkled the shaved dark chocolate on top. I made regular size cupcakes and minis, thinking that the minis might be nice with a lot of cupcake tasting going on at the picnic.

The brownie bites and cupcakes ended up being a big hit at the picnic! No one seemed to think a brownie was out of place and they were so easy to make. And, since the Mocha Frosting Creation worked well, I’m curious to try some of the other flavors!

Do you think baking a brownie in a cupcake liner makes it a cupcake? What unique recipes have you turned into a cupcake?

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

Exploring Healthier Cupcakes

We are excited to share the following post from fellow cupcake lover Rebecca. Below, Rebecca shares how and why she started creating healthier cupcakes, while not skimping on texture or flavor.

I have always loved cupcakes. When I joined Weight Watchers 2 years ago, I knew that I wanted to find a way to keep them in my life without ruining my goal of losing 50 pounds by my 30th Birthday. Sometimes the best way to get tips and tricks is the online Weight Watchers network and this is where I learned the multiple ways to bake at home, without all the calories (and guilt) of bakery items. I tried many suggestions, from cake mix baked with diet soda to cake mix baked with applesauce. They were alright, but never offered that moist, indulgent taste I was looking for.

When I discovered that canned pumpkin can also be used in place of oil and eggs, I had to try it, and it was exactly what I had been searching for. Not only can you make pumpkin flavored items, but when mixed with chocolate cake mix it makes a dense, moist cupcake.  As I explored scratch baking, it was good to know I could always go back to my can of pumpkin puree and a box of cake mix for a reduced Weight Watcher’s point value treat.

I then started exploring flavors to mix with the chocolate cake mix, and I made everything from Black Forest to Chocolate Coconut to Mint Chocolate to Peanut Butter. So, here is one of my 1st recipes for Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Delight Cupcakes.

Cake Ingredients:

1 box of chocolate cake mix

1 can of pumpkin puree (make sure to use plain pumpkin)

1/3 cup chocolate chips

Frosting Ingredients:

1/2 can WHIPPED frosting

2 tablespoons of whipped peanut butter

Instructions:

Preheat the Oven to 350 degrees.

With a standing mixer, blend the pumpkin and cake mix together on stir for about 2 minutes and then whip at level 1 for an additional 2 minutes. (You can add egg substitute if you want a lighter cake). Once the batter is mixed, add the 1/3 cup of chocolate chips. The batter will be very thick.

Then place in cupcake wrappers to a little over half full. There will be enough batter for 24 cupcakes. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until they are firm to the touch. Let them cool and prepare the frosting.

Whip the 1/2 can of frosting with the peanut butter and let sit. (I now like making my own frosting, but wanted to share how I started)

After frosting, I finished this batch with a dark chocolate peanut butter cup shredded on the micro plane.

4 Weight Watchers Points Plus, and ALL the indulgence!

– Review by Guest Crusader, Rebecca (Baltimore, MD)

Bring on the Holiday Fun(fetti)!

He’s cute, right? When I saw this cupcake topper and liner set while out doing some Christmas shopping at Target, I couldn’t resist getting it. I had already purchased what I thought would be my holiday cupcake liners, but these were far cuter. Then, I spotted Pillsbury‘s Holiday Funfetti cake mix and frosting!

Being the “non-baker” that I am, I often look to box mixes to help me out, but I’m not sure why I get so excited about Funfetti cake. All you have to do is add sprinkles to the batter. It could be any box mix or recipe, but it doesn’t seem to matter. I love Funfetti.

Just look at all those “fun” red a green specks in the cake. Do they add flavor? No. They are purely for our visual enjoyment.

I was a little disapointed with two things though (regarding the Funfetti frosting). First, there weren’t nearly enough red sprinkles. Luckily I have a tub of them at home, so I just added my own. Second, the frosting was more of a minty green, and not the sage green that is on the packaging. I could have tried tweaking it with my own food coloring, but it didn’t seem so bad that it was worth messing with.

End result?

An army of festive penguin cupcakes.

Love it. Enjoy!

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