A Baking Adventure: Carrot Cake Cupcakes with a Brown Sugar, Caramel, and Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

I feel as though I should preface this post by letting you all know that this cupcake recipe has the potential to be AMAZING, however my final product? Eh. But, I do know ways it could have been better, which I’ll share with you.

I started with a carrot cake box mix. I know, I know. That was my first mistake. Carrot cake in a box…maybe the worst boxed option ever, after red velvet (see our thoughts in a previous review).  Had I used a real recipe for carrot cake or modified the box mix (because you all know how much I love a good carrot cake with walnuts and fresh carrot) then that would have made about 80% of the difference in the quality of these cupcakes.

Next, the frosting…I used a canned frosting. I’m sure you’ve realized by now that this concoction was all about using up pantry items and putting something together on a whim. The modifications I made to the frosting helped with the “canned” flavor, however had I started with a homemade cream cheese frosting it would have been so much better. I added in caramel syrup, cinnamon, and brown sugar, all just to taste. The cinnamon and caramel were a huge win. The flavor of the brown sugar was good, but I expected it to soften and dissolve. It didn’t, which left a grainy texture.

One good thing that came out of this experiment was a recipe for baked peaches. I found an easy recipe on The Kitchen is My Playground. The peaches turned out amazing and were a perfect complement to the sub-par cupcakes. The next time I attempt brown sugar in a frosting, I’ll have to do my research first. If you have a tried and true recipe, please share it with us!

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

A Baking Adventure: Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Cake Truffles

The title is a little deceiving, since I didn’t actually have to bake anything for this recipe… But it did use baked goods, and it was definitely a kitchen adventure!

I had some frozen chocolate cake that I’d been wanting to use for cake balls, so as autumn hit the air and I was sitting at home one day wishing I had a seasonal treat, I came up with this recipe for Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Cake Truffles:

Ingredients:
– Baked chocolate cake
– Canned pumpkin
– Pumpkin Pie Spice
– Cream cheese frosting (I used canned)
– Chocolate of choice (I used semi-sweet chips)
– Crushed walnuts (Optional)

I just happened to have all this laying around, so my on-a-whim experiment commenced. I crumbled up the cake in a large mixing bowl, added in a dollop of canned pumpkin and a dollop of frosting, and then sprinkled in some pumpkin pie spice to taste. I found the best way to mix it was with my hands, so get in there and get messy. The key to cake balls is the texture. I failed, hence the title “truffle” instead of “cake ball.” I added in a bit too much wet ingredients so they were a little too moist for a cake ball.

Once everything was mixed up well, I rolled the cake balls and set them aside in the refrigerator. A couple of hours later I returned, with my chocolate melted and ready to dip the truffles. I read that it’s best to freeze these for about 15-20 minutes before dipping in chocolate; however, thinking that they’d been in the fridge for so long anyway, I didn’t do that. Listen to the cake ball experts people! Freeze them first. It helps keep the cake together when you dip, making less of a mess.

The chocolate came out thicker than I wanted and not as “pretty.” I’m not sure if this is an experience thing or because of the chocolate I used. I tried a couple of different techniques, including one recommendation to break off the center prongs of a plastic fork, just leaving the outer prongs to create a tool that helps excess chocolate drip off. Thick chocolate aside, I topped my truffles two different ways: crushed walnuts and pumpkin pie spice. Another tip I learned: when you are sprinkling chocolate with spice, wait until after the chocolate has hardened. Otherwise, it just melts and you can’t see it.

All in all, I’m happy with how these turned out. The taste was great, but the texture was a little weird when eaten at room temperature. Since I was worried about the pumpkin filling, I kept them refrigerated anyways, so it wasn’t much of a problem. In retrospect, I probably could have eliminated the canned pumpkin and just relied on the pumpkin pie spice for the flavor I was looking for. As with most of my adventures, I learned a lot and can see myself making cake balls/truffles again!

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Jenn (Westminster, 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)