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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Leah’s 1st Birthday: A Garden Gnome Party with Cupcakes

Crusader Stacy and I began brainstorming ideas for my daughter’s first birthday, oh, about 9 months ago…when she was 3 months old. Seems extreme, I know. But, with no weddings, showers, or other birthdays on the horizon, our creative party juices needed to be released. I saw a gnome/forest friend theme on Design Dazzle and really liked the cute little mushroom top cupcakes and matching jumbo cupcake. I thought, “I can do that!” I also liked that it seemed to be an original idea, and I still kind of love gnomes going back to my “David the Gnome” days.

After casually researching here and there, it was June before I knew it! I solidified the “Garden Gnome” theme after finding some cute garden decorations that I wanted to tie in with the gnomes. I designed my own invitations to set the mood and décor for the party, scanning in felt flowers and scrap-booking paper to create texture and layers.

The Cupcakes: Chocolate Strawberry and Lemon

The cupcakes ended up being more of a challenge than I thought they would be. I started with box mixes for the cake because I wanted that to be as easy as possible since I’d be making my own frosting and decorating the cupcakes in a special way.

This was my first time working with fondant. I purchased Wilton’s ready to roll fondant and found it very easy to work with.

I also purchased Wilton fondant decoration-cutters (basically cookie cutters) in different size circles. The larger one was for the big cupcake cake and the smaller one was for the regular size cupcakes.

I researched working with fondant and found out how to store it so that decorations could be done a few days prior to using them. This was very helpful in managing my time for party preparations!

The polka dots were for the chocolate strawberry cupcakes and cake. A week before the party I decided that, since I prefer adding flavor to my homemade buttercream, the chocolate cupcakes would be topped with a strawberry buttercream. I found a recipe on Baking Bites that looked easy and tasty. The frosting ended up not being as easy as I thought though, particularly to work with. It was very runny (probably a combination of the house being warmer, all the red food coloring I added, and the amount of strawberry puree used in this recipe) so I added a lot of confectioner’s sugar, probably 3-4 times what the recipe calls for. Now I know why fresh fruit buttercreams can be so sweet! Despite some trial and error with working with the frosting, the flavor was still good!

The next hiccup I encountered was with the lemon frosting. I’ve made this frosting before, so everything was going well until it came to piping. I planned on using a grass tip, but moments before getting started thought to myself, “Hmmm…I bet the lemon zest isn’t going to fit through the piping holes.” Sure enough, it didn’t work. Since I was already working with a particular size, I was limited with my options, but chose another decorating tip and got wonky results.

My hope was that after adding the Wilton decorating daisies (thank goodness for another time-saving purchase!) the cupcakes would look okay, and I think they did!

I baked the night before the party and we added the final touches right before the party started, just to make sure the food dyes didn’t bleed and the decorations didn’t succumb to the moisture in the cake and frosting. In the end, I never needed to be so worried and the cupcakes came out great!

Even though I chose to do fun, summery flavors, there was still something for everyone and I got more compliments than ever before. I think the strawberry buttercream will make an appearance again in the future!

The Party

I was really pleased with how everything came together. Fun decorations including felt flower arrangements, hand crafted signs, polka-dot balloons, garden gnomes, fake moss rocks, garden decorations, and labeled goodie bags.

We had a sandwich buffet in the kitchen for lunch, and beverages for children and adults outside, but the real star was the dessert table. It was set to impress. Planters turned into cupcake displays, Rice Krispies balls (one shaped like a mushroom and decorated to match…thanks to Crusader Stacy!), candy flower arrangements, fruit dip, and cookie dough dip. We also set out a basket of bags and cups and encouraged our guests to take treats to-go.

The party was so much fun and, even though Leah won’t remember it, she had a great time in the moment and that’s all that matters. Crusader Stacy and I always had the best birthday parties growing up, so I hope to do the same for Leah. Now I just have to start planning next year’s!

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Jenn (Westminster, 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)