Mother Nature has the heat cranked up here in Pittsburgh, blasting us with the full force of a western Pennsylvanian summer. Right now it’s actually pouring at my house, a welcome sight for my flowers.
Full disclosure: I am obsessed with plants. My dream home, besides a cottage in the woods, would be smack in the middle of a botanical garden. Mike gets nervous when I go to our local nursery – conveniently located less than five minutes from our house – by myself, because I’m bound to return with something in need of planting. And as I’ve been practicing my buttercream flower piping skills this summer, I decided to go with a basic five-petal design (many thanks to Wilton for this awesome tutorial), along with some roses, carnations, and marigolds, for these treats. The flavor profile is botanical as well; chocolate orange, a wonderful combination involving two of my favorite things that grow.
For the cupcakes
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Zest of 1/2 medium orange
- 1 cup water
For the frosting
- 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon orange extract
- 1 teaspoon milk, if necessary
- Burgundy, golden yellow, red, and moss green food coloring
- Wilton tips 5, 12, 21, 104, and 352
- Flower nail
- Disposable piping bags
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; this recipe makes 15 cupcakes.
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Mix until well-blended, then make three wells for the wet ingredients.
Place vinegar, vanilla, and vegetable oil into the wells; add orange zest next to the well with the vanilla extract. Add water and mix until the batter is smooth. The mixture will bubble up slightly when you add the water, so just keep mixing until you get a smooth consistency in the batter, which will be fairly thin.
Working quickly and using a 1/4 dry measuring cup, scoop batter into cupcake wells. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and remove from cupcake pans; cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.
To make frosting, place butter in a mixing bowl and beat for a few minutes using the paddle attachment.
Add powdered sugar and beat on low speed until all the sugar is incorporated into the butter; this will take a few minutes. Once incorporated, add the vanilla and orange extracts and beat for 1-2 minutes on medium speed.
If frosting is too stiff – you want a medium consistency for piping – add 1 teaspoon of milk to slightly thin it. You want a smooth consistency that’s easy to pipe, but not too thin or the flowers won’t hold their shape.
To decorate: use a small amount of white frosting on the top of each cooled cupcake for your base. Divide the remaining frosting into small portions for the remaining colors. I used the following:
- Burgundy and red for the purple five-blossom flowers
- Remainder of the purple plus golden yellow for a rusty orange for roses and drop flowers
- Golden yellow for blossom centers and drop carnation clusters
- Moss green for leaves
For five-petal blossoms: Using a flower nail, pipe five-petal blossoms using the technique outlined by the awesome folks at Wilton in the link above. Place on a baking sheet and chill for 5 minutes to harden. Place blossoms on cupcakes once they’re firm enough to handle; using light yellow frosting and a 5 tip, pipe one single dot or several dots in the center, whichever you prefer.
For roses (pictured below): use purple frosting and pipe a cone shape into the center of the nail, then switch tips to your 104 petal tip. You want the broader end of the tip to be toward the bottom as you pipe; pipe petals, turning your flower nail as necessary. I used the remainder of my purple frosting, mixed with golden yellow, for the rusty orange color of the other flowers you see in the photo below; I did some roses and some marigolds using the 21 tip with that shade as well.
For carnation clusters: Using a 21 drop flower tip and yellow frosting, pipe small clusters of flowers.
For leaves: Using moss green and the 352 leaf tip, pipe leaves.
Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days.