Pumpkin Pecan Bundt Cake

My mom has some dietary restrictions, and she tends to stay away from dairy. Last night Mike and I went to her house for dinner to celebrate my birthday, and I figured baking a dairy-free cake was the least I could do for the woman who gave me life. After all, she’s the one who did all the hard work, right?

Dairy-free baking isn’t always as challenging as it might seem, and there are many recipes out there that don’t require a range of bizarre ingredients to substitute for butter or milk. Most vegetable cakes, like this pumpkin cake, use oil instead of butter. Such cakes are usually fluffier than butter-based cakes, and tend to keep their moisture longer. And if you choose to bake your cake in a Bundt tin, as I did here, there’s no need for a buttercream or cream cheese frosting; you can whip up a simple glaze icing with just powdered sugar and water. I’m happy to report that Genny loved this cake, so it’s one I’ll make again for her in the future.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 15 ounces pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted and cooled
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 4-5 teaspoons water

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a 10-inch Bundt pan.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and pumpkin pie spice; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together sugar and oil until very well-combined. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing very well after each.

Stir in flour mixture and pumpkin alternatively, stirring until well-combined and smooth. Fold in toasted pecans, then spoon or pour into prepared pan.

Bake for about 45 minutes, then check with a cake tester or toothpick; continue baking for a few minutes at a time, checking frequently, until the cake tester comes out clean. My cake baked for about 50 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool cake in pan for 10 minutes. Flip out onto a wire rack to cool completely before glazing and drizzling.

To make the glaze, in a small bowl, combine powdered sugar and 2 teaspoons water. Continue adding water until glaze reaches a pourable consistency, then pour over cake and allow to drip down the sides.

Store cake at room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes about 12 servings.

Tree Trunk Cake

It’s my 43rd birthday, and as always, I’ve baked my own cake. I love the woods, so I decided to make an orange almond honey cake and decorate it like a tree trunk. It was actually much easier than I expected because my main tool was a small offset spatula, which worked really well for the bark and tree ring details. I did pipe some ferns and mushrooms as well, and I’d intended to make a little hedgehog to sit on the top, but I ran out of frosting. Maybe next time.

Fair warning: this cake is in no way, shape, or form low calorie, low fat, or remotely healthy. All told, the cake and its frosting include six eggs and five sticks of butter. Granted, I’m not eating the entire cake myself, but if you’re the dieting type, I’d say this may not be the treat for you.

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 1 1/2 cups (2 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 1/2 cups almond flour
  • 4 tablespoons milk
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Zest of 1 1/2 oranges

For the frosting

  • 1 1/2 (2 1/2 sticks) cups butter, softened
  • 5 – 6 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons honey, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon orange extract

Preparation

Preheat oven to 320 degrees. Lightly grease two deep, 7-inch round cake tins and line the bases with parchment paper.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and light brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add honey and blend to combine, then add eggs, one at a time, beating well and scraping the sides of the bowl between each addition. Add self-rising flour and almond flour, then milk, vanilla extract, and almond extract, and beat to combine until you have a smooth batter.

Pour batter into prepared tins and bake for 40-45 minutes, until well risen and the top of the cake springs back when lightly pressed with your finger.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then turn onto a wire rack and cool completely.

To make the frosting, beat butter on medium speed for 1-2 minutes. Add 5 cups powdered sugar and beat on low speed until the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter. Add honey and extracts and beat to combine, then add enough additional powdered sugar to make a medium-stiff consistency frosting.

To decorate: Divide frosting into one larger portion and two smaller portions. Tint largest portion dark brown and cover the sides of the cake with it, then use a small offset spatula to pull frosting upward to make bark ridges, reserving a small amount to swirl into the top of the cake. Tint one of the smaller portions light brown and frost top, using your spatula to make tree rings. Add small portions of darker brown and swirl to accent the rings. Reserve remaining light brown for mushrooms.

To make the ferns, tint one portion of frosting moss green. Fit a piping bag with a plain tip and pipe stems, the switch to a leaf tip and pipe leaf shapes. Tint remaining frosting darker for a second color and repeat.

To make the mushrooms, fit a piping bag with a petal tip and fill with remaining light brown frosting. Pipe stacked horizontal ribbon-like rows on waxed paper squares on a flower nail and chill for about 5 minutes, then press into the sides of the cake. Add a few leaves of fern-like foliage onto the tops.

Store cake at room temperature; makes about 12 servings.

Full Bloom Chocolate Orange Cupcakes

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.

Ingredients

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

To decorate

  • Burgundy, golden yellow, red, and moss green food coloring
  • Wilton tips 5, 12, 21, 104, and 352
  • Flower nail
  • Disposable piping bags

Preparation

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.

Below, we have a blossom cluster featuring the five-petal blossom, carnation cluster, and marigold. 

 

Cactus and Succulent Cupcakes

Pittsburgh is in the full blaze of summer. It’s 90 degrees today, expected to be in the 90s for the next week, without a drop of rain in sight. I appreciate all of our seasons, but truth be told I prefer cold to heat – I’m more of a winter gal than a summer gal. I’d never survive in a desert climate. Well, not without air conditioning, anyway.

I’ve wanted to make succulent cupcakes for a while now, and today’s heat seemed like the perfect excuse. A few of my plants didn’t turn out quite as I’d hoped, as I think my buttercream wasn’t as firm as it should have been, but it’s not bad for my first attempt. The color palette is exactly what I’d hoped it would be, and all in all, they turned out really well. They’re also delicious; the buttercream has a bit of lemon extract in it for a nice hint of citrus. Next time, I’ll make some of the buttercream a bit more firm (or I’ll chill it for a few minutes) to make more impressive spikes. For a great tutorial on how to make buttercream succulents, I recommend this video from Wilton.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

For the frosting

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon almond extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon extract

To decorate

  • Brown, moss green, black, copper, and red food coloring
  • Wilton tips 199, 104, 352, 16, and 3
  • Flower nail
  • Disposable piping bags (or reusable, if you prefer)

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with paper liners; this recipe yields 14 cupcakes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

Place eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar and continue to beat for another 30 seconds.

Add vanilla bean paste, almond extract, and canola oil and beat on medium speed for 1 minute.

Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternatively in three batches, beginning and ending with the flour, scraping the sides of the bowl frequently. Batter will be very thin.

Using a quarter-cup measuring cup, scoop batter into prepared cupcake liners, filling half full.

Bake for 13-15 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack before frosting.

To make the frosting, beat butter on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add powdered sugar and beat on low speed until all the sugar is incorporated into the butter, then beat on medium for 1-2 minutes. Add vanilla, almond, and lemon extracts and beat to combine.

To decorate: divide your frosting into small portions. Leave one portion white and tint the others light brown, green, and pink. To make my pink shade, I used a small amount of copper and a few drops of red for a more dusty shade.

Frost the tops of the cupcakes with light brown buttercream for the “sand.” I chose to do barrel cacti, rose succulents, and some things that sort of look like aloe using the following techniques:

For the barrel cacti: fit a piping bag with a Wilton 99 open star tip and add green frosting; pipe the body of the cactus. Fit a piping bag with a Wilton 3 small round tip and add white frosting; pipe spines up the sides of the barrel. Fit a piping bag with a Wilton 16 small closed star tip and add pink frosting; pipe a blossom on the top.

For the rose succulents: fit a piping bag with a Wilton 104 petal tip. Add a small amount of pink frosting up one side, then add green frosting; pipe out a small amount to ensure you have both colors showing. Pipe petals, similar to how you would a rose; if you’re making smaller rose succulents, you can use a flower nail and let the smaller ones chill in the freezer for a few minutes. You can also do plain green rose succulents.

For the aloe-like succulents: fit a piping bag with a Wilton 352 leaf tip and pipe stalks in a circle. Add as many layers as you like; mine had three layers of stalks. For a deeper shade of green, tint your green frosting with a bit of black for a deeper color. Use your leaf tip or small star tip to make stalks.

If you’re making smaller succulents and using your flower nail, you’ll want to take a bit of frosting and use it as glue to stick your chilled succulents onto your cupcakes.

Store cupcakes in a cool place in an airtight container for 2-3 days.

 

 

Cinnamon Pumpkin Cupcakes

Who wants pumpkin treats in the middle of June? I do. While I love to bake with seasonal ingredients, canned pumpkin is an evergreen in my pantry, something I keep on hand no matter the weather. Earlier this week I had a not-so-successful run at some pumpkin oat muffins (they tasted fine, but the bottoms stuck in their wrappers) and had about a cup of pumpkin left over, the perfect amount for these cinnamon pumpkin cupcakes.

Many frosting flavors pair well with pumpkin, like maple and various spices. I chose a simple cinnamon buttercream to echo the cinnamon in the cupcakes themselves, and it turned out really well. Mike’s coworkers demolished them yesterday, proving that I’m not the only person who appreciates a good pumpkin treat in the summertime.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the frosting

  • 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, to taste

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with paper liners; my recipe yielded 19 cupcakes.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

In a large glass measuring cup, combine pumpkin puree, vegetable oil, eggs, sugar, and vanilla extract. Mix well, then add all at once to the flour mixture. Stir until well-combined and smooth.

Using a two-inch cookie scoop, fill cupcake wells about half full.

Bake for 17-20 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven; immediately remove from tins and place on a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

To make frosting, beat butter on medium speed for 1-2 minutes, then add powdered sugar all at once and beat on low until all the sugar is incorporated into the butter. Add vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and beat well; taste and add more cinnamon if you like.

Fit a piping bag with a large star tip and pipe swirls of frosting onto each cupcake. Store at a cool room temperature for 1-2 days; these cupcakes are very tender and will get a bit sticky if they’re left out much longer.

Buttercream Rose Cake

Things I learned to do during Baking in the Time of Coronavirus: Make buttercream roses. My decorating skills are limited at best; I can tint frosting and make some pretty basic designs, but until this cake I hadn’t used a flower nail before. I watched this tutorial from Wilton before I got started, and while my roses are much flatter than the ones in the video, they turned out pretty well.

I used buttercream frosting with a medium consistency, and I’d recommend going with a thicker consistency next time for flowers that aren’t quite as flat. This cake is for my mom’s belated birthday celebration – she turned 74 this past week – and we’re having her over for dinner this evening. She won’t likely eat the buttercream flowers (Genny is a woman who prefers cake to frosting), but this was great practice.

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 8 ounces (1 cup) butter, at room temperature, plus more for pans
  • 8 ounces superfine sugar*
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 8 ounces self-rising flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

For the frosting

  • 1 1/4 cups butter, at room temperature
  • 4 – 4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 teaspoons almond extract
  • Yellow, red, pink, and green food coloring

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 8-inch round cake pans with butter, then line each with a circle of parchment.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until combined; add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in flour and baking powder.

Divide batter evenly between the two cake pans, leveling the tops with a spatula. Bake for 18-20 minutes, then check to see if cakes are done; they will be light golden brown on top, have pulled away from the sides of the pan, and will spring back when pressed lightly.

Remove from oven and allow to cool in pans for 5 minutes; run a butter knife around the edge of each cake and turn onto a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, beat butter with your paddle attachment for 2-3 minutes, until fluffy. Add 3 cups powdered sugar and beat on low until the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter. Add vanilla and almond extracts and beat to combine, then add another cup of powdered sugar; you’ll want a medium buttercream consistency that isn’t too stiff, but will hold its shape when you pipe the flowers.

Frost the top and sides of the cake with white, then divide your remaining frosting into two portions, with one portion much smaller than the other for your leaves. Tint the remaining white frosting yellow; I tinted my frosting using the same base color of yellow for the peach and salmon-colored flowers.

Fit a piping bag with a coupler and a plain tip; affix a parchment square to your flower nail with just a bit of frosting. Pipe a cone shape into the center of the nail, then switch tips to your Wilton 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. When you’ve reached your desired size, slide the parchment off the nail and place it on a baking sheet. Once all of your flowers are piped, chill them until they’re firm.

To tint my frosting, I used the following color ratios:

Pale yellow – 2 drops yellow liquid food coloring

Peach – 1 drop red and 3 drops yellow liquid food coloring into the existing yellow

Salmon – 1 drop pink gel food coloring into the existing peach

Once the flowers are firm, place them on the cake in your desired arrangement; I also used a bit of buttercream to stick them to the surface of the cake. Tint the remainder of your frosting green; using the Wilton 352 leaf tip, pipe leaves next to your flowers.

Store at room temperature in an airtight cake caddy or cake stand for 2-3 days.

Makes about 10 servings.

Orange Crush Cupcakes

Now and then my Facebook feed lights up with recipes people want me to bake. This week my dear friend Stefanie tagged me in a post for orange creamsicle cupcakes with Orange Crush buttercream; Mike jumped on the bandwagon, and there I was yesterday, whipping up said cupcakes in my kitchen.

Granted, my recipe is different than the one in the post that Stef shared, which used a box mix and orange Jell-O for the cupcakes. I adapted a tried-and-true cupcake recipe to include fiori di Sicilia, a wonderful extract that tastes like vanilla and citrus, then whipped up a buttercream using – you guessed it – Orange Crush pop. The end result is a delicious orange cream cupcake, more intense in flavor than the orange cream cupcakes I’ve made in the past. Thanks for the idea, Stef!

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
  • 1/2 plus 1/8 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon fiori di Sicilia, to taste (this is powerful extract!)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk

For the frosting

  • 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Orange Crush
  • 1/4 teaspoon fiori di Sicilia
  • 1/4 teaspoon orange extract
  • Orange food coloring

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake tin with paper liners; my recipe made 7 cupcakes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

Place egg in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar and continue to beat for another 30 seconds. Add vanilla and canola oil and beat on medium speed for 1 minute.

Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternatively in three batches, beginning and ending with the flour, scraping the sides of the bowl frequently. Batter will be very thin.

Using a quarter-cup measuring cup, scoop batter into prepared regular-sized cupcake liners, filling half full.

Bake for 13-16 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack before frosting.

To make the frosting, in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed for 1 minute. Add powdered sugar all at once and beat on low speed until all the sugar is incorporated into the butter. Add Orange Crush, fiori di Sicilia, and orange extract and beat for 2-3 minutes, until frosting is very light and fluffy. Add enough orange food coloring to reach your desired shade.

Fit a piping bag with a large star tip and pipe generous swirls of frosting onto each cupcake.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days.

Makes 7.

Peanut Butter Caramel Cupcakes

Mike works as a patient advocate at the VA hospital here in Pittsburgh. You’d expect him to have a social work background, but you’d be mistaken – he actually worked in public affairs for most of his career and handled a lot of congressional inquiries in his first few years there before transitioning into advocacy. Right now, he’s on the front lines of the corona virus, screening each employee and patient who comes through the VA’s doors.

One of Mike’s good friends at work is the VA’s director of infection prevention, Dr. Brooke Decker. The world really needs her right now, so I figured she could use some cupcakes. These peanut butter caramel treats incorporate two of her favorite flavors, and I’m happy to say she loved them. I’m really grateful to her, to Mike, and to all of the health care professionals who are working through this unprecedented and surreal experience. Stay safe, everyone.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk

For the frosting

  • 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup peanut butter, to taste
  • 5 vanilla caramels, unwrapped, slightly flattened, and cut in half diagonally

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line cupcake tin with paper liners; this recipe yields 10 cupcakes.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar until very light and fluffy. Add egg and beat to combine, scraping down your bowl, then add vanilla and beat to combine.

Add flour mixture and buttermilk in alternate batches, starting and ending with the flour and scraping the sides of the bowl frequently. Batter will be kind of fluffy.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, scoop batter into prepared pans, filling about half-full.

Bake for 16-20 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. My cupcakes were done around 17 minutes.

Remove from oven and remove cupcakes from tin; cool on a wire rack completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, place butter in a mixing bowl and beat with the paddle attachment for 1-2 minutes. Add powdered sugar all at once and beat on low speed until all the sugar is incorporated into the butter; this takes a few minutes. Add vanilla and 1 tablespoon heavy cream and beat well to combine. Add 1/2 cup of peanut butter and beat to fully combine; taste and add additional peanut butter if you’d like; my recipe had about 3/4 cup in it because I wanted a really peanut buttery flavor.

Fit a large piping bag with a large star tip (like the Wilton M1) and pipe generous blobs of frosting onto the top of each cupcake; rather than swirling my piping bag, I just held it above each cupcake and piped a generous portion in the middle of the cupcake, allowing it to fill out nearly to the edges. Place a caramel wedge in the center.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days; caramels will start to soften and get sticky, but that’s okay.

Makes 10.

 

Irish Coffee Cupcakes

St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, and what better way to celebrate than with some Irish coffee cupcakes? These treats are an easy adaptation of my mocha cupcakes and feature Bailey’s Irish Cream in both the cupcake and frosting. The recipe conveniently uses three tablespoons of Bailey’s total – the exact amount in a miniature bottle that you can find at your local state store.

What’s a state store, you non-residents of Pennsylvania may ask? Here in the commonwealth all liquor stores are state-run, and therefore called state stores. Beer, however, comes from a different shop known as a beer distributor, where you can buy six packs or cases. Some restaurants and grocery stores can sell six packs to go, too. What can I say? Apparently Pennsylvanians took Prohibition pretty seriously, and we’ve never quite caught up with the rest of the country…not that you’d be able to tell that on St. Patrick’s Day. Happy (and safe) celebrating!

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1/2 cup coffee, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon Bailey’s Irish Cream
  • 1 1/3 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature

For the frosting

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons Bailey’s Irish Cream

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners; my recipe yielded 20 cupcakes.

In a medium-sized glass measuring cup, whisk together coffee and espresso powder until the powder is completely dissolved. Add milk, vanilla, and Bailey’s and stir to combine, then set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and mix to combine, scraping down your bowl at least once. Add flour mixture and coffee/milk mixture in alternate batches, starting and ending with the flour and mixing just to combine between each. Stir with a spatula to ensure that all the flour mixture is incorporated.

Using a two-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of batter into the cupcake wells, filling each about two-thirds full. Bake for 17-20 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven, then remove cupcakes from tin and cool completely on a wire rack.

To make the frosting, combine espresso powder, vanilla extract, and Bailey’s in a small bowl and stir to completely dissolve the espresso powder. Beat butter on medium speed for about 2 minutes, then add powdered sugar all at once and beat until the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter. Add espresso mixture and beat 2-3 minutes until completely combined; you’ll want to scrape your bowl a few times in the process.

Fit a large piping bag with a Wilton M1 tip and pipe swirls of frosting on each cupcake. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days.

Makes 20.

Poppy Seed Cake

I love retro things, and this poppy seed cake could not look more retro. Perched under the dome of my glass cake stand, it reminds me of something you’d see on the counter of a diner where waitresses dress in aqua-colored uniforms, coffee is fifty cents a cup, and regulars know each other by name.

Adapted from a recipe I found at Taste of Home, which apparently won grand champion at the North Dakota state fair, this cake has amazing texture and absolutely delicious flavor. It’s almost like a moist pound cake, but not as heavy as a pound cake, and flavor-wise the combination of vanilla, almond, and butter extracts is one I’ve never used before but definitely will again. And because it uses oil instead of butter, this cake is incredibly easy to make, requiring only that you mix the ingredients together with a whisk and spoon. It’s one I’ll make many more times in the future.

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon butter extract
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds

For the icing

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon butter extract
  • 3-4 teaspoons orange juice

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt tin.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In another large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, vegetable oil, and extracts. Stir in flour in three batches, mixing to combine completely, then stir in poppy seeds.

Pour batter into prepared tin and bake for 50-60 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in tin for about 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, combine powdered sugar, vanilla extract, almond extract, butter extract, and 2 teaspoons orange juice; add enough additional juice to make a thick but pourable icing. Pour over cake and allow to drip down the sides. Allow icing to set before serving.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for several days; this cake stays moist much longer than I expected.