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.
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
- 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)
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.