Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Cream Filling

Today’s snickerdoodle sandwich cookies left me with about a cup and a half of vanilla cream filling, and I could think of nothing better to do with it than to pipe it into some dark chocolate cupcakes, Hostess-style. You remember the Hostess cupcake…dark chocolate cake, fluffy filling, waxy (in a good way) chocolate icing and that signature white loopy swirl. I actually preferred the orange version to the chocolate version, but both were quite a treat.

These cupcakes are a take on the classic store-bought version, minus the white loopy swirl (though I really want to do that next time). Mike proclaimed them better than the Hostess version, without intending any offense to the fine folks of Hostess, of course.

Ingredients

Preparation

Bake cupcakes and allow to cool completely before filling and frosting. Make filling; reserve leftover portion for another use.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4 inch plain tip with about 1 1/2 cups filling. Insert the tip into each cupcake, piping in filling until the top of the cupcake starts to puff up.

Prepare icing; using a teaspoon from your flatware, scoop about 1 teaspoon of filling onto each cupcake and quickly frost with a small offset spatula.

Store cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. Makes 15.

 

What to Do with Leftover Filling

Sometimes, you’ll have leftover filling from cookies or cakes. What should you do with your filling? In some cases – like that of lemon curd or dulce de leche – you can just eat it with a spoon. But what if your filling needs to be baked, or would be better put to use in another treat? As a super-thrifty baker, I always advocate repurposing your filling so you don’t waste ingredients or money, and I found one very simple way to do so.

Yesterday I made a big batch of pecan rugelach and had about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of pecan filling left over (I didn’t measure it exactly). I decided to bake it into what I call crescent cupcakes, which are based on the Easy King Cake Cupcakes I made for Mardi Gras and are very easy to assemble. You may need more tubes of crescent rolls depending on how much filling you have left, but you can always bake any unused rolls as you would normally and serve them with dinner.

Ingredients

  • 1 regular-sized tube PillsburyTM crescent rolls
  • Leftover filling (I had about 1/3 to 1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon water

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place 4 cupcake liners into a cupcake pan.

Unroll the tube of crescent rolls and divide the roll into four rectangles. Press the perforated edges together to seal.

Divide your filling evenly between all four rectangles, leaving a border around the edges.Fold the top of the rectangle down toward the middle, then fold the bottom of the rectangle toward the middle, letting the dough overlap. Fold the right side in toward the middle, then the left side.

Place rolls spiral-side up in cupcake wells and bake for 18-22 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove from cupcake tin and cool completely before glazing.

To make glaze, combine powdered sugar and cinnamon (or whatever spice you like) in a small bowl. Add water 1/4 teaspoon at a time to reach a thick glazing consistency; you don’t want the glaze to drip down the sides. Glaze each treat and allow glaze to set before serving, or serve warm if you prefer.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days; after that, they get stale.

Makes 4.

King Cake Cupcakes (Easy Version)

king-cake-cupcakesEvery year before Mardi Gras, I think: this year, I’ll make a king cake. If you’re not familiar with the king cake, it’s a traditional treat associated with Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, the day before the somber, reflective season of Lent begins. King cake involves brioche and a filling of some kind, and because I do so little work with yeast, I always decide to forego the king cake for another year.

This year, I went an easy, semi-homemade route for these king cake cupcakes. They’re adapted from a recipe that I found at Crave. Indulge. Satisfy., and I would definitely do a few things differently next time, like waiting for them to cool completely before glazing them with icing, and greasing my cupcake tins instead of using paper liners (because warm cupcakes + glaze icing + paper liners = a gooey mess). The recipe below is written how I’d recommend you bake it, based on my trials last night. To me, they taste like a delicious Pillsbury treat (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but if you’re going for a more traditional king cake flavor, you’ll want to bake the real thing.

Ingredients

  • 6 tubes PillsburyTM crescent rolls
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • Purple, yellow, and green sugar sprinkles

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 12-count cupcake tins.

In a medium bowl, stir together brown sugar, cinnamon, and pecans; set aside.

Unroll one tube of crescent rolls at a time and divide the rolls into four rectangles. Press the perforated edges together to seal.

Place 2 tablespoons of filling down the center of each rectangle, leaving a border around the edges. Fold the top of the rectangle down toward the middle, then fold the bottom of the rectangle toward the middle, letting the dough overlap. Fold the right side in toward the middle, then the left side.

Place rolls spiral-side up in cupcake wells and bake for 18-22 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove from oven and allow to cool in pans, then remove to wire racks.

Once cupcakes are cool, make glaze; combine powdered sugar and milk in a medium bowl and mix until completely smooth.

Working with about 3 cupcakes at a time, pour glaze over cupcakes and sprinkle with purple, yellow, and green sugar. If you try to glaze all of the cupcakes at once, the glaze will harden before you can get the sprinkles on. Continue glazing and sprinkling until all of your cupcakes are done.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. Makes 24.

Chesapeake Bay Cake

chesapeake-bay-cake-1Mike turned 40 yesterday, and I threw him a Maryland-themed birthday party, complete with this Chesapeake Bay-inspired cake. Funny difference between Marylanders and Pennsylvanians: most Marylanders have an abundant amount of state pride, while Pennsylvanians seem to be prouder of their local connections. I, for example, am a Pittsburgher first and a Pennsylvanian second. Not so in the Old Line State, where folks fly the Maryland flag outside their homes right alongside the American flag. Mike would probably do that here if I’d let him (which I won’t).

I’m not much of a decorator, so I went with a simple design for this cake. The crab outline came from my crab cookie cutter, and I used a leaf tip to pipe seaweed, a plain tip to pipe sand, then added some flower-shaped sprinkles for shells, rocks, and starfish (as seen in the photo below – I decided after I took the photo above that it needed just a few more fun details). This cake was a big hit at his party last night, along with my steamed crab cookies.

Ingredients

Dark Chocolate Cake

  • 3 cups flour
  • 6 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cups water

Vanilla Almond Buttercream

  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (2 1/2 sticks), at room temperature
  • 4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon milk
  • Blue, green, and brown food coloring
  • Miniature chocolate chips for crab eyes
  • Flower-shaped sprinkles for shells, rocks, and starfish

Preparation

For the cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 8-inch round cake pans with baking spray. Line the bottom of each pan with a circle of parchment, and spray a second time.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Make three wells; place vinegar in one, vanilla in the second, and vegetable oil in the third. Add water and stir very well to combine; the batter will bubble up just slightly as the ingredients come together. Your batter will be fairly thin, but should be mostly lump-free.

Divide batter evenly between the pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Be careful not to over-bake; the sides of these cakes set up pretty quickly and can burn if you let them go too long.

Remove cakes from oven and carefully run a knife around each edge to loosen them from their pans if they’ve stuck at all. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes in the pans, then carefully flip out onto wire racks (removing the parchment for each cake bottom) to cool completely.

For the frosting

Place butter in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1-2 minutes. Add powdered sugar all at once and beat on low until the sugar is completely incorporated into the butter (this will take several minutes).

Scrape down the bowl, then add vanilla, almond extract, and milk and beat for 3 minutes on medium speed, scraping the sides of the bowl a few times.

To decorate:

Reserve about 1 1/2 cups frosting in a small bowl, then tint the remaining frosting light blue.

Remove about 1/4 cup of light blue frosting and tint dark blue for the crab.

Divide the remaining frosting in half and tint one portion green and the other portion a light sand color.

Flip one cake upside-down onto your cake plate; spread a medium-thin layer of frosting on top. Carefully place your second cake on top of the first layer and frost the top, then the sides.

Using a crab cookie cutter, make an indentation in the top of the cake so you have an outline; remove the cutter.

Fit a small piping bag with a small plain tip and fill with dark blue frosting, then pipe the outline of the crab. Switch to a larger tip to fill in the crab body, then use a small offset spatula to smooth out your piping. Add miniature chocolate chip eyes.

Fit a medium piping bag with a leaf tip and fill with green frosting. Pipe seaweed up from the bottom of your cake.

Fit a medium piping bag with a large plain tip and fill with sand-colored frosting. Pipe sand along the base of the cake, covering the bottoms of your seaweed.

Add flower sprinkles for shells, rocks, and starfish; I used white, blue, and orange sprinkles.

Store on a domed cake stand for up to 3 days.

chesapeake-bay-cake-2Here’s a photo of the cake with the flower sprinkle additions – I’m very glad I added them, as the cake looked a bit too plain otherwise. 

 

 

Almond Cake for Date Night – Serves Two

almond-cake-for-date-nightMike and I will celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary this year. We married one week after graduating college – because, why wait? – and are now those boring married people whose “date night” means a Saturday night catching up on the TV shows we’ve recorded during the week.

For last night’s date night, I whipped up this adorable little almond cake. It’s perfect for two, yielding two slices of cake for each of us. The icing is just an almond glaze, topped with sugar-toasted almonds, which are much easier to make then they may sound. Next time, I may slice the cake in half and add some pastry cream or raspberry filling between the layers.

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • dash of salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 tablespoons milk

For the toasted almonds

  • 6 tablespoons sliced almonds
  • 1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon water

For the almond glaze

  • About 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 tablespoon water

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a 6-inch round cake pan with baking spray, line it with a parchment circle, and spray the parchment.

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

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until very well-blended. Add egg, vanilla, and almond extract and beat until combined.

Add flour and milk alternatively in two batches, beginning and ending with the flour and beating until completely combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 18-22 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow cake to cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then carefully turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

While your cake cools, prepare your toasted almonds. Place almonds in a small bowl and add sugar and water, mixing well to coat. Place in a saute pan over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5-7 minutes until almonds start to turn a light golden brown. Almonds will start out looking wet and will appear dry when they are almost done. Remove from heat and pour onto a plate to cool completely before using.

Once your cake and almonds are cool, make your almond glaze. Place powdered sugar in a small bowl and add almond extract and water, stirring until smooth. You want a thick glaze consistency, so you may need to add a bit more powdered sugar to thicken it. Pour glaze over cake and top with toasted almonds.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. Makes 4 servings.

 

 

Heart Month Cupcakes

heart-month-cupcakesIt’s American Heart Month! As some of you know, I manage heart and vascular marketing for a medical center in Pittsburgh, and Heart Month is a big deal. We have events all throughout February that encourage people to get heart screenings so they can learn about heart disease risks. My cube is decked out with heart decorations, and I’m featuring daily heart tips on my dry erase board all month long.

Okay, so maybe it’s a little strange that the heart marketing gal is also the office baker. While cupcakes could never be construed as heart-healthy, being baked with butter, sugar, and eggs, they do make people happy. And happiness is an important part of heart health, so…you be the judge. These cupcakes make a large batch of 30, so they’d also be great for a Valentine’s Day party.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 10 2/3 tablespoons butter, slightly softened
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups milk

For the frosting

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 tablespoon almond extract
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons milk
  • Wilton Fill Your Heart sprinkles*

*I found these sprinkles at Joann; craft stores are always a great source of holiday-themed baking supplies. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line three cupcake tins with paper liners; if you don’t have three, just let one of your tins cool down after baking one of your batches before you do your last batch.

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

In a mixing bowl, beat butter on medium speed for one minute. Add sugar and vanilla and beat until well combined.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating for one minute after each.

Add flour mixture and milk alternatively, beating until combined.

Using a two-inch cookie scoop, scoop batter into prepared muffin cups, filling about half-full.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack before frosting.

To make the frosting, place butter in a mixing bowl and beat for a few minutes using the paddle attachment.

Add 3 cups powdered sugar.  With your mixer on low, beat until all of the sugar is incorporated into the butter. This will take a few minutes, and I find that placing a kitchen towel over the mixer during this stage prevents a powdered sugar blizzard.

Once all of the sugar is incorporated, scrape down your bowl and beat on medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes.

Add vanilla extract, almond extract, and 1 tablespoon milk and beat on medium for another 2 minutes.

Scrape down your bowl, then add the remaining half-cup of powdered sugar and half-tablespoon milk, beating for another 1-2 minutes until completely combined.

Fit a 14-inch piping bag with a Wilton M1 tip and pipe swirls of frosting onto each cupake; you’ll have enough for all 30 cupcakes as long as you don’t go too overboard with your portions.

Sprinkle each cupcake with Wilton Fill Your Heart sprinkles (or other heart-shaped sprinkles). Note: I don’t recommend dipping the cupcakes in the sprinkles, as this will result it sprinkle overload. Because these sprinkles are so large, it’s best to literally sprinkle them onto each cupcake.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days.

Makes 30.

 

Small Batch Cupcakes – Makes 6

small-batch-cupcakesSometimes you just want a small batch of cupcakes. Maybe you’re having a few friends over for dinner, or making a special meal for yourself and your partner. Even a single 8-inch round layer cake can be too much, but cutting recipes down further – especially when eggs are involved – can be a challenge.

This recipe is adapted from one I found at The Baking Fairy, which was designed for wedding cake tastings. Once you have your batter base, you could very easily flavor it many different ways, using vanilla, almond, citrus, and so forth. I chose fiori di sicilia, a delightful vanilla/citrus extract often used in Italian baked goods like panettone, and paired it with a vanilla almond buttercream. The end result is absolutely delicious, sort of like a creamsicle but with more depth of flavor.

Note: the original recipe was said to yield 4 cupcakes, but mine yielded 6.

Small Batch Cupcakes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • dash of salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 drops fiori di sicilia*
  • 3 tablespoons milk

*Yes, I use a medicine dropper for this, because it’s a very powerful flavor. If you don’t have a dropper and want to use fiori di sicilia, use about 1/8 teaspoon. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake tin with 6 paper liners.

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

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until very well-blended. Add egg, vanilla, and fiori di sicilia and beat until combined.

Add flour and milk alternatively in two batches, beginning and ending with the flour and beating until completely combined.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of batter into each cupcake well.

Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and immediately place cupcakes on a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

Small Batch Buttercream

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons milk

Preparation

In a mixing bowl, beat butter on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until light and fluffy.

Add powdered sugar all at once, then beat on low speed until all of the sugar is incorporated into the butter; this will take a few minutes, and you’ll need to scrape the bowl a few times to get all of the sugar to incorporate properly, since you’re working with such a small batch. Once sugar is incorporated, beat on medium speed for 2-3 minutes.

Add vanilla extract, almond extract, and milk, then beat for another 1-2 minutes.

Frost cupcakes using a small offset spatula; you should have just enough for a generous portion on each, with a little bit left over.

Store cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.