Buttery Brown Sugar Cupcakes

No offense to buttercream, but sometimes you just want a different type of frosting. Enter browned butter frosting, a cousin of buttercream that is absolutely delicious, and quite easy to make.

Browned butter frosting starts to harden quickly after it’s made, so in truth it’s better suited for a cake or bars, where you can pour it on, spread it out, and allow it to set. Still, it made an excellent pair with my brown sugar cupcakes, creating a buttery, almost caramel-like flavor. Both the frosting and cupcakes are very easy to make; they would also be delicious sprinkled with some toasted pecans.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 2/3 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For the frosting

  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cupcake tins with paper liners; this recipe made 22 cupcakes for me.

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

In a large bowl, combine brown sugar and melted butter, whisking until no lumps remain. Whisk in egg, sour cream, milk, and vanilla until smooth. Slowly whisk in flour mixture until batter is completely smooth; it will be fairly thick.

Using a two-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of batter into prepared cupcake pans, filling about half-full.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and remove from pans immediately; cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, melt butter in a small saucepan until light golden brown; this will take a few minutes, and you’ll want to swish the butter in the pan every so often, then use a whisk to get the browning bits off of the sides and bottom. Remove from heat.

In a mixing bowl, combine powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons milk, vanilla, and browned butter. Beat on medium speed for 1-2 minutes, then check your consistency; if necessary, add more milk, about 1/2 teaspoon at a time, to reach a spreadable consistency.

Working quickly, frost your cupcakes using a small offset spatula. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. 

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.

Strawberry Lime Cupcakes

It’s June, and June means summer. Even if summer doesn’t technically start for a few weeks, I feel like it’s time to bake with summer flavors, like strawberry. I bought a ton of berries during my last grocery trip – berries are one of my favorite things – and decided to make a puree from some of the strawberries. While strawberry and lemon pair very well, I’d never made a strawberry lime combination, so I decided to give it a try.

These cupcakes use both lime extract and lime zest, but if you didn’t have extract you could just use a bit more zest. They have a lovely, almost pound cake-like texture that pairs well with a smooth buttercream. While lime is the dominant flavor in these treats, the strawberry brings a nice amount of sweetness; next time, I might use a bit less zest or omit the extract in the cupcakes so the flavor is more balanced. They’re still delicious, though, so I consider them a win.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon lime extract
  • Zest of half a lime
  • 1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons cake flour
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes, at room temperature
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature

For the strawberry buttercream

  • 10 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup strawberry puree
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cupcake pans with paper liners; this recipe made 21 cupcakes.

Combine milk, vanilla extract, and lime extract; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine cake flour, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, then reduce mixer speed to low and add butter a few cubes at a time. Continue to beat for about 2 minutes, until the mixture looks like coarse sand.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well between each. With the mixer running on low, slowly pour in the milk mixture and add the lime zest. Return to medium speed and continue to beat for 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl well; the batter will become almost fluffy.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of batter into prepared cupcake pans, filling about 1/2 to 2/3 full.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from pans immediately and cool completely on a wire rack before filling and frosting.

For the frosting, in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and vanilla extract on low speed until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add first three cups of powdered sugar in half-cup increments, beating until fully incorporated.

Slowly add strawberry puree, mixing until completely incorporated, about 1-2 minutes, scraping your bowl well. If your mixture is too thin, slowly add more powdered sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time, until you reach a consistency that will be easy to pipe.

Fit a piping bag with a large star tip (I use the Wilton M1) and pipe swirls of frosting onto each cupcake; my recipe made exactly enough for all 21 cupcakes, which is kind of amazing, because that never happens.

Store in an airtight container at a cool room temperature or in the fridge for 1-2 days.

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.

Double Citrus Cupcakes with Italian Meringue Buttercream

How many types of buttercream are there? Several, as it turns out. American buttercream, with which I have the most experience, is a blend of butter, powdered sugar, and flavorings that yields a smooth and sweet frosting. But there are a few other types out there, and most of them involve meringue. Today, I tried Italian meringue buttercream for the first time, as I had some leftover egg whites from another recipe this week, and I wanted a challenge.

Italian meringue buttercream is frosting that requires you to pour hot syrup down the side of the mixing bowl while whisking egg whites, then whisk the mixture until it’s cool. After that, you switch from the whisk to the paddle attachment and beat in butter one chunk at a time, then continue beating for a while until all the butter is incorporated and you have a silky and yet also fluffy frosting. I read a few blog articles and watched a video at Preppy Kitchen before making mine, and it turned out really well. I’d recommend doing the same; there are some pitfalls with this frosting, and it’s really helpful to know how to navigate them. My recipe below is based on Preppy Kitchen’s recipe, but includes citrus extracts. It’s a mellow frosting that isn’t too sweet, and has a lovely smooth texture.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • 3/4 cup milk

For the Italian meringue buttercream

  • 4 egg whites, at room temperature
  • About 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar*
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 1-tablespoon chunks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons lemon extract
  • 2 teaspoons lime extract
  • 1-2 drops of yellow and green food coloring

*I followed the Preppy Kitchen blogger John’s recommendation of using three shakes of cream of tartar into my egg whites. Just open your container of cream of tartar and give it three quick shakes over the whites. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two cupcake tins with paper liners; this recipe yields 17 cupcakes.

In a small bowl, combine flour and baking powder; set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream together sugar, shortening, and salt until fluffy. Add egg, vanilla, and citrus zest; beat until combined. Add flour mixture and milk in alternating batches, starting and ending with the flour and beating until just combined.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of batter into the cupcake wells, filling them about half-full. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and remove from tins; allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

To make the Italian meringue buttercream, begin by ensuring that your mixing bowl is clean and fat-residue-free; some people rub a lemon on the surface of the bowl then wipe it out with a paper towel, but I just washed mine well after making the cupcake batter. I also placed my mixer next to my stove for this recipe so I could keep an eye on my egg whites and my syrup at the same time.

Place eggs, cream of tartar, and salt in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and mix on low, then medium speed; slowly drizzle in 1/3 cup sugar while whisking. Be careful, as you only need to get your egg whites to soft peaks for the next step – I started my syrup when my egg whites still looked foamy.

While the eggs whisk, place remaining 1 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water in a medium saucepan. Place over medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves and turns clear; once this happens, stop stirring. Carefully clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and bring the mixture to a boil without stirring, heating to 235 degrees (also known as soft-ball stage).

Meanwhile, keep an eye on your egg whites and stop whisking when they’ve reached soft peaks. You can turn off your mixer while you want for the syrup to reach 235 degrees.

Once the syrup is ready, turn your mixer on to low speed and carefully and slowly pour the syrup into your egg whites down the side of the bowl; just aim for the space between the side and the whisk, rather than directly into the whisk itself, so you don’t splash dangerously hot syrup onto yourself.

Once all syrup is added, continue whisking on medium speed until the mixture cools to room temperature; just keep the mixer going and feel the side of the bowl with your hands. Cooling the meringue takes about 15 minutes, depending on how warm your kitchen is. Some people use ice or bags of frozen veggies to help their meringue along, but I just let mine whisk until it was cool.

Once the meringue is cool it will be very smooth, silky, and shiny; remove the whisk attachment and replace with the paddle. Beating on medium speed, slowly add one chunk of butter at a time until the entire pound of butter is incorporated, scraping the sides of your bowl after each stick of butter is added. Your mixture may get runny at first, then start to look curdled, but that’s okay – just keep mixing. Just after you’ve added your last chunk of butter, add extracts and continue to beat for a few minutes more, then add your food coloring and beat to combine for a pale green shade.

The end result of your frosting will look both fluffy at the edges of your bowl, but silky as you run your spatula through it. This sounds really strange, but it’s the best I can do to explain – trust me, you’ll know when it’s done.

Fit a piping bag with a large star tip and fill with frosting; pipe generous swirls onto each cupcake. Store leftover Italian meringue buttercream in a zip-top bag in the freezer for up to 2 months.

Makes 17 cupcakes and enough frosting for at least 2 1/2 dozen cupcakes. Store frosted cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Chilling Italian meringue will cause the butter to start to appear clumpy in the finished frosting, so I don’t recommend chilling these cupcakes.

Mocha Cupcakes

Sometimes I wonder who came up with different flavor combinations, like coffee and chocolate. Although I live a caffeine- and chocolate-free life, mocha is still a delicious flavor, and it’s really nice to bake with for the heavenly aroma that floats around my kitchen. Mocha also reminds me of tiramisu, my absolute favorite dessert, which I still eat despite its migraine risk. I figure that a tiramisu-triggered migraine would be totally worth it…but fortunately, I haven’t had one from it. Fingers crossed that this remains true for the rest of my life.

These mocha cupcakes are adapted from a recipe I found at Brown Eyed Baker, another Pittsburgh-based baking blog. Although I didn’t have whole milk, which the original recipe required, I used an interesting combination of 7/8 skim to 1/8 heavy cream. I added heavy cream to the frosting as well, along with more espresso powder than the original recipe…and let me tell you, it is crazy delicious. I could actually see it as a nice complement to plain chocolate cupcakes, or even the right vanilla cupcake. These treats were very well-received at work this week.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1/2 cup coffee, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder
  • 1/2 cup milk*
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 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

*As noted above, the original recipe calls for whole milk, but I only had skim and heavy cream on hand, which I used in a 7/8 skim, 1/8 heavy cream ratio.

For the frosting

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons heavy cream

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners; my recipe yielded 18 cupcakes.

In a medium-sized glass measuring cup, whisk together coffee and espresso powder until the powder is completely dissolved. Add milk and vanilla 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 heavy cream 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.

Maple Pumpkin Cupcakes

While scrolling through Pinterest a few weeks ago, I found adorable cupcakes frosted to look like pies. What better time to bake such a treat than the start of Thanksgiving week? I’ll bake actual pies on Wednesday (apple and pumpkin, an annual tradition), but Mike will take these treats to work with him tomorrow.

I’ve gone for a maple pumpkin flavor profile in these treats, and truth be told, the flavors could be stronger. A little more spice in the cupcakes, perhaps a dash of maple extract along with the syrup in the buttercream, and we’ll be in business. They still taste great and have a lovely texture, but right now they’re more of a spice cupcake with a hint of maple than the bolder flavors I’d planned. That’s the beauty of baking, though; there’s always a next time.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

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

For the frosting

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 plus 2-3 teaspoons pure maple syrup
  • 3-4 teaspoons milk
  • Brown, orange, red, and golden yellow gel food coloring

*If you don’t have pumpkin spice, you can make your own. Combine 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoons each of ginger and allspice, and 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg; this will yield 2 1/4 teaspoons of spice. I make my own blend and keep it in a small jar year-round. 

Preparation

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

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin spice.

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 3/4 full.

Bake for 22-25 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, in a mixing bowl, beat butter on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and add the powdered sugar, all at once, then beat on low speed until the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter; this will take several minutes.

Add salt, vanilla, and maple syrup, then beat on medium speed for about 3-4 minutes, until very light and fluffy, scraping the sides of the bowl very well at least a few times.

Divide frosting into portions for orange, brown, and white; you’ll need just a small amount of white (about 1/4 cup) and about equal portions of orange and brown. To make orange, combine orange food coloring with brown and golden yellow, then add a few drops of red and stir, adding more color to reach your desired shade if necessary. To make brown, combine brown food coloring with golden yellow and stir, adding more color to reach your desired shade if necessary.

Fit a piping bag with a large plain tip and fill with orange frosting; pipe into cupcakes and smooth the surface so it’s flat (or just frost with an offset spatula).

I used several different frosting tips for my pie crust details, including a petal tip, a leaf tip, and a star tip. I think I liked the leaf tip best. Fit a piping bag with the tip of your choice fill with brown frosting; pipe around the edge of each cupcake to make the crust detail.

Fit a small piping bag with a star tip and fill with white frosting; pipe a blob in the center of each cupcake to look like whipped cream.

Store cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Note: my orange frosting started to look mottled the day after these were baked, but it still tasted delicious. Makes 14.