Strawberry Vanilla Cupcakes

Filled cupcakes became a big deal a few years back, but as I’ve mentioned on this blog before, my grandma Zella made filled cupcakes back in the ’80s and ’90s. Long before shows like Cupcake Wars appeared on television, Zella scooped out her cupcake centers and filled them with lemon curd, pudding, and pie fillings. I think this strawberry vanilla cupcake would have made her proud.

If you’re using a fruit or pudding-like filling, you’ll want a sturdier cupcake so that a) the cupcake doesn’t fall apart when you take a bite and b) the filling doesn’t get too absorbed into the cake. These cupcakes are on the drier side, more like a pound cake and able to hold the strawberry filling very well. When paired with a fresh strawberry buttercream, the flavor combination is a delightfully summery treat. I recommend making your filling first and allowing it to cool completely before you bake your cupcakes and make your frosting to save time during assembly.

Strawberry Filling

Ingredients

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces strawberries, pureed
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 4 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons water

Preparation

In a medium saucepan, stir together strawberry puree, powdered sugar, cornstarch, and water. Cook over medium heat until the mixture boils, then allow it to boil for 1 minute, stirring well, until the mixture thickens.

Remove from heat and press through a fine sieve to filter out the seeds – this will take a few minutes, but is absolutely worth it. Allow to cool at room temperature before using; makes about 1 cup.

Old-Fashioned Vanilla Cupcakes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 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

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350. Line two cupcake pans with paper liners.

Combine milk and vanilla 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 vanilla milk mixture.

Return to medium speed and continue to beat for 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl well.

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

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from pans immediately and cool completely on a wire rack before filling and frosting.

Fresh Strawberry Buttercream

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 to 3 cups powdered sugar
  • Scant ¼ cup strawberry puree

Preparation

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 powdered sugar, in half-cup increments, beating until fully incorporated.

Slowly add strawberry puree, mixing until completely incorporated, about 1-2 minutes. 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.

To assemble your cupcakes:

Use a melon baller to scoop out a small amount of cake from the center of each cupcake.

Using a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip, pipe strawberry filling into each cupcake.

Fit a large pastry bag with a Wilton M1 tip and pipe generous swirls of frosting onto the top of each cupcake. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, but bring to room temperature before serving.

Makes 24 cupcakes.

Here’s a photo of the inside! 

Almond Raspberry Cupcakes

Baking requires instincts, and I should know by now not to ignore mine. Usually when I fill cupcakes with a custard or fruit filling, I scoop out the centers with a melon baller and pipe the filling into the divot, yielding a nice filling-to-cupcake ratio. For cream fillings, I place the filling in a piping bag and injecting it into the cupcake, because cream fillings are heavy enough to push the cake out a bit and yield the same nice filling-to-cupcake ratio.

Because I wanted to save a bit of time, I decided to use the injection method with my raspberry filling in these cupcakes. After I’d frosted them and tried one (because what kind of baker doesn’t engage in quality control?) I realized that the injection method had failed me: my cupcake had a sad little tunnel of filling, not nearly enough for a good flavor or texture balance. I wondered for a moment if I should drizzle the tops with raspberry jam to ramp up the flavor, then decided to use the leftover raspberry filling for drizzling. Another mistake. It looked ridiculous, far too thick and amateurish.

Eager to maintain my baking cred at the office, I carefully scraped the filling off the tops and replaced it with some raspberry jam to cover the gashes in the frosting. My colleagues enjoyed them very much, but I’ve learned my lesson: my instincts are important, and the next time I get the idea not to follow them, I’ll remember these cupcakes.

Ingredients

For the almond cupcakes

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

For the raspberry filling

  • 6 ounces fresh raspberries, mashed
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon water

For the almond frosting and raspberry jam drizzle

  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon almond extract
  • Red food coloring
  • About 1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-count cupcake tin with 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 eggs, vanilla extract, and almond extract and beat until combined; scrape down the sides of your bowl a few times during this step.

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, scoop batter into cupcake wells, dividing evenly and filling about 2/3 to 3/4 full.

Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and remove cupcakes from the tin; cool completely on a wire rack before filling and frosting.

While the cupcakes bake, make your filling. Stir together raspberries, powdered sugar, cornstarch, and water in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the mixture boils, then allow it to boil for 1-2 minutes, stirring well, until the mixture thickens.

Remove from heat and press through a fine sieve to filter out the seeds. Allow to cool before using; makes about 1/2 cup.

Once both the filling and cupcakes are cool, use a melon baller to scoop out a small amount of cake from the center and pipe or spoon filling into each.

For the frosting, place butter in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1-2 minutes.

Scrape down the bowl and add powdered sugar all at once, beating on low speed until the sugar is completely incorporated into the butter; this will take a few minutes. Continue beating on medium-high speed for 2 minutes.

Add vanilla extract and almond extract, then beat on medium-high for another 2-3 minutes. Add a few drops of red food coloring to tint a light pink.

Fit a large piping bag with a Wilton 1M tip and pipe frosting in swirls on the tops of each cupcake.

Stir raspberry jam to make it smooth, then fit a small piping bag with a small plain tip and twist the bottom of the bag near the tip so the jam won’t run out when you pour it in. Untwist the bag and pipe jam over the tops of the cupcakes.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator but bring to room temperature before serving.

Patriotic Cupcakes

Happy Independence Day, Americans! I haven’t done a lot of red, white, and blue baking, so this year I thought I’d whip up some patriotic cupcakes and practice my frosting tinting and piping skills while I was at it. I also experimented with a new buttercream, based on a Wilton recipe that uses both butter and shortening. I’m pleased to say it turned out very well!

Tint-wise, I wanted to make “colonial” colors – darker blue and red than what you’d get with your standard gel food coloring. To make a color darker, you need a hint of black, and let me stress the word “hint” here – it’s really a teeny, tiny amount. While my colonial blue turned out very well, my colonial red turned out more like raspberry. I’ll use it on something else, but I was glad to have plenty of white frosting for a second batch of red – this red is just your standard red gel food coloring, though in a very generous amount. Design-wise, the flag cupcakes are my favorites; alas, my fireworks cupcakes (the ones on the center ends in the photo above) look far too much like something that contains genetic material for my liking. Oh well…we pipe, and we learn.

Ingredients

For the vanilla cupcakes

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • dash of salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk

For the Wilton-inspired buttercream

  • 6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable shortening
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 –  1 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream or milk
  • Royal blue gel food coloring
  • Red gel food coloring
  • Black gel food coloring

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-count cupcake tin with 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 eggs and vanilla and beat until combined; scrape down the sides of your bowl a few times during this step.

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, scoop batter into cupcake wells, dividing evenly and filling about 2/3 to 3/4 full.

Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and remove cupcakes from the tin; cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

To make the frosting, place butter and shortening in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat for 1-2 minutes, until very well-combined. Add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, mixing very well between each addition. Add vanilla and heavy cream, beating for 1-2 minutes on medium-high speed; if your frosting is too thick, add another 1/2 tablespoon of heavy cream.

Divide frosting into three portions. Reserve 1 portion for white; using an offset spatula, frost the tops of each cupcake with a base of white.

Tint one portion colonial blue using royal blue and a very, very small amount of black. Tint the other portion red.

Fit two pastry bags with small star tips and pipe designs as you like. I chose the following:

  • Stars (top left and bottom ends in the photo above) – pipe a ring of blue around the edge of the cupcake, then fill in with red stars
  • Fireworks (center ends) – pipe red and blue stars with tails
  • Waves (top right) – pipe alternating red and blue waves
  • Flags (center) – pipe a patch of blue on the upper left-hand side, then add red stripes
  • Full coverage stars (bottom center) – pipe blue stars to totally cover the top of your cupcake, then add red star accents

Store cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. Makes 12.

 

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.

 

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.

Black Forest Cupcakes

black-forest-cupcake-1My cube mates and I all have nutcrackers on our desks for the holidays. Because we’re writers, we’ve decided that these nutcrackers need personalities and back stories. My nutcracker, Karl Henrik, hails from a tiny hamlet deep in the Black Forest…which made me really want to make Black Forest cupcakes.

This treat is much more fun to say in German: Schwartzwalder kirschtorte. Technically, this recipe is a very American adaptation on the German classic; it uses a dark chocolate cupcake recipe I’ve baked many times before, cherry pie filling (because one cannot find fresh tart cherries in Pittsburgh in December), and a kirsch-flavored whipped cream frosting. Mike proclaimed this cupcake delicious, whether it’s true to the original recipe or not. Someday, I’ll make a real Black Forest cake, but for now these treats will do!

Ingredients

Dark Chocolate 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
  • 1 cup water
  • Cherry pie filling*

*You’ll need half of a 21-ounce can; you can reserve the other half, as well as your cupcake cores, for a cherry chocolate trifle later on. 

Kirsch Whipped Cream Frosting

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 tablespoon kirsch (cherry brandy)

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.

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 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.

Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, scoop batter into cupcake wells, filling no more than 3/4 full.

Bake for 13-16 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Immediately remove cupcakes to a wire rack to cool.

Once cupcakes are completely cool, use a small knife to cut into the center of each cupcake at a 45-degree angle, about 1/8 inch from the edge, all the way around. Remove the core and reserve for another use (like a cherry-chocolate trifle, for example).

Spoon cherry pie filling into each center, being careful not to over-fill (which I definitely did). You should be able to fit about two cherries in each.

For the frosting: place heavy cream in a mixing bowl and, using your whisk attachment, beat on medium-high speed for 2 minutes, until soft peaks form. Add powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and kirsch, beating on high speed for another 2-3 minutes, until stiff peaks form.

Fit a piping bag with a large plain tip and pipe frosting onto cupcakes; gently smooth with an offset spatula to cover most of the top of the cupcake.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.