Hot Cocoa Cupcakes

hotcocoacupcakes

I swear by recipes that come on the back of a package, because you know they’re tried and true. This recipe, while not from a package, was featured on the Dixie Crystals sugar website, submitted by a member of their baking community. And you a product maker isn’t going to just slap any old recipe on their website and have it associated with their sugar, so I figured this one would be good – and I was right.

Quantity-wise, the original recipe said it would yield 24 cupcakes, so I cut it in half intending to make just a dozen. My halved recipe still made 24, but amazingly the frosting yielded exactly enough for my total two dozen cupcakes. I altered the frosting recipe to include more vanilla and a teaspoon of milk, because it seemed a bit thick to me. You can top these cupcakes however you like, but I went with mini marshmallows and peppermint sticks, even though there’s no peppermint in the batter.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup hot cocoa mix
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup boiling water

For the frosting

  • 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 7-ounce jar marshmallow creme (aka fluff)
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla 
  • 1 teaspoon milk 
  • Miniature marshmallows
  • Peppermint sticks

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two 12-cup cupcake tins with paper liners.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa mix. Add egg, milk, and vegetable oil and stir to combine; slowly add boiling water and stir until the mixture is smooth.

Fill cupcake wells half full and bake for 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and remove cupcakes from tins; cool completely on a wire rack.

For the frosting, beat butter on medium speed for about 1 minute. Add marshmallow creme and beat to combine, then add powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla; beat on medium speed to combine. Add 2 additional teaspoons vanilla extract and 1 teaspoon milk to thin the frosting slightly.

Fit a piping bag with a Wilton M1 tip and pipe swirls of frosting onto each cupcake. Add miniature marshmallows and peppermint sticks to the tops if desired. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 1-2 days.

Makes 24.

Gingerbread Cupcakes

gingerbread cupcakesGingerbread is one of my favorite things about Christmas, and I’ve baked some decent gingerbread treats in previous years. This time I wanted to make a gingerbread cupcake, so I turned to a gingerbread cake recipe I had from several Christmases ago and it turned out really well.

The cinnamon vanilla buttercream I paired with these treats is delicious, but it almost overshadows the gingerbread flavor for me. Next time, I might not frost these at all, but instead dust them with powdered sugar, or just do a drizzle icing with powdered sugar and water to glaze the cupcake tops. 

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup water

For the cinnamon buttercream 

  • 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon milk 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cupcake tins with paper liners; my recipe yielded 17 cupcakes. 

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside. In a mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and brown sugar until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl well. Add molasses and egg and beat well to combine. Add flour mixture and water alternatively in three batches, starting and ending with the flour and mixing to combine between each.

Fill cupcake wells about half-full with batter and bake for 16 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean – just be careful not to over-bake these cupcakes, and gingerbread mixtures can burn easily. Remove from oven and immediately remove cupcakes to wire racks to cool completely.

For frosting, beat butter and powdered sugar on low speed until the sugar completely incorporates into the butter. Add vanilla, cinnamon, and milk and beat to combine completely.

Fit a large piping bag with a Wilton M1 tip and pipe swirls of frosting onto each cupcake; I had literally just enough for my 17 cupcakes, which was amazing. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. 

Caramel Pumpkin Cupcakes

caramel pumpkin cupcakesAmy Bakes in the ‘Burgh finally has a new kitchen! After about seven weeks of renovations, our new kitchen is complete. We have basically the same footprint, just with upgraded cabinets, countertops, and appliances, in a neutral color palette that makes me incredibly happy. And for the first time in 13 years, we have a dishwasher. I didn’t realize how much I missed having one until I got one back – it’s such a time saver.

My first bake in my new oven was actually a batch of chocolate chip cookies a few weeks ago, before everything was even finished. But these caramel pumpkin cupcakes were the first treats I baked in the fully finished kitchen, using the convection setting on my oven. Delicious and appropriate for the season, they were a huge hit at Mike’s office last week.

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 3/4 – 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • About 3 tablespoons caramel sauce,* to taste

*I used Smucker’s caramel ice cream topping to save time. 

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, 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 2/3 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 2 3/4 cups powdered sugar all at once and beat on low until all the sugar is incorporated into the butter. Add vanilla and 1 tablespoon caramel and beat, continuing to add additional caramel to taste. You may need a bit more powdered sugar if you go for three full tablespoons like I did.

Fit a piping bag with a large star tip and pipe swirls of frosting onto each cupcake. Store at a cool room temperature for 2-3 days; these cupcakes are very tender and will get a bit sticky if they’re left out much longer.

Patriotic Flower Cupcakes

patriotic floer cupcakesHappy Independence Day, Americans! I’m grateful to be an American, even though our country has astonishing problems yet to fully acknowledge, let alone solve. Today I’ve made some patriotic flower-themed cupcakes to celebrate, which will go to work with Mike on Tuesday. They’re a classic yellow cupcake with almond buttercream, a request from one of his colleagues.

One skill I acquired during quarantine was the ability to pipe buttercream flowers, and I used that skill with varying degrees of success for these cupcakes. I piped various blossoms and other shapes, but my favorites are actually the plain, sort of hydrangea-looking ones that I made with a medium closed star tip, like the red cupcake at the bottom center of the photo above.

Ingredients

For the yellow cupcakes

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 1/3 tablespoons butter, slightly softened
  • 1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons sugar cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk

For the almond buttercream

  • 12 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 3/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • Red, cornflower blue, and moss green gel food coloring

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Line two muffin tins with paper liners; you’ll need 15.

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, then add egg and beat well. 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 almond buttercream, in a mixing bowl, beat butter for about 1 minute. Add powdered sugar and beat on low speed until all of the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter; this will take a few minutes. Add vanilla extract and almond extract, beating well to combine.

To frost, divide your frosting into portions of red, blue, green, and white and tint to your desired shades. Use whatever tips you like to create your flowers; I used a medium closed star, small open star, petal tip, plain tip, and leaf tip.

Store in an airtight container at a cool room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes 15.

Hydrangea Cupcakes

hydrangea cupcakeHappy Mother’s Day, friends! Several years ago, while preparing to move to North Carolina, my sister-in-law Kristin encouraged me to take some plants from her yard. Into buckets went hostas, daffodils, and my absolute favorite, tiny shoots of an Annabelle hydrangea that had just begun to grow beneath a tree at the edge of their front lawn. 

My own mother took a pick axe to said hydrangea shoots (nearly missing my head) in order to remove them from the stubborn western Pennsylvanian soil, and we planted them in a newly created flower bed in our back yard. Today, Annabelle lives on in riotous glory; she blooms green each spring, turns white in the summer, then turns back to green again in the fall. These cupcakes were inspired by that beloved plant, and were very easy to make. Piping flower blossoms onto cupcakes is actually quite easy if you have the right equipment: all you really need are some star tips and a piping bag. And because nothing in nature is perfect, your piping skills don’t have to be, either.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon  vanilla extract

For the frosting

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • Green, yellow, and moss green food coloring 

Preparation

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

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir together, then add water, oil, and vanilla extract. Beat on low speed for about 2 minutes, until the batter is smooth; it will be thin.

Using a two-inch cookie scoop, scoop batter into prepared cupcake tin, filling wells about 2/3 full. Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from cupcake tin and allow to cool on a wire rack completely before frosting.

To make frosting, beat butter on low speed for about 2 minutes, until fluffy. Add powdered sugar and beat on low until all the sugar is incorporated into the butter; this takes a few minutes. Add vanilla extract and beat another 1-2 minutes. 

Reserve a very small portion of white frosting and set aside; tint the remainder light green by combining green and yellow gel food coloring. Fit a piping bag with a Wilton M1 (large star) tip and pipe blossoms over the top of each cupcake, leaving just a bit of room at the edges for some leaves. I did a single layer of blossoms so they could fit easily into the container Mike uses to take them to work, but if you’re displaying them for a party or get-together, you could add a second row if you like.

Fit a small piping bag with a plain round tip and pipe blossom centers. Scoop out the remaining white and green frosting from your piping bags to maximize your frosting use, then add moss green coloring to reach a medium-dark green for your leaves. Fit a piping bag with a leaf tip and pipe leaves around the edges. 

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes 12. 

Hazelnut Mocha Cupcakes

hazelnut mocha cupcakeFor a woman who doesn’t drink coffee, I love coffee-flavored desserts. I also love hazelnut and chocolate, which fortunately I’ve worked back into my diet without migraine consequences. Coffee, chocolate, and hazelnut combine incredibly well, so I decided to bake them into these cupcakes.

I’m actually quite impressed with how these look; they remind me of something you’d see in a real bakery. The dominant flavor in these treats is coffee, with very subtle chocolate and hazelnut. Next time I’ll ramp up the other flavors by adding cocoa powder to my buttercream and maybe using hazelnut liqueur instead of the Nutella. They still taste delicious, though, and are bound for Mike’s office tomorrow. I hope his coworkers enjoy them. 

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

*The original recipe recommends whole milk, but I almost never have whole milk in my fridge. I usually have skim milk and heavy cream though, and used in a 7/8 skim, 1/8 heavy cream ratio, you’ve basically got whole milk.

For the frosting

  • 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Nutella spread
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons heavy cream
  • About 1/3 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
  • 19 whole toasted hazelnuts

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners; my recipe yielded 19 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.

While cupcakes are cooling, toast your hazelnuts; place on a baking sheet with rimmed sides and toast at 350 degrees for 5-10 minutes, until they smell nutty. Remove from oven and place in a kitchen towel, then carefully roll them around to remove their skins. Place skinned hazelnuts on a platter or plate to cool completely before chopping.

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 and Nutella on medium speed for about 2 minutes, then add powdered sugar all at once and beat until the sugar is fully incorporated. 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 1A tip and pipe blobs of frosting on each cupcake. Gently press half of the frosting blob into the chopped hazelnuts, then press a whole hazelnut in the center. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days.

Speckled Egg Cupcakes

speckled egg cupcakeA few years ago I saw a beautiful speckled egg cake, probably on Pinterest or in an issue of Real Simple magazine. Since then, I’ve intended to make something like it each spring, and I finally made a cupcake version this week.

A word of caution regarding the speckling: it is not nearly as simple as every single recipe online would have you believe. I set up a splatter guard made of parchment paper, and still ended up with speckles all over my countertop, with a few on my walls and many on myself, likely because I didn’t use a paintbrush with stiff bristles; my brush had soft bristles, which made things a bit messy. Still, the end result is worth it: these received rave reviews from Mike’s colleagues. Also, you could pair almost any flavor combination for these cupcakes, but I chose a classic chocolate and almond.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

For the frosting

  • 12 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • Light blue, light green, and turquoise gel food coloring

For the speckles

  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1-2 teaspoons water*

*Most online recipes did not call for water, but my mixture was too thick for it to flick from the paintbrush so I added some water. 

Preparation

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

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir together, then add water, oil, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Beat on low speed for about 2 minutes, until the batter is smooth; it will be thin.

Using a two-inch cookie scoop, scoop batter into prepared cupcake tin, filling wells about 2/3 full. Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from cupcake tin and allow to cool on a wire rack completely before frosting.

To make frosting, beat butter on low speed for about 2 minutes, until fluffy. Add powdered sugar and beat on low until all the sugar is incorporated into the butter; this takes a few minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of milk, vanilla extract, and almond extract; beat another 1-2 minutes. Add additional tablespoons milk, one at a time, beating well between each. To tint, add blue, green, and turquoise gel food coloring 1-2 drops at a time; I used 2-3 drops of blue and green, and about 3-4 drops turquoise. Frost cupcakes; you will have about 2/3 cup left over for another use.

For the speckles, stir together cocoa powder, vanilla extract, and 1-2 teaspoons water; you don’t want the chocolate to be too thin or it’ll bleed into the frosting, but if it’s too thick, you won’t be able to flick it onto the cupcakes. Dip a food-safe paintbrush with stiff bristles into the chocolate and use your fingers to flick the chocolate onto the frosting.

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

Chocolate Peppermint Cupcakes

The holidays are in full swing, and I’m baking like there’s no tomorrow. Or perhaps I’m baking like tomorrow is Christmas? In any case, I’m baking a lot.

Today’s chocolate peppermint cupcakes are inspired by the York Peppermint Pattie, one of the best treats around regardless of time of year, but a treat I always associate with winter. I’ve started eating chocolate again and have, thus far, remained stable in the migraine department. But darker chocolate – like the variety used on the famous pattie – will be a new frontier for me, so wish me luck. I found this recipe over at The Baker Chick and adapted it to include some peppermint extract in the cupcake batter, while omitting the peppermint pattie inside the cupcake itself. You could certainly do that, but I wanted to use the patties just as a garnish on top, like a delightfully delicious chocolate moon rising out of a peppermint cloud. Perhaps all the sugar has finally gone to my brain…

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

For the frosting

  • 12 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract, to taste
  • 12 snack-size York Peppermint Patties

Preparation

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

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir together, then add water, oil, vanilla extract, and peppermint extract. Beat on low speed for about 2 minutes, until the batter is smooth; it will be thin.

Using a two-inch cookie scoop, scoop batter into prepared cupcake tin, filling wells about 2/3 full. Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from cupcake tin and allow to cool on a wire rack completely before frosting.

To make frosting, beat butter on low speed for about 2 minutes, until fluffy. Add powdered sugar and beat on low until all the sugar is incorporated into the butter; this takes a few minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of milk and 1/8 teaspoon peppermint extract and beat for another 1-2 minutes. Add another 1-2 tablespoons milk, plus additional peppermint extract to taste; my frosting used 3 tablespoons of milk and 1/8 teaspoon plus a few additional drops of extract to reach my desired flavor and consistency.

Fit a piping bag with a large star tip (like the Wilton M1) and pipe swirls onto cupcakes. Press a peppermint pattie into the frosting to garnish. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes 12.

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.