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.

 

 

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.