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.

Bloody Murder Cupcakes

Due to inclement weather, trick-or-treating has been postponed in many neighborhoods around Pittsburgh. Cue outrage! I do have to admit that in my childhood we went trick-or-treating exclusively on Halloween, regardless of the weather. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor freezing temperatures kept children of the 1980s inside on Halloween night. Out we went with coats over our costumes or sweatshirts underneath, prowling the neighborhood in eldest-child-lead packs (I truly have no recollection of ever trick-or-treating with my parents), returning soaked and half frozen with pillow cases full of candy bars we had to break in half before eating, lest they be laced with razor blades. Ahh, the 80s.

But times are different now, and in all fairness it really is horrible out tonight. In any case, to celebrate this Halloween, I’ve whipped up some bloody murder cupcakes, a new take on the crime scene cupcakes I’ve made previously, thanks to some candy decoration weapons. Mike is very excited to take these to work in the morning.

 

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water

For the frosting, blood spatter, and weapons

  • 1 recipe vanilla buttercream
  • 1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
  • Red gel food coloring
  • Wilton Halloween weapon candy decorations*

*I had the variety pack, which featured knives, axes, and meat cleavers and I bought at my local Target. Fun!

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; this recipe can yield 12-16 cupcakes depending on how full you fill the wells. Now that I’ve baked this, I recommend filling the wells about half full, rather than three-quarters full as I did tonight.

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.

Use a 1/4 cup measure to fill the cupcake wells about half full.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in pan for a few minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on wire racks.

Prepare the frosting and fit a 14-inch piping bag with a large plain tip. Pipe generous portions of frosting onto each cupcake, then flatten out each blob with a small offset spatula.

Stir together raspberry jam and red gel food coloring to your desired bloody shade.

Using a teaspoon from your flatware, drop, drizzle, or splatter jam onto each cupcake. If you like, lightly drag a toothpick through the jam splatters to extend the splattered effect. Place a candy weapon on top.

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