So Beautifully Real


Cupcakes have undergone a transformation; they are not just for children anymore. They have grown from small cakes with mounds of frosting into luscious, decadent treats. High quality chocolate, cheese fillings, fruit and toffee have brought the little delights to a new level that will satisfy even the most selective connoisseur.

Gourmet cupcakes come in many flavors and can add a special touch to any gathering. A brunch or morning bridal shower can be the perfect setting for apple custard tea cakes. A dollop of custard is found between two layers of moist cake, and the whole thing is topped with thin slices of apple and a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar to create a light, fresh taste that is not overly sweet. Chocoholics can finish off a dinner party in tasty style with s’more or rocky road cupcakes. S’mores cupcakes use a graham cracker mixture and melted chocolate on the bottom and top of a chocolate cake, and are finished with a toasted marshmallow topping. Rocky road cupcakes feature a marble cake covered with a combination of melted chocolate, marshmallows, peanuts, candied cherries and coconut, all held in place by a scrumptious drizzle of chocolate.

Red velvet cupcakes with a cream cheese frosting make a wonderful Valentine’s day dessert, while double dark chocolate cupcakes can dress up any birthday bash. Dredging vanilla cakes in a coffee mixture, layering them with a mascarpone cream filling, and topping with shaved chocolate creates a tasty tiramisu cupcake that is the perfect finish to any Italian meal. Even weddings can benefit from the little treats. Cupcakes can be made in a variety of flavors and placed in boxes that are stacked to look like a traditional cake, and then interspersed with flowers and ribbons. The beautiful arrangement is an easy way to distribute the individual cakes to guests.

Everyday cupcakes can be easily dressed up with a fancy topping. Toffee can be dripped over a rolling pin or small can and left to harden, creating a round shape that will add flair. Meringue cups can be held in place atop a cupcake with a daub of frosting and filled with fresh whipped cream and fruit slices. Dried fruit is a wonderful compliment to cupcakes topped with fondant, or use sugared berries as a great addition to cream cheese frostings. The possibilities go on and on, and are only as limited as one’s imagination. Placing the right ingredients inside and on top of a cupcake can convert it from a kid’s snack into a delightful gourmet masterpiece.

Fresh, High Quality Ingredients

When baking cupcakes, there are many reasons to start with fresh, high quality ingredients. Using old or cheap ingredients can alter the flavor of the tasty treats, and their texture can be greatly changed. While a cupcake can make the perfect dessert, it is only as good as its weakest part.

Whether making gourmet cupcakes or following a more traditional recipe, starting with fresh ingredients is important. Leavening agents like baking powder or soda lose their effectiveness as they age, and as such should be replenished every six months to ensure the batter rises properly as it cooks. All-purpose flour stays fresh up to eight months if stored in an airtight container, and up to a year if refrigerated. Sugar lasts indefinitely, but is hygroscopic, which means it absorbs moisture from any and all sources. The moisture it soaks up can cause the sugar to take on a peculiar flavor and make it stick together to form a solid, hard block that makes it difficult to use. A good rule of thumb is to refresh sugar at the same time as flour to produce superior baked goods.

While freshness is essential, the quality of the ingredients is equally as important. Switching from imitation vanilla extract to real vanilla extract will increase the intensity of the flavor. Chocolate comes in many varieties and grades, and nothing compares to a high quality chocolate ganache, glaze or drizzle atop a sweet cupcake. Making substitutions when baking cupcakes should be avoided whenever possible. If a recipe calls for cake flour, do not use all-purpose flour in its place. Cake flour is made up of finer granules and creates a softer, lighter cake that all-purpose flour cannot begin to duplicate.

Buying organic ingredients is a reliable way to ensure the ingredients are both fresh and high quality. Eggs, butter and milk are familiar staples at most local farms, farmers markets and health food stores. Many grocery stores are now carrying a full line of organic ingredients as well. Organic cooking is a wonderful way to make a healthier, more natural snack with a truer flavor and a great taste.

Baking Cupcakes

The key to baking perfect cupcakes is preparation. Read the entire recipe to ensure full understanding of the methods being used. Gather all necessary cookware, utensils and tools, and then measure out all the ingredients. Fill the sink with hot, sudsy water to aid in cleaning bowls, utensils and tools as they are being used to prevent an unmanageable mess when the cupcakes are done. Place paper or foil liners in the pain, or grease and flour each individual cup on the muffin tray. For larger cupcakes, lightly grease the sides of the pans to ensure that any spillover will not stick. When all this is done, it is time to start mixing ingredients.

The best tasting cupcakes start with high quality ingredients. Using cheap cocoa, sugar, or flour might not only affect the taste, but can also change the texture of the cake. The ingredients should be added gradually, not all at once, to ensure they are incorporated and well mixed. Prepared batter should be allowed to rest for three to five minutes before poured or spooned into tins. An ice cream scoop will make filling tins easy and will keep the amount of batter consistent from cup to cup. Equal amounts of batter will help the cakes cook evenly, as will rotating the trays halfway through cooking time. In the absence of cupcake tins, the tasty treats can be baked in coffee cups or ice cream cones.

Preparing cupcakes for people with special dietary needs sounds challenging, but it can be quite easy. Substitute one tablespoon of ground flaxseed and three tablespoons of water for each large egg the recipe calls for, or replace the egg with barley malt. Applesauce can take place of eggs and oil and makes a great addition to spice cake recipes. When using a cake mix, replace the eggs, oil and water with 12 ounces of soda. Compliment yellow or white cake mixes with clear sodas like lemon-lime, or use strawberry or orange soda to add a bit of flavor. Cherry soda or black forest soda works great in a chocolate cake mixes, while spice mixes blend well with root beer or cream soda. Soda cakes taste great with whipped cream topping or whipped vanilla frosting.

Although cupcakes are best when eaten within 48 hours, they can be frozen for up to three months. Cupcakes should be tightly secured in freezer wrap and frozen before they are frosted. When it is time to use the cupcakes, make sure the cakes are fully thawed before icing, glazing or frosting. Colored sugar or sprinkles is a nice treat, and they should always be applied over a layer of wax paper to keep the mess to a minimum. Once finished, the sugar or sprinkles on the wax paper can be returned to the original container to replenish the supply and prepare for the next round of cupcakes.

Decorating Cupcakes

Choosing the right technique and the proper tools and equipment are important when decorating cupcakes. Depending on which type of topping is being applied, it can be spread, piped, dipped into, or sprinkled on to the tasty treats. Knowing which methods work best with each topping is the key.

Frostings are most often used to cover cupcakes. Thick frostings are hard to spread, and therefore it is best to pipe them directly onto the little cakes. Remember not to make the mound of frosting too high or the sweetness might overpower the taste of the cake. Thinner frostings should be used as they are without adding extra powdered sugar to try to make them denser; the additional sugar could cause a grainy consistency. Instead, use an offset spatula to spread the frosting evenly over the top of the cupcake. The angle of the offset spatula keeps hands and wrists safely out of the way and makes spreading the frosting easy. If frosting sticks to the spatula, dipping the tool in a glass of room temperature water before using it can help. A layer of thin frosting can be easily dressed up with the addition of sprinkles, colored sugar or shapes cut out of fondant.

A nice change from frosting cupcakes is to apply a generous layer of powdered sugar. This works especially well with spiced cupcakes, apple flavored cupcakes, and nutty cupcakes. A stencil can be used to create a fancy design, or the sugar can be sprinkled over the entire cake. Glazes can also be used in place of traditional frosting, and can be liberally drizzled over the top of the little treats. Another option is ganache. To apply ganache, tip the cupcake upside down and dip it into the smooth mixture. Shake gently to remove excess coating before tipping the cupcake upright and allowing to set. Fondant can be rolled out, cut to shape, placed on top of the cupcake, and carefully pressed in place. Extra fondant can be cut into designs and used as cupcake decorations.

Cupcakes can be frosted individually, or they can be placed closely together with their sides touching and frosted all at once as if they were a cake. The clustered cupcakes can be set in standard square or rectangle shapes, or they can form a variety of designs like trees, cars or animals. Whether you choose to decorate them individually or in a cluster, knowing the proper procedures and using the correct tools makes decorating cupcakes fun and easy.

Artfully Decorated

Decorating cupcakes can be as quick and easy as spreading some frosting over the cakes, or with a little skill and a few techniques it can be transformed into an art form. While certain methods require special equipment, like an airbrush type tool for spray icing, there are other ways to make beautiful cupcakes without the use of extra equipment. Chocolate hearts, toffee towers and fresh fruit slices will turn an ordinary cupcake into a work of art.

Chocolate hearts are delicious, delicate finishing touches that can bring a vanilla or chocolate cupcake from drab to decadent. To make the hearts, chop high quality chocolate into coarse pieces and melt either over a double boiler or in the microwave oven. Place melted chocolate in a frosting bag or freezer bag with a small cut in the bottom corner, pipe into shapes on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper. Let the chocolate cool on the counter, or let stand in the refrigerator until the surface becomes shiny, this should take less than five minutes. The hearts can either be placed flat on the surface of the cupcake or with a careful hand and very little pressure; they can be inserted in the frosting to stand in an upright position.

Toffee towers add height and elegance to nutty or fruity cupcakes. Whipped ganache or maple frosting makes a great base to hold the fragile towers in place. Toffee is easy to make; simply dissolve sugar in water, cook over medium heat until it boils, and then allow it to boil for 10 minutes until it becomes golden. Lines of toffee can be drizzled off the back of a wooden spoon onto parchment or waxed paper and allowed to cool. The lines are then formed into a teepee shape atop the cupcakes to form a tower.

Fresh fruit provides a light, refreshing compliment to fruit flavored cupcakes like lemon or strawberry, chocolate cupcakes, or vanilla cupcakes. Fruit tastes great when cradled in a layer of whipped cream frosting or chocolate ganache. Attaching a meringue cup to the cupcake with a daub of frosting, adding a dollop of whipped cream, and topping with fresh berries or fruit slices can dress up any plain cupcake. To make uniform slices, place strawberries, kiwi or any fruit of choice into an egg slicer. Slices can be made all the way through, or keep the stems on the strawberries and cut up from the bottom, leaving some fruit intact. The slices can then be spread to form an attractive strawberry fan.

Taking cupcakes from ordinary to extraordinary can be easy and fun. All it takes is a little imagination and a gentle hand. Creating an artfully decorated cupcake that has elegance and style is as easy as adding a few simple, delicate touches.

May 2021