Saturday, June 27, 2009

Cupcakes Are The New Black

It's no secret that cupcakes are hot right now, in fact they have been elevated from a tasty bakery treat to fashion icon. I can't turn my head these days without seeing them on t-shirts, purses, jewelry and even sneakers (man I gotta get me some of those!) But the things I like best about cupcakes are their simplicity and infinite adaptability from afternoon treat to elegant dessert. These are Tye Dye cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream frosting made or a high school graduation BBQ. I wish I could take the credit for inventing such a clever idea but it was Saucy over at bloggedy blog blog who posted about them and where I got the idea.

While I make a ton of stuff from scratch there are times when I need to cut corners and when it's okay to cut corners and cake is one of those things it's okay to use a mix for AS LONG as you use a good cake mix. I only use Duncan Hines. I've tried other brands available at the grocery store and almost every single time I consider the end product to be nothing short of a disaster. Duncan Hines has perfected the cake mix and while I only use their basic flavors* (Chocolate, Devil's Food, Yellow, Marble and White) they make an excellent jumping off point. No matter what kind of pan I bake the batter in I always mix it the same way (except for the white cake mix) box of mix, regular size box of instant pudding in the corresponding flavor, 4 large eggs, 1 C water and 1/3 C melted butter. I put everything in my Kitchen Aid bowl with the paddle attachment, start on "Stir" until blended and then let it go for 2 full minutes on 5 or 6. The batter will increase in volume, thicken and lighten in color if mixed properly. It's important that you follow the mixing directions as it directly contributes to your finished product.

For these particular cupcakes I mixed the White cake mix exactly as the directions said to. I removed 2 cups of the batter and tinted it using Wilton Icing Color (gel formula) in Violet. As you can see it looks pretty dark but when I pulled the cupcakes from the oven they looked pale. If this happens to you DON'T PANIC, they darken up just fine when they cool! I used an ice cream scoop (the same one I always use for cupcakes it holds a little over 2T of batter) and two tablespoons to layer the batter into the silver cupcake liners. I'm not even gonna try to fib here, it was a giant, messy pain to do this! Next time I will simply plop the colored batter on top and use a knife to swirl the same way I do when making a marble cake.

Aren't they cute? They smelled awesome too! IMHO, a cupcake is only as good as its frosting and canned frosting, while it has its uses (DH Cream Cheese Frosting is what I use on my cinnamon rolls because at that hour of the morning there is no way I'm making homemade frosting), just doesn't cut it for me anymore. I am not a cake decorator by any means and I used to get really frustrated because I couldn't make my cupcakes look as awesome as others seemed to be able to do so easily. I learned that they key to the beautiful swirls was the consistency of the frosting. The softer the frosting, the more luscious looking the swirl! In fact, the frosting should be so soft that you fear it melting right off the cupcake.

Vanilla Buttercream

2 sticks unsalted, room temperature butter (really soft but not melted is the key)
2t vanilla
1 t lemon juice
4 C 10x sugar
1/4 t salt
milk to thin

I throw everything in my Kitchen Aid at one time, start on "Stir" so I don't get covered in powdered sugar and then kick it up to 8 and let it go for 5 minutes. If it's too thick I add about a tablespoon of milk. I used a Wilton 1M tip for the frosting swirls and Wilton Pearlized Sugar Sprinkles and Wilton Heart Drops to finish them up. There are a few tips I can give you that I find help me immensely. Before I start frosting I divide the cupcakes into 2 pans that are sturdy enough to be able to carry over to the fridge. When using the 1M tip I found that in addition to the soft consistency of the frosting, holding the tip directly over the cupcake and NOT at any kind of angle gave me the best look. I frosted 4 at a time, sprinkling the sugar and adding the Heart Drops as I went. When one pan was done it immediately went into the fridge to firm up. Firming up the frosting BEFORE transporting is the key to your cupcakes arriving as beautiful as they were freshly frosted in your kitchen.

*I do not use and will never use a mix for things like Carrot Cake, Strawberry Cake, etc. If I am going to make a fruit or vegetable cake I want to use fresh fruit and veggies.


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