Recipe: Chocolate Orange Cupcakes

I took a little time off from making, baking, and photographing to have a low-key weekend before I head to Chicago this week. Work has been intense lately. I'm adjusting to wanting to spend a lot of my time off with someone else. The weather has been starting to perk up. All in all I just needed a weekend to relax and not worry about baking. Getting back into the swing of things this weekend, I wanted to make something that used up things in my fridge/pantry. It's been a little while since I've baked cupcakes and I had a few oranges and blood oranges lingering in my fridge and these cupcakes were born. A standard cupcake with a few twists: orange zest, dark cocoa, and a tangy frosting.  

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes 

Yields 36 cupcakes

1 1/2 stick butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
2 cups flour
3/4 cup Dutch-processed or Special Dark cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
zest of one orange

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place liners in a cupcake pan.

Cream together butter and sugar for 3-5 minutes until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until combined. Add zest of one orange and vanilla and mix together.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and cocoa powder. Add a third of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, add half the buttermilk, another third of dry, the other half of the buttermilk, and the last third of dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Spoon batter into the cupcake pan, filling each liner until 3/4 full. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in tin for 10 minutes and then cool completely before frosting.

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Orange Buttercream

1 stick butter, room temperature
4 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 orange, zest and juice

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter with confectioner's sugar, adding one cup at a time. Add vanilla and the zest of an orange. Juice the orange, strain it, and then add to the frosting one tablespoon at a time until you reach the desired consistence. (I used 3-4 tablespoons) Beat on medium high for 3-4 minutes until frosting is light and airy.

Add to a pastry bag with a star tip and frost each cupcake in a circular motion. Top with an orange slice if desired. Serve immediately or store in an airtight cake carrier.

Decorate: Conversation Heart Cupcakes

Does anyone really enjoy eating conversation hearts? I find them chalky and very artificial tasting. But, they are cute and such a fun idea to turn other things into. Kelly over at StudioDIY has been turning tons of adorable things into conversation hearts and it got me thinking about cupcakes.

For a while now I've been seeing heart-shaped cupcakes over on Pinterest and it's been on my list of things to try. Like a lot of things on Pinterest, this a very simple concept but it does take some trial and error. Here's what I did...  

You can use any boxed cake or from-scratch recipe to make these cupcakes. To make mine extra celebratory, I made Funfetti from scratch. Mix up the batter as directed and line you cupcake pan with paper liners. A lot of Pinterest links showed people using marbles, but I didn't have marbles. But, I do have tin foil! 

Tear off about a 2 inch wide piece of tin foil. Using kitchen scissors, cut that strip into three pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Each foil ball should be about the size of a marble. Place each ball in-between the liner and the side of the cupcake cup. Fill each liner with batter about 1/2 full. Too full and the batter will overflow and not look heart-shaped. Too little and the cupcakes just look sad. See? Trial and error. Give each foil ball a poke down with your finger and bake as directed. Cool completely before frosting.

Frosting: Mix up your favorite vanilla frosting recipe (I used one from Joy the Baker's Cookbook which is fabulous). Spoon about three tablspoons of frosting into a small bowl, and separate the remaining frosting evenly into three bowls (or four bowls if you want four different colors). Apply a small amount of food coloring into each bowl of frosting to create a pastel colors. I used pink, blue, and green. Mix the coloring in and apply to each cupcake with a spoon or offset spatula.

Apply red food coloring to the bowl with the small amount of frosting to create the text color. You'll want a dark red, so more food coloring than before. Fill a pastry bag or a sandwich baggie with the red frosting and cut off a very tiny hole. Pipe saying that can be found on conversation hearts and you're done!

Even if you don't want to go through the trouble of making them heart shaped, you can still frost circular cupcakes to look like conversation hearts. Still cute!

These definitely might look very homemade, but I kind of like that. Not everything needs to look like it walked out of a bakery and was made by professionals. People will be more excited with the effort you put in than if they looked perfect!

Recipe: Mini Strawberry Shortcakes

Strawberry shortcakes are such a classic dessert. I guess it's something about the combination of ripe strawberries, whipped cream, and spongy cake that is quite irresistible and screams summertime and BBQs. Well it's not summertime (I'm currently looking at quite a bit of snow outside my window), but let's just pretend for a little bit? Please?

Do you know those sponge cake little bowls that they sell in grocery stores to make strawberry shortcakes in? There's always been something about them that I didn't like. They always tasted bland and slightly artificial. So I decided to make mini strawberry shortcakes my way, with a cupcake pan!

Vanilla Cupcakes

Makes 48 cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 c sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 c flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 c buttermilk
  • 2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a cupcake pan with paper liners.

Beat butter and sugar until fluffy and light yellow. Beat in each egg, one at a time until combined. Mix in vanilla.

In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, alternating between the the buttermilk and the dry. Add the dry in 1/3s and buttermilk in 1/2s. Mix until just combined.

Fill each liner half full with batter and bake for 12-15 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Whipped Cream

Makes enough for 48 cupcakes

  • 1 c heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 handfuls of strawberries, sliced long ways

Place your metal mixing bowl and wire attachment in your fridge 10 minutes before you begin whisking.

Add whipping cream and sugar to the bowl of the mixer. Begin whisking on low, and then gradually increase the speed until medium-high until you have siff peaks (about 5-7 minutes).

To make these into shortcakes, remove each cupcake from it's wrapper and cut with a serrated knife horizontally. Turn the cupcake so the rounded top is now the bottom. Place a healthy helping of whipped cream down on the bottom half, layer 3-4 strawberry slices on top, then a little dab of whipped cream on top of the strawberries (to hold the top on). Place the top on, then a bit more whipped cream and top with another strawberry.

You'll want to eat these mini cakes the same day they are made, or store in a airtight container in the fridge for an additional day.

Wouldn't these be perfect for a Valentine's Day dessert? I love how fancy and complicated they look, but are so easy to throw together. 

Decorate: Fruity Pebbles Cupcake Topping

For 2014, I wanted to start a new column here featuring different simple ways to decorate cupcakes. These ideas will work for cupcakes from scratch, fancying up boxed cupcakes, or even store bought. I think that even the simplest decorations can really make a splash at a party or even just as dessert after a family meal. I love decorating cupcakes and hopefully some of these easy peasy decorations will inspire you. But now on to these fun toppings...

To make these fun rainbow-colored cupcakes, apply a heavy amount of frosting onto each cupcake. You'll want a frosting that is thick and will hold the cereal well. Place the frosted cupcake in a small bowl and apply handfuls of cereal to the frosting. Place one hand against the side of the cupcake (where the lining ends) and roll your handful of cereal up onto the frosting, lightly press the cereal down. You want the entire frosting covered. Once done, top with a little washi tape wrapped around a toothpick or shorten bamboo skewer and cut into a flag. Cute!

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These would be great as a topping for some Funfetti Cupcakes and so cute for a child's birthday. Or maybe even a topping for some tie dyed cupcakes, which were all the rage like 2 years ago. Very simple, but also very, very fun.

Chai Tea Cupcake Recipe

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Chai tea lattes are my favorite coffee shop treat. Hot, creamy, spicey and perfect for cold mornings when I need a little pick-me-up. For other chai tea lovers out there, these are perfect for an after dinner treat (or maybe even a quick breakfast!)

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Chai Tea Cupcakes

Yield 12 cupcakes

  • 2 tsp loose chai tea or 2 chai tea bags
  • If using loose tea, you'll need a fine mesh strainer
  • 3/4c milk
  • 2c flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • 8 tbsp butter, softened
  • 1c sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Simmer milk and tea over low/medium heat for 5 minutes or until milk is a caramel color. If using loose tea, pour mixture through a fine mesh strainer and set aside.

Beat butter and sugar until fluffy and combined. Add each egg, one at a time.

In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Add this dry mixture to the butter mixture, alternating between the dry and milk/tea mixtures. Only mix until combined so you don't overmix. Overmixing=dry cupcakes.

Fill each cupcake liner with until 3/4 full. Bake for 15-17 minutes until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool completely before frosting.

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Vanilla Buttercream

Yields enough for 12 cupcakes

  • 8 tbsp butter, softened
  • 2c confectioners sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp milk, as needed
  • cinnamon sugar, optional 

Begin by beating butter until fluffy, then slowly add sugar. Once combined, add vanilla and tbsp milk. If the buttercream is still too thick, add more milk in small increments.

I frosted these cupcakes with a piping bag and a large circle piping tip. Top with a pinch of cinnamon sugar and enjoy.

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Break this recipe out the next time you are looking for something a little different to serve!