Tag Archives: fruit

Presenting . . . Your Amazing Cupcakes!

Well, color me impressed. One month ago I issued a challenge here on Willow Bird Baking. Because I know how inspiring it can be to create your own dish, I asked you to come up with a fun cupcake combination all your own.

Some of these fantastic bakers were mamas baking with their kids (Sarah let her son, Jonathan, help out) while some of them were kids themselves (Erica’s in 7th grade this year). Some of them went the decadent route — chocolate, peanut butter, and beer, oh dear! — while some of them stayed bright and fruity — summery strawberries, blackberries, and citrus. Across the board, though, the one thing you all have in common is kitchen creativity. You came up with plans for a fantastic dessert for your family and friends, and you made it happen! Now it’s time to show off your handiwork!




Faygie the Fantastic

Faygie Made: Chocolate Cupcakes with Guinness-Chocolate Pudding and Caramel Buttercream
Comments:“I had a lot of fun doing this challenge! It took a while to find a combination that was not only unique, but also complemented each other well. The chocolate cupcake recipe is fantastic. The pudding was also very good, […] and I really thought that the caramel buttercream complemented the chocolate and Guinness really well. Because it is a Swiss meringue buttercream, it’s not too sweet (even with the large amount I piped on). I brought these to a friend’s birthday party and they were a huge hit!” (see more on her blog!)




Just look at those mountains of delicious frosting! These sound so rich and decadent.



LeAndra the Lovely

LeAndra Made: Banana and Choco-Banana Cupcakes with Peanut Butter(cream) Filling and Marshmallow Buttercream Frosting
Comments:“Thank you for hosting this cupcake challenge. I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone’s creations. I baked banana cupcakes with peanut butter buttercream filling and marshmallow buttercream icing. The baking itself went well, but I was concerned the banana cake and the peanut butter filling were too similar in coloring. So, I mixed some cocoa powder into the remaining batter for chocolate-banana cupcakes.” (see more of her fun cupcakes on her blog!)




Peanut butter, banana, and marshmallow sound like a match made in fluffernutter heaven. Yum!



Erica the Energetic

Erica Made: Yellow Cupcakes with Lemon Filling and Orange Icing
Comments:Erica is my youngest challenge entrant this time around — she just started 7th grade (in my class)! Aren’t these citrusy cupcakes adorable? Way to go, Erica!




Erica came straight out of my cupcake camp this summer and completed the cupcake challenge! So impressive!




Corisa the Creative

Corisa Made: Tandy Kake Cupcakes
Comments: “I made a ‘Tandy Kake’ cupcake, because Tandy Kake is one of my most loved desserts. I enjoy the combination of peanut butter and chocolate a whole lot! I started with a butter cake and filled it with Ina Garten’s peanut butter frosting. Then I topped it off with a simple chocolate frosting! Thanks so much for this opportunity. I’m so excited to see all the fabulous cupcakes!”




It doesn’t get better than peanut butter and chocolate. I want about 5 of these!



Sophia the Sophisticated

Sophia Made: Butterbeer Cupcakes
Comments: Sophia took two of my cooking classes last year — we had so much fun! She says, “I made the Butterbeer cupcakes. They were awesome! I used some techniques that I learned in your class when I made them, so that was great! They tasted a lot like cream soda and butterscotch (surprise!) I had so much fun! I don’t think I would have been able to make them as well if it hadn’t been for your cooking class…so thanks again.” Aww, what a sweet thing to say. Those kids were naturals in the kitchen, though!




I love butterscotch, and these cute cupcakes make me want to drive my broom straight to Harry Potter world in Florida, licking my fingers all the way.




Diana the Daring

Diana Made: Chocolate-Covered Banana Cupcakes
Comments: “I’m sending you my creation, a Chocolate-Covered Banana Cupcake. I was inspired by our trip to King’s Island (an amusement park in Cincinnati, Ohio) this summer. This was a fun challenge. Thanks for putting it together.”



These are so gorgeous, and I love that they’re a play off such a classic dessert.




Annie the Artistic

Annie Made: Red Velvet Cupcakes with Chocolate Monograms
Comments: “I love reading your blog for inspiration! Here’s a link to my red velvet cupcake with monograms recipe. It was quite a disaster the first two times — the recipe I had didn’t specify to add the vinegar and baking soda together before putting them in the mixture and, as I’m sure you know, red velvet cupcakes are a little tricky! Anyways, it was an overall success and the knitting ladies loved it.” Way to try, try, try again, Annie! (see more on her blog)



The monograms make these red velvet cupcakes unique and special.



Sarah the Sensational

Sarah Made: Champagne Cupcakes with Strawberry Puree Filling and Strawberry Buttercream
Comments: “I modified this Paula Deen recipe because my husband is crazy and doesn’t like peaches. I made a strawberry version.”



I love all things strawberry, and these cupcakes look like heaven. Look at the cute frosting squiggles!




Susan the Sweet

Susan Made: Blackberry Merlot Cupcakes
Comments: “This is my Blackberry Merlot Cupcake!
It’s a dark chocolate cupcake with blackberry preserve filling and a country buttercream made with a fresh blackberry & Merlot reduction. I came up with it when my niece was trying to decide which vice — chocolate, cake, or wine — to partake in. I decided to come up with a way for her to have all three at once!”
(see more on her website)




These sound so decadent and delicious — what a way to “have your cake and eat it too!




Erin the Elegant

Erin Made: Boston Creme Pie Cupcakes
Comments: “I couldn’t help but join in the fun and bake a cupcake! I’m an avid reader of your site and am always inspired to bake after looking at the delicious food you’ve made. Thanks for the opportunity to create something new! I baked a yummy Boston Creme Pie Cupcake with vanilla cake, vanilla cream filling, and dark chocolate ganache topping. To really make the cupcake shine, I added macaroon coconut as a garnish on top of the ganache.” (see more on her blog)




These came out so cute, and I love the addition of coconut! This is the perfect way to eat Boston creme pie — in adorable single portions.




Cathy and Kevin the Courageous

Erin Made: Bananas Foster Cupcakes
Comments: “We made Bananas Foster cupcakes! We used a banana cake recipe, caramel filling, and a cinnamon-madagascar bourbon vanilla bean cream cheese frosting (long enough for you?) topped with vanilla wafer crumbs and butterscotch caramel sauce. These babies were to die for!! (Not for the faint of heart-if you don’t like rich banana-y goodness these are not for you!) Thanks for a great challenge to make us come up with these goodies; we will be making these again.” (see more on their blog)




All I can say is oh my goodness, yum. I need to try these!


As always, I’ve been totally inspired by you — thank you for plunging in and taking the cupcake challenge! If you didn’t get to join in this time around, don’t worry — there are always more WBB challenges coming up to build your kitchen confidence.

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Sweet and Spicy Pickled Grapes with Goat Cheese

First, I just want to take a moment to send love to Jennifer Perillo of In Jennie’s Kitchen who lost her husband Mikey this past week, and Kristen Doyle of Dine & Dish, who lost her brother after his struggle with cancer. I can’t begin to imagine the unthinkable heartbreak each woman is trying to navigate. I hope the huge wave of love their loss has inspired across the internet (have you seen the peanut butter pies? Mine’s coming next week) is just one tangible way God is embracing them during this time.

These tragedies come in the same year that Mara (I Made Dinner) lost her father and father-in-law and Erika (Ivory Hut) lost her home in a fire. This has been a hard year for so many blogger friends. The whole blogging community is grieving with and praying for these ladies, who deserve every ounce of the outpouring they’re receiving — and more. May God bless and keep you during your hard times.

I sat in a coffee shop last night with a friend chatting about submarines (what?) and drinking Pomegranate Hibiscus Ginger Ale. It was unfiltered, and the ginger burned my throat with spice every time I took a sip. The burning reminded me of eating rum cake, each bite of which is literally heartwarming. I love that sensation.

The ginger prickle in my throat also reminded me of pickled grapes. This intriguing recipe boasts a surprising flavor combination. I know the words “pickled grapes” may initially conjure up visions of dilly, sour grapes and the urge to upchuck one’s lunch (can I say that kind of thing on a food blog?), but hear me out.

As Deb said in the original recipe, these are a desserty sort of pickle. The brine itself is spicy with peppercorns, mustard seed, and cinnamon, and the grapes take on a deep, sweet warmth that the vinegar doesn’t overpower.

I served these in a little dish with wells for the grapes, goat cheese hunks, and toothpicks. Friends at my elementary school throwback picnic would grab a toothpick, skewer a grape, skewer a cheese hunk (that sounds like the kind of guy I want to meet — a cheese hunk. ha ha), and devour. Pairing the grapes with creamy goat cheese grounded their tangy flavor and, for me, made them the perfect appetizer.

As you might expect, these meet mixed reviews. I have a friend who tried the recipe with green grapes and didn’t love them. Some folks can’t get past the idea of a pickled fruit. But I really enjoyed the ease of preparation, their convenience as an appetizer, and the taste! If you like trying new things and have an open mind (and palette), give ’em a shot!

What kinds of things do you pickle?

Sweet and Spicy Pickled Grapes with Goat Cheese



Recipe by: Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Yields: about 3 cups of pickled grapes

Ingredients:
1 pound red or black seedless grapes, washed and with stems removed
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 (2 1/2-inch) cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon salt
goat cheese for serving (optional)

Directions:
Cut off the very end of each grape, exposing a bit of the inner flesh (which will help the pickling solution infiltrate the grapes). Place the grapes in a clean mason jar.

Bring the remaining ingredients to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Either pour the hot brine over the grapes and let them cool together or let the brine cool and then pour it over the grapes (Deb notes the difference: “The original recipe has you pour the bring mixture over the grapes and let them cool together. I personally prefer a cold brine on certain foods, not wanting to wilt the fresh fruit, so I cool the brine completely before pouring it over. The former will yield a more tender pickle, and it will pick up the brine’s flavor faster. The latter will take a bit longer to souse, but the grapes will stay more firm.”) I chose to mostly cool my brine first.

Once your grapes and brine are cool, chill in the jar for at least 8 hours or overnight. Serve cold with hunks of goat cheese.

P.S. Are you thinking up your own filled cupcake for the Willow Bird Baking Cupcake Challenge? Bake your creation and email photos to juruble ‘at’ gmail.com by Wednesday, September 7, 2011. I’ll feature your cupcake on WBB! Find more details and some cupcake inspiration here.

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Apple Cinnamon Cream Cupcakes: NOT Back-to-School Cupcakes!

It’s Cupcake Week on Willow Bird Baking! Cupcake Capers was a 5-day summer camp I conducted last week wherein 5 middle school girls learned to bake, fill, and frost cupcakes. We eschewed pedestrian cupcake flavors in favor of creative combinations that I now get to share with you! Every day this week I’ve been posting fun memories and recipes from Cupcake Camp.


No really, they’re not Back-to-School Cupcakes.

Like all good things, Cupcake Camp had to eventually come to an end. Day 5 arrived and so did the campers, eager to pack in one last day of cake pops and cupcakes. At the end of the day they would finally carry home their aprons, recipe notebooks, and colorful bakery boxes filled with the cupcakes we’d made all week (the ones they hadn’t already devoured, that is) to share with their families.

But first, we sat down to complete the cutest decorating job of the week: turning cupcakes into apples! We baked these apple cupcakes in bright red liners to begin creating the effect. Once they were cooled and frosted, we dipped the tops in red sanding sugar, used bits of pretzel for their “stems,” and cut “leaves” from green fruit roll-ups.

These cupcakes weren’t just adorable, though — they were also one of the girls’ favorite recipes all week long. The spice cake, creamy cinnamon mousse, and brown sugar buttercream frosting melded into a delicious preview of fall flavors. Bright smiles broke out all around as the campers first tasted one of their “apples.” Even though they had already ranked their favorite cupcakes, several of them went back and added Apple Cinnamon Cream Cupcakes right at the top of their lists!

After tasting, we sat back and admired our handiwork. Meticulous Mary Rood made the comment that these looked like Back-to-School cupcakes. She’s right, of course. Isn’t it funny how just as soon as August peeks around the corner, stores everywhere roll out the red plaid, apples, mini chalkboards, and school supplies in an array of primary colors? These cupcakes fit right in.

Her comment sunk in for a moment before our summer spirit rebelled. We still have a few weeks of freedom! The temperature still climbs to 100 degrees each day! We still have beach trips, pool trips, and sprints through the sprinkler planned!

I don’t care what the stores might have you believe, it’s still SUMMER! We’ll go back to school when our parents drag us, kicking and screaming, and not one second before!

(Okay, I guess I can’t quite wait until my parents drag me . . . )

So these may look like Back-to-School cupcakes. They may taste like Back-to-School cupcakes. I may have gotten carried away and photographed them surrounded by a bunch of the brightly colored school supplies I just made fun of.

But these are NOT Back-to-School cupcakes. These are IT’S-STILL-SUMMER-AND-I-DON’T-CARE-WHAT-YOU-SAY-LA-LA-LA cupcakes.

Now that we’re clear on that, you should go make them and eat about twenty.

What summer plans do you still have to accomplish before summer ends? Or, for readers on the tail end of winter, what exciting things do you have lined up for the spring?

Apple Cinnamon Cream Cupcakes



Recipe by: adapted from Baked Bree
Yields:about 24-28 cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients:
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 sticks butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 cups brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups applesauce
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped (optional)

Cinnamon Mousse Ingredients:
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 (4 serving) package vanilla Instant Pudding Mix (not Cook & Serve)
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Brown Sugar Buttercream Frosting Ingredients:
1 stick room temperature butter
1/4 cup shortening
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups of powdered sugar (depends on consistency desired)
3 tablespoons of heavy cream (depends on consistency desired)

Directions:
*Note: This recipe makes twice as much mousse as you need for filling the cupcakes. If you want to use half the pudding pack and save the rest for later, just measure it out and do so. Or use the extra mousse for another project (you know, like eating it with a spoon).

Make cupcakes: Line two muffin tins with paper liners. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. In a separate, large bowl, cream together butter, sugar, and brown sugar until light and fluffy (several minutes). Add the eggs in one at a time, beating after each addition, and then mix in the applesauce. Finally, mix in the dry ingredients until just combined.

Fill each cupcake liner about 3/4 full of batter. Bake for 15-20 minutes and let cool completely.

Make mousse: To make the cinnamon mousse, combine milk, cream, and pudding mix, and spices in a medium bowl. Beat with a mixer until you reach soft peaks, or a thick whipped cream consistency (this takes a few minutes). Refrigerate mousse until you’re ready to use it.

Make frosting: To make the frosting, beat butter and shortening together until light and fluffy. Add the brown sugar and cinnamon and mix. Gradually add the powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, and alternately add the cream. Adjust these items until desired consistency is reached.

Assemble cupcakes: To fill the cupcakes, use the Cone Method: cut an upside-down cone out of the top of each one. Cut off the tip of the cone (and eat it, if you wish) leaving just the “lid.” Fill the cavity with mousse using a piping bag or zip-top bag with the corner cut off, and then replace the “lid” to give you a relatively smooth surface to frost. Don’t overfill these, or they’ll be hard to frost.

Use the back of a spoon, a knife, or an offset spatula to cover the cupcakes with a layer of frosting. To ensure you don’t accidentally shift your “lid,” use a pretty thick layer of frosting and just gently pull it out toward the sides of the cupcake to achieve full coverage — that way you’re never pulling your spoon/spatula straight up and pulling the lid off. Dip frosted cupcakes into a bowl of red sanding sugar or sprinkles. Add a piece of a pretzel stick for a stem. Add a leaf cut from a green fruit roll up (I made a little indentation in my frosting with the tip of a knife to stick the tip of the leaf into). Enjoy!

All Cupcake Week Recipes:
Day One: Chocolate Pistachio Cream Cupcakes
Day Two: Banana Split Cupcakes and Cake Pops
Day Three: Creamsicle Cupcakes
Day Four: Strawberry & Cream Cupcakes and Cake Pops
Day Five: Apple Cinnamon Cream Cupcakes

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Strawberry & Cream Cupcakes and Cake Pops

It’s Cupcake Week on Willow Bird Baking! Cupcake Capers was a 5-day summer camp I conducted last week wherein 5 middle school girls learned to bake, fill, and frost cupcakes. We eschewed pedestrian cupcake flavors in favor of creative combinations that I now get to share with you! Every day this week I’ll be posting fun memories and recipes from Cupcake Camp.

On Day 4 of Cupcake Camp, things got a little silly. I’ve talked before about the moment toward the end of the school year when teachers realize they’ve controlled their classes as long as they can, and that the powder keg of summer frenzy is about to blow. Turns out cupcake camp has that moment, too!

On Day 4, everyone went a little crazy in their own personal ways. Energetic Erica played the Carrot Song until I felt sure I was going to throw a cupcake at someone. Elbow Grease Ella decided she was going to decorate her cupcake with polka dots and then wash every bowl by hand (okay, so her particular method of going crazy happened to be awesome).

Meticulous Mary Rood and I convinced everyone to watch the YouTube video of the sneezing baby panda (no seriously, go watch it). And then there were Pistachio Peyton and Elaborate Elizabeth.

They decided to become architects.

Measuring powdered sugar can get messy. Like, whole-cups-of-powdered-sugar-spilled-on-the-counter messy. Instead of cleaning this up like ordinary children, Pistachio Peyton and Elaborate Elizabeth decided to be extraordinary. They carefully constructed a perfect block of powdered sugar that they then manipulated with a table knife into various shapes and messages. Because, you know, that’s what you do at Cupcake Camp, right?


They may have gotten a little territorial.

I finally convinced the girls to clean off the counters despite their insistence that the powdered sugar sculpture should remain as an eternal (ahem) monument to Cupcake Camp. And believe it or not, in between watching crazy YouTube videos and playing with our food, we actually made some cupcakes!

These Strawberry & Cream Cupcakes were the perfect cool, sweet treat for summer. Tender strawberry cakes were filled with easy vanilla mousse and topped with a creamy, delicious strawberry cream cheese frosting. We had leftover cupcakes, too, so can you guess what we did?

We made cake pops! We crumbled the cupcakes up and mixed them with some of the frosting, rolled them into balls, chilled them overnight, and dipped them in pink candy melts.

If you’ve ever made cake pops, you know that dipping them is the hardest part (see my video tutorial at the bottom of the recipe). I loved watching the girls develop their own dipping techniques as they got the hang of it.

Pistachio Peyton dipped her pops and then rolled them in the spoon to get full coverage. Elbow Grease Ella used the spoon to drizzle candy melts over her cake pop. Elaborate Elizabeth was a pro at turning cake pops into cake balls if they fell off of their pretzel sticks (I love using these instead of lollipop sticks) by draining them on a couple of forks.

Despite a few inevitable cake pop missteps, the campers all successfully rolled, dipped, and ate! The cake pops were a tasty addition to our cupcake picnic.

With Day 4 complete, the girls dropped off their aprons and recipe notebooks and headed home. I’m pretty sure that I went home and collapsed into a cupcake coma (or maybe just a long nap). One more day left of cupcake camp!

What’s your favorite funny YouTube video?

Strawberry & Cream Cupcakes



Recipe by: adapted from Annie’s Eats
Yields: 18-24 cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients:
2 ½ cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter
1 ½ cups sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk
¼ cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups chopped strawberries

Vanilla Mousse Filling Ingredients:
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 (4 serving) package vanilla Instant Pudding Mix (not Cook & Serve)

Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients:
½ cup strawberries
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
4-5 cups powdered sugar, sifted
½ teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon vanilla
pink sanding sugar, if desired

Directions:
*Note: This recipe makes twice as much mousse as you need for filling the cupcakes. If you want to use half the pudding pack and save the rest for later, just measure it out and do so. Or use the extra mousse for another project (you know, like eating it with a spoon).

Make cupcakes: Line two muffin tins with paper liners. Preheat oven to 350°F. Onto a sheet of parchment or wax paper, sift flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light, fluffy, and pale yellow (several minutes). Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Mix in buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Pick up both ends of the parchment/wax paper and use it to add dry ingredients into the bowl and stir until just combined. Fold in the chopped strawberries (you could toss these with a few tablespoons of the dry ingredients first, if you were worried about them sinking to the bottom).

Fill each liner about 3/4 full of batter and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of several cupcakes comes out with just moist crumbs. Let cool completely.

Make mousse: To make the vanilla mousse, combine milk, cream, and pudding mix in a medium bowl. Beat with a mixer until you reach soft peaks, or a thick whipped cream consistency (this takes a few minutes). Refrigerate mousse until you’re ready to use it.

Make frosting: To make the frosting, puree the strawberries in food processor and then strain them through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds. In a separate bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter until fluffy and smooth before adding the lemon juice, vanilla, and sugar (start on the low side with the sugar and add more until the frosting reaches your desired consistency). Add the amount of puree needed to achieve your desired consistency and color (I do this before I’ve added all the sugar, so I can adjust both as needed). This is a loose frosting and benefits from sitting in the fridge for awhile after you make it with a damp cloth covering it.

Assemble cupcakes: To fill the cupcakes, use the Cone Method: cut an upside-down cone out of the top of each one. Cut off the tip of the cone (and eat it, if you wish) leaving just the “lid.” Fill the cavity with mousse using a piping bag or zip-top bag with the corner cut off, and then replace the “lid” to give you a relatively smooth surface to frost. Use a piping bag or zip-top bag to pipe on the frosting. Dust with pink sanding sugar if you wish.

Strawberry & Cream Cake Pops



Recipe by: adapted from Annie’s Eats
Yields: probably around 40-50 cake pops

Cupcake Ingredients:
2 ½ cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter
1 ½ cups sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk
¼ cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups chopped strawberries

Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients:
1/4 cup strawberries
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2-2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Other Cake Pop Ingredients:
pretzel sticks
pink candy melts or candy bark
sprinkles or pink sanding sugar, if desired

Directions:
*NOTE: We made our cake pops with leftover cupcakes, so I’m printing instructions for making them with cupcakes here. I’m not sure how this recipe would work if you tried baking this as a cake to save liners, so I don’t want to recommend that, but let me know if you try it.

Make cupcakes: Line two muffin tins with paper liners. Preheat oven to 350°F. Onto a sheet of parchment or wax paper, sift flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light, fluffy, and pale yellow (several minutes). Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Mix in buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Pick up both ends of the parchment/wax paper and use it to add dry ingredients into the bowl and stir until just combined. Fold in the chopped strawberries (you could toss these with a few tablespoons of the dry ingredients first, if you were worried about them sinking to the bottom).

Fill each liner about 3/4 full of batter and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of several cupcakes comes out with just moist crumbs. Let cool completely, and then crumble your cupcakes into a large bowl. Set aside.

Make frosting: To make the frosting, puree the strawberries in food processor and then strain them through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds. In a separate bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter until fluffy and smooth before adding the lemon juice, vanilla, and sugar (start on the low side with the sugar and add more until the frosting reaches your desired consistency). Add the amount of puree needed to achieve your desired consistency and color (I do this before I’ve added all the sugar, so I can adjust both as needed).

Make cake balls: Mix about 3/4 cup of frosting into your crumbled cake, adding more frosting if the mixture is still too crumbly. You want it to reach a sort of stiff play-dough texture so you can shape it into balls. Prepare a sheet pan with a sheet of wax paper on it. Shape your banana mixture into balls and line them on the wax paper. Chill these in the refrigerator overnight. I don’t freeze mine like some sites suggest, because I find chilling them in the fridge instead reduces cracking after I dip them.

Mount and dip cake balls: After cake balls have chilled overnight, melt your candy melts or chocolate bark according to the package directions. I keep my bowl of candy melts situated in a bigger bowl of hot water to keep them warm and fluid, but be careful no water gets into the melts! To mount each cake ball, take a pretzel stick and dip the end in candy melts. Gently but firmly push the end of the pretzel stick into the cake ball. Put these back on their silicone mat or wax paper to chill. Repeat until all cake balls are mounted and chill for about 30 minutes.

After chilling, you’re ready to dip! Dip each cake ball into the candy melts, using a spoon to help coat them. After dipping, hold your cake ball over the bowl and gently bounce to drain the excess off. Turn the pop as you drain. When well-drained, sprinkle some sprinkles on top and gently place the pop in a foam block to continue drying. I placed mine in the fridge to reduce drying time. Once they’re dry, you’re ready to eat them! These keep great in an airtight container in the fridge.

Never made cake pops before? I made this video tutorial to show you some techniques involved.

All Cupcake Week Recipes:
Day One: Chocolate Pistachio Cream Cupcakes
Day Two: Banana Split Cupcakes and Cake Pops
Day Three: Creamsicle Cupcakes
Day Four: Strawberry & Cream Cupcakes and Cake Pops
Day Five: Apple Cinnamon Cream Cupcakes

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Creamsicle Cupcakes

It’s Cupcake Week on Willow Bird Baking! Cupcake Capers was a 5-day summer camp I conducted last week wherein 5 middle school girls learned to bake, fill, and frost cupcakes. We eschewed pedestrian cupcake flavors in favor of creative combinations that I now get to share with you! Every day this week I’ll be posting fun memories and recipes from Cupcake Camp.

Day 3 of Cupcake Camp was a day several of the campers had been waiting for. It was Creamsicle Cupcake day.

Each day at our cupcake picnic, I’d been asking the girls what they thought of the day’s cupcake and mousse. And each day, like clockwork, a few of them had been ready with the same response: “This one’s good, but I think my favorite is going to be the Creamsicle!”

Meticulous Mary Rood and I discussed this phenomenon in the kitchen before the others arrived one morning. We agreed that it was impressive how certain they were of their favorite before they’d ever tasted it. Some of them had had the cupcakes ranked from favorite to least favorite as soon as Day 2! She wondered aloud if the Creamsicle cupcakes would live up to their expectations.

First thing’s first, though — before we could eat or even decorate our Creamsicle Cupcakes, we had an activity to complete. When all the campers had arrived, I sat them down with a list of cake flavors, filling flavors, frosting flavors, and toppings and gave them 10 minutes to come up with creative cupcake combinations of their own. Anyone can be given a book of fun recipes and whip them up, but I wanted these kids to experience what it’s like to create a new flavor.

Turns out they’re creative geniuses. Pistachio Peyton was dreaming of chocolate when she came up with her Chocolate Dream Cupcake, comprised of chocolate cake, chocolate filling, and chocolate frosting. Elaborate Elizabeth wanted to make a Fruit Punch Cupcake, while Elbow Grease Ella was excited about one covered in cashews. And these are just three examples of the almost 20 ideas they came up with!

With our brainstorming complete, we set about filling our moist orange cupcakes with the easy vanilla mousse I discussed yesterday. Each camper then frosted their masterpiece with a big swirl of orange cream cheese frosting.

They were thrilled with how their piping skills had improved since Day 1 of camp, and especially with the consistency of the cream cheese frosting, which is soft and easy to pipe. They topped their cupcakes with a dusting of orange sanding sugar before refrigerating them to let the frosting stiffen up.

At our cupcake picnic that day, the moment of truth had finally arrived. Everyone peeled off their cupcake papers, eager to see if the Creamsicle Cupcake was as awesome as they’d imagined it to be. Five hungry mouths opened and took five gigantic first bites, and . . . silence.

Lots of silence, and lots of this:

In other words, 10 middle schooler thumbs up! I have to hand it to the girls, they know how to pick ’em. I hope you enjoy these as much as they did!

What creative cupcake flavors can you imagine? Have you made any fantastic cupcake combinations lately?

Creamsicle Cupcakes



Recipe by: adapted from My Baking Addiction
Yields: about 14-16 cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup granulated white sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoon of pure orange extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk

Vanilla Mousse Filling Ingredients:
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 (4 serving) package vanilla Instant Pudding Mix (not Cook & Serve)

Orange Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients:
1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon clear vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange extract
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
orange sprinkles or sanding sugar, if desired

Directions:
*Note: This recipe makes twice as much mousse as you need for filling the cupcakes. If you want to use half the pudding pack and save the rest for later, just measure it out and do so. Or use the extra mousse for another project (you know, like eating it with a spoon).

Make cupcakes: Line two muffin tins with paper liners. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate, medium bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light, fluffy, and pale yellow. Add the eggs in one at a time, beating after each, and then beat in the vanilla and orange extract. Add the dry ingredients in, alternating with the milk, in three additions. Begin and end by adding the dry ingredients. Scrape down the sides of the bowl periodically.

Fill the paper liners about 2/3 full of batter and bake cupcakes for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Remove cupcakes from the oven and let cool completely.

Make mousse: To make the vanilla mousse, combine milk, cream, and pudding mix in a medium bowl. Beat with a mixer until you reach soft peaks, or a thick whipped cream consistency (this takes a few minutes). Refrigerate mousse until you’re ready to use it.

Make frosting: To make the frosting, cream butter and cream cheese together until fluffy in a large bowl. Add extracts and mix. Add sugar gradually, mixing as you go, and then beat the frosting until smooth and creamy. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth until ready to use.

Assemble cupcakes: To fill the cupcakes, use the Cone Method: cut an upside-down cone out of the top of each one. Cut off the tip of the cone (and eat it, if you wish) leaving just the “lid.” Fill the cavity with mousse using a piping bag or zip-top bag with the corner cut off, and then replace the “lid” to give you a relatively smooth surface to frost. Use a piping bag or zip-top bag to pipe on the frosting. Sprinkle on orange sanding sugar, if desired.

All Cupcake Week Recipes:
Day One: Chocolate Pistachio Cream Cupcakes
Day Two: Banana Split Cupcakes and Cake Pops
Day Three: Creamsicle Cupcakes
Day Four: Strawberry & Cream Cupcakes and Cake Pops
Day Five: Apple Cinnamon Cream Cupcakes

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Banana Split Cupcakes and Cake Pops

It’s Cupcake Week on Willow Bird Baking! Cupcake Capers was a 5-day summer camp I conducted last week wherein 5 middle school girls learned to bake, fill, and frost cupcakes. We eschewed pedestrian cupcake flavors in favor of creative combinations that I now get to share with you! Every day this week I’ll be posting fun memories and recipes from Cupcake Camp.

Day 2 of Cupcake Capers was all about learning to measure ingredients. I set out materials to make vanilla mousse and chocolate buttercream, as well as piles of tools: measuring cups, measuring spoons, liquid measuring cups, and one mysterious table knife.

While the girls listened with rapt attention (okay, they might have been eyeing the sugar and twitching a bit), I explained how to use each tool. When we came to the knife, there were some good guesses about its use in measuring — stabbing your neighbor when she tries to steal the vanilla, measuring butter, etc. I believe it was Meticulous Mary Rood and Energetic Erica who stumbled on its role in measuring flour “and other fluffy stuff,” as I like to say: leveling.

There are debates, believe it or not, about how to measure stuff. The Home Economics classes of your youth probably taught you to spoon ingredients into a measuring cup and then use a table knife to level them. Some folks, though, have resorted to just scooping and leveling. Still others swear by the most accurate and consistent method, measuring everything by weight with a kitchen scale. So I guess I’ll open myself up to major criticism and go ahead and tell you: I cheat. I don’t do any of those. And what’s more, I taught the campers to cheat, too.

See, the point of spooning an ingredient into a measuring cup is to ensure that it’s the right density to measure (i.e., that it’s not packed). This is also why kitchen scales are most accurate — they eliminate the variation caused by how densely an ingredient settles into the measuring cup. But both of those methods are too tedious for me, and my primary goal in the kitchen is to enjoy and challenge myself — not to bore and frustrate myself. My secondary goal is to make impressive, delicious food. My little “cheat” consistently accomplishes both of my goals, so I’m happy with it, even if some foodies would scoff.

I fluff-and-scoop. If you’ve ever watched Barefoot Contessa, you might have seen Ina Garten do it (see, I’m in good company). When measuring flour, for instance, I stick my measuring cup into the canister and “fluff” the flour with it a few times to ensure that it’s not packed. I then lightly scoop a heaping amount into the cup and level it with a table knife. This way the ingredient has an appropriate density in my measuring cup, but I don’t have to fiddle with a kitchen scale or spoon.

After our measuring lesson, the campers completed the mise-en-place for the chocolate frosting and mousse and set to work making both. I have to tell you about this easy, delicious mousse. It’s kind of a cheat too, actually. Maybe this post should be subtitled, “Ways to Cheat at Cupcake Camp.” The mousse takes advantage of the gelatin in instant pudding mixes, which is activated by agitation, to thicken what would otherwise be a simple whipped cream.

All you do is pick your favorite pudding mix (that’s part of the reason I love it — you can have chocolate, pistachio, butterscotch, cheesecake, white chocolate, banana cream, coconut, etc., etc., etc. mousse in a matter of minutes) and stick it in a bowl with a cup of milk and a cup of cream. You whip the mixture to soft peaks just as you would if you were making regular whipped cream. The pudding mix will thicken it beyond that to a moussey texture perfect for filling cupcakes (or layer cakes — just pipe a border of frosting around the outer edge of your layer before you add it so it doesn’t squish out).

After measuring and moussing, we made Banana Split Cupcakes, which are moist banana cupcakes filled with vanilla mousse and topped with chocolate buttercream, chocolate sauce, peanuts, sprinkles, and a cherry.

Since we had extra cupcakes, we also made Banana Split Cake Pops by crumbling the banana cake, mixing it with a simple cream cheese frosting, rolling it into balls, chilling them overnight, and dipping them in melted chocolate candy coating. These were so simple, and I almost liked them better than the cupcakes themselves! Instructions for how to make both are included below.

How do you measure dry ingredients?

Banana Split Cupcakes



Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, adapted from Piggly-Wiggly and Wilton
Yields: 18-24 cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter at room temp
1 cup sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 large egg, preferably at room temp
~2 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt

Mousse Ingredients:
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 (4 serving) package vanilla Instant Pudding Mix (not Cook & Serve)

Frosting Ingredients:
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
3/4 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar (approximately 1 lb.)
3-4 tablespoons milk
peanuts, chopped
sprinkles
chocolate sauce
maraschino cherries

Directions:
*Note: This recipe makes twice as much mousse as you need for filling the cupcakes. If you want to use half the pudding pack and save the rest for later, just measure it out and do so. Or use the extra mousse for another project (you know, like eating it with a spoon).

Make cupcakes: Line two muffin tins with paper liners. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together. In a separate, large bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and beat at medium speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla, then add the eggs, one at a time, beating for about 1 minute after each egg goes in. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the bananas.

Mix in half the dry ingredients (the mixture may look curdled — just keep mixing), followed by all the sour cream and finally, the rest of the flour mixture. Fill each well of your prepared pan about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way full and rap the pan on the counter to remove bubbles from the batter and smooth the top.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted deep into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 10 minutes before unmolding on the rack. Let cool completely.

Make mousse: To make the vanilla mousse, combine milk, cream, and pudding mix in a medium bowl. Beat with a mixer until you reach soft peaks, or a thick whipped cream consistency (this takes a few minutes). Refrigerate mousse until you’re ready to use it.

Make frosting: To make the frosting, cream shortening and butter together in a large bowl. Mix in cocoa and vanilla. Add in the sugar one cup at a time while beating on medium speed and scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Add milk and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth until ready to use.

Assemble cupcakes: To fill the cupcakes, use the Cone Method: cut an upside-down cone out of the top of each one. Cut off the tip of the cone (and eat it, if you wish) leaving just the “lid.” Fill the cavity with mousse using a piping bag or zip-top bag with the corner cut off, and then replace the “lid” to give you a relatively smooth surface to frost. Use a piping bag or zip-top bag to pipe on the frosting. Top cupcakes with chocolate sauce, peanuts, sprinkles, and a cherry.

Banana Split Cupcakes



Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, adapted from Piggly-Wiggly
Yields: probably around 40-50 cake pops

Cupcake Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter at room temp
1 cup sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 large egg, preferably at room temp
~2 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt

Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups confectioners’ sugar

Other Cake Pop Ingredients:
pretzel sticks
chocolate candy melts or candy bark (I use CandiQuik)
sprinkles

Directions:
*NOTE: We made our cake pops with leftover cupcakes, so I’m printing instructions for making them with cupcakes here. I’m not sure how this recipe would work if you tried baking this as a cake to save liners, so I don’t want to recommend that, but let me know if you try it.

Make cupcakes: Line two muffin tins with paper liners. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together. In a separate, large bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and beat at medium speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla, then add the eggs, one at a time, beating for about 1 minute after each egg goes in. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the bananas.

Mix in half the dry ingredients (the mixture may look curdled — just keep mixing), followed by all the sour cream and finally, the rest of the flour mixture. Fill each well of your prepared pan about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way full and rap the pan on the counter to remove bubbles from the batter and smooth the top.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted deep into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 10 minutes before unmolding on the rack. Let cool completely before crumbling cupcakes into a large bowl.

Make frosting: Make cream cheese frosting by beating butter and cream cheese together until fluffy. Add sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth.

Make cake balls: Mix about 3/4 cup of frosting into your crumbled cake, adding more frosting if the mixture is still too crumbly. You want it to reach a sort of stiff play-dough texture so you can shape it into balls. Prepare a sheet pan with a sheet of wax paper on it. Shape your banana mixture into balls and line them on the wax paper. Chill these in the refrigerator overnight. I don’t freeze mine like some sites suggest, because I find chilling them in the fridge instead reduces cracking after I dip them.

Mount and dip cake balls: After cake balls have chilled overnight, melt your candy melts or chocolate bark according to the package directions. I keep my bowl of candy melts situated in a bigger bowl of hot water to keep them warm and fluid, but be careful no water gets into the melts! To mount each cake ball, take a pretzel stick and dip the end in candy melts. Gently but firmly push the end of the pretzel stick into the cake ball. Put these back on their silicone mat or wax paper to chill. Repeat until all cake balls are mounted and chill for about 30 minutes.

After chilling, you’re ready to dip! Dip each cake ball into the candy melts, using a spoon to help coat them. After dipping, hold your cake ball over the bowl and gently bounce to drain the excess off. Turn the pop as you drain. When well-drained, sprinkle some sprinkles on top and gently place the pop in a foam block to continue drying. I placed mine in the fridge to reduce drying time. Once they’re dry, you’re ready to eat them! These keep great in an airtight container in the fridge.

Never made cake pops before? I made this video tutorial to show you some techniques involved.

All Cupcake Week Recipes:
Day One: Chocolate Pistachio Cream Cupcakes
Day Two: Banana Split Cupcakes and Cake Pops
Day Three: Creamsicle Cupcakes
Day Four: Strawberry & Cream Cupcakes and Cake Pops
Day Five: Apple Cinnamon Cream Cupcakes

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Straw-Raspberry Basil Fruit Leather

I’m a writer, personally and professionally. I write poetry (my first literary love), I keep a journal, I write essays and articles. I even have this blog — I don’t know if you’ve heard of it — where I write about food and stuff. Cough.

I love well-chosen words, purposeful syntax, concrete images, a sturdy grammatical infrastructure. I even love the thoughtful absence of words, the careful economy of constructing meaning.

But in second grade, let’s just say I didn’t know what syntax was just yet. And I was a twerp.

By twerp, I mean I was one of those flippant kids who think they’re immeasurably witty. You’ve probably run across a twerp or two in your own life. Hopefully you’ve resisted the urge to kick them, or at least haven’t gotten caught doing so.

My beloved second grade teacher, Mrs. Shaughnessy, was adept at resisting the urge to kick me. In fact, that amazing woman seemed to genuinely love me and want me to explore my talents.

Our daily journal assignment was supposed to give me the opportunity to do so. We’d all receive a sheet of that burlap-brown paper ruled with inch-wide lines — the only kind hospitable to the malformed block letters second grade hands produce. It was the sort with a blank space up top for an illustration, so the required length of our journal entries was automatically halved. Apparently, though, having to fill 3 whole lines with text was too fussy for me.

Every single day, I’d grab my sheet of paper and my great big honkin’ pencil — which had both the girth and color of a dingy school bus — and write some variation (ha ha, pun intended) of the following:

Today I was very, very, very, very, very bored.

The number of veries (verys? “very”s?) changed depending on how large I was writing that day — I’d just keep adding them until I filled up the page. Then I’d slap a half-hearted illustration of a teddy bear or a heart on that baby and stick a fork in myself, ’cause I was DONE. Time to color.

God bless my teachers.

One day, Mrs. Shaughnessy addressed the subject of my journal writing strategy by hacking off its legs. With a stern look, she declared that I was officially limited to two veries per page. The end. No arguments. I would just have to find it within myself to meet the length requirements without my crafty adverbs, and I might even have to, like, actually describe my day or something. The horror.

I look back now and think this shows saintly restraint on her part. If I’d been her, I might have also added, “And stop saying my class is boring, and stop drawing hearts just because they’re easy, and stop being such a twerp!”

Okay, okay, I guess I’d nix the twerp part.

Ah, second grade. The year of twerpitude, of learning that shortcuts don’t pay off, of Mrs. Shaughnessy’s encouragement. And the year of fruit roll-ups.

Really, I loved all of the tangy, sweet incarnations of processed fruit leather throughout my childhood: old school fruit roll-ups, fruit roll-ups with shape cut-outs, fruit-by-the-foot. I’d unroll them from their thin plastic wrappers and stuff a huge hunk in my mouth, pick the sweet stickiness out of my teeth with my tongue for a few minutes, and then repeat the process.

Because of all of my fond fruit snack memories, I knew my recent elementary school throwback picnic wouldn’t be complete without a grownup version of the fruit roll-up.

This recipe uses a combination of strawberries and raspberries with some minced basil thrown in for herbal brightness. The resulting fruit leather tastes more like a burst of tangy fruit than the processed kind. The recipe does take quite awhile (though not too much active work time) and only produces about 5 fruit roll-up sized portions, so you may want to work on two pans at once.

I’m not sure that I’d make this all the time given the amount of fruit required, but I enjoyed the fun results. I also love that it packs a ton of fruit into a single snack; if I had children, being able to control what was in their lunchboxes might motivate me to make it more often.

Were you a twerp as a child? Know any twerps? Do tell.

P.S. Dear Mrs. Shaughnessy, your class was very, very, very, very, very, very engaging. I promise.

Straw-Raspberry Basil Fruit Leather


Recipe by: adapted from Gourmet, with tips from Simply Recipes
Yield: about 5 “fruit roll-up” sized squares

Ingredients:
about 3 cups halved strawberries
about 1 cup raspberries
spritz lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
scant 1/2 cup sugar

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F and line a sheet pan with microwave-safe plastic wrap.

Place berries, spritz of lemon juice, and sugar in a food processor or blender and purée. Strain into a heavy saucepan using a fine-mesh sieve and bring it to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 10 minutes, continuing to stir occasionally. Stir in the basil and simmer for about 10 more minutes, stirring more frequently towards the end.

Pour the purée onto prepared baking sheet and use an offset spatula to spread it out as thinly and evenly as possible. Dry in oven for 2 to 3 hours until it’s slightly tacky but doesn’t stick to your fingers. At this point I turned the oven off and left it in for about 5 more hours. Then take it out and let it continue drying on a cooling rack for up to 19 more hours until completely dry and set. If some still-sticky purée exists around the edges where the plastic wrap prevented drying, just scrape that off and discard.

Lay a sheet of parchment or wax paper on the counter and invert sheet pan onto it. Slowly and carefully peel plastic wrap off of the back of the fruit leather and then roll it up in the parchment/wax paper, cutting it into portions if you’d like. Store in a sealed bag at room temperature for up to 1 month, or in the fridge.

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