Tag Archives: cupcakes

Halloween Witch Cupcakes

It would be easy to show only the way the cupcakes came out, and give you the instructions about how they are made, but then as you probably know, I don’t ever do things the easy way. So this article is a story about how I made the witches.

witches 004Mini-cupcake witch with tempered chocolate hat brim

I made 3 boxes of cake mix into 6 dozen regular size cupcakes, and a couple dozen mini-cupcakes. What happens is that the box says to fill the regular cupcake cups with 3 Tablespoons of batter; when I did that and got 24 cups filled, I had batter left over. So I filled mini-cupcake cups with 1 Tablespoon of batter each, and got anywhere from 6 to 12 mini-cupcakes with each 2 dozen regular cupcakes. That was the how and why of the mini-witches.

To make the witch, the general directions are to cut a cone out of the cupcake, which will become the pointed hat. Then the empty space left from taking the cone out of the cupcake is filled with frosting- green butter cream- which is overflowing to make the witches head. I used black frosting to paint the eyes and mouth. Then the cone is stuck to the brim of the hat with a drop of frosting, and I piped an orange ring around the cone to fill that space between the rounded bottom of the upside down cone and the brim.

I made the cupcakes over a period of 3 weeks, and then packaged them by the dozen and froze them after they had completely cooled. I was pleasantly surprised at how moist they had kept. Perhaps the only thing that was different from fresh cupcakes was that the paper cups seemed to want to pull away from the cupcake.

When I was making my test version of the witch, I had concerns that the cupcake, and especially the point of the hat, would dry out prematurely and make for an unpleasant product. I decided to do something about that by frosting the cupcake, and dipping the cone, like I would a firm chocolate filling, into a pot of tempered chocolate. I made a couple mistakes in doing all that. First, I frosted the top of the cupcake with chocolate ganache (there is never enough chocolate even with the cupcakes made with chocolate cake mix). The frosting left the cupcake tacky, and with the crusted exterior, seemed to be overkill. Second, dipping the cones just didn’t work for a couple reasons- the chocolate made the cones lose their shape, and made the whole hat heavier so that it tended to squash the head of the witch. I decided I just had to let the cones dry out if they were going to dry.

witches 002Witch in frosted cupcake and dipped hat cone, and mini-cupcake witch with OREO brim.

The brim of the hat is a chocolate wafer cookie. The first time I looked for them, I didn’t find them, but they are available. However, I felt I could improve on the cookie as a brim. I painted a piece of parchment paper with tempered chocolate, and when it was mostly set up, I cut it with a biscuit cutter. The trick is to get the painted chocolate thin enough. I found that using a cup of tempered chocolate (2/3 cup melt and 1/3 cup temper seed) I was able to spread almost a 9 x 13 sheet of parchment and the thickness was about 1/8 inch.

When I started making the mini-cupcake witches, I needed a smaller cookie as the brim of the hat. I found that the OREO cookie wafer was about the right size. So I had to separate the wafers from the center. Never fear, I didn’t let all those centers go to waste- they went to waist. After working with the tempered chocolate, I made brims by using a smaller biscuit cutter for the mini-cupcakes.

The one area in which I did not find the complete solution is in putting the hat on the head. Too often, it seemed the hat squashed the head and the face features were pushed down into the cupcake. I tell people that the witches pulled their hats too low. I think there might be a couple approaches to fixing that problem. First, maybe making the heads bigger would better support the hat. And second, maybe letting the butter cream harden before adding the hat would keep the face from being squashed.

Birthday Cakes

For our clan here in Northwest Oregon, August and September seem to be occupied with the birthdays of the adults. It starts with Jeff in mid-August, followed very shortly with Jenn (and if she comes down from Seattle- Mindy) and then Kris. Finally, in mid-September is James. That is four or five cakes I try to make over the month period.

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This year, Jeff wanted his usual. He has the Angel Food cake with whip cream and strawberry frosting. I took a picture of it two years ago and posted it last year. This year, I tried something different; unfortunately, I forgot to photograph it. What I did was try to convert the angel food cake to a layered cake by slicing it in two places. Then I mixed two thirds of the strawberries and whip cream to make filling, and used the last third of the whip cream to top the cake, and put the last third of the strawberries on top of the whip cream- these were whole strawberries whereas the first two third were chopped. I didn’t frost the sides of the cake, but left them showing the angel food cake. I liked the results, but I must say that slicing horizontally the cake was a bit tricky; the cake is so soft that it moves with the cutter rather than giving into the cutter.

For Jenn’s birthday, she wanted the Bacardi Rum cake again. Again, I first made this in 2012, and then added the post to this blog last year. There is not much to say about that cake except that I cooled it longer in the pan and it came out beautifully. There was no need to paper the bottom of the tube pan.

Kris wanted chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting, with bachelor button decorations. Way back when I was taking the cake decorating class and we did flowers, Kris saw my bachelor buttons and fell in love with them. Well, I gave her what she wanted.

bachlor buttons 001

Finally James wanted a German’s Chocolate cake. When I first told Mindy what I planned she said “NO, you have to do it in the historical manner”. So I looked up recipes on the web and found one by Kraft that seemed reasonable. It wasn’t altogether reasonable. It starts by lining the bottom of the pans with wax paper; luckily I was following the directions to the letter. In my humble opinion, the cake did not rise like I expect a cake to rise, and it was very soft. Without the wax paper, the layers would have fallen apart when I took them out of the pans; they bent and cracked, but the wax paper held them together. I didn’t take the wax paper off each layer until it was in-place on the cake board/lower layer. Even then, the layers wanted to split and slide apart. I think next time I do a German’s Chocolate I will start with a cake mix rather than a recipe from scratch like this one.

german choco best

Look carefully in the picture and you can see the middle layer trying to slide apart.

Mini Cupcakes

Jenn wanted a Bacardi Rum Cake for her birthday, and since we would be celebrating it with the children, I felt I also needed some non-alcoholic cake for them. After thinking about it, I felt these mini-cupcakes would be just the thing. The trick is in determining the amount of ingredients to use so that you are not trying to make a bakery full.

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I did the math, starting with the information that a full box of cake mix is enough for 24 regular size cupcakes. Those use a 2.5 inch cupcake paper and are about 1 inch deep. The mini-cupcake papers are half that diameter, and half that high. If you do all the multiplies and divides, it comes out that a quarter of a box of cake mix is adequate for 36 mini cupcakes.

It just happened that I had 3 mini muffin pans, or 36 mini cupcake places. (I will now wonder why we had three pans). After I put the paper cup into each of the openings, I also dropped a chocolate chip onto the bottom of the paper as a small surprise.

Based on some tips that I got from Blake’s Decorette Shop, I didn’t just divide the recipe on the back of the cake mix box by 4; besides, I would have to tell you what to do about the 3 eggs that the box says to use for a full box of cake mix; there is no such thing as 3/4 of an egg!

So here is what I used.

  1. I measured out 1/4 of the cake mix from the box. That is very close to 4 ounces.
  2. I used a full egg.
  3. I used 1/4 cup of milk (instead of water).
  4. I used 2 Tablespoons and 2 teaspoons butter, melted (instead of oil).
  5. Finally, I used 1 teaspoon of Meringue Powder.

I used 1 Tablespoon of batter in each cup. I found putting the batter in a piping bag worked better than trying to spoon it. And I must confess that depending on how good I am at piping just exactly 1 Tablespoon per cup, I get a yield of 30-36 cupcakes.

Since the box said that 24 cupcakes needed to cook for 18-21 minutes, I decided to cook the smaller cupcakes for 10 minutes and then test for doneness. I must say that for my stove, the 10 minutes turned out to be perfect!

The real trick is in filling the mini cupcake cups. I strongly recommend putting the batter in a piping bag so you can control the flow and amount that goes into each cupcake cup. Because of the need for egg in the cake mix, I don’t think it is reasonable to try to make fewer than the 36 mini cupcakes at a time. And I don’t know what happens if you try to cook the 36 in batches rather than all at the same time; I suspect the dough that is waiting for the first batch to cook is starting to deflate and lose all the air that has been mixed into it.

November 2016: I had the occasion to make mini cupcakes this month, and have changed my mind about making 36 pieces from a quarter box of cake mix. As you can see in the picture the cupcakes are flat on the top; I want mushroom shaped cupcakes. So after experimenting, I decided it was better to make 24 nice fat mini cupcakes instead of the 36 flat topped mini cupcakes. Just fill the cupcake papers fuller!

One thought about having the mushroom shaped cupcakes is that it is harder to decorate a pull-apart cake; you have mountains and valleys and not a clean flat surface. But if you look at the photo of the rabbit pull-apart cake, you can see that they have a nice round top going into the decorating.

The one thing you might want to watch is the cooking time. Because there is more dough in each cupcake cup, it might need an extra 4-5 minutes versus the 10 I suggested earlier in this article.

Valentine’s Day Cupcakes

For Valentine’s Day, I distributed cupcakes. Not just ordinary cupcakes, but filled cupcakes. I made two different recipes of cupcakes; a chocolate recipe and a white cake recipe. Each recipe gave me 24 cupcakes for a total of 48. Then, because some people think cupcakes are a dry cake, and not very tasty after you eat the frosting off, I decided to fill the cupcakes to make the dough tastier. I ended up filling the white cake ones with chocolate ganache, and the chocolate cupcakes with creme patissiere. (There are a bunch of those marks over the vowels in creme patissiere, but they are difficult to put there; think of it as pastry cream which is a custard filling). This photo shows my test cupcakes before I used the chocolate ganache or creme patissiere and used some existing buttercream frosting both as the filling and as the pink frosting. I mixed some red frosting for the final assembly.

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There is really no trick about the filling of the cupcakes. You use a knife to cut a lid off the cupcake. Insert the knife at a 45 degree angle and rotate around the cupcake. When you lift the lid off, cut the point of the cone away as scraps. I also did a little digging of the center of the cupcake with the lid off to make the space bigger. Then you put the filling in that open space and put the remaining lid back on; the filling will help keep the lid in place.

I piped the frosting with a #2D tip; this is a very large star tip that requires the special large coupler on the bag. The design is created by starting with a star in the center, and then creating a spiral around the center until the top of the cake is filled. You can see the difference the large #2D tip made compared with the pink frosting on my test cupcakes which used a smaller #21 piping tip.

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I thought that the frosting might cover the cupcakes to the point that one would not be able to tell whether the cupcake was a white cake or a chocolate cupcake. So I planned ahead and created the purple drop flowers with brown and white centers. Then at the end of each spiral of frosting I placed one of the dried drop flowers to indicate the cake type. These big drop flowers were also made with the #2d piping tip. I wanted them big and bold.

I hope this gives you some ideas for moving forward with cupcakes that you might make. I note on the internet that lots of people are now doing filled cupcakes, and even the top frosting design is starting to be common; I saw it referred to as a rose on one site.

Christmas Tree Cupcakes

Again, I have borrowed an idea from someone else and messed up in a couple ways. The idea of making Christmas Trees from cupcakes comes from this website: Christmas Trees. Here are my versions of the trees.

trees 018

I messed up in a couple ways, but mostly from not following directions. I started by making my Kentucky Chocolate Cake into the cupcakes, and from experience, that turned out okay. Then, I made my own butter-cream frosting and frosted the cupcakes to be the snow, and stuck the sugar cones into the frosting. I was surprised that these were more stable than I had imagined; I had thought I would have trouble keeping them upright.

trees 016

Now I messed up; I didn’t add enough powdered sugar to the frosting to make it stiff enough to stay when it was piped. As a result, it slid down the sides of the trees. You can see the lack of definition and puddling in the bright green color. So, I made a new batch of frosting, colored it green with a drop of brown, and made certain it was stiff enough to stay put when it was piped.

trees 009

My non-artistry shows up in my decorating of the trees. I gave each a white star at the top, and then dusted it with the gold disco powder. Then I worked down the sides of the trees. Some I tried to put ropes around, and some I piped stars onto. And one, I even patiently passed those little decorations you buy in the bottles at the store; my patients wore out after doing one tree.

trees 007

I think the directions on the website are very good; while they buy Betty Crocker cake mix and frosting, that would be an easy way to go if you don’t want to make mistakes like I did, and you want the basic trees ready to decorate.

More Pull-Apart Cakes

For our Thanksgiving meal, I was to make a couple pies and a side casserole. What I did there will have to wait for another article. In this article, I want to show a couple pull-apart cakes I also took to Thanksgiving.

As I was doing the pies, it dawned on me that the young children really like cupcakes. They can hold them in their hands and when decorated, they are fun. So I started planning to do a pull-apart set of cupcakes with an overall frosting. I remembered how the young ones almost fought over who got the eyeballs from the turtle I had made with the birthday cake.

turkey 002

I decided I wanted to do a “crazy looking” turkey as the overall design. The other day I saw a yard in the neighborhood that was decorated with large balloon turkeys and that became my starting point. But try as a would, it took 13 cupcakes; I would need to make two batches! and then I would have 11 left over!

So while I was planning the turkey, I decided I could make the little one-eyed green guy from Monsters, Inc. And that is what I planned.

pullApart 001

This big monster only took 7 cupcakes, and so I decided to transform the last four cupcakes into individual green guys.

individual 002

I ran into a couple problems that I need to mention. First, while at birthday time I used a half recipe of Kentucky Chocolate cake to make 12 cupcakes, this time I made a full recipe expecting to get all 24 cupcakes from it; it didn’t happen. For some reason- I filled them too full?- I got only about 12 from a recipe, and I had to make a second recipe to get my needed 24 cupcakes. Second, I tried to glaze the first batch of cupcakes just as the recipe says. What a mess, because there are no sides of the pan to hold the glaze on! And then, the glaze gets in the way. I was not able to push the cupcakes together close enough, and there were big gaps at spots. Finally, since we are frosting the cupcakes, the glaze gets in the way of the frosting. I noticed as the people were eating the cupcakes from the big monster, the frosting was staying as a tent and the cupcakes they were taking were sliding out from under the frosting. So, don’t glaze the cupcakes if you are going to frost them!

The frosting on the turkey is all the Basic Cream Cheese Frosting which I found spreads so nicely. I did cheat on the band of the hat; I had blue Royal Icing that I decided to use rather than creating another color of the frosting. For the monsters, I used both frosting and icing. The arms and ears are icing and the face, eyes and mouth are all Basic Frosting thinned down enough to pipe.

Oh yes, and I noticed at our Thanksgiving meal that the women were eating cupcakes instead of the pies. I am certainly glad I decided to make the pull-aparts.

Making of a Birthday Cake

In late September, I was asked to make a cake for Alli’s ninth birthday, which we would celebrate on the second of November. The request was for “a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and some fun decoration on it. “

It all came out fairly nicely as the picture shows, but this is the story of getting there.

final bday cake 002

I knew immediately that the cake and frosting were the Kentucky Chocolate cake; it is very moist and chocolaty since it contains a whole can of Hershey’s Chocolate syrup. The trick was to decide on, and make the fun decorations. At that time, I felt I had two tools that I knew and could use- Royal Icing and Sugar Fondant. I use Royal Icing on the cutout cookies for decorations, and I use the Sugar Fondant on the napoleons I bake. Little did I know how much I needed to learn.

I felt a little girl would like flowers, birds and butterflies on her cake; probably roses as the base of a center display. And of course, there would need to be lettering for “Happy Birthday Allison”. Normally in store-bought cakes, the lettering is piped on using a pastry bag of frosting; I didn’t think I would do a good job of piping the letters, and decided to try to use preformed letters. Of course, most stores have candy letters in a set with candles, and maybe I should have gone that way; but I didn’t. I decided that I would make my own larger letters.

I spent the next couple weeks experimenting and learning how naïve I was when it came to icings, frosting and decorating a cake. I learned fairly quickly that what I make as Royal Icing wouldn’t set into candy-like letters; I quit trying to use my Royal Icing within a couple days when it wouldn’t dry like I wanted it to into brittle candy forms. And I quickly learned that my Sugar Fondant was also too brittle; I was able to mold a few figures, but my success ratio was way too small.

In Marlys’s cook book were several recipes for frosting- how to pick the right one? So I started with the one that was called Basic Frosting. When I had it mixed up, I felt something was wrong. It was very dry and would never be able to be spread. I added a very small amount of milk – 1 Tablespoon- and it at least came together into a solid. To my surprise, the result was malleable; I was able to knead it, to roll it out, and generally shape it. This became the basis for a good number of the decorations that were mostly two dimensional- things that could be cut out with miniature cookie cutters like leaves, butterflies and some flowers. I was also able to use this stiff butter cream frosting in molds for flowers and birds. And, I found directions for making a rose that worked with this stiff dough. The directions were designed for using gum paste, but I was staying away from that since I wanted good tasting decorations.

Oct 26 009

I still didn’t have letters, so I decided to get help. I went to Blake’s Decorette Shop in Tigard, and found the most helpful company of women. I especially need to recognize Michelle who gave me a quick education in fondant. And I went home with a couple pounds of Rolled Fondant and some suggestions for using the letter molds I had bought. I started having some success with the letters although I still need to learn more about the techniques for molding in plastic molds.

First molded letters

I had found on the internet, instructions for making a “Ribbon Rose” with rolled fondant, and tried that; it makes a nice looking flower, but not the delicate roses that I wanted. And as I mentioned, I found directions for constructing a rose from gum paste; I used my stiff butter cream frosting and I liked the results. I call this a play-doh rose because the construction is like using play-doh. I also knew that you were suppose to be able to pipe the roses. I found the directions on the Wilton web site, and started practicing. When I finally got what could loosely be called a flower, I was dismayed at how small it was. I went back to the Decorette Shop, and found a piping tip that was larger, and should make larger roses. And, it was obvious that this tip would not fit on the piping bag couplers that Marlys had; I had to buy a new honking big coupler.

It took a few more practice sessions, and reading some of the many hints on the website to finally get some roses that I felt I could put on the cake. One of those hints was to freeze the core of the rose so that it is firm enough to hold up when making the petals attach to it. Oh yes, the dough I was using for piping was the stiff butter cream frosting thinned out with more milk and the liquid in the food color dye.

PicMonkey Collage
In this photo, the yellow flowers are rolled fondant ribbon roses, the white flowers are what I call play-doh roses- hand crafted, and the pink flowers are the piped “Wilton” roses.

turtle pullapart 001

Somewhere along here, I got thinking about cupcakes, and pull-apart cakes. I had already committed myself mentally to making a traditional(?) cake- or at least a quarter sheet cake in a pan. But I got thinking about a Betty Crocker design I found for a pull-apart turtle cake. The recipe made two turtles from a single cake recipe, but I had already experimented with making a small Kentucky Chocolate cake by dividing the recipe ingredients by half. So I made a half recipe of the cake and formed it into 12 cupcakes. The only trick is to reduce the cooking time from 35 minutes to about 20 minutes, and to not overfill the cupcake papers; the half recipe is just right for 12 cupcakes.

pullapart placement 002
This picture shows how the 12 cupcakes are arranged to form the turtle. The head is the cupcake on the right, and the hind feet are the two cupcakes that stick out on the left.

I thought the frosting for the pull-apart cake should be firmer than a basic butter cream (what was I thinking- remember I had it so stiff I could mold it.) I chose to use Marlys’s recipe for Basic Cream Cheese Frosting which I felt would be stiff. I turned out to be a perfect spreading frosting- not overly stiff and easy to spread. I took half of the frosting and tinted it with green food coloring, and in the mixer I added Hershey’s cocoa to the other half to get the brown color I wanted. After adding the green food coloring, that half of the frosting was too loose to pipe well, and I had to add more powder sugar to stiffen it back up. For the details, I had leftover some of the original uncolored stiff butter cream frosting and I formed the two balls for the eyes, and deepened the leftover pink I had for the roses to be more red and piped it for the mouth. Perhaps the only thing I would do different in the frosting would be to make more separation between the head and the two front feet; my execution makes them run together.

I will publish Marlys’s frosting recipes in a few days, but I didn’t want to mix the recipes with the experience of making the birthday cakes. If I can learn to make these decorations, then I am certain you can too. So, make someone a birthday cake and decorate it; they will never even see the mistakes and goofs you make, and they will be excited that you remembered them and went to the effort. And the nice thing about practicing with the butter cream frosting is that when you practice on wax paper, you can scrape the mistakes off into your frosting bowl and use the frosting again until you like the results.