Cupcakes aren't simply for children's school parties anymore. They now have a prominent place among desserts and are served for most any occasion.
The following are tips to improve your cupcakes, so you don't waste ingredients:
Cupcake decorations can mean the difference between a simple "thank you" from others and raves and requests for the recipe. One idea is to tape a piece of balloon ribbon to the bottom liner of each cupcake and gather the ribbons to make the cupcakes look like a dozen balloons. Or make a cupcake cake. Visit www.frugalvillage.com/2008/08/12/cupcake-cake-easy-as-pie/ for directions.
As for toppings, instead of simply adding frosting and sprinkles, try strawberries or other fresh fruit, gumdrops, gummy bears, lollipops, cookies, peppermint bark, chocolate wafers or chips, mini marshmallows, colorful cereal, sugar confetti and nonpareils.
You can cut cupcakes horizontally and frost with icing or jam in between. Insert a small chocolate into the batter before baking, or use two different flavored batters and make your own marble cupcakes. Try mini cupcake pans for even smaller cupcakes, which are much easier to frost. You can also ice cupcakes with a pastry bag and tips instead of a knife. Try baking in flat-bottom ice cream wafer cups or using cones as hats on cupcakes with faces.
For many, the problems aren't in the decorating, but during the baking process. Here are some common problems and solutions:
-- Sunken tops or soggy centers. This is often caused by too much liquid, old baking powder or underbaking.
-- Dry cupcakes. Refrigeration can often cause a cupcake to lose its moistness. Dryness can also happen if your cupcakes are overbaked or if you added too much flour.
-- Miscellaneous issues. Most other baking problems can be solved by not under- or overmixing, using a level pan and baking rack, not overfilling the cups, baking in the center of the oven, properly measuring your ingredients and not overgreasing pans.
TRANSPORTING YOUR CUPCAKES:
After all your hard work, focus on an appropriate method to carry your cupcakes safely to their destination. Many different kinds of cupcake carriers are available, such as the Cupcake Courier (cupcakecourier.com). You can also ask your local bakery for plastic containers, but if you don't want to spend the money, use a simple cardboard box that is taller than your cupcakes. A standard 9-by-13-inch pan will also work, as will muffin pans. You can freeze the cupcakes for an hour before transporting, too, so the icing isn't too soft. The trick is to pack them closely. Lastly, nix the plastic wrap. It's always going to stick to the frosting.
2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup half-and-half cream
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients on medium speed for 2 minutes. Pour into muffin pan lined with paper muffin cups, filling each cup halfway. Bake for 20 minutes or until the cupcakes test done with a toothpick. Don't overmix or overfill. Makes 18 cupcakes.
1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup pecans, finely chopped
3/4 cup powdered sugar
5 teaspoons apple juice
Preheat oven to 350 F. Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt until well combined; set aside. In a mixer, cream butter and sugar; add egg and beat until fluffy. Stir in applesauce. Gradually add flour mixture, until well combined; fold in nuts. Spoon batter into paper-lined or well-greased 2 1/2-inch muffin pans, filling each about 2/3 full. Bake for 20 minutes or until tops spring back when touched. Let cool. Prepare glaze: Mix powdered sugar and apple juice until smooth and desired consistency. Brush cooled cupcakes with glaze. Makes 18 cupcakes.
Cook's note: Instead of glaze, you can use cream cheese frosting or try the following:
Brown Sugar Frosting
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
Using a mixer, combine butter, cream cheese and brown sugar until smooth. -- Brenda, Missouri
photo by Brendan C