Even if cupcakes are no longer the hottest thing in the food world, here are five reasons why we will always love them (plus some favorite recipes, too):
1. What’s on top
We love the creativity fostered by frosting – from gussied-up buttercreams in wild colors and flavors, to light and airy meringues and decadent chocolate ganache. And then there’s the endless array of decorations available. Candied bacon, anyone?
2. What’s inside
Cupcakes jumped from using a plain boxed cake mix to doctored-up mixes with the addition of puddings, spices or nuts. There are red velvet, rocky road brownie and even cheesecake cupcakes. And the range of fillings is endless.
3. The presentation
Those fluted paper or foil liners have come a long way. Tons of colors, designs, sizes are sold at grocery stores, craft stores and big box retailers. Cupcakes have become the centerpiece of many dessert tables, whether they are displayed on tiers, turned into tasty towers or frosted together to form cakes.
Cupcakes have always been – and continue to be – a favorite among the younger set. They are perfect for smaller hands and decorating them can be fun for all ages.
5. Travel well
These tasty treats can travel in style. Now, there are a variety of handy cupcake carriers, in many shapes and sizes, for easy transport so there’s less mess.
Chocolate cherry cupcakes
Prep time: 10 minutes
Bake time: 50 minutes
The cupcakes get an antioxidant and fiber boost from dried cherries. Recipe from Prevention magazine, January 2012.
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup water
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60 percent cacao), broken
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
4 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 muffin pans with 16 paper liners.
In a small saucepan, combine cherries with water. Bring to a boil. Transfer mixture (cherries and water) to a food processor. Add cocoa, chocolate and butter, and pulse until combined. Cool 1 minute. Add brown sugar, vanilla extract and a pinch of salt, and puree until almost smooth.
Pulse in eggs until well combined. Whisk together flour and baking soda in a bowl and add to food processor. Pulse until just combined.
Divide batter evenly among pans. Bake in upper and lower thirds of oven until tops are slightly domed and firm to the touch, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool cupcakes in pans on rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and cool completely on rack.
Makes 16 cupcakes
Vanilla bean frosting
This frosting goes well with the chocolate cherry cupcakes above. Recipe from Prevention magazine, January 2012.
2 vanilla beans, split
1 package (8 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel), softened
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar
Scrape vanilla bean seeds into bowl. Add cream cheese and confectioner’s sugar and beat well. Pipe or spread frosting onto cupcakes.
Makes enough to frost 16 cupcakes
Brown-sugar pound cupcakes with brown-butter glaze
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes
The glaze adds a rich buttery taste. These are best served immediately. From Martha Stewart Living, February 2009.
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups packed light-brown sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 to 4 tablespoons whole milk
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour mixture in three additions alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour.
Scrape sides of bowl. Divide the batter among muffin cups, filling each 3/4 full. Bake for 25 minutes.
Meanwhile make the glaze: In a saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until golden brown, about 5 to 10 minutes. Carefully pour butter into a bowl, leaving sediment behind. Add the sugar, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons milk to the butter and stir until smooth. If glaze is too thick, add more milk.
Set rack with cooled cupcakes over a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spoon glaze over cupcake tops, and let stand until set. If glaze gets too hard, reheat it gently so you can spoon it. Serve cupcakes immediately.
Makes 29 cupcakes
Chocolate banana cupcakes (vegan)
Prep time: 20 minutes
Bake time: 20 minutes
This cupcake is very moist and chocolatey. Without frosting, it’s a perfect snacking cake. Adapted by The Bee’s Kathy Morrison from www.loveandoliveoil.com.
2 ripe bananas
1 cup coconut milk
2/3 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup dark cocoa powder (such as Hershey’s Special Dark)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Powdered sugar for serving, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two muffin pans with paper liners.
In a small bowl, mash the bananas with a fork. Whisk in the coconut milk, oil, vanilla extract and sugar until blended. Mixture will still be a little lumpy because of the banana, but should have no large lumps.
In another bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Make a well in the center of dry ingredients and pour in the banana mixture. Stir just until smooth. (Do not overmix.)
Pour batter equally into liners. Bake 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack; cool completely. Frost as desired or sprinkle on a little powdered sugar before serving.
Makes 24 cupcakes
Swiss meringue buttercream
Prep time: 30 minutes
This buttercream works alone or can be the basis of a flavored frosting. Try stirring in berry puree, finely mashed bananas or toasted coconut before the final 5 minutes of beating.
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
5 large egg whites (at room temperature)
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, cut into pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
In a heat-proof bowl, place the sugar and egg whites. Set bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, and whisk until sugar has dissolved and mixture registers 160 degrees, about 6 minutes.
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment, beat on high speed until mixture has cooled completely and formed stiff and glossy peaks, about 10 minutes.
Add the butter, one piece at a time, and beat until incorporated. If the buttercream appears curdled after all the butter has been added, don’t worry. It will become smooth again with continued beating. Add the vanilla, and beat just until combined.
Switch to the paddle attachment, and beat on the lowest speed to eliminate any air pockets, about 5 minutes. If using buttercream within several hours, cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature in a cool environment. Or transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator, up to 3 days. Before using, bring buttercream to room temperature and beat on the lowest speed with the paddle attachment until smooth, about 5 minutes.
Makes 5 cups