La La Lavender & Lemon Cloud Cupcakes

Lavender & Lemon Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

Today’s Weather Forecast: A sweet mix of sunshine and clouds. Probability of celebration is 100%.

Did I mention that I have a bit of a thing for clouds these days? Yummy ones, that is (you may remember these cloudy sweets). Maybe it’s a subconscious need to escape the everyday, or to float above reality to la la land for awhile, but every time I bake (it’s been known to happen) clouds are on my mind. A little while back I woke up with an undying need for something lavender & lemon, which has also been known to happen, so I made some Lavender & Lemon Shortbread cookies — these little things are so delightful. I love the kind of shortbread that just melts in your mouth with all of its buttery goodness, and the recipe I use is one I’ve adapted from Joy of Baking–it never disappoints. I cut little L&L clouds and felt that they were just too cute to be gobbled up and long forgotten. So I decided to create some cupcakes to perch them upon, to celebrate the awesomeness that is Lavender & Lemon even further.

Lavender & Lemon Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

And it’s to not say that these cupcakes need to be cloudy, because are pretty special all on their own–the cupcakes themselves are light, tender, citrusy Lemon Buttermilk Cupcakes, topped with tangy homemade Lemon Curd and topped with Whipped Lavender Frosting. If you’ve never baked with culinary lavender before, you’re in for a real treat–the lovely flavour of the lavender doesn’t come across floral, but rather compliments the sweet vanilla and lemon flavours like a dream (you just don’t want to overdo it by adding too much — less is more).

I also thought it would be neat to make my own cupcake wrappers for these, because I wanted something pastel and lavender with a cloud-like scalloped edge. I found a scrapbook paper that I loved and went ahead and cut out some wrappers — this is so easy! For the template, you can check out this simple post from Skip To My Lou. I snipped the tops with the “cloud” style (I didn’t make that up) scallop scissors from the craft shop and secured the backside with a glue stick. Once you learn this simple trick of making your own wrappers, the possibilities are literally endless. Sometimes the liners that we bake the cupcakes in look so cute and, unless they’re really thick, they absorb a lot of the grease of the cupcakes and a lot of the colour is lost. I can see making these little wrappers becoming a wee bit addictive!

I think these cupcakes would make the cutest and yummiest addition to any spring or summer party, shower, dessert table, picnic, birthday or, of course, a lovely Mother’s Day treat. I just adore this flavour combination, and it’s always fun to watch someone’s face light up when you tell them that they just ate lavender–suddenly they feel pretty fancy. It’s hard to not smile when you take a bite of summer.

Even if you stopped at making the Lavender & Lemon Shortbread Clouds, well I’d be okay with that too. They are such a tasty little treat and look pretty darling alongside a cup of tea. With only a handful of ingredients, they’re also pretty quick and easy to make. To make this cutter, I used a simple small flower cookie cutter and gently squished it into a cloud shape — it works!

Lavender & Lemon Shortbread via Sweetapolita

Or you can always whip up some Lavender & Lemon Shortbread Unicorns and call it a day — the world will forgive you. (For those who will want to know more about this fancy cutter in particular, it’s made by Tovolo — I just don’t see it on their website anymore. Sorry!)

Or you can do as I do, and make the L&L Shortbread Unicorns, eat and share most of them before you can actually photograph and blog about it, then make another batch of the shortbread, turn them into clouds, make the following recipes, stack it all up and watch them beam . . .

Lavender & Lemon Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

Escape to La La Lavender & Lemon land . . .

La La Lavender & Lemon Cloud Cupcakes

Yield: 18 standard cupcakes

Moist, fluffy lemon buttermilk cupcakes topped with zingy lemon curd, whipped lavender frosting and topped with lavender sugar cookie clouds.

Ingredients

    For the Cupcakes:
  • 1 cup (240 ml) (8 oz) buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 2 eggs + 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (230 g) cake flour, sifted
  • 1-1/4 cups (250 g) granulated sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon (8 g) baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 g) baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon (2 g) salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) (115 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • Finely grated lemon zest (rind) of two medium-large lemons
  • For the Frosting:
  • 3 sticks (340 g) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
  • 3.5 cups (400 g) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) whipping cream (35% cream), or whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon dried Culinary Lavender
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt

Instructions

    For the Cupcakes:
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare two standard muffin pans with your favourite baking liners and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl or measuring cup, combine and stir the eggs, 1/4 cup of buttermilk, and vanilla. Set aside.Sift the cake flour 3 times.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dry ingredients, including the sugar, together on low speed (I use the “stir” setting on my mixer) for 30 seconds.
  4. Add the butter and blend on low speed for about 30 seconds, then add remaining 3/4 cup of buttermilk, and mix on low speed until just moistened. Increase to medium speed and mix for 1 1/2 minutes.
  5. Scrape the sides of the bowl and begin to add the egg/milk mixture in 3 separate batches; beat on medium speed for 20 seconds after each addition. Stir in the lemon zest.
  6. Divide the batter into your prepared liners, no more than 2/3 full.
  7. Bake until a toothpick comes clean when inserted into the center of the cupcake (~15 minutes). Be so careful to not over-bake. Place hot baking pans on wire racks, then carefully (they’re hot!) remove the cupcakes from the baking pans immediately to let cool. Let cool completely before frosting.
  8. For the Frosting:
  9. In a small bowl or glass, stir the dried lavender into the whipping cream (or milk); cover with plastic wrap overnight (or for at least several hours).
  10. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip butter for 8 minutes on medium speed (I use “4″ on my KitchenAid). Butter will become very pale & creamy.
  11. Strain the lavender cream and add to butter, along with all remaining ingredients and mix on low speed for 1 minute, then on medium speed for 6 minutes. Frosting will be very light, creamy, and fluffy.
  12. Add a few drops of Violet gel colour (I used Grape Violet by Sugarflair and a drop of Americolor Electric Purple ) and mix until blended.
  13. Assembly of the La La Lavender & Lemon Cloud Cupcakes:
  14. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon curd on top of each cupcake and gently spread (be careful to not put more than this, or it will ooze).
  15. Fill a small pastry bag fitted with pastry tip of your choice (I used a plain large round tip) about 1/2 full with frosting and pipe a generous swirl on top of the lemon curd.
  16. Top with a Lavender & Lemon Shortbread Cloud. Finish with a scalloped cupcake wrapper or design of your choice
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[cupcake batter recipe adapted from Canadian Living]

Here is the recipe for the Lemon Curd.

Lavender Shortbread Cookies

Yield: 20 small-medium cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) (227 g) good quality unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (60 g) confectioners' sugar (powdered sugar/icing sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) good quality pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) dried culinary lavender
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) grated lemon zest (rind)
  • 1-1/2 cups (190 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (75 g) cornstarch (corn flour)
  • 1/4 (2 g) teaspoon salt

Instructions

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat on medium speed (I use #4 on my KitchenAid mixer) the butter until it is smooth and very creamy, about 1-2 minutes.
  2. Add the confectioners' sugar and beat for another 2 minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract, then stir in the dried lavender and lemon zest.
  3. Stir in the dry ingredients and mix until they are incorporated. Make a ball of the dough and seal in plastic wrap. Once in the wrap, flatten the dough into a disk and chill for one hour (at least--can be longer).
  4. When you're ready to roll and cut the cookie dough, preheat oven to 350°F and place the oven rack in the middle position. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or two baking mats.
  5. Roll the dough 1/4" thick on a lightly floured surface or between two sheets of parchment paper. Cut desired shapes, place on baking sheets and chill in the refrigerator or freezer for about 15 minutes.
  6. Bake until very light golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Let cool on cookie sheets on wire racks.

Notes

Cookies will keep in an airtight container for about 1 week, or can be frozen.

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[cookie recipe adapted from Joy of Baking]

Sweetapolita’s Notes:
  • Some of the items I used to make these cupcakes are Stainless Steel Scoop for measuring perfectly-even cupcakes, Culinary Lavender, and Nielsen-Massey Vanillas 8-oz. Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract).
  • To get frosting super smooth (no air bubbles), use a silicone spatula and in an aggressive side-to-side motion, pushing the frosting back and forth against the sides of the bowl (you will hear a sort of paddling sound). Do this every so often while you use the frosting–it keeps it super smooth. You can also add a few drops (just a few!) of water for ideal spreading/piping.
  • Just a note about purple–all purple gel colours will yield a very different colour by nature, for example, Americolor Violet is much more blue than purple (when compared), and Americolor Electric Purple is more magenta than blue. Those differences in addition to the fact that you’re adding it to an ivory base (this butter frosting), can really alter the look of the finished cupcake, so you’ll want to play around with small frosting samples in bowls before tinting the entire batch. (I ended up making the frosting all over again to achieve the shade I liked best). Just be careful not to go too far with these concentrated colours, because it can get too intense quickly.
  • You can find a wonderful cupcake wrapper template at Skip To My Lou.

Good luck & enjoy!



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Chocolate Birthday Cupcakes with Nutella Cloud Frosting

Cupcakes galore! I think it’s safe to say that this layer-cake bakin’ girl has never before made so many cupcakes or used so many sprinkles in such a short span of time. Actually, maybe it’s not so much that I haven’t made so many in such a short time, but that I’ve never blogged about so many. The thing is that so often when I bake, I then eat, share, deliver…all with no time left to photograph or write about the recipes. This was going to be one of those times, but then after sharing a few Instagram shots of the cupcakes and receiving a flurry of requests to share what these cupcakes were all about, I thought I’d switch things up and do an all-iPhone shot post and go ahead and share!

So, a close friend of mine, Janin, was celebrating her birthday this past weekend, and we had a super-fun girls’ night on Friday night at her house (Birthday Cake Shooters, anyone?). Since she’s a relatively new friend (I just discovered how incredible it is finding such true friends at this stage in life.), I hadn’t yet met several of her hometown friends who were coming in to celebrate, so when trying to decide what birthday treats to make for the occasion, I figured if there’s anything that speaks to a gaggle of girls, it’s chocolate and sprinkles–lots of chocolate and sprinkles. You know, one thing I’ve learned over the past few years, is that sometimes keeping things classic and decadent can be as much of a crowd-pleaser as super-fancy, fondant-covered treats. You probably know by now that I am passionate about those as well, but I just feel that it totally depends on the situation. I used to feel that I had to go crazy decorating for days in order for birthday desserts to have wow-factor, but I’ve since discovered that’s not true.

So I made two types of cupcakes, the first was Janin’s all-time favourite, banana cake with chocolate frosting (I ended up making that frosting a la Nutella), and the second was classic dark chocolate cupcakes with the same chocolate frosting, sans Nutella (an amazing option for the non-Nutella fan). When one of the girls took a bite and said, “Whoa, the frosting is like a chocolate cloud!” I knew I had to put that down on paper. Chocolate clouds? What my dreams are made of. The truth is, it really does have a billowy cloud-like texture, and as a girl very concerned about texture, particularly frosting texture (not to mention enticing baked good names), “chocolate cloud” spoke to my very core. Add the rich, satiny awesomeness that is Nutella to the mix, and I’m blogging an otherwise unblogged delight.

The cupcakes themselves are a classic, one-bowl dark chocolate cupcake recipe that never disappoints. It’s only slightly different than this recipe, but I love it (love them both–I just have a thing for experimenting). The frosting is a modified version of this previous frosting I posted, but the Nutella gives it this incredible taste and adds to the already creamy texture. Even if you don’t like Nutella, you can simply omit it for a classic chocolate cloud frosting.

Such a classic birthday treat! Did I mention how well they pair with Chocolate Whipped Cake Martinis & Chocolate Banana Cake Martinis?

Oh yes, they do. Just sayin’.

Here’s the recipe:

*Product notes: The Cacao Barry Cocoa Powder – Extra Dark (my favourite) cocoa powder is what makes this chocolate cupcake recipe so incredible.

Chocolate Birthday Cupcakes with Nutella Cloud Frosting

Yield: 12 standard cupcakes

Ingredients

    For the Cupcakes:
  • 3/4 cup (95 g) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) white sugar
  • 1/4 cup (30 g) dark cocoa powder (I use Cacao Barry Extra Brute)
  • 3/4 teaspoon (3.5 g) baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon (3.5 g) baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon (3.5 g) cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon (4 g) salt
  • 1/3 cup (80 mL) buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) brewed coffee or espresso, hot
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) vegetable oil
  • 1 egg, room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons (7.5 mL) pure vanilla extract
  • For the Nutella Cloud Frosting:
  • 1 cup (227 g)(2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but cool
  • 1-1/2 cups (190 g) icing sugar (confectioners’), sifted
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup (125 g) premium bittersweet chocolate, chopped, melted and slightly cooled
  • 1/3 cup (100 g) Nutella
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) milk
  • pinch of salt

Instructions

    For the Cupcakes:
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F and line a muffin/cupcake pan with your favourite cupcake liners.
  2. In the bowl of electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, sift flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, cornstarch and salt.
  3. In a medium bowl or measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, coffee, oil, egg and vanilla.
  4. Add liquid mixture to dry ingredients and mix for 2 minutes on medium speed (you may need the plastic splashguard that comes with mixer), Divide batter among (2/3 full or just less) liners. Batter will be liquidy, and cupcakes will rise.
  5. Bake for 15-17 minutes, or until toothpick or skewer comes out with a few crumbs. Try not to over-bake. Carefully remove cupcakes from the pan immediately (it's hot!), and place them on a wire rack until completely cool.
  6. For the Nutella Cloud Frosting:
  7. In a bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine the icing sugar and butter and beat on low speed (I use #2 on my KitchenAid mixer) for about 1 minute.
  8. Add vanilla, and beat on low speed until well combined. Add the melted and slightly cooled chocolate and beat on medium speed (I use #4 on my KitchenAid mixer) until smooth, about 2 minutes).
  9. Add the Nutella, milk and pinch of salt, and beat on med-high speed for another minute.
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Sweetapolita’s Notes on the Cupcakes:

  • For evenly-sized cupcakes, I always use a 50mm cookie scoop (it’s a bit trickier with this runnier batter, but it’s worth it).
  • You can substitute the Cacao Barry Extra Brute cocoa powder, but be sure to use a quality cocoa powder (Dutch-processed).
  • To see the baking ingredients, equipment and tools that I used for this recipe, check out my shop.
  • Even if you dislike coffee with a passion, please trust me–it simply enhances the rich chocolate flavour!
  • For tips for baking better cakes, check out this previous post.
  • This recipe is easily doubled or tripled.
  • Unlike vanilla cupcakes, these stay incredibly moist for several days, so I often bake them a day before I need them (unfrosted) and frost on the day I am serving them, but you can also frost them and keep them in an airtight container for up to 3 days, for convenience (if they last that long!).

Sweetapolita’s Notes on the Nutella Cloud Frosting:

  • For the purest at heart, you can make your own Nutella by following Stella’s Homemade Nutella recipe.
  • You can omit the Nutella and you have an incredible “classic chocolate cloud frosting.”
  • It’s ideal to make this frosting right before you need it, because you’ll find it’s an ideal consistency for piping and decorating, but once it’s on the cake or cupcakes, it stays perfectly smooth and fluffy for up to 3 days.
  • You can add small increments of more milk, if too thick, and blend until smooth.
  • If you find the frosting starts to get air bubbles while sitting (during the decorating process), use a rubber spatula to knock the air out of it, by stirring it with a back and forth paddling motion.
  • To frost the cupcakes in the photo, I inserted a large, plain round icing tip into an 18″ pastry bag and filled it with the frosting. I piped a large swirl starting from the outside of the cupcake, and, moving in a slow circular motion, worked my way to the center, and gently pulling the bag up and away from the cupcake. Then, using the underside of a small spoon (I used a baby spoon), I put slight pressure on the very top of the swirl and pull the spoon up and away. This creates a well for the sprinkles and gives the cupcake a classic but not-so-perfect look. Top with confetti quins or sprinkles for a fun birthday finish!

Good luck & enjoy!


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Super-Duper Vanilla {or Funfetti} Cupcakes

Funfetti Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

I know it may seem as though lately all I bake with and talk about is white cake & sprinkles, but I promise there are so many delightful-yet-unsprinkled baked goods coming your way in the next while. See, I’m certain this current sprinkle obsession of mine is just a phase–you know, much like my 1990′s obsession with Bret Michaels. I mean, come on . . . really. What was I thinking?

No, wait, you’re right–that was no phase. And neither is my love for sprinkles: I’m devoted.

But, that doesn’t mean that I want *ahem* “white cake & sprinkles” every day. However, I was crazy about them all week. And last week. And a flurry of times before that, but honestly, I do bake sans sprinkles from time to time. We also happen to have had several birthday celebrations going on this past week, so it just seemed like a pretty good idea. But actually this post isn’t about sprinkles. It’s about vanilla cupcakes–classic, white, fluffy, vanilla cupcakes. Sure, you can funfetti them by adding sprinkles, which is never a bad idea, but the best part about these is the actual vanilla cupcake.  I usually even skip the frosting when I make these for myself, and eat them all one single cupcake warm out of the oven, in all its glory. There’s just nothing like an amazing vanilla cupcake.

Funfetti Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

So what makes these cupcakes the “super-duper” vanilla cupcakes? Well, I think it’s really just a matter of personal preference, so for me it’s what makes it my ultimate vanilla cupcake: it’s fluffy, moist, truly vanilla (love those vanilla bean flecks!), all with only a hint of that “egginess.” You know the one? So what these cupcakes are is really a modification from the recent Funfetti Layer Cake and Fluffy Vanilla Cake posts, to make them a little more ideal for cupcakes. Although, both of those recipes make really good cupcakes, I love a vanilla cupcake made with whole eggs, so this includes mostly whites (makes it nice and white & fluffy) but with 1 whole egg as well. I also used 1/2 butter and 1/2 shortening (gasp!), which I don’t often do, but I really love it in these.

Lastly, a few weeks ago I made some vanilla sugar (this could not be any easier, guys), which is essentially just adding a fresh vanilla bean and its seeds into regular white sugar for about a week or so (at least) and then using it in place of plain sugar. I figured that would indeed make these my ultimate cupcakes. I’m actually kind of hooked on vanilla sugar now–I love it in coffee, tea, cappuccino, sugar cookies–you name it. So, yes, I may have a new vanilla sugar addiction, but I certainly do not have a sprinkle addiction.

I mean, really? A sprinkle addiction? Completely absurd. Sure, I buy a few now and again, but it’s not like I buy them in bulk.

Nope, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

So when I sit and do the math, we actually made 80+ Super-Duper Vanilla Cupcakes in the past week or so. The girls helped me bake them and decorate them–some classic vanilla and some funfetti, but all super moist, super yummy and super vanilla. Good thing I have such hard-working cakelets.

Actually no, wait–the frosting is completely necessary: it’s clearly the much-needed glue to hold a generous medley of sprinkles.

Grab a pretty box and some twine or ribbon, and you’ve got yourself a heartfelt, handmade box of happiness to share with someone awesome.

And since I’m a big fan of handmade gifting, I believe it’s always a great idea to Say it with {Cup} Cake!

Speaking of cupcakes, brace yourself for this recent post from Melissa at Best Friend’s for Frosting: 28 Popular Dessert Bloggers Share Their All-Time Favorite Cupcake Recipe. Whoa!

And, in other news, here’s what’s been up with me this past week (aside from making 80+ Super-Duper Vanilla Cupcakes and not buying copious amounts of sprinkles):

  • My very close baker & blogger pal, Shauna Sever, celebrated the official release of her first book, Marshmallow Madness! just a few days ago. Simply put, this book rocks. Oh, but so does Shauna.
  • As I write this post, I have cupcakes galore happening in the oven, to celebrate a new and amazing friend’s birthday this weekend. Then I somehow came across this. Then I remembered that I received these for Christmas. Oh boy.
  • A local blogging pal, Christina, is also celebrating the launch of her book this week, Scientifically Sweet. This book looks incredible! I’ve always loved her scientific approach, and she makes the most delectable desserts.
  • This Sunday, March 4th, I will be chatting to a group from the Canadian Society of Sugar Artistry, in Toronto, Ontario, about some tips & tricks for taking better cake photos. Check out the link if you’d like to learn more! *You don’t need to be a member to attend.
  • After receiving oodles of emails inquiring about what “stuff” I use in my baking and caking endeavours, I’ve added a new Sweetapolita Shop, powered by Amazon, to the site, and have included my favourite ingredients, tools, books, photo equipment and more. It’s a work in progress, so I will be adding new things regularly.
  • I continued to embrace my Instagram dependency by snapping many random photos. If you’re not already Instagram-ing, I highly recommend it! Remember this post?

Happy March!

Super-Duper Vanilla {or Funfetti} Cupcakes

Yield: 24 standard size cupcakes

Ingredients

    For the Cupcakes:
  • 1 cup whole milk (237 ml), at room temperature
  • 4 large egg whites (120 g), at room temperature
  • 1 egg, whole, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) almond extract
  • 3 cups (350 g) cake flour, sifted
  • 1-1/2 cups vanilla sugar (300 g)
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder (19.5 g)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt (5 g)
  • 6 tablespoons (85 g) unsalted butter, softened but cool, and cut into cubes
  • 6 tablespoons (85 g) vegetable shortening (I used Crisco)
  • 1/2 cup Rainbow Jimmies or Confetti Quins
  • For the Frosting:
  • 3 sticks + 2 tablespoons (375 g) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
  • 3.5 cups (400 g) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) milk
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt
  • a medley of sprinkles for decorating

Instructions

    For the Cupcakes:
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare two standard muffin pans with your favourite baking liners and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl or measuring cup, combine and stir the egg whites, whole egg, 1/4 cup of milk, vanilla and the almond extract. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dry ingredients, including the vanilla sugar, together on low speed (I use the “stir” setting on my mixer) for 30 seconds.
  4. Add the butter and shortening, and blend on low speed for about 30 seconds, then add remaining 3/4 cup of milk, and mix on low speed until just moistened. Increase to medium speed and mix for 1-1/2 minutes.
  5. Scrape the sides of the bowl and begin to add the egg/milk mixture in 3 separate batches; beat on medium speed for 20 seconds after each addition. If you're making Funfetti cupcakes, simply fold in the rainbow jimmies or confetti quins, until just combined.
  6. Divide the batter into your prepared pans (I always use a 50 mm cookie scoop for perfectly even cupcakes), no more than 2/3 full. Bake until a toothpick comes clean when inserted into the center of the cupcake, about 16-18 minutes. Be so careful to not over-bake.
  7. Place hot baking pans on wire racks, then carefully (they're hot!) remove the cupcakes from the baking pans immediately, to let cool. Let cool completely before frosting.
  8. For the Frosting:
  9. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip butter for 8 minutes on medium speed (I use “4″ on my KitchenAid). Butter will become very pale & creamy.
  10. Add remaining ingredients and mix on low speed for 1 minute, then on medium speed for 6 minutes. Frosting will be very light, creamy, and fluffy.
  11. Best used right away (for ideal spreading consistency). To get frosting super smooth (no air bubbles), use a silicone spatula and in an aggressive side-to-side motion, pushing the frosting back and forth against the sides of the bowl. You will hear a sort of paddling sound. Do this every so often while you use the frosting--it keeps it super smooth.
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Vanilla Sugar

This vanilla sugar is lovely for baking, but can be used anytime you would use regular sugar. This recipe makes an extra 1/2 cup of sugar than what's needed for the cupcakes, so you will have some left in your sugar canister for tea, coffee and more.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, whole

Instructions

  1. Place your sugar in a canister or other airtight container. Slice your vanilla bean down the center with a small, sharp knife, and scrape all of the seeds from the inside. Add the seeds to the sugar, bury the bean inside and seal the container.
  2. Sugar will be "vanilla-ized" in 1-2 weeks.
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[vanilla sugar recipe source: Alton Brown]

Sweetapolita’s Notes:

  • If you do not have access to cake flour, you can quickly and easily make your own to substitute. Learn how in this previous post, Bring Me Flours.
  • You can replace the vanilla sugar with regular granulated sugar, and add the seeds from 1 vanilla bean to the milk portion of the cupcake batter steps.
  • for a gorgeous pink vanilla sugar & gifting idea, check out this gorgeous Valentine’s Vanilla Sugar Giftable from Maddy at Somewhere Splendid.
  • As with any vanilla cake, you can use 100% liquid egg whites in the batter (simply weigh them on your kitchen scale), which saves wasting the yolks.
  • You can omit the almond extract, but I do promise that it really gives the cake wonderful flavour–the finished cake/cupcakes don’t taste like almond, per se.
  • For the funfetti sprinkles inside the cake, you can experiment, but I recommend the Rainbow Jimmies or Confetti Quins. The cupcakes in this post are made with the confetti quins. The tops of the cupcakes are decorated with a mix of almost every sprinkle I have! I recommend grabbing a handful of each type you like, placing them all in a small bag and shaking them up to create your medley. That way they sprinkle evenly!

Good luck & enjoy!

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Vegan Love: Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Rich Chocolate Frosting

Chocolate Vegan Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

Have you ever tried a vegan cupcake? True, I don’t typically practice Veganism (abstaining from the use of animal products) in my day to day life, but I am a baker who loves nothing more than trying new things. And since there are many who do choose this lifestyle, I love having vegan options in my baking repertoire. As you may guess though, making a rich and lovely cupcake with no eggs, butter, or milk is a bit of a challenge, or at least you would likely expect it to be. The truth is, had I not been the one who made these cupcakes, I would honestly never guess that they were dairy and egg free, because they are perfectly decadent. You know me–it has to be super yummy for me to share it with you!

The seemingly random need to share a vegan recipe with came from a vegan chocolate cake recipe I found in an inspiring new baking book I have, called Tea with Bea: Recipes from Bea’s of Bloomsbury. Now this book isn’t a vegan baking book, but rather a gorgeous collection of cakes and other baked goods from Bea’s of Bloomsbury in the UK (think vanilla coconut cake with lemon curd & cheesecake filling, gingerbread Guinness cake with poached pears & cream cheese icing and more). Among of all the delightful recipes in this book, I noticed that Bea explains that the vegan chocolate cake is so good that many customers don’t even realize it’s vegan. How could I possibly resist?

I thought I would make this recipe in cupcake form and try out a vegan chocolate frosting recipe. For the cake, Bea was right–you would honestly never know it’s vegan, and with ingredients like sunflower oil, red wine vinegar, and soy milk, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I stuck with a high quality, extra dark cocoa powder, because I knew that regardless of everything else in it, I wanted the intense and pleasing chocolate taste to be dominant. Both taste and texture went way beyond my expectations, truly (particularly the cake texture–so incredibly moist). As for vegan chocolate frosting, well I knew this was going to be interesting since butter is the base for most cupcake frostings I love, and I knew I wanted this frosting to deliver some serious chocolaty richness.

So . . . let’s keep an open mind when I tell you that it’s made with dark chocolate, icing sugar, vanilla, almond milk and…Vegan, non-hydrogenated, omega-3 margarine (gasp!). It’s made by Becel, has no Trans fats, and is primarily made of canola & sunflower oils, but also has vitamin E, vitamin A, beta carotene and more. I know, trust me, I know–the thought of margarine can turn us off, but honestly, margarine has come a long, long way since we may have last checked in. I’m not a margarine expert, but I was very comfortable whipping this into a dark chocolate frosting and, most importantly, indulging in it. Guys it tasted pretty darn fabulous (by now you know I would never steer you wrong, right?).

Chocolate Vegan Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

The cupcakes don’t need sprinkles, because they really are that good, but if you’re like me and you can’t resist the urge to sprinkle your cupcakes, just keep in mind that, if you need the cupcakes to be completely vegan most sprinkles, quins and dragees aren’t vegan. You can find a few brands out there that are indeed vegan, such as some India Tree products, or I used some real dark chocolate sprinkles from De Ruijter, because they were as close to vegan I had (no animal ingredients in the list, but a mention of possible traces of milk). Since I was just making them for us, I was okay with that, but you would definitely want to triple check if you needed them to be completely vegan. Another option is to use a few berries as decoration, dark chocolates, sugar, or any other small vegan confection you can think of.

Trust me, whether you’re vegan or not, these cupcakes are frickin’ yummy.

Vegan Love: Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Rich Chocolate Frosting

Ingredients

    For the Cupcakes:
  • 275 g/2 cups plain/all-purpose flour
  • 100 g/3/4 cup natural cocoa powder (such as Ghirardelli Unsweetened Cocoa)
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) baking powder
  • a pinch of salt
  • 450 ml/1-3/4 cup unsweetened soy milk
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) red wine vinegar
  • 320 g/ 1-2/3 cups caster/superfine sugar
  • 320 ml/1-1/4 cups sunflower oil
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) vanilla extract
  • For the Frosting:
  • 1 cup (227 g/8 oz) Vegan, non-hydrogenated margarine
  • 1 cup (125 g/4 oz) icing sugar (confectioners’ or powdered)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons (7.5 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 5 oz (145 g) quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped, melted and cooled
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) almond or soy milk
  • pinch of salt

Instructions

    For the Cupcakes:
  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C (315°F) Gas 4. Put the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Sift twice.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the soy milk, vinegar, sugar, oil and vanilla extract. Pour into the flour mixture and stir until well combined.
  3. Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake pan and bake in the preheated oven for 40-55 minutes. A wooden skewer inserted in the middle should come out with almost no crumbs attached, and the middle of the cake, when pressed, should spring back slightly instead of sink. Bake for an additional 5-10 minutes if necessary.
  4. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Slide a table knife all around the edge to loosen the cake, then remove from the pan. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 1 hour.
  5. For the Frosting:
  6. In a bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine the icing sugar and margarine and beat on low speed, about 1 minute.
  7. Add vanilla and beat on low until well combined. Add the melted & cooled chocolate and beat on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add almond milk and salt, and beat on medium speed for another minute.
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[vegan chocolate cake recipe shared with permission, from the book Tea With Bea]

Sweetapolita’s Notes:

  • The Vegan Chocolate Cake recipe from the book (Tea with Bea) is for a 9″ cake, but I decided to make cupcakes–if you opt for cupcakes, baking time is approximately 18-20 minutes (this can vary depending on your oven, but start to check them around 18 minutes). Once removed from oven, carefully remove the cupcakes from the pan to cool on a wire rack.
  • You can divide the cake recipe in 1/2 for 12 cupcakes.
  • If you do bake the cake in a round pan, rather than cupcakes, you could split the batter into two 9″ round pans, rather than baking one taller 9″ layer that would later need to be split.
  • If you don’t have superfine sugar, you can simply put your granulated sugar through the food processor for a few pulses.
  • I always use Nielsen-Massey Vanilla for my baking. For this recipe I also used Callebaut Dark Callets 70.4 % )
  • If frosting is too thick, add more almond or soy milk one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached; if too runny, add a small amount of icing sugar until desired consistency is reached. Frosting thickens as it sets.
  • Store frosted cupcakes in an airtight container for up to 3 days (just ate one on day 3, and it rocked).
  • Be careful with sprinkles–only specific brands are vegan (if you are making these for someone who is vegan, you will need to watch for common sprinkle ingredients such as gelatine, milk, egg whites, etc)
  • These cupcakes & frosting are also perfect for anyone who chooses to eat lactose-free.
  • For even more fabulous vegan cupcake ideas, check out Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World: 75 Dairy-Free Recipes for Cupcakes that Rule (thanks, Amy for reminding me about this book in your post comment)

Good luck & enjoy!

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Double Chocolate Gingerbread Cupcakes

Double Chocolate Gingerbread Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

So, it turns out I’ve been on a bit of a gingerbread kick lately . . .

I love sugar and spice and everything nice, and gingerbread (in any form) is such an old-fashioned treat that I can’t seem to get enough of (even though I seem to eat the entire year’s worth between December 1-December 31st). I make some form of gingerbread every year over the holidays, but yet it never dawned on me that pairing it with chocolate would be so delightful and that it would just all make so much sense . . . until, of course, I made Gingerbread Swiss Meringue Buttercream. Being an SMB (or SMBC) lover, I couldn’t resist tossing some gingerbread spices into a big fluffy batch of Brown Sugar Buttercream, making it the gingerbread variation, for swirling onto holiday cupcakes. I suddenly seem to be using Brown Sugar Buttercream often lately, because it’s such a wonderful base for so many variations (such as here and for the deliciousness that was Peanut Butter Buttercream.

The thing was, I knew I wanted to make little gingerbread cookie toppers, and if I had made gingerbread cupcakes to go along with the gingerbread buttercream, that would have made them triple gingerbread cupcakes which seemed a bit, well, spicy (although, that may not be a bad thing–I will try this and get back to you). For this round, adding some rich dark chocolate to the idea just felt right.

Double Chocolate Gingerbread Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

Then I remembered how much I’d wanted to try the chocolate cupcake recipe from a book I recently received: Making Cupcakes with Lola, which was written by the talented baker duo from Lola’s in the UK. This is one of the loveliest cupcake books I’ve read, and I’ve studied it for weeks–the cupcakes are a mix of classic and creative and the gorgeous photography & styling just brings it all to life.

I am eager to try many of their more unusual, or as they call it, “over the top” cupcakes (think Masala Chai Tea cupcakes, Gingerbread Latte cupcakes and more), but I couldn’t resist starting with their classic chocolate cupcake recipe. It stood out to me because they use both melted chocolate and cocoa powder and calls for no other liquid ingredient aside from 4 eggs. I was kind of intrigued! It’s a lighter, fluffier chocolate cake as opposed to the more fudgy oil-based chocolate cake I often use, which was a fun change, and I loved the double chocolate result.

Double Chocolate Gingerbread Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

So once I had my heart set on dark chocolate & gingerbread cupcakes, it dawned on me that my little gingerbread cookie toppers simply must be dipped in the finest dark chocolate — just makes good sense, right? I actually love making tiny gingerbread folk versus the standard size, because they are so cute and they are a perfect kid-sized treat. I was pretty excited when I remembered Reese having a teeny tiny house cutter in her playdough tool bin that was the perfect size for little chocolate gingerbread house toppers. So then we had a wee gingerbread girl and her wee gingerbread house. As far as we were concerned, it was kind of awesome. Why do things like this excite me so much? I’ll never know.

I hope you’re having a wonderful Saturday filled with holiday baking and hopefully, for your sake, no shopping! Personally, I like to keep the circus element of my day in our own four walls at this time of year, just as I am today. This thought would comfort me, if it weren’t for the fact that I have barely started my holiday shopping. Minor detail!

I’ll be back very soon with another holiday delight!

P.S. I’m pretty sure we’d jingle Santa’s bells if we left him a plate of these and a tall glass of milk. Maybe we could even add a pretty wrapped box of the chocolate dipped gingerbread cookies for his elves?

Double Chocolate Gingerbread Cupcakes          {click to print}

Double Chocolate Gingerbread Cupcakes = Lola’s Chocolate Cupcakes + Gingerbread Swiss Buttercream + Chocolate-Dipped Gingerbread Cookie Toppers

Lola’s Bakery Chocolate Cupcakes

*written (with permission) as it reads in the book, Making Cupcakes with Lola

Ingredients

100 g/3 1/2 oz dark bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Callebaut Dark Chocolate Callets)

175 g/1 1/2 sticks butter, cubed

225 g/1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (caster) sugar

4 eggs

100 g/3/4 cup self-rising flour

2 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder (I used Cacao Barry Extra Brute Cocoa Powder)

a pinch of salt

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4.

1. Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Do not let the base of the bowl touch the water. Heat, stirring, until the chocolate melts and you have a smooth, glossy mixture. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar. Let cool for 10 minutes.

2. Now beat with an electric hand mixer for 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 10 seconds between each addition.

3. Sift the flour, cocoa and salt into the bowl and beat until blendid.

4. Divide the mixture between the muffin cases. Bake in the preheated oven and let cool completely on a wire rack before decorating.

Sweetapolita’s Notes

*Caster/castor sugar is also known as superfine sugar. You can create your own superfine sugar by substituting regular granulated sugar and processing it in a food processor until very fine.

**As with any cake or cupcake recipe I bake, I used room temperature eggs (not cold).

***I filled the cupcake liners a little more than I typically do, as I divided the batter evenly among the 12 liners, as directed. They were just over 2/3 full. I typically don’t prefer a “muffin-top” cupcake, but because I knew I wanted a wider cupcake to hold very billowy swirls of buttercream, I went with it. I may never look back.

Gingerbread Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Yield: ~5 cups, enough for filling and frosting an 8-inch round cake, or frosting 12+ cupcakes.

Ingredients

5 large egg whites (~150 grams/5 ounces)

1 1/4 cup (250 grams/8.5 ounces) dark brown sugar (you can also use light brown sugar)

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks,  340 grams/12 ounces/3/4 lb) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes

1/2 teaspoon ( mL) pure vanilla extract (I use Nielsen-Massey Vanillas 8-oz. Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract)

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

a pinch of ground nutmeg

a pinch of salt

Method

1. Wipe the bowl and whisk attachment of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease. Add egg whites and brown sugar and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 140-160°F, or if you don’t have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot, about 5 minutes if you used room temperature egg whites. About 8+ minutes if they were cold.

2. With whisk attachment of mixer, begin to whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch (this can take up to 10 minutes or so and is so important–never add butter to warm meringue). Switch over to paddle attachment and, with mixer on low speed, add softened butter in chunks until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture (if curdles, keep mixing on medium-low and it will come back to smooth).

3. Add vanilla, salt and spices, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined.

Sweetapolita’s Notes on Swiss Meringue Buttercream:

* Can make buttercream ahead and keep in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to one week, leaving out at room temperature when needed, re-whipping in mixer for 5 minutes.

** Can freeze for up to 6-8 weeks. To thaw, place on counter overnight, and rewhip for 5 minutes with paddle attachment in an electric mixer.

***If not satiny enough upon rewhip, take 1/3 of buttercream and microwave in a microwave-safe container for ~8 seconds, then add back to mixing bowl and remix with remaining buttercream.

****For more detail about making Swiss Meringue Buttercream, you can find my FAQ here and photo tutorial here.

Chocolate-Dipped Gingerbread Cookies

1. Bake your favourite gingerbread cookie dough, and cut desired shapes–I prefer bite-size cookies in general, especially when using them for cupcake toppers. For these cookies, I tried Martha’s Molasses-Gingerbread Cookies recipe, and I followed it to the letter. I love them because they are dark and have a very deep molasses taste. The dough is gorgeous–just note that you will likely need to add quite a bit of flour while rolling and you will need to flour your cutter often, otherwise it is quite sticky. Once baked, let cookies cool on wire rack. *I found my little house and gingerbread doll cutters in my little girl’s playdough tool box, so don’t feel you have to stick with traditional cookie cutters.

2. Melt some (depending on how many cookies you are covering) quality chocolate in the microwave, and if you follow this easy tempering process (when, using the microwave, your chocolate will be tempered in seconds, which is how we get the chocolate to harden with a nice sheen. For these cookies, I used Callebaut Dark Chocolate Callets, which is rich, dark and perfect for covering cookies and is intended for melting down.

3. Dip cookies into chocolate using two forks (or if you have a chocolate-dipping fork), covering entire cookie, or even just half, depending on the look you want to achieve, letting the excess chocolate drip back into bowl.

4. Place on Silpat or wax paper-lined cookie sheet.

5. Place filled sheet in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes to set.

Place upon cupcakes or simply eat them as they are. Or both! Store at room temperature.

Good luck & enjoy!


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