Cupcake “Sliders”

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This past Father’s Day my daughter decided that she wanted to make something fun for dessert for her dad– and since she’s recently been obsessed with “food impostors,” we thought it would great to make cupcakes that looked like cheeseburgers– mini cheeseburger sliders, of course, since full-sized ones would be a bit too much for even my husband’s sweet tooth to handle!

We decided to keep things simple and use box mixes as our base ingredients– a box of french vanilla cake mix, and a box of fudge brownie mix (though to avoid having a gigantic plateful of cupcakes we only used half of the cake mix).

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Lilac-Lemon Teacakes

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These adorable teacakes are one of the results of my foray into lilac/sugar recipes. They’re tiny vanilla/lemon cupcakes frosted with a glaze made from powdered sugar and lilac syrup, topped with candied lilac blossoms! So springy!

I will note, though, that my first attempt (involving pulverizing lilac blossoms into the sugar before using it in the batter) didn’t turn out all that well– honestly, I think the lilac flavor needs something to play off of to avoid tasting like soap. So I tweaked things a bit, and here’s an improved version:

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Mossy Cupcakes

Since I’m always paranoid while prepping for parties that there will not be enough cake (spoiler: there is ALWAYS more than enough cake), I decided to make some extra cupcakes to supplement the tree stump cake. I used a dairy-free box mix (many Duncan Hines mixes are dairy-free), which had the added benefit of providing cake for the party guest who I knew was allergic to dairy and who otherwise would have had to make do with some of the other random sweets on the table.

I decided to make moss a component of my edible dessert table, so in addition to adding some green food coloring to a double batch of my no-mixer sugar cookies, I topped my cupcakes in “moss” made of crushed graham crackers.

Note– it’s not as simple as just squirting food coloring into a bag of graham cracker crumbs and mushing them around to combine; the dye immediately gets absorbed into just a few surrounding crumbs and doesn’t do much good. Instead, the trick is to dilute your food coloring in a few tablespoons of water, pour that into your crumbs, and mix until it distributes evenly. Don’t worry if your crumbs seem wet and mushy– the next step is to spread them onto a baking sheet and bake for about 10-15 minutes at 300 degrees F, until they dry out. Crush one more time to ensure that there are no clumps, and they’re ready to use!

I frosted my cupcakes with a relatively small amount of frosting, then dipped them into the container of mossy crumbs to get a nice, even coat. For a few, I added meringue mushrooms as decoration– for others, some flowers piped with my new Russian floral tips!

Woodland Creature Dessert Table

So for her birthday party this year, my daughter chose “Woodland Creatures” as her theme. I admit to nudging her a bit in the right direction a few months ago because I thought it would provide an opportunity for lots of cute themed food, but she really got into it, even giving me a list of things she wanted to include. I’ll give details of how I made things in the next few posts, but take a look at the resulting dessert table…

Included above are a tree stump cake, meringue mushrooms, decorated animal cookies, white chocolate fudge rocks, moss-covered cupcakes, candy acorns, and pads of “moss” made of green-dyed sugar cookies. (Also edible pinecones but they didn’t turn out all that well so I’ll forego posting a recipe until I get it right).

I had *so* much fun putting this party together. I raided the 80% off Christmas decoration section at my local craft store to get the artificial greenery, but aside from that all of the decorations on the table were edible– my version of the infamous Willy Wonka chocolate room. Honestly, I think this is one of the best dessert tables I’ve ever done!

Blackberry Tea Cakes

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I attended a tea party recently– the best kind of tea party, with tiered servers and tiny sandwiches and itty-bitty desserts of all kinds– so of course I had to bring something of my own to contribute. The more elaborate dishes were already taken care of, so I thought it would be nice to have a plateful of relatively simple tea cakes on the table.

I immediately thought of friands and financiers– two traditional French cakes made with almond meal that I’ve always wanted to try– but the guest list included some nut allergies, so those were out. Still, I figured that I could use brown butter (another traditional component of French cakes) for flavor and a high sugar content to get a touch of chewiness, and with a little searching found a recipe that I thought might work as a base.

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Creamy Chocolate Frosting

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This frosting really is fantastic– it’s light and creamy, silky and smooth, and it has a nicely chocolate-y flavor without being cloying.

Unlike my favorite Vanilla Frosting, which has a thickened flour/cornstarch base sweetened with granulated sugar, this frosting uses powdered sugar for sweetness; however, it avoids the underlying grittiness of powdered sugar frostings by dissolving the powdered sugar in a cocoa slurry made with boiling water. The result is a perfectly smooth frosting without a trace of grit– plus, the water itself cuts the butteriness of the frosting and allows it to whip up into a light and fluffy mass that’s perfect for spreading over a cake. I really just can’t say enough wonderful things about this frosting, so go ahead and make it for your next cake– I promise you won’t be sorry.

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Dairy Free Vanilla Frosting

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To go with the Chocolate Mayonnaise Cupcakes, I wanted to make a tasty dairy-free frosting for the birthday girl. I first thought about doing a standard marshmallow frosting, made of egg whites and sugar and cooked over simmering water. But marshmallow frosting just doesn’t say “frosting” to me– it’s too sticky and sweet, and not creamy enough. Besides, I had horrific visions of a roomful of children, all getting salmonella from not-quite-cooked egg whites, and quickly nixed that idea.

I thought about using canned frosting, but that seemed like cheating, and besides it’s pretty expensive when you’re using it to frost several dozen cupcakes (at least the way I frost cupcakes). So I decided to improvise.

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Chocolate Mayonnaise Cupcakes

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So… about the title. I know, the word “mayonnaise” doesn’t exactly inspire confidence when applied to a cake recipe, but using mayonnaise in cakes is actually pretty common, and makes sense– after all, what is mayonnaise but oil, eggs, and a little acid? And when you’re trying to add richness to a cake without adding dairy (sour cream is my usual go-to for stuff like this), it sounds like a great option.

I made a huge batch of cupcakes– half chocolate, half yellow cake– for a joint birthday party this winter, and when I say “huge” I mean “100+ guests HUGE.” And one of the birthday girls was allergic to dairy, so rather than single her out by making her a few “special” cupcakes, I decided to make the chocolate cupcakes dairy-free in their entirety.

I do have a dairy-free chocolate cake recipe that I use for all of my standard chocolate cakes, but honestly, when it came to making several dozen cupcakes I decided that it would actually be easier (if not cheaper) to start with cake mix. Duncan Hines chocolate fudge cake mix is naturally dairy-free, it was on sale at the grocery store, and I didn’t have to worry about measuring out dry ingredients or buying expensive cocoa. Works for me! All I needed to do was doctor it up!

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Brown Butter Breakfast Puffs

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You know how sometimes you wake up in the morning, with a long day of doing nothing in front of you, and you feel like having an indulgent breakfast? It doesn’t happen very often for me (at least not the “doing nothing” part), but recently I found myself with just such a day, and decided to take advantage of it. But what to make? Pancakes weren’t special enough, I didn’t have any good bread to make french toast, and we didn’t have any good omelette fillings in the fridge. I scrolled through my list of bookmarked breakfast ideas when I came across a recipe for “breakfast puffs.”

Breakfast puffs (also referred to as “french breakfast puffs” or “doughnut muffins”) are basically nutmeg-scented muffins, dipped in melted butter and rolled in cinnamon-sugar while still warm. They supposedly taste just like warm doughnuts, but without the frying. Sounded perfect.

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Chocolate-Orange Ricotta Cupcakes

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I can’t believe I haven’t posted about these before– these are some of my very favorite cupcakes. Cupcakes that are soft and warm and full of chocolate; cupcakes that contrast the rich creaminess of ricotta with the slight bitterness of good marmalade; cupcakes that one of my coworkers has dubbed “the best cupcakes in the world.” And you can have them out of the oven and ready to eat in an hour.

The base of the recipe is from a lovely blog I read, Orangette, but I’ve tweaked it just a bit to make it a little more decadent (though you’ll still need to go out and buy ricotta). The result is fantastic– if you’ve ever daydreamed about crossing a fresh cannoli with warm chocolate cake, this is what you’d get. They’re wonderful as-is, but if you ever wanted to gild the lily, you could top them with a thin drizzle of chocolate ganache, and watch your dinner guests go into a chocolate coma!

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