Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Witchy Cupcakes, My Pretty

There are a million witch hat cupcakes in Pinterest. Hershey Kisses with some kind of cookie for the brim... Oreo chocolate ice cream cones... or even little witch hats made out of cupcake papers. It's been done.

They're all pretty cute, but don't fancy the idea of eating a plain ice cream cone along with my cupcake, and the Hershey kiss hat has been done so many times. Plus, I have this delicious recipe for chocolate cream cheese frosting that uses black cocoa just begging to be piped into the shape of a witch hat.

The piping technique is simple. Pipe the hat brim around the cupcake using a petal tip (the kind you use to make ruffles). Then using a large round tip, pipe the peak of the hat. Easy peasy!

Once I had this concept in mind, I started thinking about the cake. I've used the black cocoa cream cheese frosting on red velvet cupcakes that were Minnie Mouse themed before, and I immediately started wondering about a green velvet cake recipe. I found this green cake recipe that uses  puréed spinach to give it a green color, and used it as inspiration to develop my own green velvet cupcake recipe.

The color is perfect-- for Halloween cupcakes. Deep green muddied a bit by the cocoa, very witchy. And you can adjust the color a bit by varying the amount of cocoa (if you use 1/4 cup less cocoa, use 1/4 cup more flour, etc.). Because these cupcakes use oil they are very moist and the chocolate flavor is subtle and nice, like a good red velvet. 

The frosting hats turned out well. Next time I might add more powdered sugar to stiffen it up a bit so that the peaks will hold their shape better (cream cheese frosting is usually softer than regular buttercream). I'd recommend starting with three cups powdered sugar, adding more until the frosting holds its shape.

One thing I love is that you get these intense colors using all natural ingredients. How cool is that?!

Witchy Green Velvet Cupcakes with Black Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

For the cupcakes:
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup oil
1/2 cup fresh spinach puree
1/3 cup water
2 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the Frosting:
8 oz. cream cheese
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sour cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3+ cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Start by prepping your spinach puree. I put a few handfuls of spinach into my Blendtec and ran it on high speed for 30 seconds (earplugs, please!), then added more as needed until I could tell I had 1/2 cup in there. Then I added in the 1/3 cup water to the blender to help it run a little easier, and blended it until super smooth.

Next mix together your eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the oil, puree (and water if you didn't add it to the puree), and vanilla. Mix until your batter looks nice and green. Sift together your dry ingredients, and add them into your batter until just combined. I like to use the mixer for just a few seconds and finish mixing by hand to ensure that it is evenly mixed but not overmixed.

(If you're worried about color, start with just 1/4 cup cocoa mixed into your batter. If you like the color, then add in 2 1/4 cups flour. If you don't mind it mixing up a bit darker, add the remaining 1/4 cup cocoa and 2 1/2 cups flour).

Fill cupcake liners 3/4 full, turn oven temperature down to 325, and bake cupcakes for 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cupcakes cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting,  mix together the cream cheese, butter, sour cream, salt, and vanilla on medium speed until smooth and well combined ( 2-4 minutes). Add the cocoa powder, then gradually add in the powdered sugar. Continue adding in powdered sugar until frosting is stiff enough to hold the witch hat peak.

Pipe your little witch hats, and don't tell anyone their eating a vegetable in cupcake form! 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

Autumn has got to be one of my favorite times to bake. Fall flavors lend themselves perfectly to baking: warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, pumpkin, fresh local apples, and rich caramel. Besides that, nothing warms me up on a crisp day like turning on the oven.

Now let's talk caramel apples. I adore them. You know, the big ones that are also dipped in chocolate and rolled in chopped nuts or candy? I love those things, but can almost never justify the price. I mean, it's an apple! But my love for caramel apples inspired me to create a caramel apple cupcake.

I started with an apple cake recipe. I found one in an old Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (Pies and Cakes, 1968), and adjusted it a bit. It is chock full of apple flavor, using chopped fresh apples and apple juice, and has just a bit of spice to add warmth to the flavor. I used apples from my in-law's tree, but any kind will do.

Next I needed a caramel frosting. I looked at loads of recipes. Several cooked butter and sugar, like penuche frosting. I adore penuche, but it is a heavy thick frosting and I don't know that it would pipe very well. Other recipes called for prepared caramel sauce or dulce de leche in varying amounts. Some used a few tablespoons, while others called for entire jars of caramel. I wanted a rich caramel flavor, but I didn't want to compromise the texture of the frosting. I ended up using a recipe from Real Simple that called for 1/2 cup. Instead of buying caramel sauce I made my own, and it turned out wonderful! I made dulce de leche in my electric pressure cooker using canned sweetened condensed milk, and had some leftover for fresh apple dipping (yum). I also increased the salt to 1/2 teaspoon to give it more of a salted caramel taste.

Spiced Apple Cupcakes with Dulce de Leche Buttercream

For the cake:

2 c flour
1 c sugar
1 1/2 t baking soda
2 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
1/4 c dark brown sugar
1/2 c butter
1 c apple juice
1 1/2 c apple, peeled and finely chopped
2 eggs

For the frosting

2 c unsalted butter
3 3/4 c powdered sugar
1/2 cup dulce de leche (make your own in your crockpot or pressure cooker*)
1 t vanilla
1/2 t salt
toppings, as desired (chopped nuts, sprinkles, pretzel bits, etc.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar. Add the butter and apple juice, mixing well, Add in chopped apple and beat until ingredients are incorporated. Add eggs and beat well until batter is fluffy.

Fill cupcake liners 3/4 full, and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until cupcakes are golden and test done.

For the frosting, beat the butter, caramel, vanilla, and salt until fluffy (approximately 2 minutes). Gradually add powdered sugar, then beat on medium high for 4 minutes.

Give each cupcake a generous piping of frosting. I used a large round tip to mimic the look of an actual caramel apple. If you'd like, roll the edges of the frosted cupcakes in your favorite caramel apple topping and finish off with a paper straw "stick." You could also top with an apple slice or drizzle with more caramel.

*A note on homemade dulce de leche: the crockpot method for making dulce de leche takes 6-8 hours, so it will take a little planning ahead. The pressure cooker method took 18 minutes, plus the time to reach pressurization and to depressurize, and to cool down in the fridge. You may want to start making the dulce de leche before you start baking. Also, the finished sauce is too thick to drizzle, but you may be able to thin it down with milk if you want to top your cupcakes with more caramel.