Monday, April 25, 2011

Cupcakes - A Love/Hate Relationship

Well, Easter has come and gone. I had planned on writing about my cupcake making efforts BEFORE Easter, but time got away from me. However, I think this will be just a general post about cupcake making with some ideas to file away for next year.

First of all, I must confess that cupcakes hold very little nostalgic meaning for me. I don’t remember my mom or grandmothers making cupcakes that often. And I know why – they are a pain!!! I love the creativity you can have when decorating cupcakes, but every time I make them I end up cursing and swearing to just pour the batter in a big ol' pan next time. From getting the right amount of batter in each paper cup without dribbling batter everywhere, to neatly frosting them individually, to packaging them up without them destroying them – why go to all the trouble? I guess the answer is because they are so darn cute.

Hello bunnies, with your adorable little marshmellow ears and cheeks!

This year for Easter I volunteered to make cupcakes for our church's Easter Egg Hunt. As I was frantically decorating them 30 minutes before the hunt, I again was cursing – wondering why I always make things harder than they need to be. However, the end result was extreme cuteness. Seeing the children react to the Easter bunny cupcakes and eagerly chow down on a Peeps cupcake was worth all the effort.

I won’t give you any recipes here because I confess to using a cake mix for the cake portion. I have been trying to get away from cake mixes and make everything from scratch, but sometimes you just have to stay sane. I happened to have one in the pantry and was able to whip it up in five minutes. Plus, really cupcakes are merely a vessel for a boatload of icing. My youngest eats all the icing off and leaves the cake part. So, I figured the cake part didn’t matter so much for a bunch of kids.

However, I do insist on real, not canned, icing. I call it “icing” because Southerners call anything that tops a cake icing. Icing should really be used to describe more of a hard glaze that crystallizes like ice – such as an old-fashioned boiled icing. However, it’s all icing to me! A good simple buttercream is easy to make and can make even dry, mediocre cake taste delicious.

My recipe for buttercream is to just mix together a softened stick of butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and a little milk or cream until the icing reaches a good sperading consistency. If you want chocolate buttercream, add some cocoa powder or melted chocolate. For this batch, I also added a little cream cheese. I love cream cheese icing, but didn’t have enough to make a full batch. If you want a "real" recipe, you can’t go wrong with Wilton’s basic buttercream icing. Though, I usually don’t add shortening to mine. Shortening will help it to hold up better if it is going to be sitting out in the heat for a while.

Bunnies ready for their close-up.
I cannot claim to have originally conceived of these bunny cupcakes. I got the idea from Family Fun Magazine. I adapted by cutting rainbow candy strips for the whiskers instead of piping on icing. I also used M & Ms for the eyes and did not pipe on pupils, though that would have been cute. I skipped out on the coconut too since some kids don’t like it. Can you say cute?

However, given I was decorating at the last minute and with kid “helpers,” I only did about a dozen of the bunny cupcakes and turned the rest into Peeps cupcakes. I’m sure I’m not the first person who thought of plopping a peep on a cupcake, but it’s a great easy trick and of course was popular with both kids and adults. You could really dress it up by coloring the coconut green to look like grass.

Chirp, chirp. Eat me.
Finally, I thought I would share a little cupcake decorating inspiration from the past that isn’t tied to a holiday. These cat cupcakes were from my son’s first birthday. A friend helped me to decorate a cat cake and make “kitten” cupcakes. Did I make cupcakes again for his second birthday? Nooooo. However, his third is coming up and I’m feeling creative again. Stay tuned for what I come up with …

The eyes and nose are made from M&Ms and the tongue is half of a Swedish fish!
What are your thoughts on cupcakes? Do you love to make them or do you run from them like the plague? Do you have any decorating tips to share? I’d love to hear from you. 


  1. Rachel - These are adorable! You and the kids did a great job.

    I only have love for the cupcakes. One of the reasons I prefer cupcakes over cake is the fact that each one is unique work of art.

    A site I love for cupcake (and cake decorating) tips is She'll make you fall madly in the love w/ the cupcake. :)

  2. I have to admit, I'm a fan of cupcakes. I don't try to do anything fancy with them, though - just cake and frosting. I do find that a measuring cup for portioning batter into the pan is helpful, and then piping the frosting rather than spreading it avoids a lot of the mess.

    I love your bunny cupcakes! So cute.