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Cupcakes: My Fountain of Youth

By Lori Grossman

Although there is definitely a resurgence of the popularity of cupcakes these days, they always take me back to my childhood.

My birthday comes at the end of May, which usually meant that school was out by that time, and my big day was celebrated with a party at our house. But when I was in third grade, my special day happened to coincide with the last day of school. Mrs. Jensen, my much-loved teacher, called my Mom and asked if she wanted to bring a cake so all the kids could celebrate with me. I'm sure Mom was delighted with the idea. Imagine – one birthday without kids running through the house! Mom said she'd be glad to bring something. How about cupcakes? That way, each child would have an equal portion, plus there wouldn't be knives or plates to clean up.

I loved helping in the kitchen when I was growing up, and baking was the biggest treat, especially when we made chocolate frosting and I got to lick the bowl and mixing spoon. Sometimes, Mom used mixes, like Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines, but nothing less than "from scratch" would do for my birthday cupcakes. I chose yellow cake with the aforementioned chocolate frosting – my favorite combination. My job was to read the recipe out loud while Mom assembled the ingredients. Later, I helped frost each cupcake. Only the excitement and anticipation of my school party stopped me from scarfing up a freshly baked cupcake right then and there.

It was a great day. I can close my eyes and picture myself and my classmates sitting at tables and enjoying those luscious cupcakes, washed down with my favorite raspberry Kool-Aid. Can you imagine how wired we were after all that sugar? It makes me smile just thinking about it.

And now, in case you haven't heard, cupcakes are trendy again. Sprinkles, which bills itself as the original cupcake bakery, has two locations in Texas, six more across the country, plus 17 more bakeries coming soon. Cupcakes, thanks to Sprinkles, are going worldwide. I have several friends who are self-confessed Sprinkles addicts. One raves about the chocolate cupcakes, saying that they are "out-of-this-world!" Now that cupcakes are back in style, it's time to dig out those muffin pans and stock up on paper cupcake liners.

Do you have a favorite cake recipe that you'd like to use to make cupcakes? Here' s how to do it. A one-layer cake recipe makes from 12 to 15 cupcakes, while a two-layer cake recipe will yield anywhere from 24 to 30 cupcakes. Because they are smaller than a cake, baking instructions have to be adjusted for cupcakes. Fill the cupcake liners 2/3 full and bake at 350°F for 15 to 20 minutes or until the tops spring back when lightly touched. Depending on the thickness of the frosting (if you're using frosting), some cupcakes can be frosted merely by dipping the top in the frosting, then turning slightly. Or, you can just use a knife. You'll have something to lick when you get through!

Coconut Cupcakes

If you love coconut, you have to try these. They're jumbo-sized, so you'll need a jumbo-sized muffin pan.
  • 2-1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unsifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups superfine sugar (see Note)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup thick, cultured sour cream
  • 1 cup lightly packed sweetened flaked coconut
  • Coconut Cream-Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)
Note: If you don't have superfine sugar, you can make your own. Place granulated sugar in the work bowl of your food processor or blender. Pulse on and off for 30 to 40 seconds, or until the sugar becomes very fine and almost like powder.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly spray nonstick cooking spray on the insides of the muffin/cupcake cups. Set aside.

Sift the flour, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg onto a sheet of waxed paper. Cream the butter in the large bowl of a freestanding electric mixer on moderate speed for 3 minutes. Add half of the superfine sugar and beat for 1 minute. Add the rest of the sugar and beat for 2 more minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing for about 45 seconds after adding each egg. Blend in the vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl frequently with a rubber spatula to make sure the ingredients are evenly mixed.

On low speed, alternately add the sifted dry mixture in three additions with the sour cream in two additions, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. The batter should be smooth, moderately thick, and look like buttercream frosting. On low speed, carefully blend in the coconut.

Divide the batter among the prepared muffin/cupcake cups, mounding it lightly in the center. Bake the cupcakes for 30 to 35 minutes, or until they rise and set. When they're ready, a wooden pick inserted in the center of a cupcake will come out clean. Cool in the pans on racks for 15 minutes. Carefully remove the cupcakes to cooling racks. Cool completely.

Coconut Cream-Cheese Frosting

  • 12 ounces (1-1/2 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, softened
  • 5 tablespoons (1/4 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream (whipping cream)
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 5-1/2 cups unsifted confectioners'sugar
  • 3/4 cup lightly packed sweetened flaked coconut
  • About 1-1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut (to sprinkle on the frosted cupcakes)
Using an electric hand mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter in a large mixing bowl on moderate speed for 1 minute, or until creamy and well combined. Blend in the vanilla extract, heavy cream, and nutmeg. On low speed, add the confectioners' sugar in three additions, beating until thoroughly combined before adding the next batch. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl with a rubber spatula while adding the sugar to keep the frosting even-textured. Blend in the coconut.

If you want to make the frosting in advance, press a piece of plastic wrap over the surface of the frosting and set aside. Use the frosting within 30 minutes of mixing. Remember to refrigerate all baked goods topped with cream cheese frosting after the frosting has set. Makes about 4-1/2 cups.

Using a flexible spatula, spread the frosting as thickly as possible on top of the cooled cupcakes, making a thick 2-inch cap. Sprinkle the frosted surface of the cupcakes with the reserved coconut. Refrigerate if not served within 2 hours. Makes 8 large cupcakes.

I wish I'd had this next recipe when my niece, Valerie, and nephew, Daniel, were little. They both loved Reece's Peanut Butter Cups. I was never in any doubt about what candy they liked best, so I'd bet these cupcakes would have been a big hit. You can use creamy or chunky peanut butter in this recipe, whichever you like best. They don't require frosting, so they're not overly sweet.

Peanut Butter Cup Cupcakes

  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 24 miniature Reece's peanut butter cups, unwrapped
Heat oven to 350°F. Line 24 muffin cups with paper baking cups.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except peanut butter cups using an electric mixer at low speed until moistened. Beat 2 minutes at medium speed. Fill the paper-lined muffin cups 2/3 full. Press an unwrapped peanut butter cup into the center of each batter-filled cup until the top edge is even with the batter.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until tops spring back when touched lightly in the center. (You can use the toothpick test, too, if you're not sure.) Serve warm or cool. Makes 24 cupcakes.

Double Chocolate Chunk Cupcakes

Enjoy this chocolate fix without guilt. Like the peanut butter cup cupcakes, these don't really require frosting.
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 egg
  • 3 ounces white chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup chopped slivered almonds
Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease 18 muffin cups or use paper liners.

In a large bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Blend well. Add buttermilk, melted butter, almond extract, and egg. Blend just until dry ingredients are moistened. Fold in white chocolate chunks, milk chocolate chips, and almonds. Fill prepared muffin cups 3/4 full.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool for 3 minutes, then remove from pan. Serve warm or cool. Makes 18 cupcakes.

Besides being great comfort food, cupcakes are versatile. The coconut cupcakes would be a perfect fit for a baby or bridal shower. Try the peanut butter cup cupcakes for a kids' party or a picnic. Experiment.

In the meantime, if you'd like to treat yourself, check out Sprinkles. The website has a list of cupcake flavors and their bakery locations. For more information, go to www.sprinklescupcakes.com.

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