My first blog post included a reference to my personal renaissance in 2011 and my desire to get back into my kitchen. Progress report: it’s going very, very well! The snowflake cookies were such a success that I am on the prowl for interesting and useful cookie cutter shapes to add to my small but soon-to-be-growing collection. (GIFT HINT!!!)
I’ve also started keeping a little notebook with me at all times so I can write stuff down, the stuff I don’t want to forget. OLB (old lady brain) is a terrible thing! As I have been thinking of stuff I want to do/buy/cook/stamp , etc., I have been writing it in my little notebook. It’s never far from me and has really helped me keep it together.
So for this first foray down the cupcake path, I consulted my little notebook (which is bright pink so it’s easy to spot) and chose two: vanilla bean cupcakes with Chai spice buttercream, and mocha cupcakes with cookies-n-cream buttercream.
Now I am a believer in home-made stuff most of the time… but cake just isn’t one of them. My philosophy is this: it’s fine to use a convenience food (especially cake mix because they are pretty darn good these days) and spend more time being creative to make the convenience food better. I used one cake mix and was able to get 25 cupcakes in two flavors out of it.
I used a reduced-sugar cake mix which called for either 3 eggs and 1/2 cup of oil plus water or 4 egg whites and 1/2 cup of oil plus water. Because I’d rather load my fat & calories in the frosting instead of the cake (and let’s face it, we all know the cake is just a vehicle to transport the icing to our mouths… serving icing to your guests in a bowl with a spoon is just plain… it’s something you do in private!!!) My healthier substitution was 2 eggs and 2 white equivalents of liquid egg whites plus 1/2 cup of unsweetened applesauce.
Then I divided the batter in half. For the vanilla bean cupcakes I added a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract and the seeds from half a vanilla bean. To the other half I added 1/4 cup of cocoa, 1/4 cup yogurt, and 2 T coffee. The extra volume is what enabled me to squeak out another mocha cupcake.
The buttercream was another creative endeavor. I pondered recipes and didn’t want to use all butter; it’s just too fattening, too greasy, too unstable. So I used some leftover royal icing (from the cookies), adding a thickened milk/flour combo for stabilization, butter, low-fat cream cheese, plus French vanilla flavoring and almond extract.
I did go the distance and made my own Chai spice, which was totally worth it. Cardamom, allspice, cinnamon, freshly-grated nutmeg, ground ginger, ground clove, and black pepper. The nutmeg and pepper gave it a bit of a grainy texture which was surprisingly pleasant.
The cookies-n-cream addition was simply reduced-fat Oreo cookies, crushed and added to half the buttercream. Larger pieces of crushed cookies were added after piping on the icing for extra yumminess.
I’m still on the hunt for what I could consider the perfect buttercream, one that I can adapt to be lower in fat but fluffier than what I have made so far. I’m also on the hunt for a 1M open-star tip so I can make those lovely, deeply-ruffled swirls atop my cupcakes… and yes I added that to the list in my little pink notebook.