I love to entertain, and one of my favorite hobbies is making cupcakes. In fact, I'm thrilled when someone asks me to bring dessert, specifically cupcakes, to a party. This past weekend was no exception. It was my friend Katie's birthday, and the host asked me if I wouldn't mind bringing my signature baked goodies.

Cupcakes have been all the rage for a few years now, and Old Town Alexandria is home to two gourmet cupcake establishments. (Well, three actually if you count Buzz Bakery on the north side of town.) As divine as their baked concoctions may be, $3+ per cupcake is a little rich for my taste, especially if you're feeding a large group of people. Why spend that kind of money when you can make healthier, cost effective, beautiful baked concoctions in your own home?

Rarely do I make cupcakes from scratch, let alone buy them from a fancy shop. I keep a stash of boxed cake mix and tubs of frosting on hand at all times, stocking up at my local grocery store when I see them on sale. (Typically on sale you can buy both the mix and frosting for between $2.25 and $3.00.) I also keep a large supply of decorative paper wrappers and colored sprinkles in my pantry, so that I can customize the look as well as the flavor, based on the occasion.

I follow the instructions on the back of the box with one major exception: I never add oil or butter. To lighten up my cupcakes, I replace the fat with the same amount of light sour cream and natural applesauce. For example, if the box calls for 1/2 cup oil, I replace it with 1/4 cup light sour cream and 1/4 cup applesauce. The sour cream still has enough fat in it that the cake bakes properly, and doesn't have a weird consistency or taste. If anything, the cake is incredibly moist without being greasy. Usually when I tell friends that my cupcakes are "lower fat" they laugh, thinking I'm kidding. They really taste that great!

To ensure that each cupcake is the same size (and therefore bakes at the same rate), I like to use an ice cream scoop to measure out the batter for each muffin cup.

 

After baking the cupcakes and allowing them to cool, I pipe on store bought frosting. Piping the frosting, rather than spreading it on with a knife, gives the cupcakes a fancy store-bought look, with very little extra effort. Thanks to a birthday gift from Alex, I now own a full Wilton cake tip set (like the picture to the right) and disposable piping bags.

Don't have access to a professional set? No problem! Simply take a large ziplock bag, spoon the frosting into the bag, and snip off one corner of the bag with scissors. Squeeze the frosting out of the snipped corner for a similar, professional look. 

You may want to stop here, finding no need to add sprinkles, dragees (the little edible metallic balls) or other decorative item to the top of the cupcake. Typically though I do add a little something, like these cupcakes I made last year for 4th of July. These cupcakes, by the way, were frosted using the ziploc bag method. 

This weekend's batch of cupcakes was chocolate in theme per the birthday girl's request, and I wanted to do something really special to top it off. Realizing we still had a chocolate Godiva Easter bunny in the house, I opted to finish off my creations with shaved  milk chocolate from our bunny friend. Using a vegetable peeler, I made enough chocolate shavings for the batch, which were the perfect finishing touch.  

Here's a look at this weekend's final product: Katie's devil's food cake with milk chocolate frosting, topped with milk chocolate Godiva shavings. Mmmm.

So there you have it, for just a few dollars and less than an hour of time (including baking), you can make beautiful, decadent desserts that look and taste as good as the fancier alternatives. Sometimes "thinking outside the box" isn't the answer.

Do you have a go-to dish that you like to make when you entertain? Any tips to make something quick and easy seem like you slaved over it for days?

Comments 5

Comments

kaylaraine
5/25/2011 at 10:28 AM
If you're interested, there's an easy way to make icing that is 10x better than the store bought stuff (imho). Just mix one part regular Crisco to two parts powdered sugar. For flavor, I tend to add some vanilla or almond extract. If you want to get fancier, you can add peanut butter, nutella, cocoa, etc.
Susan Aster Sawyer
5/25/2011 at 7:45 PM
AWE so sweet of you all. Thanks for taking care of my girl!
kellyjwagneramen
5/26/2011 at 10:32 AM
Thanks for the suggestion on piping the frosting to make the cupcakes look so professional! As for favorite cupcakes, one of my go-to concoctions is a Boston Cream Pie cupcake. You simply bake up a batch of yellow cake cupcakes, scoop out a reservoir from the finished product and fill them with vanilla pudding (when making the pudding, I use less milk than is called for to thicken the texture). Then top them with chocolate frosting, and voila! Now that I know the piping trick, I'll be using your technique next time I make these.
Wendy
5/26/2011
Wow Kelly, your Boston Cream Pie cupcakes sound amazing! I'll have to give those a try soon.
Old Town Home
5/26/2011 at 7:40 PM
We're happy to have any excuse to make cupcakes, especially when it's to celebrate such a wonderful friend's birthday.
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