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Cupcake Magic!

I love people and I love food, so baking and sharing what I bake has become one of my favorite pastimes! Cupcakes have been a hot trend for a while now and I’m not seeing any end to it, so about a year ago I added cupcakes to my baking repertoire. Besides, they’re adorable—and “if you are what you eat, then eat something cute,” right? One thing I love about cupcakes is that they’re so EASY to make, especially if you know a few tricks. So I’ll tell you what I’ve learned about cupcakes—and even though it may be way more than you ever cared to know, you might just want to go bake a batch and even share them with someone after you read this!

I usually bake from scratch, but when I make cupcakes I almost always use a cake mix as a base—then doctor it up a bit. Many “from scratch” cakes bake flat and I like the cupcake to rise up a little over the paper. Using a mix is the best way to accomplish that.

I’ve included one recipe that I love:

Double Chocolate Cupcakes

4 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1-1/3 cups water
1 pkg. chocolate pudding
1 devil’s food cake mix (I prefer Duncan Heinz)
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Mix the eggs, oil, water, and pudding on medium speed for about 30 seconds. Add the cake mix and mini chocolate chips. Mix another minute or two until the batter is smooth. If the batter seems thin, add 2 Tbsp. flour and mix until the flour is thoroughly blended in.

  • Pour the batter into cupcake tins lined with cupcake papers.
  •  Bake at 350 degrees for about 14–16 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly touched.
  • Remove from the oven and cool.

You can make lemon cupcakes by using a lemon cake mix and lemon pudding (eliminating the chocolate chips) or use any other flavor of cake mix and add vanilla pudding.

There are lots of pretty cupcake papers you can buy these days, and even though most of them declare that they are “greaseproof,” most aren’t! So as soon as you bake something in a bright polka dot paper, you have anything BUT that when the pan comes out of the oven! There are a few exceptions though. Papers by Cupcake Creations are amazing, hold their color and design, and the paper is thick enough to use without a cupcake tin. I’ve found them at Michael’s and a few other grocery stores. Glassine papers also keep their color well but colors are limited and I’ve never seen any with patterns. Many specialty cupcake shops use one color (white, craft, or brown) for all cupcakes and focus on the icing and decorations for a cute cupcake.

One thing I DIDN’T like about baking cupcakes when I started was the mess of getting the batter into the tin (I always use paper liners). I bought a cupcake pan that dispenses the batter evenly into the papers, but filling the thing is a pain and just creates one more messy container to wash! I discovered that using a regular- size ice cream scoop works great! The one I have holds about 3 tablespoons of batter. You just dip the scoop into the batter and pull up on the side of the bowl to remove excess batter, then plop the batter from the scoop by squeezing the handle into the paper liner.

The type of cupcake pan you use can make a difference, too. Darker-coated pans seem to cook hotter than a lighter aluminum pan.

This picture shows two cupcakes made with the same batter and liners but cooked in different pans. The cupcake on the right was baked in an aluminum pan and isn’t as browned as the cupcake on the left, which was baked in a dark pan. (Lighter cupcakes are better!)

Once the cupcakes are out of the oven, you can cool them faster by removing the cakes from the tin. Or, if you’re in a really big, fat hurry, (and I’m always in a big fat hurry!), remove them from the hot tin, place on a cookie sheet, and put them in your freezer. They’ll be cool in about 5 minutes!

Now for the best part—icing! Or “frosting”—or whatever you want to call that amazingly sticky sweet divine fluff! In my opinion, a cupcake was created for the same reason as pie crust—it’s a nice vehicle for holding something even better! My favorite icing recipe for cupcakes is a cream cheese-based icing that my niece, Lisa, was kind enough to share with me. And it’s the easiest icing I’ve ever made!

Lisa’s “Died and Gone to Heaven” Icing
1 cup GRANULATED sugar
1 8-oz. cube cream cheese
1 cup heavy cream (Costco heavy cream is the thickest and best I’ve found)
1 tsp. vanilla or other flavoring
Food coloring

Beat the sugar and cream cheese on medium speed for about 30 seconds until thoroughly mixed. Add cream and vanilla, beat on low for about 30 seconds, scraping the sides frequently. When the cream is mixed in, whip on high for about 1–1-1/2 minutes until thick and fluffy.

If you are coloring your icing, add food coloring to the cream cheese and sugar when you start. Or you can add it to the milk. My favorite food coloring is Americolor Soft Gel Paste. They offer a large variety of colors and you can squeeze it into whatever you are coloring (instead of having to scoop it out of a jar as with some gels). It’s also the only coloring I have found that gives you a true red! (Mix red with the tiniest touch of Americolor black food coloring for best results!) Sounds weird but it works! Don’t try it with other brands . . . you’ll just get a funky purple! I’ve found Americolor at specialty baking shops and online. Tip: don’t have flavoring? Use 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of unflavored Kool-Aid per batch. Works great and it’s cheap!

I always use an icing bag and tip to apply icing to the cupcake for two reasons: 1) it looks pretty and professional and 2) it is so much easier (and faster!) than spreading icing on each cupcake with a knife.

I use a large bag so I don’t have to keep refilling. I like 18-inch Wilton Featherweight Decorating Bags. They’re easy to clean and handle. Or you can use disposable bags and skip the washing—and that’s always nice! Still, I prefer the handling of a non-disposable bag.

I use either large round or star tips (Wilton 1M Swirl works great).

It’s sometimes a trick to fill the bag with icing. I’ve found that a tall, wide glass works well to support the bag. (Super Big Gulp cups work great and give you the perfect excuse to drink a soda!) Stick the bag (with the tip attached) into the cup and fold the sides of the bag over the outside of the cup.

Scoop in the icing and press down gently towards the bottom of the bag. Pull the sides of the bag up over the icing and twist the bag closed, starting at the top and working down to force the icing into the tip. Now you’re ready to frost!

It’s easiest to frost cupcakes while they are secured in the tins or in some other type of holder. Otherwise the icing tends to push the cupcake across the counter—which makes the process difficult!

Start by placing the tip on the outside edge of the cupcake and squeeze the bag, moving in a counter clockwise motion towards the center until the surface is covered, then pull up and away for a peak.

I started doing it this way before I read the Wilton instructions that tell you to start in the center. Either way, it works! The cream cheese icing stays soft and doesn’t set, so if you’re using sprinkles or another garnish, apply before serving.

A few weeks ago, the Stampin’ Up! product design department threw a baby shower for our wonderful co-worker, Julie, who just adopted twins from Tonga! I made four dozen cupcakes and wanted to make them special but had limited time. So I used images from our MDS Sunshine Sprinkles Ensemble to make picks.

So simple and so cute! Sara decorated the serving table using the same MDS suite and it was awesome!

And it was easy! That’s the best part! OK . . . I take that back—the babies were by far the best part! Zoe and Noa, almost a year old, are about the cutest things you’ve ever seen!

Maybe we can get Julie to blog about the adoption! What an amazing story with the happiest ending . . . or rather—“beginning” —ever!

Kathy P. Sr. Illustrator


  • Jen C.

    Feb 12

    So much to love about this post - babies, cupcakes, frosting...thanks for sharing!