Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cupcake Contest

My mother-in-law's office has an annual cupcake contest, and I get to be her ghost baker.  Don't worry, we're not breaking any rules.  Her coworkers know that I make the cupcakes for her.

Last year (the first year I participated), I made the most delicious cupcakes I could muster.  I had recently finished perfecting my Cookies and Cream Cupcakes recipe, and I was proud of my tasty little treats.  However, apparently the goal was creativity, not flavor, and I didn't win a darn thing.

So this year, I'm focused on creativity.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not interested in serving something less than delicious.  But I wanted to focus on making something almost too cute to eat.

I did the logical thing and hopped on Pinterest.  I gathered lots of potential cupcake ideas.  There are SO many cute ideas out there!  Ultimately, my mother-in-law and I chose these hot chocolate cupcakes from Diary of a Lady Bird:

I went to Deals and found little clear plastic plates that I thought would be the right size for the saucers under my cupcakes.  I also found little silver plastic spoons to complete the ensemble. 

I found two versions of heart-shaped marshmallows at Walmart.  I thought they would be a nice touch on my "hot chocolate" cupcakes since Valentine's Day is this week {I ended up just using the bag with both pink and white marshmallows}.

The day before I needed to bake the cupcakes, I prepared my favorite recipe of marshmallow fondant.

I wanted to make Milk Chocolate cupcakes, but it turned out that I didn't have that mix on hand.  I did have a Devil's Food mix on hand, though.  Yes, I could have made them from scratch.  Yes, they probably would have been a lot tastier and I could have made a recipe using actual hot chocolate mix.  But I got this cake mix for $0.88.  And I'm not going for the prize of Most Time Spent on One Batch of Cupcakes, ya know?  Anywho.

I prepared the cake mix according to the box directions.  Since I knew these cupcakes would be wrapped in marshmallowiness, I wanted to amp up the chocolate.  I coated about a cup of milk chocolate chips with a tablespoon or so of flour.  This keeps them from sinking to the bottom of the cupcakes.

I mixed the chocolate chips into the cupcake batter and used my scoop to portion them into the prepared cupcake pan.  I just used leftover Halloween cupcake liners since they'll be removed after baking anyway.  Nora thought the pumpkin wrappers were hilarious.  I baked the cupcakes for 18 minutes.

Once the cupcakes were cool, I removed all the liners.

I pulled my marshmallow fondant out of the fridge and warmed it up slightly in the microwave so I could knead it easily.  The fondant in my inspiration photo is white.  While I thought the white cups were beautiful, I also thought it was a missed opportunity for creativity.  I thought about making mine red or pink to go with the Valentine's Day theme, but I ultimately defaulted to my favorite color:  aqua.  I colored half of the fondant aqua using the tiniest bit of teal food coloring gel.

This half of the fondant was just the right amount to cover half of the cupcakes (one dozen).

In order to make the fondant stick, I needed some frosting for glue.  I considered using a can of store-bought frosting, but then that super annoying voice in my head said, "Really?!  A cake mix AND store-bought frosting??"  So I decided to make my own.

I flipped through my recipes and found this one that I used for Griffin's first birthday cake.  He was allergic to dairy (I'm SO glad he has outgrown that allergy!), so it's a dairy-free chocolate frosting.  I followed the recipe and just used regular butter and milk.  I think this will be my new go-to chocolate buttercream.

I used an offset spatula to spread the frosting around the outside of each cupcake.

Before I frosted all the cupcake outsides, I measured one to get an idea of what size to cut the fondant.

I rolled out the fondant on a handy dandy non-stick mat that I purchased at Ikea (See, Jared?  I did find a use for that!).

I rolled the fondant to about 1/4 inch thickness.  Then I used my fabric cutting ruler (clean, of course) and a pizza cutter to cut the fondant into strips 2.25 inches wide and 8.5 inches long.  The fondant stuck a little in a few places, so I spread a little bit of Crisco on the mat and on my rolling pin.  Worked like a charm.

The fondant strips stretched as I wrapped them around the cupcakes, so I started cutting the strips 7.5 inches long instead.

I wrapped a strip of fondant around a cupcakes and cut off the excess so the ends met exactly or overlapped slightly.  I used water to bond the ends together.  Each wrapped cupcake (now a tiny little mug) went on its own little clear plate.

The fondant was a funky shape when I first applied it to the cupcake.

I gently stretched the top of the fondant so it flared out slightly to be more of a cup shape.

I got really frustrated at this point.  The fondant was bumpy and warped and just didn't look like smooth little cups.  Jared said, "It's very apparent that they're not perfectly round."  Who wants perfect cupcakes anyway?  Oh wait, I do.  I think it would have helped if I had underfilled my cupcake liners so they wouldn't have the bulge where they baked up over the liner.  

I cut narrow strips of fondant for the handles and made them 2.5 inches long.  I wrapped them over the handle of a wooden spoon and let them dry for a bit to hold that shape.

I used a tiny bit of water to adhere the handles to the cups.

When it was time to color the second half of the fondant, I decided to go ahead and make it pink.  I used a tiny bit of pink food coloring gel to make it pretty pastel.  I followed all the same steps to frost the outsides of the second dozen cupcakes, roll and cut the fondant, and apply the fondant to make little cups.  I made the cup handles the same as I had done for the aqua ones.

To finish off the decorations I needed two things:  frosting and marshmallows for garnish.

I started by preparing the cute heart-shaped marshmallows.  They were too fat to sit on top of my little treats, so I cut them to make two toppers out of each mallow.

Then I got to work on the frosting for the top of the cupcakes.  I was running out of time and decided to stick with a recipe I know.  I used my recipe for Royal Icing.  I typed it up and didn't keep record of the original source, but you can easily search the internet for a basic recipe.

I made a little change though.  Instead of adding water, I added water mixed with instant espresso.

Even with the espresso, the icing was pretty light in color.

I added all the brown food coloring gel that I had left, which wasn't much, and the frosting ended up about the color of a cappuccino.  So I supposed the finished product is a little confusing as to whether they're little mugs of hot chocolate (hence, the marshmallows) or little cups of cappuccino.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I glopped some of the espresso icing onto a cupcake and then used my offset spatula to coax it to the edge all around the inside of the cup.

Then I added the marshmallows (sticky cut side down).  I used both pink and white marshmallows for each color of cups.

I did the same for all the aqua cups and all the pink ones.

The final touch:  the little silver spoons!

The finished treats:

They may be bumpy and imperfect, but they're still cute, right?

My tips if you decide to make these:
  • Don't fill cupcake liners enough that they'll bake up over the top of the liners.  Or try jumbo cupcakes.  Or just trim the muffin tops.
  • Roll fondant thicker rather than thinner.  I think at least 1/4 inch is best.
  • Allow time for fondant handles to dry and harden.  Also allow time for fondant cups to dry and harden.
  • Do NOT refrigerate fondant-covered cupcakes and do NOT store them in an airtight container.  We put the cupcakes in plastic containers with lids for transporting, and they sat in them overnight.  The fondant absorbed the moisture from the frosting and got soft and droopy.  Yuck.  All my hard work to make the cups round and nice was for nothing!  Be sure to leave the finished cupcakes out overnight so the fondant can set.  Don't worry, the fondant and frosting keep the cupcakes from drying out.
And now, drumroll please...

My cupcakes won first place in the Creativity category!!

Now I have to start planning for next year...


1 comment:

  1. These are awesome!! I saw you pin some cupcake recipes awhile back and wondered what you were working on. What a fun competition. Now I'm looking forward to seeing what you come up with next year!