While some seem to think that the cupcake craze is over and are lobbying hard for the resurgence in pie as the new (old) dessert trend, I'm still standing firm in cupcakes' staying power. I ought to because in the past two days I made 125 cupcakes in 5 different flavors.
I went through:
4 1/2 lbs. powdered sugar
1 lb. vegetable shortening
1/2 lb. cream cheese
And that was just for the frosting alone.
No doubt this trend is reflected in popular media--Cupcake Wars on Food Network is my favorite nod to the cupcake, but if I had to speculate the causes for the cupcake trend, here's what I'd come up with:
1. Cupcakes appeal to our desire for individuality. With multiple flavor/ icing combinations, it's possible to pick the cupcake that most perfectly expresses yourself.
2. Cupcakes are fun, whimsical, and appeal to our inner child. As a culture, we seem to be fearful of growing old or admitting we are grown older, so cupcakes help us maintain the illusion that we are still young.
3. Cupcakes, unlike a layer cake or a cheesecake, do not require sharing, and thus feel extra indulgent.
4. Cupcakes allow for variety and creativity in ways not possible with larger desserts. I see this mostly from the pastry chef's perspective. Cupcakes are a lower risk than a 7 layer cake, and since cupcakes are cheaper, patrons are much more willing to go risky with their cupcake flavors. Bacon Buttercream anyone?
5. Cupcakes seem like a less guilt-ridden choice because they're small and cute. Again, this relates to our self-delusions. It's such a tiny little cupcake, it can't have that many calories, can it?
6. Cupcakes are adaptable to special diets. Due to their small size, cupcakes are easier to adapt to gluten free and vegan recipes without compromising texture than other larger cakes. Plus, add this to the individuality thing, and you can easily accommodate the vegans, celiacs, and omnivores all with their own cupcake.
When my friend Andrew and I discussed having a joint 30th Birthday party (our birthdays are only 3 days, 2 hours, and 17 minutes apart.) I was pretty neutral in the planning. I was only adamant on one thing. There must be cupcakes, lots of fun, frivolous, and fabulous cupcakes. For a cocktail party, cupcakes also make sense because they can be eaten nearly as easily as a canape. As I tend to do, I may have went a little overboard. On the cupcake menu:
Chocolate with chocolate buttercream and chocolate sprinkles
Red Velvet with cream cheese frosting and rainbow sprinkles
Butter Pecan with cinnamon spice cream cheese frosting
White Wedding Cake with raspberry buttercream
Lemon with Lavender scented buttercream
As you may know, I don't like making cake from scratch. All of these were from box mixes. Which was fine because cake from mixes does stay moist longer--essential for the do-ahead magnitude of making hundreds of cupcakes for one event--and they were all of good quality, save for the butter pecan. There was definately a synthetic, nearly bitter aftertaste from the laboratory-created artificial flavoring, which I was able to cleverly disguise with spicy cream cheese frosting. Another benefit to making mix cakes was that I had more time and effort to put into the homemade frosting. And let's just admit it, frosting is where it's at.
My favorite combination was the lemon with lavender buttercream. The dusky, floral kiss of the lavender was perfectly contrasted with the sharp, but sweet tang of the lemon.
Lavender Scented Buttercream Frosting
This recipe calls for margarine, and this is about the only time I EVER use margarine in my kitchen. Here's why, the margarine gives the frosting more stability. So the name of this recipe may be misleading, but most people can't tell the difference between a frosting made with butter and one made with margarine. That said, I have in the past used butter in place of the frosting. It does lend a richer, fuller flavor than margarine, but the frosting will be weepy and may melt.
If you're in the Bowling Green area, you can get culinary lavender at Calico, Sage, and Thyme.
If you want to duplicate the purple color of the frosting, you must use Wilson paste colors as they won't thin the consistency of the frosting. I used christmas red and indigo blue in equal colors to get purple.
I piped the frosting on the cupcakes using a pastry bag with a star tip to get the rippled swirl pattern.
Rarely do I measure the amount of powdered sugar that I add to the frosting. So really, trust your instincts here. If you add too much powdered sugar, you can always add just a tad more milk.
1/2 cup non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening
1/2 cup Imperial margarine
approximately 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
approximately 1 Tablespoon milk, soy milk, or rice milk
1 teaspoon dried culinary lavender flowers, ground finely in a mortar and pestle
Wilton paste coloring (optional)
In stand mixer, blend shortening and margarine. Slowly add powdered sugar, half a cup at a time. Then, add milk. Keep adding powdered sugar until desired consistency is reached. Add lavender and mix well. Color with paste coloring if desired.
Makes enough frosting for about 15 cupcakes