Saturday, July 30, 2011

Adventures in Baking: Strawberry lemonade cupcakes

A few times a year I find a good excuse to do some totally indulgent, ridiculously time-consuming cupcake baking.  Some of my exploits have been more successful than others.  Admittedly, my weakness is that my love of decorating the cupcakes is often at the expense of the taste of the cake itself.  After all, a marzipan ladybug atop a bed of bright green frosting grass is a steep enough accomplishment unto itself, right?  But why should taste be secondary to beauty?  I am happy to share with you that this recipe for strawberry lemonade cupcakes is straight up delicious.  The cake, the frosting and the toppings all work together to make something uniquely yummy that is not only pretty to look at but also distinctly crave-able (that's right, I'm inventing words).

Inspired to find a cupcake to complement the strawberry lemonade theme for a baby shower I was co-hosting with some friends, I was lucky enough to stumble on a fabulous recipe on gimme some oven, a website featuring cooking "how to"s and a treasure trove of recipes accompanied by amazing photography of the process.  This strawberry lemonade cupcake recipe meets two of my baking requirements: 1) simple ingredients and 2) room to be creative.  The cake mix starts with a strawberry cake box mix (cue the collective gasps and hurrays) then spruces it up with additions such as lemon juice and buttermilk, resulting in a cake that is both spongy and tangy.  The frosting, however, is in my opinion this cupcakes crowning glory.  The combination of buttercream, vanilla, pureed fresh strawberry and lemon works together to create a topping so zesty and decadent my 3-yr-old daughter actually came to me crying when she ate all of hers off of her cupcake.  "I want it back!"  What's a mother and fellow cupcake lover to do but pat her back and agree whole-heartedly.  Me too, honey, me too.

And what about the creative part?  Well, that's the decorating, of course.  Since the gimme some oven recipe features the frosting all swirled and naked atop the cupcake (a look which this baby can certainly pull off), there was also some wiggle room to have some fun.  Cue the candied lemon slices, some sliced strawberries and a bendy straw for fun and you have yourself a frothing glass of the most succulent strawberry lemonade you have ever tried.  Cute and, once again in the words of my 3-year-old, "scrumptious"!

You absolutely have to try making a batch of these.  For real.  Do it.  Now.  And if you do, let me know how it goes!

1) Icing + heat= droopy frosting.  If it's sweltering hot where you live and you just gotta have these cupcakes, be warned that you better ice those babies quickly and pop them in the fridge asap or the frosting will start going all sad and runny on you.  Still yummy but they end up looking like more of a melted cone than a frothy cup of yum.  As a general rule, I recommend frosting a dispensable cupcake (you know, the one that comes out all lopsided and you just know will need to be the tester) with your first batch of frosting and letting it sit for a while to see if you are happy with the texture.  If not, add some more powdered sugar to stiffen up the frosting a bit and try again.
2) Always have a designated licker on hand, preferably a child or a hungry friend.  Nothing says love like letting someone special lick the mixer clean.

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