Cupcakes for a 6-year-old boy’s Minecraft-themed birthday party

As I have tended to concentrate more on flavors than decorating, this was my first time working with gum paste for my own cupcakes. Gum paste is similar to fondant except it dries hard. (I also think it tastes a little bit better, but it still doesn’t taste wonderful!) That makes it more appropriate for detailed decorations.

Minecraft_Cupcake_Topper_Grid

I drew a 1 cm grid on parchment paper to provide a guide, flipped it over and taped it to a white cutting board. That gave me a clean and stick-resistant area to work.

The gum paste was white, so I colored a batch with food coloring gel to a light green before rolling it out onto my grid. (Note: Use gloves if you don’t want your hands colored like mine were! The easiest way to color is to work the gel into the paste by hand.) I used a pastry cutter to cut out 5×5 cm squares. I scored them gently with a grid, not cutting all the way through, to provide the base for my Creepers.

I colored other batches of gum paste a darker green and black for the details, cutting 1×1 cm squares.

Minecraft_Cupcakes_Green_Squares

I applied water with a brush to glue the small squares onto the larger to make my Minecraft Creeper cupcake toppers and let them dry overnight.

Minecraft_Cupcakes_Cut

The cupcakes were dirt-color (chocolate!), and vanilla buttercream attached the Creepers. As creating the toppers were time consuming, I made enough for half the batch, piping buttercream “grass” onto the rest.

Minecraft_Cupcakes_Creepers

The birthday boy was delighted with his Minecraft cupcakes, it was totally worth staying up late and dyeing my hands green and black!

MinecraftPinata
The TNT piñata was a hit.

Gum paste may harden, but it wilts in the summer sun! The birthday party guests didn’t seem to mind at all.

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I’d never tried the swirl. It seems the perfect recipe to end up on Pinterest Fail. However, sometimes you’ve got to mix it up!

I stuffed a bag with chocolate icing on one side and peanut butter on the other. It worked out ok but wasn’t perfect. My main issue wasn’t in separating the flavors but that the chocolate and peanut butter icings were different consistencies. You can see in the photos how they didn’t behave the same, the peanut butter was not as smooth (probably not a frosting best suited to piping).

peanut_chocolate_swirl

I later saw someone doing this with three bags (two bags of icing in a third bag with tip), and I will try that method next time! I’ll also make sure my frostings are more similar.

I was fulfilling a birthday cupcake flavor request of peanut butter and chocolate. The swirled icing wasn’t the only chocolate in my peanut butter, the cupcakes themselves were peanut butter with chocolate chips.

chocolate chip peanut butter cupcakes

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butterscotch apple cupcakesI’m known for cupcakes and rarely is anyone surprised when I bring cupcakes to an event. However, sometimes I can be a little crafty.

A friend organized a last minute birthday dinner, and I whipped up a quick half batch that fit in a smaller container than my normal carrier. I was able to conceal the cupcakes for an afternoon of birthday pampering and most of the meal. Ha! I was pleased that the birthday girl was surprised.

katie bday surprise cupcake

For these cupcakes, I used an apple cupcake recipe from Chow, adding some butterscotch extract and using coriander instead of the other spices. I topped them with butterscotch buttercream frosting.

I’d bought the butterscotch extract at Olive Nation on a whim and had been waiting for an excuse to use it. It paired well with the moist and not-too-sweet apple cake.

inside apple cupcake

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Chocolate Strawberry Cupcakes

These chocolate cupcakes with vanilla buttercream were filled with fresh strawberries steeped in framboise liqueur.

First, I prepared for my finishing touch by dipping whole strawberries into melted chocolate and refrigerating on a tray covered with parchment paper.

Chocolate-Covered Strawberries

While waiting for my cupcakes to cool, I heated sliced strawberries and the liqueur on the stovetop just long enough to slightly soften the berries. If you want to skip the liqueur, you can use strawberries that have been mixed with sugar to get nice and juicy.

Once the cakes were at room temperature, I used a paring knife to cut a cone out of each cupcake, added a few slices of strawberry, then reassembled. Spoon in a little extra juice or straight liqueur before, if you like, for the cake to soak up (yummy). When re-adding the cone, trim the bottom first or just press it back on! You’ll be covering up the evidence with frosting.

Strawberry-Filled Chocolate Cupcake

Once frosted, I pulled out my chocolate-covered strawberries to finish up these birthday-worthy cupcakes.

Scott's Cupcake
Photo by Scott A. Ettin (aka the birthday boy)

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Summer officially starts this weekend, and summer means the tastiest strawberries are ready to go into our breakfast, salads, desserts, or just straight into our mouths!

CSA_strawberries

My CSA (Local Roots) gets us these luscious strawberries from Phillips Farm in New Jersey. I was so excited to see a quart of them waiting for me at pickup, especially as my favorite almost-5-year-old had requested strawberry cupcakes for his birthday party.

fresh strawberry cupcakes

In the past, I have found that using preserves works better for baking, but I wanted to go all fresh this time around. One of the complaints I hear is that it’s hard to get a strong strawberry flavor in cake using just fresh berries. With that in mind, I sliced up about half the quart and added a little sugar, refrigerating for 2 days to draw out liquid and concentrate the flavor. I drained (and reserved) the juice and puréed the result.

strawberry batter

Since another complaint is that fresh berries have too much liquid to use in frosting, I used the purée without juice in the frosting. I did use the purée with the reserved juice in the cupcakes, plus some freshly chopped strawberries. I was glad that I decided to use those extra strawberries at the end, as the little chunks of fruit were a great addition to the cake. I think the purée of 2-day-sugared strawberries really helped me nail the flavor, though.

pool party cupcakes

Grab some freshly picked strawberries and welcome summer!

Recipe: Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes

Makes 30 cupcakes

2 sticks butter
2 cups sugar
5 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
8 ounces sour cream
8 ounces strawberry purée (with juice)*
1/2 cup chopped strawberries
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups flour

Preheat oven to 325° F. Line muffin tins with paper liners. (I used red ones!)

Combine butter and sugar, mixing until sugar and butter form a cream. Add eggs one by one, then the vanilla. Mix on medium speed until light and fluffy.

Sift together baking powder, salt and flour. Add half of the flour mixture, followed by sour cream and strawberry purée, and then add the rest of the flour mixture. Mix until combined, but do not over mix. Scoop cupcakes into lined tins and bake for 20-22 minutes at 325° F, turning the pans after 10 minutes.

*For purée: 1/2 quart fresh strawberries, sliced, covered with sugar and refrigerated 2 days, drained, then puréed (remove 1/2 cup for frosting, then mix juice back in)

Frosting Recipe

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