I confess: I’ve been somewhat of a ‘naturist’ in the baking department. My cupcakes and cakes are usually presented au naturel, or as my mother used to say way back when, in their birthday suits. I’ve just never been much for fancy embellishment when it comes to baking.
It’s not that I’m too lazy to frost a cupcake, more that I happen to like my baked goods just fine in their plain state. And, a couple of forays that I’ve made into the realm of icing have ended rather poorly. I recall a birthday cake for Meredith that I slathered with icing that proceeded to more or less slide off the cake before I had a chance to serve it. Not encouraging.
But, I’ve been seeing all manner of elegant, whimsical and just plain fun decorated cupcakes and cakes all over the blogosphere, and decided that, gosh darn, I can do that too! There’s no reason my baked goods should be huddling naked and shivering on the serving tray. So, I’ve taken it upon myself to get my skills up to scratch. I will abolish cupcake nudity in my kitchen. Henceforth, my offerings will be adorned with frippery, finery and flair. I hope.
With this resolve firmly in mind, I purchased a set of large decorating tips (may as well start big, right?) and started researching how to make frosting of the non-sliding variety. I cobbled together various techniques and approaches to come up with an icing that would be firm, tasty and not overly sweet.
I used butter as the main fat component, but added vegetable shortening to help stabilize the final product. In addition I was totally enamoured of the concept of meringue powder, so I used some of that too. I was so taken by its enticing smell that I added more than I really thought I should have (no willpower?). The resulting icing was so stiff that it was some hard work to squeeze it out of the pastry bag and through the icing tip. The recipe below includes half the amount of meringue powder that I actually used. Over time I’ll be experimenting with different frosting formulae, and once I think I’ve achieved the ultimate I think we should celebrate!
I also wanted the frosting to complement the flavour of the cupcake itself, in this case a Spice Cupcake that my mother used to make when we were kids, so I added cinnamon to it. I was pleased not only with the mild cinnamon taste but also the lovely flecks of brown cinnamon adding soft contrast to the creamy base. Next time I think I’ll also add a bit of ground cloves to intensify the spiciness and echo the taste of the cake even more.
As far as the decorating itself, wow, that was hard work! I definitely need to work on my technique, of which I have pretty much none right now. Most of my cupcakes were definitely not photo-worthy, and each one turned out different. Fortunately for me, my daughter Meredith works as a cake decorator and she’s offered to teach me a thing or two. One thing I know already is that my next batch of frosting will be less stiff. I think that will make it easier to achieve the design I’m trying for with more consistency, not to mention less physical effort. I originally had the intention of going even further with the decorating by adding a glazed walnut half to each dollop of icing, but frankly, I ran out of energy! Maybe next time …..
So, having established that I am in no way an expert when it comes to decorating cupcakes, I hope you enjoy accompanying me on this learning adventure. I also hope the fellows at Brent’s workplace don’t mind the trays of cupcakes that I’ll be sending their way to remove temptation from our home. Actually, most of the batch featured in this post went to them, and their response was enthusiastic. Funny, people don’t seem to mind being guinea pigs where cake and frosting are concerned!
Recipe from my mother; origin unknown. Makes about 18 cupcakes. Pre-heat oven to 350º. These days I prefer spice cakes with more complexity from a broader range of spices, but the simplicity of these remind me of a favourite treat from childhood.
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup butter or margarine
- 1/2 cup molasses
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups flour
- 1 tsp soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- 1 cup sour milk (a tablespoon or two of white vinegar, topped up with milk)
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
- 3/4 cup raisins
As far as the method goes, the recipe card that I copied out over 30 years ago doesn’t say. That’s because even back then I’d already done a lot of baking and knew how to go about it. But, if you’re learning (just like I’m continuing to do!) here’s the technique.
Cream the butter and sugar together, then mix in the molasses. Add the eggs, one at a time and mix until incorporated. MIx all the dry ingredients together (except nuts and raisins). Add half the dry ingredients, mix gently, add half the milk and mix, and then repeat. Stir in the walnuts and raisins.
Spoon into muffin trays lined with cupcake papers and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Cinnamon Buttercream Frosting
Recipe by Musing Mar, and in need of further musing and refinement. Not that it wasn’t good (the guys at Brent’s work really liked it), I just think I can make it even better! Don’t worry, you won’t hurt my feelings if you substitute another frosting of your choice. By the way, I definitely recommend an electric mixer for making this.
- 1/2 cup butter, softened to room temperature
- 1/4 c vegetable shortening (I use Crisco, if you’re interested)
- 2 cups icing sugar
- 1-1/2 tsp vanilla
- 1/2 tsp meringue powder
- 2 tsp cinnamon
Whip the butter and shortening until well incorporated. Add half the icing sugar and mix on low until combined. Add the remaining sugar, vanilla, meringue powder and cinnamon, and mix slowly until everything is well-combined and the consistency smooth.
Scoop the frosting into a pastry bag fitted with the tip of your choice, roll down the top of the bag and decorate cupcakes to your heart’s content!
Even though their adornment of frosting is on the amateur side style-wise, these cupcakes look so proud. No more bashful nude cupcakes here!