Yumm-o, as Rachael Ray would say! That's how most people feel about cupcakes. But it's interesting to think beyond those few bites of culinary sweetness and delve a bit deeper.
How did cupcakes get their name? According to Foodtimeline.com, there are two back stories for the name “cupcake,” and no one really knows which theory is correct. Originally, these mini-cakes were made with a simple recipe ratio of 1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour, etc., so the “cup” increment is reflected in the name. The second theory is that the name originated because the diminutive goodies were first baked in small pottery cups.
It's safe to say today that the cupcake is one of the most popular baked items around, and most cities seem to have at least one bakery specializing in them. In Bend, it's Ida's Cupcake Cafe.
Cupcakes even have their own special week — this year it's Sept. 16-22, according to the National Awareness Days website. And National Cupcake Day is Dec. 15. But there are plenty of reasons to make a batch of cupcakes. And Easter Sunday is a great excuse to bake some of these treats.
What's the appeal?
Cupcakes are fun. They're sized for a single serving, so there's forced portion control not found with from their full-size cake cousins. They're portable, so you can eat one on the go. The individual wrappers help keep them together until the last bite and help keep crumbs in check.
Cupcakes are easy to make, even for beginners, and they bake faster than full-size cakes.
They can be iced and decorated individually, without the risk of ruining an entire cake, and you can hide sweet surprises inside them like cream fillings or candy.
Creating a batch of cupcakes from scratch is simple. They can be whipped in a matter of minutes, even in gourmet flavors.
The easiest way to bake cupcakes is in muffin pans with individual liners. Most cupcakes are baked in these utilitarian wrappers. Not only do the liners keep the cakes fresh and moist, but they also make for easy removal from the pan and mean minimal pan clean-up.
Cupcake liners can be made from paper, foil or reusable silicone shapes — and they come in sizes from mini to jumbo. Fluted pan liners offer colors and patterns for every occasion.
The foil and silicone liners are sturdy enough that they can stand alone on a baking sheet without the enclosed shaping of a muffin pan, so if you're working in quantity, consider this option and bake multiple sheets at a time.
If you opt not to use commercial liners, cupcakes can be baked with squares of parchment or other buttered papers lining the pans, or simply by greasing the pan openings themselves. Sometimes ice cream cones or small cans can be used as cupcake containers.
Making a plan
How you fill the cupcake pan will determine the final shape of your treats. If you fill the cup half full, the baked cake will have a flat top; if you fill it two-thirds full, the top will be rounded, and if you fill it three-quarters full, the top will be rounded and extend outward beyond the liner shape. So, think about your strategy in relation to how you expect to decorate your creations.
Once your cupcakes are baked, turn them out of the pan and let them cool on a wire rack. In most instances, cool the treats completely before frosting them.
On top of it
Cupcakes normally have frosting and perhaps some other decorative elements like sprinkles or candies on top, adding to their already appealing personae. If you have cake decorating expertise, this is the perfect place to use it. Get out the piping bag and the various frosting tips and go to town. Cupcakes are the perfect place to practice, as each one is a small canvas of its own.
Frosted cupcakes should be stored in an air-tight container to keep them moist. If you need to take them someplace, look for a special container with individual tray openings to keep them separate. Or, put them back in the baking pans for stability. Stick a toothpick into the cakes to hold any foil covering at bay, but remove before serving.
No one really needs to be told how to eat a cupcake, but in different parts of the world, the de rigueur varies. Some people eat cupcakes with a knife and fork; others eat them with a spoon. Some eat the lower cake first, working their way up to the half with the frosting. Most folks just peel back the wrapper and dive right in, enjoying the frosting smeared outside their mouths.
Cupcakes can easily be made ahead of a special occasion and frozen (without frosting) until needed. Pack them in an airtight container for freezing and defrost before decorating.
If you're looking for some delicious treats for the Easter holiday, check these recipes and decorating tips for picture-perfect cupcake creations.
Decorating tips for your Easter cupcakes
• Chill the cupcakes in the freezer for a few minutes to minimize crumbing. A firm surface is easier and cleaner to decorate.
• For Easter grass and nests, place the desired amount of shredded coconut in a zip-top bag and add a few drops of food coloring or coloring gel. Massage the bag to work the color evenly throughout the coconut. Add more coloring if you want a darker color. Or, look for edible Easter grass in the cake decorating section of your local kitchen or craft store. Another nest option is using chow mein noodles with melted marshmallows.
• Dye your own decorating sugars: Put the desired amount of sugar (any type from super fine to coarse) in a zip-top bag, add a drop or two of food coloring. Close the top and massage the color into the sugar. To dry, spread the colored sugar onto wax paper.
• To create a biteable treat, bake your cupcakes around a Cadbury Creme Egg. Freeze the egg (or mini-size egg) first to help keep it intact during baking. Pour some batter into the muffin pan, insert the egg, and continue filling with batter to the desired level.
• Flatten and trim marshmallows and shape for bunny ears. Add colored sprinkles to designate the inner ear.
• Slice licorice strands for basket handles, greenery and bunny whiskers. Licorice comes in several colors.
• Colorful sticks of gum can be trimmed and shaped to make bunny ears, feet, basket handles, etc.
• Make “carrots” by trimming orange Circus Peanuts or orange slice candies and using thin slices of green licorice for leaves. Embed the tips into the frosted cupcake top, and sprinkle the frosting with Oreo crumbs or Cocoa Krispies to look like dirt.
• Use cookie cutters to cut colorful fruit leather into holiday shapes to place on top of cupcakes.
• Select colors of M&M candies to create shapes on your cupcake tops — orange for carrots, green for leaves, pastels for flowers, etc.
• Miniature marshmallows are perfect for bunny cheeks, noses and tails. Marshmallows come in colors, or you can also roll white ones into sprinkles.
• Ready-made candies like jelly beans, Peeps, gumdrops, candy corn, chocolate bunnies and eggs make for quick frosting accents.
• Use frosting as “glue” to hold dimensional shapes (like eyes, noses, etc.) in place.
• Select premade frostings in tubes and tubs for quick and easy decorating.
Did you know?
• In the 1700s, cupcakes were originally referred to as number cakes or 1234 cakes, based on the ratio of their ingredients.
• Hostess introduced the first snack cake in 1919.
• Cupcakes are banned in New York City's schools due to concerns about childhood obesity.
• The world's largest cupcake was 1,224 pounds, with more than 2 million calories.
• Crumbs Bakeshop is America's largest cupcake chain, selling over $66 million in cupcakes in 2011.
• The Food Network's “Cupcake Wars” boasts more than 1.6 million viewers.
A touch of color
To add some color around your baked treats, consider dip-dying the paper wrappers.
• Start with white or pastel paper cupcake liners.
• In a small bowl, mix food coloring with a bit of water.
• Dip the upper edge of the paper liner into the dye mixture for a few seconds.
• Remove the wrapper from the dye and place it on several sheets of newspaper to dry before using.