Friday, March 30, 2012

Candy Cupcakes Part IV - Raspberry M&M Chocolate Cupcake with Raspberry Buttercream

And today is the last installment of my week with Candy Cupcakes!  I'll be glad to focus on Easter Treats next week because - is it okay to admit this? - I'm a bit sick of candy.  Yeah, I said it.   ;)  Reflecting on this past week  I realized I  used some form of M&M's in most of the cupcakes I made.  Thinking about it I concluded  it was because I'd never tried Mint, Raspberry, or M&M Minis before.  And now I know how awesome  M&M Minis are...less candy crunch to get to the chocolate taste.  Yay!  And as far as mini candies go, these are the cutest out there!

So, the cupcakes.  I sampled a Raspberry M&M and found the berry taste was pretty powerful.  I didn't want to make something that was overpoweringly Raspberry, losing the chocolate flavor.  After thinking about it I settled on two different types of chocolate cupcakes.

Chocolate Raspberry M&M crunch cupcake with fresh raspberry buttercream:


For these cupcakes, I added a bit of raspberry extract to the chocolate cake batter I mixed up.  Next, I crushed up Raspberry M&M's (I used a potato masher, rolling while pressing down on the M&M's.  It was actually not difficult!) and added them to the batter, mixing until fully incorporated.  I baked the cupcakes as directed.  When they cooled completely, I topped them with awesomely delicious Fresh Raspberry Buttercream, piping them with a 1M Wilton Tip in a classic swirl:

Raspberry Vanilla Buttercream Icing

2 sticks of butter (I did use salted)
4 cups of confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon raspberry extract
1/2 cup of fresh raspberries
3-5 tablespoons half and half

Using a mixer, beat butter until it is fluffy.  Add 3 cups of sugar - one cup at a time - mixing until it's completely incorporated.  Add vanilla, raspberry extract, fresh raspberries (rinsed and THOROUGHLY dried) and half and half along with the last cup of sugar and mix together, adding more half and half until the icing is the desired consistency.

I really liked the crunch in the cake, and, did I mention this buttercream is AWESOMELY AMAZING?!!  No?  Well, it is!  The first time I made this icing it turned out perfectly.  This time, however, if you look closely, you can see the swirl shape didn't hold up too well.  That's because I didn't completely dry the raspberries and it made the icing a bit watery.  I didn't want to add more sugar because I didn't want it to become too sweet, so I left it as is, learned my lesson! Now for cupcake number 2:

Chocolate Cupcakes with smashed Raspberry M&M topping iced with raspberry buttercream and Melba sauce:

These were my favorite of the two.  First, I baked the chocolate cupcakes as directed, with no M&M's added.  While they were still hot out of the oven, I topped them with some crushed M&M's:

When they were completely cooled, I topped them with the same icing as above, but I did not add the fresh raspberries.  I piped the white raspberry icing with the same Wilton #1M tip in a classic swirl.  Next, I poured Raspberry Melba sauce into a squeeze bottle using a small funnel:

After I filled the bottle, I took the cupcakes out of their wrappers since adding the sauce would be messy.  (This is one cupcake I would serve with a fork and no wrapper.)  I squeezed the sauce on top of the icing in a criss cross pattern.  I think they looked great and they were SSOOO good!  As with the previous cupcake there was a nice, unexpected crunch of the M&M's and lots of great raspberry flavor.  Chocolate and raspberry together are heaven!  I will definitely make these again for dessert in the near future.

That's the end of my Candy Cupcake Series.  In two weeks I'm going to do a series of cupcakes based on favorite non-alcoholic drinks.  Next week will be carrots, bunnies, chicks and colorful eggs!  Have a great weekend.  :)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Candy Cupcakes Part III - Mini M&M Bite Sized Rainbow Fish Cupcakes

Oh how I *so*  love these little guys!!  Once again, I've been seeing them on blogs and Pinterest, so I don't even know who to give credit to for this idea...but whoever you are, well done!!  How great are these?  I even had a lot of fun putting them together.  And, it's so easy!  This would be a great activity to do with children.  Here is the first time I came across these cupcake fish.  I made a few slight changes - I did not place the M&M's on an angle and I added M&M tails.

To begin, you need either store bought or or make your own mini cupcakes.  You can find mini-muffin liners at the grocery store and they can be placed in a mini muffin pan.  Fill the liners about 2/3 full.  It's much easier to frost them if the cake is even with or a little above the top of the liner.  If they don't quite reach the top, you can put them aside to use for the "water".

To assemble these you need a bag of M&M Minis, White Icing (either a can or homemade.  I always recommend homemade.  It really makes a difference!), Orange, Yellow, Green and Blue food dye, and either 2 Ziploc baggies or  piping bags.

Split the white icing into five parts.  Dye one yellow, one orange, one green, one blue, and leave the last white.  Set the white aside.  Next, decide how many cupcake minis you would like to be fish and how many to be "water".  Set the water cupcakes aside.  Start icing the designated fish ones in each of the four dyed colors.  Once you have completed this step, it's time to add the M&Ms...the best part!

The photo below shows the first steps of placing the M&M's.  Coordinate the M&M colors with the cupcake icing color.  If you are anal like me, you will be careful to make sure the"M" logo is facing down.  Add two red M&Ms for the fish lips:

The next part of the transformation is to add the eye.  Fill a Ziploc bag or piping bag with 1/2 of the white icing.  Snip a very small bit off the corner of the baggie or  bottom of the piping bag.  I used a Wilton Tip #3, but realized I didn't need to after all.  Squeeze a dot of white icing where you would like the fish eye to be located:

Now take a brown M&M and gently push it into the center of the white icing dot:

Adorable!  Right?!  Next I made the "water" cupcakes to place randomly around the fish, as if they were swimming around.  In the second Ziploc bag or piping bag, I placed the white and blue icing together.  I squished the two colors a bit, careful not to fully blend them:

Snip the end of the bag again, a little wider this time to make more of a wave pattern, and ice the cupcakes.  I used a piping tip for a little more texture, but if you don't have one to use, it'll be just fine.  I used an up and down motion sort of like this ^^^^ in two or three layers on top of eachother until the cupcake was covered.    Then, I arranged the cupcakes and water on a Fish Platter:

So cute!  Yet, something was bothering me.  I realized it was missing tails!  The photo I first saw didn't have tails, and lots of others didn't, either.  A few I saw used flattened Starburst Candies shaped like a tail and placed on the end, but I didn't have any.  Instead, I decided to use some of the leftover white icing I'd used for the eyes as "glue" to add some M&Ms for tails.  This worked fantastic!  

Now I was happy!  The "gluing" of the tails worked because the M&M Minis are so light.  I'm not convinced this method would have worked with regular size M&M's.  I believe their weight would have made them fall off the edge.  However, this was a success and I just love these little guys!!  I like anything with fun, bright colors, really, though.

Well, tomorrow is my last day of Candy Cupcakes.  Stay tuned for M&M Raspberry Chocolate Cupcakes!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Candy Cupcakes Part II - Mint Chocolate Andes Candies Cupcakes with Peppermint Buttercream

Okay, day two of candy cupcakes.  I am not a huge fan of minty things in general, but I do love Andes Candies!  On the odd occasion I happen to go to Olive Garden I spend most of the meal looking forward to the candies that come with the check.  :)  I have been known to snatch up any leftover ones no one took from our table on the way out, too.  They are a perfect balance of chocolate and mint AND I am satisfied after eating only one.  As far as chocolate candies go, that it rare for me.  Maybe unheard of.

So, they are my selected candy for cupcake number 2.  I've seen these kinds of cupcakes floating around Pinterest, but I have not clicked on or pinned any of them.  Instead, I did my own thing. I started with a bunch of unwrapped candies (again with the exact measurements, but add as many as you'd like, you won't screw it up!) and chopped them up.

I threw *ahem, gently placed* the chopped bits into the prepared chocolate cake batter.  I used a boxed chocolate cake including a pouch of instant chocolate pudding and substituted the water with milk.  After adding the chopped Andes Candies into the batter, I used my electric mixer to blend them completely.  All that was left was baking them as directed.

While baking, I noticed I wasn't the only one with a snack on my mind.  The cutest little squirrel was on my back porch nibbling on a walnut he'd buried in my backyard last fall.  I grabbed my camera but he was quicker than me and scurried up our tree!  (There's some poetry in there, he he he):

He got comfortable on a branch and continued munching:

However, I wasn't the only one watching him.  One of the three stray cats I care for (a Mom and her kittens) also had a snack on her mind...a tasty squirrel:

I thought she deserved an afternoon treat, too, and didn't want it to be squirrel so I gave her a few Temptations kitty snacks.  The sound of the bag attracted Mom, who is not one to pass up something to eat.  Don't they look like twins?!:

Eventually, third kitty showed up for something to eat, which is a rare occurrence.  She is still wild enough to not come around during the day, only evenings.  These three have been through some pretty rough times on the streets, and I've come to absolutely love them.  They appreciate me, too, for the consistent meals I offer!  Grey Kitty let me know she didn't appreciate having her photo taken (the camera scared her) and then she ran off:

So, at this point everyone was well fed and happy except me.  Luckily, the cupcakes were ready to come out of the oven!  So, I made the Peppermint Icing:

Peppermint Buttercream Icing

2 sticks butter, room temperature
4 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 tablespoons milk

In large mixing bowl, beat butter on high speed until fluffy.  Add three cups of sugar, one at a time until combined.  Add vanilla extract, peppermint extract, and milk, along with last cup of sugar.   Beat until smooth.  Add more milk, one teaspoon at a time, to reach desired consistency of frosting.

I used a Wilton French Tip for piping and tried some different designs.  To finish them off, I used Mint M&M's, some whole, some crushed:

The last cupcake I decided didn't need the business of random M&M's topping it.  So, I left it alone.  Or, you can add an Andes Candy like I did in the lead photo.

So, these were GREAT!  Every bite I took of the cupcake had chunks of Andes Candies in it.  The peppermint flavor was subtle in the icing so the mint was not too overpowering.  The M&M's kicked the mint factor up a notch if you want a stronger mint flavor.  For my taste, it was perfect!

Tomorrow: Mini M&M Bite-Sized Rainbow Fish Cupcakes

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Candy Cupcakes Part 1: Chocolate Rolo Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream

There have been SO many cupcakes based on candy and candy bars, I decided to get into the action and experiment with a few.  I didn't want to have 72 cupcakes after trying 3 different kinds, so I used one batch of cupcakes to do them all.  I selected: Rolos, Andes Candies with Mint M&M's, and Raspberry Chocolate with Raspberry M&M's (which I had never sampled, so I snapped them up right away in the store!).

I used a Duncan Hines Chocolate Cake mix, added a box of chocolate instant pudding, substituted the water with milk, and added the oil and eggs as directed.  For the Rolo cupcakes I baked them up as is for 18 minutes.  While they baked I cut a bunch of Mini-Rolos in half.  Once the 18 minutes were up, I cut slits into the cupcakes:

Then, while the cupcakes were still hot, I shoved the cut-in-half Rolos into the slits (I made 3-4 slits depending on the size of the cupcake).  The reason I added them after baking rather than mixing them into the batter is heavy additions to cupcake batter tend to sink to the bottom, and I wanted these to be more in the center:

While the cupcakes cooled, I got started on the buttercream.  One day I'll use a different recipe, but until that time comes, here's my favorite with a few alterations for these cupcakes:
Buttercream Icing

2 sticks butter, room temperature
4 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons Bailey's Caramel Coffee Cream
about 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
handful of melted Rolos

In large mixing bowl, beat butter on high speed until fluffy.  Add three cups of sugar, one at a time until combined.  Add vanilla extract, sea salt and caramel coffee cream, along with last cup of sugar.   Beat until smooth.  Add more cream, one teaspoon at a time, to reach desired consistency of frosting.  Place Rolos in microwave for 60 second intervals at 30% power until gooey.  Scrape into buttercream mixture and beat for about a minute to incorporate completely.

I used a 2D tip to pile on the icing.  Some of the Rolo bits (the melted Rolos harden in the icing) were caught in the tip, which clogged the icing from coming out, so I would recommend something with a wider opening. This icing is also better the next day, after the flavors and salt have some time to marinate together.  I realized I used extremely scientific measurements of "about" and "handful", but you can adjust these amounts based on personal preference.  More sea salt, more Rolos...however you like it!

These were very good, but a lot of sweetness for me (though the salt does cut the sugar a bit).  I don't know if I'm a good judge, though, because the more I bake the less tolerant I am of super sweet things!  That's a hazard of testing icings, cupcakes, cupcakes with icing, etc.  ;)  But these are a fun twist on chocolate and caramel and I recommend them!

Tomorrow, Andes Mint Chocolate Cupcakes!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Versatile Blogger Award - "I've Won an Award! It's a Major Award!"

If you have watched A Christmas Story a zillion times, like I have, you'll understand my post title.  :)  Unlike the leg-lamp, however, this award is not Fra-Gee-Lay!!

I started blogging about baking less than a year ago and it's been SUCH a rewarding experience!  I was very nervous when I began - there are so many amazing baking and bloggers out there I couldn't imagine I had anything to offer.  And this is what led me to my first post, and the theme of my blog....I figured lots of people, like myself, lack the confidence to try creative confections that are done so perfectly by those we admire!  We are all in this together, so lets learn from eachother.  :)  It's been a ball, but yesterday I was given the Most Versatile Blogger Award by DJ's Sugar Shack, a blogger and baker who makes some of the most original and beautiful treats out there, and I can't begin to express how amazed I was that someone would do something so wonderful for me and Life Is Sweets!!  DJ's Sugar Shack first caught my eye when I saw these.  I mean come on, how cute and clever are these cookies?!

I've been an admirer and follower of hers and to receive this award is just amazing!  Thank you, Thank you!!  Once you receive this award, you get to share it with 15 additional bloggers you follow, though it was very hard to pare my list to just 15!

Here are the 15 blogs I would like to acknowledge with the Most Versatile Blogger Award:

(her page is in Hebrew, but she has a translator option on the top left of her page.)

As a recipient of this award, I'm also supposed to share 7 random things about me:

1. I grew up in Buffalo, NY and although I don't live there anymore I think it's the greatest place in the will always be home!

2. I LOVE the beach, but only if I'm completely in the shade!

3. To clear my head I like to sit by water; river, lake, ocean, stream, etc...and my favorite place to recharge is sitting on a cliff in Maine watching and listening to to the waves smash against the rocky coast.

4. I can, and have, eaten an entire half gallon of ice cream in one sitting.  I'm not bragging or proud of it, but it's true.  ;)

5. I have a rescued black cat named Morticia who lets my Husband and I live in our house with her...she's totally in charge!

6. I shamelessly watch reruns of the original Beverly Hills 90210 on Soap Net  all the time.  I love that show.  I'm also addicted to all Real Housewives Bravo shows!

7. I will only watch movies at home now....never in the theater.  Talking, cell phones, snack bags rustling, crunching and munching drive me CRAZY!!

Okay, so now you know!  Thanks again, DJ's Sugar Shack for thinking of me!!  I look forward to seeing more from you on your awesome blog.  :)  A huge thank you, too, to everyone who takes the time to read and support my blog.  I appreciate each and every one of you!!

One last thing - If you receive this award you should follow these rules:
  • Thank the person that gave you the award in your blog post.
  • Include a link to their blog in your blog post.
  • Pass the award on to 15 bloggers you follow.
  • Include 7 random things about yourself in your post.
  • Notify your nominees by leaving a comment on their blog.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mother's Day Flower Bouquet Cupcakes

When I first began this blog last August, I had a wish for myself.  I hoped that, although I got started by finding recipes and designs that inspired me and creating them as exactly as I could, one day I would suddenly start having my own ideas for additions, substitutions, and designs of my own.  Slowly, this has been happening and I can't tell you how rewarding it is!  I've admired so many bakers and bloggers ability to make amazing confections...and how they find inspiration EVERYWHERE!  Well, I still begin by finding images of whats been done before, but, sometimes, I come up with something on a whim.  Like these flower bouquet cupcakes I made last night.  How exciting!!

I'm certain something like this has been done before, and I would find it with a bit of Googling, but I didn't see it first and then make it.  No, instead I was sitting with my Husband while he ate a late dinner and I just started playing around with leftover cupcakes and icing.  And I love what I came up with!!

These are such HAPPY cupcakes.  Don't they make you smile?  The colors and the illusion of tiny little flowers piled high....sigh.  I just love them.

While I was looking at them I immediately thought of Mother's Day and how perfect they would be to give to one of the most important women in our lives.  And, honestly, they are just so easy to make.  Really!!

Begin, of course, by making a batch of cupcakes.  I used some leftover strawberry ones from my Ladybug Cupcakes.  You can use any flavor you like, but some of the cupcake color will show through the flowers, so bear this in mind when coming up with your color scheme.

Next, make your buttercream.  This is my favorite recipe:
Buttercream Icing

2 sticks butter, room temperature
4 cups confectioners sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk

In large mixing bowl, beat butter on high speed until fluffy.  Add three cups of sugar, one at a time until combined.  Add vanilla extract and milk, along with last cup of sugar.   Beat until smooth.  Add more milk, one teaspoon at a time, to reach desired consistency of frosting.

 Split the icing into as many colors as you'd like to use.  I used yellow, purple, and pink.  Then fill a piping bag fitted with a Wilton #2D tip (place each color of icing into a separate bag).  Use the photo below for reference while reading the written description that follows:

First, pipe a circle of flowers around the outside of the cupcake (first cupcake in photo).  Then, fill in the exposed middle area with four flowers (second cupcake in photo).  Pipe four more flowers on top of the middle four flowers.  Lastly, pipe one flower on top of the second layer of four flowers, centered (third cupcake in photo).

When you've completed the flowers, use a pair of tweezers to add a single dragee in the center of each flower:

Here is the succession of steps:

And that's it!  Couldn't be simpler!!  I used green for the demo, as I had some left over from making the grass on my Ladybug Cupcakes.  The color doesn't work for the "bouquet" I put together, however it would be nice for next St. Patrick's Day or Christmas.  But it's neither late-winter or mid-winter, so let's enjoy the light, bright colors!!

Would your Mom be impressed if you gave her something homemade rather that store bought goods?  I know mine would.  So, even if you don't make this particular design, play around and see what you can come up with.  Mom's love a little thoughtful creativity.  :)  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lovely Little Ladybugs!

Omigosh I am so excited I was actually able to make these!  I've been wondering for some time now why people bother to use fondant and gumpaste for cakes, cupcakes and cookies.  I mean, they look beautiful, but you can't eat them despite the fact they are edible.  You can eat fondant, but it's not tasty.  So what's the point?  Then I made the Minnie Mouse Cupcakes and it was so much fun...I started to get it.  It's about channeling your inner elementary art student days and being creative.  You can make anything you want!

Now, I've never been terribly good at art - drawing, sculpture, visualizing - so I'm going to start with only the most elementary designs.  Like a ladybug.  How can you screw that up?

I began by making a batch of strawberry cupcakes.  I used a box mix and added a package of vanilla pudding and used 1 cup of milk instead of water to make it a bit tastier.  While they cooled I began shaping the ladybugs using gumpaste.

Gumpaste becomes hard pretty quickly and is very sticky, so you can use Vegetable Oil to help keep your hands free of gummy residue and to keep the gumpaste pliable.  Rub some on your hands and coat your work surface before handling the gumpaste. I used it quite generously with no negative effects of the design.  Using smallish amounts of gumpaste at a time, work some coloring into the paste using your hands.  I didn't use gloves and the dye made a mess of red all over my hands, but it washed right off.  I used Wilton No-Taste Red gel dye.  I could not photograph this process since I didn't want my camera to be covered in red!

Next, I made odd oval shapes in different sizes.  I worked some black dye into a separate ball of gumpaste and then used it to make the heads and dots, as in the photo above.

Then it was time to mix up some buttercream.

Buttercream Icing

2 sticks butter, room temperature
4 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk

In large mixing bowl, beat butter on high speed until fluffy.  Add three cups of sugar, one at a time until combined.  Add vanilla extract and milk, along with last cup of sugar.   Beat until smooth.  Add more milk, one teaspoon at a time, to reach desired consistency of frosting.

I removed about 3/4 of the icing from the bowl and mixed green dye into it to make the "grass".  I used a Wilton Tip #233.  To make the grass, squeeze the icing in the piping bag gently and lift up as you stop squeezing.  After covering the cupcake completely with grass, place the ladybugs randomly on top.

I divided the remaining 1/4 of icing and split it into 2 bowls.  One I dyed yellow, the other light purple.  I used a Wilton Tip #2D. Before piping the flower on top of the cupcake, I made a few practice flowers to get a sense of the pressure to use and just how it worked in general.

Once I felt I had the hang of it,  I piped some flowers randomly on the cupcake and used tweezers to add one white dragee in the center of each flower.

And then the last step - adding a white picket fence around my little ladybug garden.  I picked up some cupcake wrappers I found at my local Michaels Craft Store:

And Voila!!

I honestly think it's so amazing you can go from a simple, plain cupcake to something so special and cute!

I'm pretty excited to try some new sculpture and other avenues of decoration I have resisted.  I'm not sure what I'm going to try next, but the sky is the limit!!!  Happy Spring.  :)