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The Cupcake Counter: Cupcakes that fail to impress

The Cupcake Counter: Cupcakes that fail to impress

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Cupcakes that fail to impress

I admit that I’m a cupcake snob when it comes to reviewing new bakeries. But nevertheless I always walk through the door with an open mind and an empty stomach, hoping to find a new cupcake gem in Chicago.

After a long day of staring at the four walls of my cubicle, I decide to try out “The Cupcake Counter” on Madison. I am really craving the classic red velvet and can’t wait to sink my teeth into the moist and fluffy center of the most decadent of all cupcakes.

The shop front is quaint with only a small counter and a few scattered chairs. I am greeted with a cheery smile and welcoming small talk from a person I assume is one of the owners. She runs through the two specials of the day and also points out the flavors on the shelves. The cupcake presentation is simple, with just a few sprinkles on top, but nevertheless I can’t wait to get home and dig in.

The hardest part of any cupcake purchase is waiting to get home before you enjoy it. I almost sneak a bite of the red velvet on the train home, but decide that being smashed between two business professionals is not the time to truly enjoy my tasty delight.

When I finally get home the hype is almost too much to tolerate. Unfortunately my excitement is quickly surpassed by disappointment. The red velvet is more like a bad chocolate cake than the refreshing taste of vanilla with a hint of cocoa. The cupcake consistency has what I call the “cardboard effect” where one flavorless bite reveals more starch and grainy sugar granules than a light and fluffy cupcake should have.

The frosting is also a let down. It tastes like a store-bought vanilla frosting with a hint of cream cheese instead of the sweet, rich flavors of the classic that I am so fond of.

Overall, the cupcakes did not satisfy my cupcake craving. My advice, if you’re in the loop and craving a cupcake, take the train north and stop by Molly’s Cupcakes, it’ll be well worth the trip.

Orange Creamsicle Cupcakes

Did you have a favorite treat from the ice cream man? Whenever I would hear that music playing in our neighborhood I would start to dream of just one thing… orange creamsicle ice cream bars. Making a cupcake with those flavors in mind seemed like a good idea. It ended up being a great idea!

Hummingbird Bakery red velvet cupcakes

These striking red velvet cupcakes from the famous London bakery are perfect for any occasion. The sponge is rich with a hint of chocolate, and the tart cream cheese frosting is the perfect contrast.


Bleeding Heart Cupcakes

Funny thing about recipe development, sometimes it goes horribly wrong. For the sake of transparency, I have shared my past cooking disasters with you. I am giving you the stink-eye, Butter Macadamia Truffles! My journey with The Frosted Petticoat has been one of growth and learning. The website is a little microcosm of life, one would say. And like in real life, on my site I am honest to a fault. That is why I quit my day job as a trial attorney to pursue food. How does your client plead, guilty or not guilty? Me: Eeehhh? Not guilty? *shrugging shoulders*. Disaster. The kitchen is a place to have fun and experiment. A lot of the time, your creations are amazing. A lot of the time, they are not. It&rsquos all part of what makes cooking so enjoyable. You learn and grow with every dish. And so with all that said, it&rsquos time to share my most recent disaster. My Bleeding Heart Cupcakes.

My intention was to give you a fun, easy cupcake recipe to impress your Valentine this holiday season. The reality was a hot mess. Against my better judgement, I thought that placing marshmallow hearts inside cupcake batter would create a cute &lsquohidden heart in the dessert&rsquo scenario. Why in the world would I think this when I know full well that marshmallows expand when heated? There is no excuse. But if you want one: My 1-year-old thought it was a great idea I was sold magic marshmallows from a traveling peddler I had a temporary lobotomy in the &ldquorecipe development&rdquo sector of my brain Trump&hellip I just like to blame him for everything. Regardless of why I went ahead with this cockamamy scheme, I did it nonetheless. And the results were, well, explosive.

If you follow along on our social media pages, then you know that I live Instagrammed the whole mess in real time. I also asked you, my stunningly gorgeous readers, to give me suggestions for a new name for the recipe. The original name was &ldquoHidden Heart Cupcakes&rdquo. Now that the sweets had exploded, I needed something a bit more appropriate. Well, what I got from you guys was absolute gold! Here are some of my favorites: Lava Love Blood Bath Heart Break (Out) Cupid&rsquos Revenge. One particular cheeky Instagram follower even suggested the cupcakes eerily resembled an x-rated female body part. A realization which led to a bout of teenage-like blushing and giggling. But it was Niki from Boise, Idaho who&rsquos name entry won out. Bleeding Heart Cupcakes. So without further ado&hellip

Bleeding Heart Cupcakes

1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour

1 cup of granulated sugar

14 ounces of cream cheese

1/2 cup of butter (softened)

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1/2 teaspoon of baking soda

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a large muffin pan and set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix thoroughly.
  3. In a stand mixer, mix the sugar and butter until creamy. Then add the cream cheese, milk, eggs, and vanilla extract. Mix thoroughly.
  4. Pour the wet mixture into the large mixing bowl with the dry ingredients. Combine using a spatula until fully mixed and has a thick dough consistency.
  5. Fill each muffin slot 1/3rd full. Stick the heart marshmallows upright in the batter and then carefully fill the rest of the muffin slots with the batter. Cover completely with the batter until the marshmallow is hidden.
  6. Place in the oven and cook for approximately 45 minutes. Watch them explode. Remove from the oven, let cool, and enjoy!

Well, I guess in the end they weren&rsquot a total fail. They sort of resemble hearts. The best part, they taste absolutely fantastic. So, your Valentine won&rsquot think you a total loser. Happy Valentine&rsquos Day!

Key ingredients:

  • Carrots. There isn’t a replacement for fresh grated carrots in a homemade carrot cake. Use your food processor to speed up the process, if you like.
  • Pineapple. This recipe calls for crushed pineapple to add sweetness, liquid, and flavor to the cake in a quick hurry.
  • Brown sugar. Brown sugar shouldn’t be substituted for white sugar in carrot cake recipes. You lose a lot in texture and flavor. The combo of brown sugar and pineapple with the carrots is at the heart of this recipe.
  • Room temperature eggs. Using room temperature eggs helps the eggs mix in with the batter resulting in a higher rising cake. Carrot cakes can be quite dense and using room temp eggs helps, a bit.
  • Butter. Cream cheese frosting has 2 key ingredients…butter and cream cheese. Use quality, unsalted butter for the best results.
  • Cream cheese. I mean, with a name like cream cheese frosting.
  • Nuts. Nuts or not…that is forever the argument around carrot cake recipes. Leave them out, if you like. If you DO add them be sure they are chopped fairly small in keeping with the smaller cupcake size.

Why do you put oil in carrot cake?

Oil is used in carrot cake, instead of butter, because it helps keep the cake moist and last much, much longer. Many recipes allow for a quick sub of applesauce instead of oil. In this recipe I would sub only 1/2 of the oil for applesauce.

Why do you use pineapple in carrot cake?

Pineapple has enzymes in it that breaks down proteins and tenderizes, helping carrot cake remain moist and sweet. It provides a replacement for some of the oil. And the pineapple adds sweetness without the need for more sugar. Now you can understand why pineapple is found often in carrot cake recipes, right!

How to make Eggless Vanilla Cupcakes?


Preheat the oven at @350 degrees F.

Line your cupcake pan with cupcake liners and set aside.

Dry Ingredients-

In a large mixing bowl, sift together all-purpose flour, salt, and baking powder. Make sure you spoon and level the flour from the container.

Wet ingredients-

Combine sugar and butter in a separate mixing bowl. Beat the two until butter turns pale yellow, light, and fluffy.

While beating the mixture, use a rubber spatula to scrape the bowl’s sides a couple of times.

Add milk, yogurt, and vanilla essence to the sugar mix. Mix to combine.

Add in the sifted dry ingredients and beat until a smooth batter forms. Do not over mix the batter.

Mix just until the wet and dry ingredients are incorporated together, and no dry flour is visible in sight. Overmixing will result in dense- textured cupcakes. So if you are in doubt, mix the ingredients by hand.

Add in the secret ingredients – unsweetened applesauce. Gently fold the applesauce until incorporated. Be careful not to over mix the batter.

Using a spatula, scrape the bowl’s bottom and sides and make sure everything is thoroughly combined and smooth.

The batter may look curdled at this point. Don’t worry it’s absolutely fine. This curdling of ingredients will not affect the cupcakes.

To prevent liners from sticking to cupcakes, spray them with nonstick cooking spray or brush with a little melted butter.

Use an ice cream scoop and add the eggless vanilla cupcake batter to the lined cupcake pan.

Fill each mold 2/3 of the way up with the batter. Give them some room to rise.

After filling the cupcake liners with batter, tap the pan on the kitchen counter a couple of times. This tapping will help get rid of air bubbles.

Bake the eggless vanilla cupcakes in the preheated oven for about 18-20 minutes or until the toothpick comes out clean.

The baking time was 20 minutes for me. But every oven is different therefore, keep a watchful eye on the cupcakes and make sure they don’t burn.

Remove from the oven and allow the cupcakes to cool for 10 minutes in the pan. After the resting time is over, remove the cupcakes from the pan.

Cool them on a cooling rack.

Cupcakes 103: 14 Ways to Decorate Cupcakes Like a Pro

It’s the final installment of my three-part series on cupcakes! Are you excited? I’m excited.

Pictured: Butterscotch Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream

We baked great cupcakes in Cupcakes 101, learned frosting techniques in Cupcakes 102, and now we’re on to the main event – the decorations!

Decorating cupcakes is SO SUPER FUN, and the decoration will determine the level of “oohs” and “aahs” you get when people first see your cupcakes. The cake itself will wow them as soon as they take a bite, but it’s whatever creation you’ve placed on top that will initially grab their attention.

I chose not to include any decorations involving fondant, gum paste, or modeling chocolate, because those techniques can be complicated and time-consuming. Also, most home cooks don’t have those techniques in their repertoires.

My goal with this list was to offer quick, easy-to-make cupcake toppers that will wow a crowd without sucking up all of your free time.

Here are 14 of my favorite ways to top a cupcake with a “wow” factor!

Pictured: Lemon Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting (Download these printable cupcake tags for free here!)

Candy is a quick and simple topping, but it still gives your cupcakes some character. Here, I’ve sliced mini reese’s cups in half and placed them at an angle.

Other great candy toppers include M&Ms, Jelly Beans, or pieces of larger chocolate bars.


Tags are my new favorite way to top a cupcake! They’re cute and easy. Customize your own tags for a special event, or download the tags I created for these photos (for FREE!) by clicking here: Life As A Strawberry Cupcake Flags Printable.

Simply cut around the tag shapes, tape them to some colorful toothpicks, and pop them onto your cupcakes for a whimsical and artsy feel.


Melt some chocolate (I love using bittersweet or white chocolate chips for this!) over a double boiler and put it in a piping bag fitted with a small round tip (you could also use a ziploc bag and cut a small piece off one corner). Make sure the chocolate is still warm!

Pipe your designs or drawings directly on to a piece of wax paper, then let the chocolate set.

If you’d like, add some sprinkles to the melted chocolate after you’ve drawn your design for a fun effect! I used this white chocolate in the photos below. I like to let my chocolate “drawings” cool on the counter for a few hours, but if you’re in a hurry, pop it in the fridge for half an hour or so!

When chocolate has hardened, gently peel your designs off of the wax paper and push them into your cupcake’s frosting.

PS – Do you have a drawing you’d like to recreate in chocolate?

Just lay a piece of wax paper directly over the image and trace it with your melted chocolate.

If you’d like to create a curved chocolate piece, like the butterfly below, trace the figure in chocolate and fold the waxed paper into the spine of a book while it dries.


Fresh fruit is such a lovely way to top a cupcake. To slice a strawberry like you see in the photos here, lay it on a cutting board and slice several thin slices ALMOST all the way to the stem. Don’t slice all the way to the stem or the berry won’t hold together.

When you’ve sliced the berry, pull the pieces out in a sideways fan and place directly on the cupcake. Use any fruit you’d like – berries of any kind are always a hit in my house. I love using fruit that’s a component in the cupcake recipe, too: if you’re making applesauce cupcakes, garnish with a slice of apple. Making lemon-y cupcakes? Garnish with a slice of citrus!

A word of caution with any fruit (berries especially), though: don’t put it on top of a cupcake until you’re ready to eat. If a berry or other juicy fruit is in contact with the sugary frosting for too long, it will react with the sugar and begin to macerate, or soften and release some juice. The last thing you want is a sticky cupcake covered in fruit mush! Place fruit at the last possible moment to ensure a crisp, fresh bite.

Ganache is a great choice if you’re decorating a large number of cupcakes. You can spoon it quickly on top of frosting and not have to worry if it gets a little messy – it will just look artsy. To make a simple chocolate ganache, bring 1/4 cup of milk to a simmer, then remove it from the heat and pour it over 1 cup of room temperature chocolate chips.

For a mint chocolate ganache, add 1/4 teaspoon of mint extract as well, or switch it up and make a Chocolate Butterscotch Ganache. Stir the mixture until the milk has melted all of the chocolate and you’re left with a smooth, glossy sauce. Let it cool on the counter for a few minutes so it will thicken – a thicker ganache gives you a bit more control over where it lands when you pour it over a cupcake.

You can dip the tops of cupcakes directly into the bowl of ganache for a smooth, glossy finish, or spoon a bit over frosted cupcakes (as seen below) for a fun drizzle-y effect.


Caramel sugar cages look super fancy and complicated and intimidating. But I’ll tell you a secret: they aren’t that tough! You just need the right setup.

Whisk 1/2 cup water, 1 cup sugar, and 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar together in a non-stick saucepan and bring to a simmer.

Keep an eye on it – you don’t want the caramel to overcook because it will taste bitter. While the caramel heats up, spray a few large wooden spoons with non-stick cooking spray and pin them to a counter or stovetop with a heavy pan. You could also tape them down, but that takes a lot of effort. I also put a layer of paper towels on the floor under the handles to catch any rogue caramel that falls.

Here’s what my setup usually looks like:

When the caramel hits 340 degrees Fahrenheit (check this with a candy thermometer!) and has turned a light golden color, it’s ready!

Remove it from the heat and let cool until it’s reached the consistency of thick corn syrup, about 5 minutes. Then take one spoonful of caramel at a time and drizzle it quickly back and forth over the spoon handles.

The caramel should fall in light strands, and it will solidify pretty quickly as it falls.

Spoon 4 or 5 spoonfuls of caramel across the spoon handles, then set the caramel aside and cup your hands at the lowest point of the caramel strands.

Gently pull the strands together with your hands into a ball and gather as much of the caramel together as you’d like for one cupcake topper, then pull the nest off of the strands and set it aside to cool.

It’s important to collect the nests while the caramel is still warm – if it cools too much, it will snap into smithereens as you gather it into a nest. You want the caramel to gently bend into shape, not break!

You’ll be able to get 1 or 2 nests out of 4-5 spoonfuls of caramel drizzle. When you’ve collected all the caramel from one round of drizzling, repeat the process!

If your caramel cools too much, you can heat it up briefly on the stovetop until it’s back to the original consistency. When you’re ready to decorate the cupcakes, gently press a nest into the cupcake’s fresh frosting for an ethereal topper that is sure to impress.

PS – this was Kyle’s favorite out of all the cupcake toppings I made him taste test.

You can also use this caramel recipe for the pulled caramel ribbons (instructions are #13 on this list!)

I love cookies! And I love cupcakes. So naturally, I combine the two of them whenever I can. Use a whole cookie as a topper or slice them in half for a different shape. I used Thin Mints here (YAY THIN MINTS) and also used a bit of mint ganache on top.


These are so cool. And they are SO EASY! I think I might be in love.

Melt 1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate over a double boiler, then stir in 1 cup of rice krispy cereal. Spread it out in a thin layer on a piece of wax paper.

Try to make sure that you have “branches” that are solidly connected, so that your towers will hold their shape when you break them apart later.

Let the chocolate sit on the counter for a few hours to harden or pop it in the fridge for 30 minutes or so, until chocolate has set.

When chocolate has set, gently break it into 1 to 2 inch tall “towers.” Sink these towers into fresh frosting and voila! You’ve got a pretty spiffy cupcake.


This is another simple topping trick that will give your cupcakes a serious “WOW” factor with very little effort. To make chocolate shavings, grate cold chocolate with a microplane while you hold it directly over a cupcake.

If you want more pronounced swirls, run a vegetable peeler down the side of a room-temperature chocolate bar to produce beautiful chocolate curls!

This photo used the vegetable peeler technique, though I peeled the chocolate in short strokes for small curls (rather than long strokes for larger curls).

I love using a microplane for large batches of cupcakes because I can line them all up and grate chocolate over them all very quickly. If I’m doing a smaller batch and want them to be a little fancier, I’ll use the vegetable peeler method to get some thick curls of chocolate.


Chocolate drizzle is another quick but beautiful way to enhance the appearance of your cupcakes. I like to use a variety of topping choices: here, I’ve melted some peanut butter chips and some semi-sweet chocolate chips for two contrasting colors of drizzle. Use any kind of chocolate you’d like, or experiment with butterscotch chips for a bit of pizzaz.

I like to use two kinds of drizzle, and I melt about 1/2 cup of each flavor over a double boiler (in separate bowls), then spoon the still-warm chocolate (or peanut butter or butterscotch) into ziploc bags, cut a small corner off, and drizzle each flavor in opposite directions over the cupcake to achieve an artsy look.

Pictured: Butterscotch Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting


These toppings are so fun and whimsical. To create a “mini” cupcake, unwrap a peanut butter cup (or a mini peanut butter cup, which I used for these photos!) and frost it with a pastry bag and piping tip just like you did the real cupcakes. Add some sprinkles to the real cupcakes and the mini “cupcakes,” and set each peanut butter cup on top of your frosting at an angle. How cute, right?

Pictured: Chocolate Greek Yogurt Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream


I know I have a lot of favorite cupcake toppings…but here’s another one. This is a new addition to my cupcake arsenal, and I am LOVING it. It’s so unique and I love using both white and dark chocolate to create a marble-like product.

To make the chocolate bubble wrap, melt 1 cup each of semi-sweet and white chocolate in separate bowls over a double boiler. Let cool five minutes until chocolate is spreadable but not hot. Lay a piece of clean bubble wrap bubble-side up on the counter and cover it with a food-safe piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap. Spread the white chocolate over the covered bubble wrap and pop it in the freezer for five minutes to let it set a bit. Pull it out of the freezer and spread the semi-sweet chocolate right on top of the white chocolate, then let it set on the counter for a few hours or stick it in the fridge for about 45 minutes.

When the chocolate has set, peel the bubble wrap off of it and break it into chunks, then top each cupcake with a piece of chocolate bubble wrap!

But seriously…this is super cool, right? (And also delicious….because it’s CHOCOLATE).


Caramel ribbons take a bit of practice, but once you get the hang of them they’re quick to make and they look SUPER fancy. Plus, the hard caramel tastes like a delicious lollipop. WIN.

As with the sugar nests above, whisk 1/2 cup water, 1 cup sugar, and 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar together in a nonstick skillet and simmer until the mixture has reached 340-360 degrees Fahrenheit. But this time, remove the caramel from the heat and pour it onto a nonstick baking sheet (I love to use my Silpat for this).

Let the sugar cool for a minute or two until you can stand to touch the Silpat around it. It will be HOT, so if you don’t have a lot of pain tolerance in your fingertips I recommend using rubber kitchen gloves to work with the sugar. Sugar burns are VERY VERY PAINFUL, so be extremely careful whenever you’re working with sugar. To prepare the sugar for pulling, fold the Silpat in half and then pull it back to its normal orientation. The sugar will stick together as it cools.

Keep folding and unfolding the Silpat over the sugar to work the sugar into a large lump, like so:

When you’ve formed your sugar lump, snip off a thick piece and carefully pull it from each side to form a smooth ribbon.

As you pull the ribbons, the sugar will start to harden, so you have to work quickly. Twist the ribbon as you go and use scissors to snip off 1″ or 2″ sections. Set the twisted pieces aside and continue working piece by piece from the larger lump. If the sugar gets too hard to work with, put the sugar lump in the oven at 250 degrees for 3-4 minutes until it is pliable again.

When you’ve pulled all of your sugar ribbons, stick one or two pieces into the center of each frosted cupcake. Ta-da! You’re practically a professional cupcake-er. Cupcake decorator? Baker? Whatever. You’re awesome.


And now the grand finale! Well, it’s not really that grand. It’s super simple, but this method still delivers some oomph to your finished cupcakes. I’ve had many days when I’ve made a huge assortment of cupcakes, frosted them, gone to put on a finishing touch, and OH WAIT! I’m out of EVERYTHING.

Whenever that happens, I slice up a few of my cupcakes and carve out fun shapes to top the rest of the batch. Use small cookie cutters or carve freehand with a paring knife for best results. To prepare your canvas, slice an unfrosted cupcake into 3 or 4 layers, like so:

And then cut out some shapes. Throw those cupcake shapes on top of frosted cupcakes for a quick and simple upgrade to a professional-looking cupcake.

Still looking for cupcake decoration ideas? Here are some other techniques I use on the regular:

Chocolate Covered Pretzels
Sprinkles! Of course.
Modeling Chocolate
Gum Paste

Professional-looking cupcakes aren’t hard to master if you put in the time and effort. Have another favorite way to top a cupcake? Leave a comment to share your technique! And don’t forget to read Cupcakes 101, Cupcakes 102, and Cupcakes 104 for even more great cupcake tips. Happy cupcake-ing, everyone!

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I'm Jessie, and I like to talk about food. Tag your recipes #LifeAsAStrawberry on social media to share your creations!

Tips for Making The Best Cupcakes

  • Properly measure your all-purpose flour (spoon into the cup measure then level) or use a kitchen scale to measure your dry ingredients.
  • Use a cookie scoop to easily fill your cupcake liners.
  • Ingredients at room temp mix together better, so be sure you set out any cold ingredients ahead of time.
  • Bang your cupcake pan on the counter before putting it in the oven, to bring any air bubbles that are trapped in the batter to the surface.
  • Be sure your cupcakes are COMPLETELY cooled before you frost them! If they&rsquore even a little bit warm, the frosting can melt right off.

Banana Nut Cream Cheese Cupcakes

I have yet to meet one person who doesn&rsquot love banana, so I decided to switch it up a little bit and make these banana nut cream cheese cupcakes more fun. I&rsquove added a cream cheese filling to the recipe to make these banana nut cream cheese cupcakes creamier and offer a different taste rather then the normal banana cupcakes. With the addition of the cream cheese makes these cupcakes even more irresistible.

On top, I piled high some cream cheese frosting, and added a sprinkle of walnuts for the finishing touch. This I promise you, you won&rsquot be able to eat just one!

We always have bananas sitting on our counter top, and many times we just don&rsquot get to them before they are too ripe. So, before you throw out those overly ripe bananas, bake up some of these delicious cupcakes.

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