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VOL. 36 | NO. 51 | Friday, December 21, 2012

Perfect time to join the cupcakes craze

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Cupcakes seem to be all the rage right now. If you haven’t already visited a cupcake bakery, you are in for a treat.

Thanks to my granddaughter and the music minister at my church, I have visited two. I don’t plan on stopping there!

Inside most cupcake bakeries, you will find a menu board featuring flavors you never imagined. The one in Little Rock I visited had 40 flavors, making deciding what I wanted a difficult task. Instead of selecting one that was out of the ordinary, I settled on a tried-and-true red velvet, always one of my favorite cake flavors.

This brings me to what I think it is the time for some “Grandma” bragging rights, which is the main reason for an article on cupcakes in the first place.

Last month, the school my first-grader granddaughter Paige attends had a creative writing showcase. Every child in grades one through five was asked to write a story and draw a picture depicting their story. The teacher from each grade then selected the best from his or her class and submitted it to the principal. The principal selected a winning story and picture from each grade to be printed in the coming school newsletter.

I think you can see where this is going. Paige wrote the winning first-grade story for last month, about cupcakes, no less. We are so proud of her.

Anyway, when writing this article, I Googled “cupcakes.” Among other things, I got tons of hits for Cupcake Wars. I don’t watch much TV, so I wasn’t familiar with Cupcake Wars, a Food Network reality-based competition show.

The show challenges contestants to create unusual cupcakes, and the winner receives $10,000. It’s in its seventh season. Really? Where have I been?

Nevertheless, it seems there are more cupcake bakeries than you can shake a bottle of sprinkles at, which, by the way, is the name of the first cupcake bakery ever opened (sprinkles.com).

Although there are many cupcake bakeries in my hometown, the first time I visited one was in Arlington, Tenn.

It was a little house-turned-bakery shop in “Old Town” Arlington that also had a coffee bar and a book nook. Paige wanted to go there one summer afternoon. I had a Boston Crème Pie Cupcake. Obviously, this little bakery made a great impression on her.

I tried, unsuccessfully, to get a somewhat accurate count of how many cupcake bakeries there might be in the United States, but even with the Internet I couldn’t find a good answer. However, I did find some great recipes, one of which I’m featuring in this column.

Over the Christmas and New Year holidays, I think a batch of cupcakes would be a jolly good idea to take to your next family gathering or party. There are some fantastic recipes to choose from just by searching “cupcakes,” or you can be lazy (like me) and visit one of the many bakeries that produce the luscious little sweets in flavors galore.

Red Velvet Raspberry Cupcakes

3/4 cup of butter (softened)

3 eggs (room temp)

3 cups of all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon of salt

2 1/4 cups of sugar

1 1-ounce bottle of red food coloring (2 tablespoons)

2 tablespoons of raspberry liqueur or milk

1 teaspoon of vanilla

1 1/3 cups of buttermilk

1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons of vinegar

Cream Cheese Raspberry Frosting (see recipe at right)

Fresh raspberries (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line 26 two-and-a-half inch muffin cups with paper baking cups. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer on high speed for 30 seconds. On medium speed, gradually add sugar, one-fourth of a cup at a time, beating until combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl; beat until light and fluffy (two minutes). Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the red food coloring, liqueur, and vanilla. Alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk, beating on low speed just until combined. In a small bowl, combine baking soda and vinegar; fold into batter.

Spoon into muffin cups, filling each about three-fourths full. Bake about 20 minutes or until the tops spring back when lightly touched. Cool the cupcakes in a muffin pan on wire racks for five minutes. Remove the cupcakes from the muffin pan. Cool completely on wire racks. Spread on the Cream Cheese Raspberry Frosting. Top with a raspberry.

Cream Cheese Raspberry Frosting

1/2 8-ounce package of cream cheese (softened)

1/3 cup of butter (softened)

2 tablespoons of raspberry liqueur or milk

1 teaspoon of vanilla

4 cups of powdered sugar

1-3 teaspoons of milk (optional)

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter, liqueur, and vanilla with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Gradually add the powdered sugar. If necessary, beat in the milk, one teaspoon at a time, until the frosting reaches a spreading consistency.