When Monika started pre-school last fall, the students in her class were each assigned a shape along with their name. Since many of these three-year-olds couldn't recognize their names at the beginning of the year, the shapes were used to label the students' mailboxes, coat hooks, and spots on the floor.
We find it all too fitting that Monika's assigned shape is a cupcake.
And even though our little girl can now recognize her name, she's still a little cupcake.
So, when it came time to plan Monika's 4th Birthday Party, I wasn't one bit surprised when she said she wanted cupcakes. She also said she wanted a Dora cake, but I wasn't about to attempt that, so I went with the cupcake idea.
One night while I was finishing up chores in the barn, the idea for how to make a cupcake cake popped into my head. I'm not good at postponing an idea, so I tried it the next day. I baked a box of chocolate fudge cake mix in two round cake pans. Once the cakes were cool, I made three cuts to shape the cake. That part was super easy!
I frosted both the uncut cake and the cupcake-shaped cake with Chocolate Fudge Frosting (recipe below). Then I used the uncut cake for decorating practice. It's been a long time since I've decorated a cake and I don't have any cake decorating tools. (I used my dad's in the past.) So I improvised and used a plastic sandwich bag. I made a batch of One-Bowl Buttercream Frosting (recipe below), divided it and tinted a portion pink. I filled two zipper-top sandwich bags with white and pink frosting and then snipped a tiny hole in one corner.
Once I had practiced enough to feel comfortable, I decorated the cupcake cake. Since Monika's birthday party was still a week away, I figured we'd just eat both of the cakes, but Monika wanted to save the cupcake cake for her party, so I wrapped it up and stuck it in the freezer.
Since the cake was already made and decorated, I had a little extra time to decorate the cupcakes for the party. I used the same frosting recipes as I did for the cake, except I dipped the cupcakes in the frosting, instead of spreading it. The cupcakes were made using my recipe for Triple-Chocolate Berry Bars (recipe below). A double batch of the bar recipe made 36 cupcakes with a little batter leftover.
Everyone at Monika's party loved the cupcakes, but, even more important for me, Monika loved her cake and cupcakes, too.
Happy 4th Birthday, Cupcake!
Chocolate Fudge Frosting (aka Ganache Frosting)
I found the original version of this recipe in one of our Penzeys Spices catalogs. But since I don't always have heavy cream on hand (or enough of it), I've come up with several substitutions. It always turns out great!
¾ cup heavy cream
OR ½ cup whole milk + ¼ cup butter (½ stick)
OR ½ cup heavy cream + ¼ cup sour cream
2 cups chocolate chips, semi-sweet or milk chocolate (a full 12 oz bag)
pinch of salt (omit if using butter variation)
In a small pot, heat cream (or whatever combination of dairy ingredients you're using) over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, just until small bubbles start to form. Remove pot from heat. Add chocolate chips and swirl pot a couple times to combine chips and cream. Let set for five minutes to allow chips to soften. Stir until chips dissolve and frosting is smooth. Let frosting cool and thicken, stirring occasionally, before dipping cupcakes or frosting cakes.
Makes about 3 cups of frosting. (Generously frosts 36 cupcakes or an 9 x 13 cake, with a little left over for the baker. ☺)
One-Bowl Buttercream Frosting
This recipe was inspired by one I found on the back of a bag of Hershey's chocolate chips. I like it for decorating because it sets up nicely after applied.
6 tbsp butter, softened (¾ stick)
3 cups powdered sugar
⅓ cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract or other flavoring (I use raspberry extract.)
Beat butter in medium bowl. Add powdered sugar alternately with milk. Add more milk, if necessary, to achieve desired consistency. Stir in vanilla or other flavoring.
Makes about 2 cups of frosting.
Triple-Chocolate Berry Bars
This is my favorite variation of Betty Crocker's Triple-Chocolate Cherry Bars. I brought these, made as cupcakes, to our neighbor last spring and his wife emailed me that night to get the recipe.
1 can (21 oz) raspberry pie filling
1 box chocolate fudge cake mix
¼ tsp salt
1 cup (½ of a 12 oz bag) chocolate chips
Chocolate Fudge Frosting or other chocolate frosting
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease (with butter) and flour a 9 x 13 pan. (I use some of the dry cake mix to flour the pan.) Or line cupcake tins with paper liners.
In large bowl, beat eggs. Then blend in pie filling. Gently mix in cake mix, salt and chocolate chips with rubber scraper, breaking up bits of dry cake mix by pressing with scraper. Batter will be really thick. Spread in pan and smooth out top with spatula.
If you want cupcakes with a rounded top, you need to fill the cups at least ¾ full, because this batter doesn't rise very much. Filling the liners takes awhile because the batter is so thick and sticky.
Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. 9x13 pan – 35 to 40 minutes. Cupcakes – about 20 minutes (depending on how full the cups are).
Cool completely, then frost with Chocolate Fudge Frosting or other chocolate frosting.