I confess: I can't bake cupcakes.
Cookies, brownies, cakes, breads, sure. Pie, too, though Josh would disagree. But that's just a matter of interpretation. (He likes chunky fruit with "glop," which is not the style of my apple pies. On an empirical level, I make good pie crust.) I don't know what the problem is with cupcakes. I've failed with cake mixes and my own tried-and-true cake recipes. Frosting's not the issue; it's the cake itself. They come out damp, they don't rise, or the crumb isn't delicate enough.
This is crazy... For god's sake, I've baked shower and wedding cakes! I refuse to be foiled by the preschool equivalent.
For Chanukah, my mom bought me Clare Crespo's book, Hey There, Cupcake! I tried her vanilla cupcake recipe once, with the kids as assistants, and in my haste, the batter didn't get stirred thoroughly enough from the bottom. The result: so-so cupcakes with sugar crystallized on the top. Then, last week, justJenn posted a home-grown recipe for filled cupcakes that inspired me to try again. Though I haven't eaten many of Jenn's treats, I've had enough - and I trust her artistic and general yuminess instincts enough - to believe her when she describes something as "perfect." I used the same vanilla cupcake recipe as before with Jenn's filling. Actually, I made half a batch as described. Later, when I realized I needed more cupcakes for the dinner party I was attending, I whipped up another batch with the help of Nanette, and this time I substituted mascarpone for the cream cheese (out of necessity). Note to Jenn: it worked great.
The other impetus for the baking frenzy was my need to try the one-minute chocolate frosting recipe in my new Cook's Illustrated. It was very easy to make. I've never actually made frosting in my Cuisinart before. It tasted fine at room temp, but since I wasn't using it for a while, I put it in the fridge. Cold, it seemed a little waxy. Verdict: good, but nothing to go out of your way for. I whipped up some cream cheese frosting, too, and ultimately decided the cupcakes would look good with a little of each. Bug Bug helped me decorate with sprinkles aplenty.
This adventure was definitely a success. It may be too soon to know for sure, but perhaps the cupcake curse is being lifted. I'll admit, I am drawn to the little suckers. And since Bug has decided she wants to bring clock cupcakes (clocks? how... festive?) to school for her 4th birthday, I'll have more chances to play around soon.