A Guide to Making Fantastic Cupcakes

Plus Seven Favorite Cupcake Recipes

 

This article is about making cupcakes that taste good.

I’m a decorating dummy.  We have plenty of people that are naturally talented cake decorators, but somehow I missed that line.  I can make reasonably attractive cupcakes by sticking with a few basic techniques. I can make cupcakes that taste good.  And that’s my priority—making them taste good.

And you’ll find some of my favorite “taste good” cupcakes in this post.

How to Make Your Cupcakes Taste Good

You have three strategies at hand:

  • Make great cakes.
  • Add a filling
  • Top it with a fantastic frosting.

The really good cakes, the ones you’ll serve as desserts to out-of-town guests that you want to impress, use all three strategies.

How to Make Great Cakes

Forget the box cake mixes.  They have too much air.  The filling and the frosting is going to overwhelm the cake.  You need balance.

You can make cakes from scratch.  Most of the time we use our cake mixes because they have substance.  They are cream cake mixes or cake mixes with pudding added.  They are moister and denser than the fluffy cake mixes from the store.  They balance much better.

Most scratch recipes are denser and have more moisture and structure than the box cakes from the store.  Make your cakes from scratch or buy better mixes.

Then add goodies to the batter.  Usually, I add cinnamon chips or raspberry, strawberry, or blueberry tidbits.  You can add nuts or coconut.  You can add chocolate or other baking chips.  Add 3/4 to one cup chips or tidbits.  Fold them in after the batter is mixed so that they don’t melt in mixing and tint your batter.

Then add flavors or colors to the batter.  You have an incredible array of flavor choices with warm flavors like butterscotch or caramel and fruit flavors from apricot to blackberry.  To get enough flavor, it will usually take two teaspoons flavor.  Add a coordinating color.  Americolor professional food color gels come in 40 colors.

Add a Filling

It’s not very often that I make cupcakes without a filling.  It’s just too easy and adds so much.  Use premade pastry fillings.  Snip a quarter-inch corner off the bag, insert the cut corner in the top of the cupcake, and squeeze.  When you frost the cupcakes, you’ll cover the holes.  You can fill a dozen cupcakes in a minute.  I use Bavarian cream pastry filling most often but I also love raspberry and lemon.  They’re all good.

While I reach for a pastry filling most of the time, there are lots of ways to fill cupcakes.  It’s fun to fill them with ice cream.  We’ve recently discovered that we can fill cupcakes with sauces as long as they are thick.  And you can fill cupcakes with marshmallow cream, anything you can get in a pastry bag.  Just load the bag, use a start tip, poke it in the top of a cupcake, and squeeze.

Use a Great Frosting

There are a ton of great frosting recipes out there.  I love butter and cream cheese based frostings.  Seven Minute Frosting is very good.  I don’t care for shortening, so I use butter or cream cheese or some combination for my cupcakes.  A half teaspoon of flavor and a couple drops of color can transform an ordinary frosting into something memorable.  Check out some of the recipes later in this post.

The Recipes

Caramel Apple Cupcake Recipe

This is a terrific apple cupcake recipe.  The cupcakes are made with a box cake mix–either yellow or white—with cinnamon chips added.  They are made with an apple filling, a caramel frosting, and topped with cinnamon apple bark topping.

  1. Make a batch of cupcakes with a boxed yellow or white cake mix.  Add 3/4 cup cinnamon chips to the finished batter.  Bake the cupcakes.  Let them cool on a rack.
  2. Snip a quarter-inch corner off a bag of apple pastry filling.  Insert the snipped corner into the top of a cupcake.  Squeeze to fill the center of the cupcake.  Repeat with the remainder of the cupcakes.
  3. Make the frosting—the recipe follows—and frost the cupcakes.
  4. Decorate with cinnamon apple bark topping or other decorations.

Caramel Frosting

This is a great caramel frosting and firm enough that you can spread if you like.  No cooking is required.

1/2 cup (one stick) butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon caramel flavor
3 to 4 cups powdered sugar

  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan.  Add the brown sugar.
  2. Cook and stir until the sugar is melted and bubbly.  Remove from the heat.
  3. Add the milk and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until smooth.  Add the flavor.
  4. Add the powdered sugar and beat until it reaches spearing consistency.  Spread the frosting while it is still warm.

Lemon Cream Cupcake Recipe

These are wonderfully creamy cupcakes with a bright, lemon flavor.  The cake is lemon, the filling is lemon, the frosting is a lemon cream cheese frosting, and it’s topped with lemon bark.

  1. Make a batch of lemon cupcakes with a boxed lemon cake mix.  Let them cool on a rack.
  2. Snip a quarter-inch corner off a bag of lemon pastry filling.  Insert the snipped corner into the top of a cupcake.  Squeeze to fill the center of the cupcake.  Repeat with the remainder of the cupcakes.
  3. Make the frosting—the recipe follows—and frost the cupcakes.
  4. Decorate with lemon bark topping or other decorations.

Creamy Lemon Frosting

This is a great frosting for lemon lovers.  It’s a creamy frosting made with cream cheese that packs a lot of flavor.  It works well with a pastry bag.  No cooking is required.

6 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (one stick) butter, softened
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
3 to 4 cups powdered sugar
zest from one lemon

  1. Beat cream cheese, butter, and lemon juice together with an electric mixer.
  2. Add three cups powdered sugar and beat until well mixed and fluffy.  Add more as necessary to reach the desired consistency.  Add the zest.

Black Forest Cupcake Recipe

Black forest is a mixture of chocolate and cherry.  We used a boxed cake mix and filled the cupcakes with cherry pastry filling.  We used a chocolate buttercream frosting mix and added a teaspoon of cherry flavoring.  We sprinkled the cupcakes with Black Forest bark topping.

This recipe makes great cupcakes.

  1. Make a batch of chocolate cupcakes with a boxed cake mix.  Let them cool on a rack.
  2. Snip a quarter-inch corner off a bag of cherry pastry filling.  Insert the snipped corner into the top of a cupcake.  Squeeze to fill the center of the cupcake.  Repeat with the remainder of the cupcakes.
  3. Spread a thin layer of cherry pastry filing on the tops of the cupcakes.
  4. Make a chocolate buttercream frosting.  We used a chocolate buttercream frosting mix.  Add a teaspoon of cherry flavoring.  Frost the cupcakes.
  5. Decorate with black forest bark topping or other decorations.

Wild Blueberries and Cream Cupcake Recipe

These are blueberry cupcakes in five ways.  There are blueberry tidbits in the batter, the centers are filled with blueberry pastry filling, the frosting is made with a wild blueberry flavor, the topping is Wild Blueberries and Cream bark topping, and each cupcake is decorated with a fresh blueberry.

  1. Make a batch of cupcakes with a boxed white cake mix.  After the batter is mixed, add 3/4 cup blueberry tidbits.  Bake the cupcakes and let them cool on a rack.
  2. Snip a quarter-inch corner off a bag of blueberry pastry filling.  Insert the snipped corner into the top of a cupcake.  Squeeze to fill the center of the cupcake.  Repeat with the remainder of the cupcakes.
  3. Make your buttercream frosting.  We used a vanilla buttercream frosting mix.  Add a teaspoon of wild blueberry flavoring and a drop or two of Electric Purple food color gel or a blue food color of your choice.  Frost the cupcakes.
  4. Decorate with Wild Blueberries and Cream bark topping or other decorations.  Top each cupcake with a fresh blueberry.

Cinnamon Apple Pie Cupcake Recipe

If you like apple pie, you’ll love this cinnamon apple pie cupcake recipe.  It’s a wonderful combination of cinnamon and apples.

  1. Make a batch of yellow cupcakes with a boxed cake mix.  After the batter is mixed, add 3/4 cup cinnamon chips.  Bake the cupcakes and let them cool on a rack.
  2. Snip a quarter-inch corner off a bag of apple pastry filling.  Insert the snipped corner into the top of a cupcake.  Squeeze to fill the center of the cupcake.  Repeat with the remainder of the cupcakes.
  3. Make the frosting—the recipe follows—and frost the cupcakes.
  4. Decorate with cinnamon apple bark topping or other decorations.

Browned Butter Frosting Recipe

1 1/2 cups butter
6 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 or 6 tablespoons milk as needed to reach the right consistency

  1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan until it has started to brown.  Watch it closely.  It should be just amber in color, not dark brown.
  2. Let the browned butter cool for a few minutes then pour the clearer liquid off the top into a small bowl leaving the dark solids and a little liquid in the pan.  Place the browned butter in the refrigerator to cool for about an hour.  It should cool to a gel.
  3. Add the flavor and browned butter to the powdered sugar in a large bowl.  Whip with an electric mixer.  Thin with additions of milk as needed.
  4. Frost and decorate as desired.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Cupcake Recipe

These strawberry cupcakes are filled with a strawberry cream cheese filling and topped with a flavored cream cheese frosting.  They are topped with a strawberries and cream bark topping.

  1. Make a batch of cupcakes with a boxed white cake mix.  After the batter is mixed, add 3/4 cup raspberry tidbits and 1 teaspoon raspberry flavor.  Bake the cupcakes and let them cool on a rack.
  2. Snip a quarter-inch corner off a bag of cream cheese pastry filling.  Insert the snipped corner into the top of a cupcake.  Squeeze to fill the center of the cupcake.  Repeat with the remainder of the cupcakes.
  3. Make the frosting—the recipe follows—and frost the cupcakes.
  4. Decorate with lemon bark topping or other decorations.

Creamy Strawberry Frosting

This is a creamy frosting made with cream cheese and strawberry flavor.  You may add red food coloring or pink food coloring to tint it pink if you desire.  It works well with pastry bag.  No cooking is required.

6 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (one stick) butter, softened
1 teaspoon strawberry flavor
3 to 4 cups powdered sugar
red or pink food coloring (optional)

  1. Beat cream cheese, butter, and flavor together with an electric mixer.
  2. Add three cups powdered sugar and beat until well mixed and fluffy.  Add more as necessary to reach the desired consistency.  Add the color.

Cherry Blossom Cupcake Recipe

These are wonderful cherry cupcakes with a bright, cherry flavor.  The cake is white, the filling is cherry, the frosty is a light, fluffy, seven-minute frosting made with cherry flavor and just enough color to tint it cherry blossom pink.  It’s topped with cherry bark.

  1. Make a batch of cupcakes with a boxed white cake mix.  Add a teaspoon of cherry flavor and a couple drops of red food coloring to the batter.  Bake as directed on the package.  Let them cool on a rack.
  2. Snip a quarter-inch corner off a bag of cherry pastry filling.  Insert the snipped corner into the top of a cupcake.  Squeeze to fill the center of the cupcake.  Repeat with the remainder of the cupcakes.
  3. Make the frosting—the recipe follows—and frost the cupcakes.
  4. Decorate with lemon bark topping or other decorations.

Cherry Flavored Seven Minute Frosting

Seven minute frosting is wonderful.  Though it must be cooked, it’s easy to make: You whip it with an electric mixer as it cooks on the stove top.  At the end of the cooking, add the flavor and color.  It works well with a pastry bag.

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/3 cup cold water
1 teaspoon cherry flavor
2 drops red food coloring

  1. Combine the sugar, egg whites, cream of tartar and cold water in a large saucepan.
  2. Beat with a handheld electric mixer for 30 seconds.
  3. Place the pan over very low heat and cook for seven minutes beating continually or until stiff peaks form.  Remove from the heat.
  4. Add the flavor and color.  Beat for two or three more minutes until the desired consistency is reached.

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