- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Nothing fills my heart with more joy than watching my children succeed. It might be tying a first shoe, riding a first bike, diving into the pool and swimming a lap, mastering the multiplication tables or simply baking their first cupcakes. With Mother’s Day coming up Sunday, why not set up your children or grandchildren for success by baking cupcakes together? You buy the ingredients and help the little ones preheat the oven and operate the electric mixer, but then let them have at it. Just as when it comes time to tie the shoe, you need to let them do the work. They’ll think you’re the best mom ever, and you just might agree.

Cupcakes, if you haven’t heard, are hot once more. Upscale bake shops are selling them, and I’ve just written a cookbook, “Cupcakes From the Cake Mix Doctor” (Workman, 2005), that is devoted to cupcakes, muffins and other fun desserts made in cupcake pans.

Whatever your age, it’s just fine to sit down and peel back the liner of a vanilla cupcake slathered with chocolate frosting. We never outgrow our love for cupcakes or our love of baking them together.

So let’s get busy planning three cupcake recipes that both you and your children are sure to adore. How about ice cream cone cakes, an eye-catching recipe that your children will find amusing. They will spoon cupcake batter into an ice cream cone instead of a cupcake liner. Then they will frost these baked cones so that the frosting looks like ice cream with plenty of sprinkles on top.

The second recipe, for tie-dye cupcakes, is a little zany and sure to please children ages 6 to 12 because they will sprinkle miniature M&Ms; on top of the cupcake batter before it goes in the oven.

The little candies sink into the batter as the cupcakes bake, creating colorful streaks that look almost like tie-dye when you break open a cupcake. Dye the frosting — your choice of bright, bold colors — and let the children create fun swirled tie-dye patterns of frosting on the cupcake tops.

Another recipe is elegant but easy. You fold lemon curd into the batter and topping to make mini lemon-curd cupcakes. They are baked in miniature muffin pans and crowned with a fresh raspberry or small strawberry. I love these mini cakes for tea parties and especially on Mother’s Day.

Before your children begin, rest assured that you need no extra equipment for this cupcake fest, just an electric mixer, some bowls and rubber spatulas.

An ice cream scoop with a spring lever is helpful. This greatly reduces the mess for little hands because they are able to scoop into the batter then dump it into the cupcake liners. The cupcakes will bake up more evenly and uniformly because the same amount of batter is going into each liner.

My cupcake batters are based on a cake mix to which you add ingredients from your kitchen. This type of baking is perfect for newcomers because it is a dump method; the ingredients don’t have to be warmed to room temperature; and even if you beat too long or too short; the cupcakes bake up beautifully.

My frostings are all from scratch, yet they are simple and delicious. Should your little ones be intimidated by homemade frosting, go ahead and reach for a can of frosting on the baking aisle. You might want to doctor it up with a drop or two of vanilla or lemon juice — I think these canned offerings are pretty ordinary and no match for homemade frosting. But for little hands, they are fine.

Also while you’re in the baking aisle, choose colored sugar sprinkles for dusting the tops of the ice cream cones.

Pick up food coloring for tie-dye frosting. Stock up on plenty of the pastel cupcake liners, too, for this baking day and others. They liners make cleanup a breeze.

I have taught my children to clean up their baking mess as they go along, washing the bowl and beaters from the cake batter, for example, once the cupcakes are in the oven.

No matter what I tell them to do, they will, in the end, be themselves. That is what is so joyful about taking the time to bake with your children or watch them bake. You learn wonderful things about them that you didn’t know before, and you just might watch them succeed.

The recipes that follow are from “Cupcakes From the Cake Mix Doctor.”

Mini lemon curd cupcakes with lemony cream

The preparation time is 15 minutes, the baking time is 15 to 25 minutes, and the assembly time is 15 to 20 minutes.

CUPCAKES:

48 paper liners for miniature cupcake pans (2-inch size) or 24 paper liners for regular pans (2-inch size)

1 18.25-ounce package plain lemon cake mix

1/3 cup lemon curd (see note)

1/3 cup vegetable oil

3 large eggs

Lemony cream (recipe follows)

48 golden or red raspberries or 12 strawberries, rinsed, cored, sliced lengthwise and then crosswise into half-moon slices (1 cup) for garnish

Line 48 miniature cupcake cups with paper liners. (Miniature paper liners fit 2-inch pans perfectly. You can find them in supermarkets, craft stores and cookware shops. If you don’t own a mini cupcake pan, however, you really don’t need to invest in one. Buy the foil mini liners, which are sturdy enough to stand on their own on a baking sheet. Just line them up, then spoon in the batter. Silicone miniature cupcake pans, in which no liners are needed, also work well with this recipe.) Set the pans aside.

Place cake mix, 11/3 cups water, lemon curd, oil and eggs in a large mixing bowl. Blend on low speed until ingredients are just incorporated, 30 seconds. Turn off machine and scrape sides of bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase mixer speed to medium; beat 2 minutes more, scraping down sides again, if needed. Batter should be well blended.

Spoon or scoop 2 tablespoons batter into each lined cupcake cup, filling it two-thirds of the way full. Place pans on center rack of preheated 350-degree oven.

Bake cupcakes until they are golden and spring back when lightly pressed with your finger, 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove pans from oven and place on wire racks to cool for 5 minutes.

Run a dinner knife around edges of cupcake liners, lift cupcakes up from bottoms of cups using end of knife, and pick them out of the cups carefully with your fingertips. Place on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes before frosting.

Meanwhile, prepare the lemony cream.

Place a heaping tablespoon of frosting on each cupcake and swirl to spread it out with a short metal spatula or a spoon, taking care to cover the tops completely. Top with raspberries or strawberry slivers, and chill or serve.

Store these cupcakes, uncovered or in a cake saver, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Or freeze them, unfrosted, wrapped in aluminum foil or in a cake saver for up to 6 months. Thaw cupcakes overnight in the refrigerator before frosting and garnishing. Makes 48 miniature cupcakes or 24 regular-size cupcakes.

If you prefer standard-size cupcakes to minis, spoon batter into 24 paper-lined 2-inch cupcake pans and bake in preheated 350-degree oven until just golden and firm to the touch, 20 to 25 minutes.

Note: I adore lemon curd, both homemade and from the jar. Of the supermarket varieties I have sampled, my favorite is Dickinson’s, which comes in a 10-ounce jar, plenty for this recipe. When you’re shopping for curd, read the ingredient list. Curd made with butter tastes better than curd made with margarine.

LEMONY CREAM:

The preparation time is 5 minutes.

1 cup whipping cream, chilled

1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar

1/3 to cup lemon curd (see previous note)

Place a large, clean mixing bowl and electric mixer beaters in the freezer for a few minutes while you assemble the ingredients.

Pour cream into chilled bowl and beat with electric mixer on high speed until cream has thickened, 1 minutes. Stop the machine and add sugar.

Beat cream and sugar on high speed until stiff peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes more. With a rubber spatula, gently fold in 1/3 cup of the lemon curd. Taste, adding more lemon curd, if desired.

Use this right away to frost the cupcakes of your choice, or chill for up to 8 hours before using. Makes 2 cups, enough to frost 48 mini (13/4- to 2-inch) cupcakes or 24 regular (21/21/2-inch) cupcakes.

Tie-dye cupcakes with psychedelic butter cream

Instead of dying the frosting bright colors and topping it with M&Ms;, you can use a plain butter-cream frosting and fold the M&Ms; into it, then let it rest in a warm place for an hour. Stir. The M&M; colors will streak through the frosting.

The preparation time is 20 minutes, the baking time is 17 to 20 minutes, and the assembly time is 10 minutes.

24 paper liners for cupcake pans (21/21/2-inch size)

CUPCAKES:

1 18.25-ounce package plain yellow cake mix

1 3.4-ounce package vanilla instant pudding mix

1 cup whole milk

cup vegetable oil

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

3/4 cup miniature M&Ms; (see note)

PSYCHEDELIC BUTTER CREAM:

4 tablespoons butter ( stick), room temperature

3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

3 to 4 tablespoons milk

Bright blue, green and pink food coloring (see note)

cup miniature M&Ms;, optional (see note)

Line 24 cupcake cups with paper liners. Set the pans aside.

For cupcakes, place cake mix, pudding mix, milk, oil, eggs and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds. Stop machine and scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes more, scraping down sides again, if needed.

Spoon or scoop a heaping 1/4 cup batter into each lined cupcake cup, filling it two-thirds full. (You will get 22 to 24 cupcakes; remove the empty liners, if any.) Place 16 miniature M&Ms; on top of each cupcake. Make sure to get a good mix of colors. Place pans on center rack of preheated 350-degree oven.

Bake cupcakes until they are golden and spring back when lightly pressed with your finger, 17 to 20 minutes. Remove pans from oven and place on wire racks to cool for 5 minutes. Run a dinner knife around edges of cupcake liners, lift cupcakes up from bottoms of cups using the end of the knife and pick them out of the cups carefully with your fingertips. Place them on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes before frosting.

Meanwhile, prepare the psychedelic butter cream: Place butter in a medium-size mixing bowl and blend with an electric mixer on low speed until creamy. Add sugar and 3 tablespoons milk. Blend on low until ingredients just come together, adding up to another tablespoon of milk, if needed, to make frosting spreadable.

Increase mixer speed to medium-high and beat in air to make the frosting fluffy, 30 seconds longer.

Divide frosting into two or three bowls for tinting. If you are using liquid colors, you’ll need about 2 drops of color per bowl; if using paste, about 1/8 teaspoon. Stir colors into frosting to blend.

Place small dollops of each colored frosting on each cupcake and swirl them together with edge of a short metal spatula to resemble a tie-dye pattern, taking care to cover the tops completely.

Or decorate the top with miniature M&Ms;, if desired. The cupcakes are ready to serve.

Store these cupcakes in a cake saver or under a glass dome, at room temperature, for up to 3 days or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Or freeze them, wrapped in aluminum foil or in a cake saver, for up to 6 months. Thaw cupcakes overnight in the refrigerator before serving. Makes 22 to 24 cupcakes (2 inches each).

Note: It’s important to use miniature M&Ms; because regular M&Ms; will sink instead of creating a streaked, tie-dye effect on top.

Ice cream cone cakes

28 flat-bottomed wafer ice cream cones

1 18.25-ounce package plain yellow cake mix

11/3 cups water or milk

cup vegetable oil

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla

butter-cream frosting or chocolate butter cream (recipes follow)

Sugar sprinkles or miniature M&Ms;

Wrap a small square of aluminum foil around the base of each ice cream cone, and stand the cones in ungreased cupcake-pan cups.

Place cake mix, water or milk, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds. Stop machine and scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase mixer speed to medium; beat 2 minutes more, scraping sides down again, if needed. The batter should look well blended.

Spoon or scoop about 1/4 cup batter into each cone, filling it no more than halfway.

Place pans on center rack of preheated 350-degree oven; if your oven is not large enough, place two pans on the center rack and the third pan in the center of the highest rack.

Bake cones until cake springs back when lightly pressed with your finger, 20 to 25 minutes. Be careful not to overbake the pan on the highest oven rack. Remove pans from oven, and place them on wire racks to cool for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the frosting. Remove foil from base of each cone. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip with frosting, and pipe it on the cones in a generous spiral to resemble soft-serve ice cream.

Decorate with sugar sprinkles or M&Ms.; Carefully place cones on a platter or back in the cupcake pan and serve. (Store ice cream cone cakes at room temperature, lightly covered with plastic wrap, for up to 2 days.) Makes up to 28 ice cream cone cakes.

BUTTER-CREAM FROSTING:

The preparation time is 5 minutes.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature

3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

3 to 4 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Place butter in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed until fluffy, 30 seconds. Stop machine and add confectioners’ sugar, 3 tablespoons milk and vanilla.

Blend with mixer on low speed until sugar is incorporated, 1 minute. Increase speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 1 minute more. Add up to 1 tablespoon more milk if frosting seems too stiff. Makes 2 cups.

CHOCOLATE BUTTER CREAM:

The preparation time is 10 minutes.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature

cup unsweetened cocoa powder

3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

3 to 5 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Place butter and cocoa powder in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed until mixture is soft and well combined, 30 seconds.

Stop the machine and add confectioners’ sugar, 3 tablespoons of the milk and the vanilla. Blend with mixer on low speed until sugar is incorporated, 1 minute.

Increase speed to medium; beat until light and fluffy, 1 minute more. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons more milk if the frosting seems too stiff.

Makes 3 cups.

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