- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The children are back in school, and fall is the perfect time to celebrate birthdays or just the changing of the season. I can’t help but feel festive when pumpkins, mums and Indian corn dress up the front of the house.

So stage a party large or small in the fall harvest or Halloween theme. Offer a meal everyone loves: barbecued ribs or sandwiches, the fixings and then a fun cupcake for dessert.

If you look quickly at these cupcakes, you might think that you are looking at caramel apples. But look again, and you’ll see that they are actually soft, blush-pink cupcakes coated in velvety melted caramel and decorated with a popsicle stick and crushed peanuts. The pinkish color comes from finely chopped spiced apple rings that are folded into the batter.

Five time-shaving party ideas for fall children’s parties

• Offer apple slices with caramel sauce for dipping.

• Fill clean disposable gloves with popcorn and tie with a black string for a skeleton’s hand. Place a candy corn in each finger first to resemble the fingernail, if desired.

• Make spider snacks. Dab peanut butter onto a cracker and arrange eight pretzel sticks off the peanut butter as legs. Place two M&M;’s on the peanut butter for the spider’s eyes.

• Bake little pumpkin muffins.

• Skewer apple, cheese cubes and grapes, and arrange them out of a hollowed-out pumpkin.

Caramel spiced apple cupcakes

The preparation time is 25 minutes, and the baking time is 18 to 20 minutes.

24 paper liners for cupcake pans (2½-inch size)

CUPCAKES:

1 jar (14.5 ounces) red spiced apple rings, drained

1 package (18.25 ounces) plain yellow cake mix

1 package (3.4 ounces) vanilla instant pudding mix

3/4 cup water

½ cup vegetable oil

3 large eggs

GLAZE:

45 to 50 caramels (from a 14-ounce bag)

1/3 cup evaporated milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ cup unsalted peanuts, chopped

24 wooden craft sticks (optional)

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 cupcake cups with paper liners. Set the pans aside.

Prepare the cupcake batter: Place the drained apple rings in the food processor and in an on-off pulse, finely chop them, 15 seconds. Place the cake mix, pudding mix, chopped apple rings, water, oil and eggs in a large mixing bowl.

Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes more, scraping down the sides again, if needed.

The batter should look well combined. Spoon or scoop 1/4 cup batter into each lined muffin cup, filling it two thirds of the way full. (You will get between 22 and 24 cupcakes; remove the empty liners, if any.) Place the pans side by side in the oven.

Bake the cupcakes until they are golden and the top springs back when lightly pressed with your finger, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and place them on wire racks to cool for 5 minutes.

Run a dinner knife around the edges of the cupcake liners, lift the cupcakes up from the bottoms of the 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 glazing.

Meanwhile, prepare the caramel glaze: Unwrap the caramels and place them in a medium-size saucepan. Add the evaporated milk. Stir with a wooden spoon over medium heat until all the caramels are melted, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in the vanilla.

Immediately spoon the warm caramel glaze over the top of each cooled cupcake and sprinkle the chopped peanuts around the edges. Push a craft stick in the center of each cupcake, if desired. The cupcakes are ready to serve. Makes 22 to 24 cupcakes.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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