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KEVIN’S KITCHEN

Little Cakes, Big Possibilities

Cupcakes are some of the hottest little desserts going these days

Cupcakes, those staples of childhood and bake sales, are some of the hottest little desserts going these days. They are the centerpieces at weddings and parties, the focus of specialty bakeries and the subject of scores of cookbooks. What is it about these treats that makes them so appealing?

For one, cupcakes are somewhat simpler to bake and decorate than a full-sized cake. As a decorationally challenged baker (a pastry chef, I’ll never be), the littler cakes are easier for me to make pretty than is a whole cake. And for some junior bakers, they’re the first cakes they make.

But cupcakes can also be a sophisticated dessert, with fillings and icings worthy of a bakeshop window. They’re also convenient for a quick snack (no cutting necessary) and are easily portable.

When I think about cupcakes, the first thing that pops in my head is memories of childhood, whether schoolroom treats or a halftime snack (laden with purple icing) from the high school football concession stand. At 25 cents each, they were a quick seller.

The fun of cupcakes is both in the making and in the eating.

Here’s a recipe out of a cookbook full of fun ideas called Big Book of Cupcakes (Oxmoor House, 2011). From wild flavors (Sweet Lavender Cupcakes with Wild Honey Frosting) to wild decorations (Pup Cakes with sugar dog faces on top), author Jan Moon, owner of Dreamcakes Bakery in Homewood, Alabama, puts her full creativity on display.

This recipe combines elements of both in one bright pink package.

Pink Lemonade Cupcakes

1 cup butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup powdered pink lemonade mix
4 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
Cooking spray
Pink Lemonade Frosting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter, sugar and lemonade mix at medium speed with electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until blended after each addition. In small bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt; add to butter mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed until blended after each addition. Place cupcake papers in two 12-cup muffin pans and coat with cooking spray. Spoon batter into each paper, filling each about two-thirds full. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks and cool completely. Frost with Pink Lemonade Frosting and, if desired, decorate with pink sprinkles, pink candies or additional lemonade mix.

Pink Lemonade Frosting

1/4 cup powdered pink lemonade mix
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 to 3 tablespoons whipping cream
1 package (16 ounces) powdered sugar

Dissolve lemonade mix in 3 tablespoons water. Beat butter, lemonade mixture and whipping cream at medium speed with electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low speed until blended. Beat at high speed two minutes or until creamy.

Servings: 24. Serving size: 1 frosted cupcake. Per serving: 329 calories, 3 g protein, 12.5 g fat, 50.4 g carbohydrates, 0.4 g dietary fiber, 109 mg sodium, 37.8 g sugars, 64 mg cholesterol

Another fun cookbook devoted to the subject of cupcakes comes from Katherine Kallinis and sister Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne, who have their own TV show, “DC Cupcakes.” The Cupcake Diaries (HarperCollins, 2011) chronicles the duo’s family and childhood (with family recipes) and the making of their TV show and opening of a cupcake bakery, which in three years went from a three-woman shop (with help from their mother) to a 200-employee operation turning out 10,000 cupcakes a day.

Besides many recipes for the cakes themselves, smart baking tips and fun decorating ideas, the book offers the following versatile frosting that can be customized with add-in flavors.

Vanilla Cream-Cheese Frosting

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
6 ounces cream cheese

Place all ingredients in bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment and beat until well combined. For last two minutes of beating, turn mixer on high to ensure frosting is light and fluffy. If using one of the first eight flavor options below, add flavor ingredient before beating. If using one of the last two, fold in ingredient after beating:

Chocolate: 1/2 cup melted and cooled chocolate chips
Lemon: juice and zest of two lemons
Lime: juice and zest of three limes
Mocha: 1/4 cup cold coffee
Peanut butter: 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
Maple: 1/4 cup maple syrup
Cinnamon: 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Cookies and crème: 1/4 cup crushed chocolate sandwich cookies
Toffee: 1/4 cup crushed toffee bits

Servings: 24 (basic frosting). Serving size: 2 tablespoons. Per serving: 119 calories, 0.4 g protein, 3.9 g fat, 20.3 g carbohydrates, 23 mg sodium, 19.8 g sugars, 12 mg cholesterol

April 2012 Recipe Contest