Here's a great idea: have a cupcake party! Sound silly? Really, it'll be fun. It's a lot cheaper than a night on the town, you can nurture your creative side and catch up with friends, and it's hard not to have fun while baking and decorating cupcakes. I recently did a cupcake workshop with a dozen students at my school, and though they had homework to do and papers to write, everyone just relaxed and had fun for a few hours. Huge dose of stress relief!
So invite some friends over, and tell them to bring along a hand mixer or two, some muffin tins, some sprinkles, maybe some M&M's, a jar of Nutella perhaps... Pair up, and make your cupcake batters. Then just keep filling and baking those cupcakes. Stick the muffin tins in the freezer or outside in the cold to cool off between rounds. A dozen of us made well over 200 hundred cupcakes in just a few hours. Once the batter is done, start making frosting while keeping a watchful eye on the cupcakes. When the frosting is done and the cupcakes are cool, put out all the frostings, sprinkles, and other decorations, and get creative!
At our cupcake event, we made 4 kinds of cake: peanut butter, chocolate, graham cracker, and brown sugar; 3 frostings: brown sugar cream cheese, vanilla frosting (in 4 colors), marshmallow. We also made chocolate ganache for filling the cupcakes and caramel to fill or drizzle over the cupcakes. But 2-3 varieties of cake and frosting is plenty, especially for a smaller group. Here are a couple recipes to get you started.
Peanut Butter Cake:
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup old-fashioned (natural) chunky peanut butter
1 pound golden brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Spray three 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. with baking spray. Line the bottoms with parchment paper. Spray again.
Sift first 4 ingredients into medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and peanut butter in a large bowl until blended. Beat in sugar. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, then vanilla. At low speed, beat in flour mixture in 4 additions alternately with buttermilk in 3 additions.
Divide the batter among the cupcake tins, filling just over half full. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 15 minutes (but start checking early!). Cool completely.
Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting (adapted from Martha Stewarts's Cupcakes)
3 sticks butter
24 ounces cream cheese
3 cups light brown sugar
Beat the cream cheese for 2-3 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, and beat on medium-high speed until smooth.
My favorite: Peanut Butter Cupcakes, Nutella Filling, Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting, Nutella Drizzle
Chocolate Cupcakes (adapted from David Lebovitz)
9 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1½ cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
½ cup strong coffee or Kahlua (or water)
½ cup whole or low-fat milk
Preheat oven to 350F. Whisk the dry ingredients together.
In a mixing bowl, beat the sugar and the butter together until smooth and creamy (it will probably take about 5 minutes). Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
In a separate bowl, mix the milk and coffee/Kahlua together; set aside.
On low speed, add half of the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar/egg mixture. Add the milk/coffee mixture. Add the rest of the dry ingredients.
Pour into (lined) cupcake tins, about 3/4 of the way full. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, but check early. Because of the alcohol, they might take less time to bake as the alcohol evaporates pretty quickly.
Marshmallowy Frosting (with no gelatin!)
4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons vanilla
Whisk the egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water until sugar is melted and eggs are warm (3-4 minutes):
Take off heat; add vanilla. Beat 5-7 minutes (may take longer) to stiff, glossy peaks. Use
immediately. The frosting will begin to develop a crust shortly... tastes great, but no longer as malleable. The frosting here was beat just short of stiff peaks, hence the slight droop below. This is also why the frosting above (with the purple sprinkles) doesn't have the height it could...
Chocolate Cupcake, Marshmallowy Frosting, Purple Sprinkles
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 pound (4 cups) powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
food coloring, if desired
Beat butter on medium-high speed until pale and creamy, about 2 minutes.
Reduce speed to medium. Add the powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as needed; after every two additions, raise speed to high and beat 10 seconds to aerate frosting, then return to medium-high. This process should take about 5 minutes. Frosting will be very pale and fluffy.
Add vanilla, and beat until frosting is smooth. Add 1-2 drops of food coloring if desired. A little goes a long way; stir in food coloring, adding more (1-2 drops at a time) if desired.
If not using immediately, frosting can be refrigerated up to 10 days in an airtight container. Before using, bring to room temperature, and beat on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes.
Chocolate Cake with Pink Vanilla Frosting