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Believe it or not, I decided to go ahead and try my second cupcake inspiration, in spite of the way the first one went. (If you missed the story of that cooking fail, click here!)
For the Princess Anna cupcake, I knew I wanted it to have red hots. And chocolate. And plenty of spice.
And this time I decided to make my own recipe, instead of looking online first. (Yes, reckless and brave are my middle names!)
I figured a spice cake with extra orange added for the cupcake, with some red hots ground up in a chocolate ganache for the filling. Top the whole thing with brown sugar buttercream frosting decorated with raw sugar crystals and more ground up red hots. Sounds good, hmm? 🙂
Before I did this, I had no idea how hard it is to grind up red hots. I admit, I didn’t try a food processor, because I thought they might be too hard. So instead, I took my marble rolling pin and used it to pound the red hots while they were still in the sealed package. I did that for a while, and then I actually rolled them some. Then I beat on them some more. (Be prepared. This is very noisy. Warn your family first or they will come running to see what is wrong.)
Then I realized that I had a lot of large chunks of red hots, some red hot that were grounds into crystals, and some that were the size of dust. That’s when I thought maybe I should stop and separate the dust out from the rest. I dumped it in a strainer and sifted the finely ground red hots onto a paper towel. I was scratching my head a little about whether to keep pounding, so while I thought about it I decided to go ahead and get the cupcakes in the oven.
I started with a regular spice cake mix. (I see no reason to re-invent the wheel with every cupcake.) Instead of adding oil, I used an equal amount of sour cream. I added the eggs called for on the package. Finally, instead of using the water the mix called for, I substituted sweet tea. (I’m not sure what made me think of that, but I did it. Go figure.) I mixed it up with an electric mixer and then I also added about 2 teaspoons of orange extract. (I didn’t actually measure the orange extract. I just added it a little at a time until it smelled right to me.)
Now here is the real brainstorm — I added the dust from the red hots to the batter. I started by adding just a little at a time and then tasting the batter. I ended up adding all the fine dust I had — about 2 tablespoons, most likely. That added just a touch of the cinnamon taste, but not much. My daughter said she wouldn’t have picked it out, but I could tell that it made a difference.
There was enough batter for 24 cupcakes. I always use liners in my cupcake tins, but that’s really up to you. If you don’t, be sure to check the box of cake mix to see if you need to grease and flour the cups before putting the batter in them. Follow the baking time on the box, as well. My box said 17-20 minutes. I started at 18 minutes, but ended up baking them for 20-21 minutes. You can tell they are done when the top of the cupcake springs back when you touch it lightly with your finger.
Set the cupcakes on a wire rack to cool when you remove them from the pans.
While the cupcakes were cooling, I made the brown sugar buttercream frosting. Here’s where things started to go bad. (I know you were waiting for it to fall apart somewhere…)
I had a recipe for brown sugar buttercream that I had used before, but it had been a while. Imagine my surprise when the frosting turned out to be too thin to pipe on top of the cupcakes. Hmm…
So I had the brilliant idea to add some whipping cream to try to make it stiffer. (Note: DO NOT do this. It doesn’t work. And yes, I realize that was a spoiler.) I tried whipping the whole mixture on high for a few minutes. It did get thicker, but it was trying to separate. Probably because I should have whipped the cream first and folded the other part in. Or maybe because the two sticks of butter just couldn’t make friends with the whipping cream. Something.
So THEN I decided to throw in some confectioner’s sugar. That usually works in other icing.
Didn’t work either.
I eventually stuck the whole bowl in the refrigerator to see if it would set up if I left it alone for a bit.
I turned my attention to the red hots again. I wondered what would happen if I microwaved a few of the red hots with a little water. (I wanted to add them to chocolate ganache for the filling.) What happened was that they melted! Hmmm…what if the whole filling was red hots? Then I could use the chocolate on top.
I wanted a thick paste of red hots so there would be a blast of hot, cinnamony goodness in the middle. I microwaved all the pieces of red hots I had left, after sifting them again. After about a minute and a half, the red hots were suitably pasty, so I started spooning into the cupcakes. (Whoops — I forgot to mention that I cut a plug out of the middle of each cupcake before starting to melt the red hots.)
Along about the third cupcake, as the red hot paste was cooling again, I suddenly realized that this was a bad idea. As the red hot paste cooled, it just got hard again, so the cupcakes would have a rock-hard center, suitable for breaking teeth. (At least I realized it before I filled ALL the cupcakes.) So I went back to the drawing board.
I added water to the paste and microwaved it again. That was probably a good idea. Except I added too much and I ended up with just a red cinnamon liquid. No squishy, center. Again.
At this point, I just threw up my hands and spooned the liquid into the center of the cupcakes. Even if it soaked into the cake, it would give me the hot, cinnamon-y blast I wanted. And it would make it extra moist. (This is called making lemonade out of lemons, boys and girls.)
Be sure to replace the plugs in the center of the cupcakes after you add the red hot . . . stuff, so you’ll have a smooth surface for the frosting.
On to the chocolate ganache. I used the ganache recipe from the Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes that I have used before. I heated 1 cup of heavy cream until it was just beginning to boil. Then I poured the cream into a large bowl containing a 12 oz. package of chocolate chips. (Open the package of chips and empty them into the bowl BEFORE you heat the cream, so that you don’t accidentally scorch the cream. This may or may not have happened to me before. It definitely did NOT happen this time.) Use a wire whisk and whisk away until all the chips are melted and the mixture is smooth. I added just a few drops of cinnamon extract and stirred it in, also. That is completely optional.
I topped the cupcakes with the chocolate ganache. Now for the moment of truth — I took the brown sugar buttercream frosting out of the fridge. It tasted fabulous. I tried to spoon some on top of one cupcake and sprinkled a little raw sugar and red hot dust on top. It looked . . . less than fabulous. I didn’t even take a picture, because it was entirely too embarrassing.
I gave it to my daughter to taste. When I asked her if the extra taste was worth the fact that the icing looked like cooked oatmeal, she looked at me and shook her head. (You can depend on your teenagers to tell you the truth. Particularly if it is a truth about something you screwed up. Sigh.)
I went back to the kitchen and finished decorating the cupcakes with a sprinkle of raw sugar and the rest of the red hots dust.
If I did it again, I would probably wait to add the sugar decoration until just before serving. By the time I handed out the cupcakes a few hours late, most of the sugar had soaked into the ganache, so they weren’t as pretty.
This one does have a happy ending, though. In spite of the frosting issues, the cake itself was one of the best I’ve made. I will ABSOLUTELY make it again, either with or without the red hots. Everyone who ate it thought it was good.
And if you know of a brown sugar buttercream icing that is stiff enough to pipe onto a cupcake, give me a shout! Or just send me some. That works, too! 🙂
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