By Tim Bruderek

For most people, holiday desserts don’t include cupcakes. But Chef Melanie Underwood‘s “Holiday Cupcakes Workshop” helped this non-believer (and non-baker) realize that the cupcake is an excellent format for the festive flavors we all know and love.

Chef Melanie and students mix up a few batches of batter.

Chef Melanie and students mix up a few batches of batter.

As mentioned, I’m a self-proclaimed “non-baker.” I have confidence in my savory skills, but when it comes to flour, eggs and sugar, my knowledge leaves something to be desired. So I brought along my fiancée, who loves to bake – especially cupcakes. She’s always testing out new flavors and techniques, making the class a fun way to kick off our first holiday as an engaged couple.

Chef Melanie taught us to integrate gingerbread, eggnog, peppermint and cocoa into a range of simple, seasonal recipes, while sharing a wide range of general baking tips. For example, I learned how to whip up silky meringues, proper pastry piping technique, the importance of mise en place, and options for ingredient subsitutions (yogurt or sour cream for buttermilk).

After mixing our batters and placing them in the oven, we learned that when it comes to baking cupcakes, time is truly relative. The best way to tell when the cakes are done is to press them with your finger. If they spring back to the touch, they are ready. If you leave a fingerprint, they’re not done yet. After taking them out of the oven, it’s best to let the cupcakes rest for a few minutes in the pan, before transferring them to a cake rack (so the air can flow to the bottom of the cupcakes).
pipingcupcakes

Next came the whimsical decorations. The “hot cocoa” cupcake was topped with a few mini-marshmallows and a candy cane “straw” or “handle” to make it look like a steaming cup of hot chocolate. The egg nog cakes were sprinkled with nutmeg (and a healthy splash of rum), evoking all the flavors of our favorite warming drink in a single bite.

Not only did I enjoy whipping up these impressive holiday cupcakes, but I’ve gained the confidence to lend my fiancée a hand in all her future baking experiments. Below, I share my favorite of the recipes, compliments of Chef Melanie.

GINGERBREAD CUPCAKES WITH CREAM CHEESE ICING

Yield: Makes about 20 cupcakes

Ingredients

  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cloves
  • 12 tablespoons (6 ounces) room temperature unsalted butter
  • ¾ cup molasses
  • ¾ cup light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • ¾ cup buttermilk

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F; Line pans with cupcake liners.
  2. In a large bowl combine the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and cloves; set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment cream together the butter, molasses and sugar until light and fluffy, 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well.
  5. Add one-third of the dry ingredients and mix, add one-half of the buttermilk, and continue alternating dry with wet, finishing with dry.
  6. Spoon or pipe the batter into prepared cake pans and place in the oven. Bake until the cakes spring back when touched, 20 to 25 minutes for large cupcakes.

Cream Cheese Icing:

  • 12 tablespoons (6 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 pounds (32 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

In the bowl of an electric mixer combine butter and cream cheese and beat until light and fluffy, about 10 minutes. Add in the sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth. Top each cake with an icing and serve.

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