I am not good at that many things. I don’t mean that to be as self-deprecating as it sounds. I think I’m good at my job and a good mom and an overall smart cookie, but when it comes down to it, I’ve put almost all of my skills in the language basket, and in the event of the zombie apocalypse, that will count for very little. The zombies also won’t care about my SAT scores or my college GPA. (Actually, no one cares about those things, including me anymore.) And in terms of practical skills that will help me if all of society crumbles, I don’t have a whole lot. I can’t even sew a button on a pair of pants. I definitely can’t knit a scarf or a hat, and the last time I tried to garden, I killed everything within a week. My manual labor talents begin and end at fixing children’s toys (e.g. putting Barbie’s head back on) and building simple prefab furniture.
But I do have one actual crafty-type skill that will admittedly not get me much mileage in the zombie apocalypse scenario but that does give me some Pinterest cred: I make really great kids’ cupcakes. It’s not so much that they taste great (they’re fine) but more that they’re big bake sale hits. They’re not even the slightest bit organic or dye-free or healthy, but they are gimmicky, cute, and fun.
Below are five of my greatest-hit cupcakes:
Candy Corn Cupcakes
- 1 box of white cake mix, prepared according to package directions
- 1 cup of flour
- 3/4 cup of sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 cup of vegetable oil
- 2/3 cup of water
- Orange and yellow food coloring
- White vanilla-almond buttercream
- 24 pieces of candy corn
Once everything for the batter is mixed together, divide into two bowls. Tint one bright yellow and one bright orange. Fill muffin cups half-and-half with each color, and bake for 25 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven. Top each one with a big swirl of vanilla-almond buttercream (you can always get away with boxed mix, but it’s 100 percent worth it to make your own from-scratch frosting) and a piece of candy corn set on top of the frosting.
Perfectly Pink Piggy Cupcakes (pictured)
- 24 cupcakes of your choice, baked and cooled
- Pink buttercream frosting
- 12 marshmallows
- 48 mini chocolate chips
- 48 pieces of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal
- Pink gel food dye
Cover each cupcake with a thin, even amount of pink frosting. Use two mini chocolate chips as eyes and two pieces of the cereal as ears on each one. Cut the marshmallows in half and use the end of a paintbrush to put two dots of pink gel food dye on each marshmallow, creating a pig snout, add put on top of the cupcake. These would be great for a Peppa Pig party or even a pig roast if you had a dark sense of humor.
Witch’s Hat Cupcakes
- 24 cupcakes of your choice, baked and cooled
- White buttercream frosting
- 24 Oreo halves with the frosting scraped off (or chocolate wafers if you can find them)
- 24 Hershey Kisses
- Purple and green sprinkles
Put a dollop of buttercream in the center of each Oreo half and top with a Hershey Kiss. The frosting should smoosh out around the edges of the Hershey Kiss; sprinkle purple or green sprinkles to cover the exposed frosting. Cover each cupcake with a thin, even amount of buttercream and top with the Oreos.
Lemon Meringue Cupcakes
I made these for Ruby’s ninth birthday and would only do them as a labor of love. These are not bake sale cupcakes. These require both effort and a blowtorch, plus they’re not exactly kid-friendly unless you’re Ruby.
For the cupcakes:
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup butter
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 lemon, juiced and zested
Preheat the oven to 350. Blend together the sugar and the butter in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment or with an electric hand mixer. Add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and add to the bowl, alternating with the milk and lemon juice. The mixture may look “curdly,” but it’s fine. Bake for 25 minutes and let cool entirely before assembling.
For the lemon curd:
- 3 large egg yolks (save the whites)
- 2 to 3 lemons, juiced and zested
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 6 tablespoons butter
In the top part of a double boiler, whisk together egg yolks, lemon juice and zest, and sugar for about 7 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in butter, about 1 tablespoon at a time. (You can strain it to remove lumps at this point; I didn’t because I was serving it to 9-year-olds who didn’t care.) Let it cool; it can even sit in the fridge overnight or for a day or so.
For the meringue (I do it this way because I am terrified of salmonella, no matter how remote the chance):
- 1 1/2 cups sugar, plus 2 tablespoons (set the 2 tablespoons aside)
- 2/3 cup water
- 2 tablespoons corn syrup (light)
- 6 egg whites (the 3 reserved plus 3 more)
Combine the 1 1/2 cups sugar, water, and corn syrup in a heavy-bottomed pan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, until a candy thermometer reads 230 degrees.
Meanwhile, using a stand mixer with whisk attachment or a regular electric mixer, beat egg whites with the reserved 2 tablespoons of sugar until soft peaks form.
When sugar syrup reaches 230 degrees, remove from heat and pour it, in a slow but steady stream, into the egg whites with the mixer running. Keep whipping until stiff peaks form, about 7 minutes.
Spread a thin layer of cooled lemon curd on top of each cooled lemon cupcake. (I emphasize “cooled” because if either the curd or the cupcakes is the slightest bit warm, you’re going to have a melty mess on your hands.) Top with a big swirl of meringue. When all cupcakes are assembled, use a blowtorch to brown the meringue — being careful to not do what I did and set the edges of the paper muffin cups on fire.
Optional step: Indulge in a brief moment of martyrdom when you realize 90 percent of the kids actually hate your fancy, work-intensive cupcakes and would vastly prefer cookie cake.
- 2 boxes of white cake mix, blended according to box directions
- Purple, green, and gold food coloring
- Cinnamon-cream cheese frosting (recipe follows)
- 24 King Cake babies
Divide blended cake mix into three bowls, and color one purple, one green, and one gold. Using kitchen spoons, mix spoonfuls of all three batters in white muffin cups until almost full. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 25 minutes, and then let cool.
Cinnamon-Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
Blend cream cheese and butter together until fluffy, then add vanilla, powdered sugar, and cinnamon. If frosting is too stiff, add a splash of milk. Blend for several minutes until really light and cinnamon is all through it.
When cupcakes are cooled, top with a swirl of cinnamon-cream cheese frosting and a King Cake baby.
These cupcakes won’t save you from a horde of slavering zombies. They won’t even win you any baking competitions (well, the lemon meringue ones might). But they will go fast at any bake sale and/or class party.
Enjoy! And if you have any fun cupcakes that you love, please send along the recipe.