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A Sweet Birthday Gift

When I asked my best friend, Jana, what she wanted for her birthday she wasted no time in telling me what the perfect gift would be...

"I want pretty cupcakes, Kelli."

Can't say that I've ever had someone request a present that could be enjoyed by everyone, but that's just how Jana is--she knows what she wants, but wants others to have it too.

As excited as I was, choosing the perfect "pretty cupcake" was a bit challenging.  But, after skimming through my cupcake pin-board on Pinterest, I found the inspiration that I needed.  Seriously, how did I ever live without Pinterest???

Here's the first cupcake I came up with...

Inspired by this pin...

I just fell in love with the bright colors, and the combination of purple, pink, and blue reminded me of Jana's wardrobe (she's always wearing bright, energetic clothing), but unfortunately I couldn't find any purple cupcake wrappers when I went to the store.  Well, at least not any that didn't have Hanna Montanna plastered all over them!

And so I improvised...which I think always turns out better anyway, because you get to put your own spin on things.

The toughest part of this whole baking project was creating the flowers.  Considering I'm not all that familiar with using sugar-paste (aka fondant), I struggled to find a method that gave me results similar to the flowers in the photo.  

But then I tried this...

...first, I rolled out some fondant...

...then, I used a flower-shaped cookie cutter to cut out my shape...

...next, I rolled out my flower shape a little more to soften the edges...

...then I pinched the fondant together in the center, and used each "v" in the flower shape to fold a crease...

...then, I uses a mini-cupckake-tin to hold the flowers, and let them dry for a few hours.  The cupcake tins kept the flowers from wilting outward while the fondant was still soft.  In fact, the flowers tended to sink inward, which created tighter folds, and pushed the petals upward.

Once the flowers were dry I used decorative icing and sugar-pearls to create the center of each flower.

To make the frosting, I simply followed this recipe from Joyofbaking.com (who knew butter cream frosting was so easy to make??), and added some neon green food-coloring until I had a bright, vibrant green. Then, I just frosted each cupcake and placed a flower on top.

Pretty simple...and really adorable!

If there's one other thing that reminds me of my friend Jana, it would be her love of coffee...and so, I toyed around with another cupcake idea...the frappuccino cupcake...

Inspired by this pin...

Now, this was purely an experiment, and I think it turned out okay, but these cupcakes really wound up just being fancy-chocolate cupcakes.

I started with a standard yellow cake mix, but substituted the call for water with the same amount of a Starbuck's Frappuccino drink (you know, the ones that come in the bottles?).  With the baking mix I was using, this called only for 1 cup.  

After baking a dozen cupcakes with this simple substitution I tested one out, only to find the frappe was barely (if even) noticeable in the mix.

...and so, I got creative...

With the left-over batter, I added some coco-powder and more of the Starbuck's drink.  I wish I could tell you there was a plan behind my madness, but I didn't even really measure anything.  Instead, I eye balled it until I matched the same consistency/thickness of the batter as I had for the first 12 that I baked.  Meaning, if the batter was too runny, I added more coco powder...too thick, I added more frappe.  You get the idea.

Each time I added more of the ingredients, I'd do a little taste-test to see where I was at.  I never could really get a decent amount of coffee flavor (probably because those bottled drinks are more like milk shakes than cups-o-joe), but in the end it wound up tasting like a dark chocolate (with that hint of bitterness), and cream.

To top off these cupcakes, I made a meringue frosting (which essentially was sugar, egg-whites, butter, and vanilla) that was very similar to the texture of whipped cream, and I sprinkled them with a bit of coco-powder.

I thought this would be a cute way to finish them because it would look like the foam on a frappuccino.  I even thought it would be cute to put one of the cupcakes in a mug, and give her that for her birthday too...but I didn't have any cute mugs on hand, so I pretty-much scratched that idea.

If I were to make these cupcakes again, I would definitely go with some stronger joe, and I would probably make the cupcake recipe from scratch.  I think the yellow cake mix had such a strong flavor that the coffee flavor went unnoticed.  I even tried using a basting brush to brush on some leftover frappe drink and let it soak into the cupcake...still nothing.

So if you'd like to attempt this experimental recipe, definitely go with stronger joe, but keep the meringue frosting, because it was a really nice touch!


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