Cake vs. cupcakes

Now that the weather has turned cold and rainy and everyone is hunkered down roasting turkeys and making pumpkin pies, it’s hard to imagine that 10 short days ago we were having an Indian summer in San Francisco and I was attending a delightful picnic in celebration of my roommate’s thirtieth birthday.

But what sort of dessert to make for such an important occasion? Those who roam around the food blogosphere have probably heard about the cake versus pie wars, a competition that is most neatly summed up by this graphic posted on Jezebel.

Cake vs. Pie

Although the readers of Jezebel decided that pie was the winner of this competition, I confess that I’ve always been an enthusiastic cheerleader for Team Cake, and I especially think birthdays deserve big two- or three-layer cakes slathered with a thick coat of buttercream. Like a German chocolate cake covered in brown-sugar buttercream and chopped pecans. Or a moist devil’s food layer cake coated with vanilla buttercream. But, a picnic in the park can mean only one thing: cupcakes!

Time was short, and I had to finish baking and frosting the cupcakes while my roommate was out for the afternoon if I wanted them to be a surprise, so I decided against making my usual (and a bit laborious) buttercream made using a Swiss merengue. Instead, I chose an easy-peasy recipe with a fun little twist: Mexican chocolate cupcakes with dulce de leche frosting.

First I made your garden-variety chocolate cupcakes. This recipe uses cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate, which make assembling the ingredients super-simple (and even easier to clean up). Some ground cinnamon gives the cupcakes a little something special.

Ingredients for Mexican chocolate cupcakes

Once they are cooked and cooled, whip up the frosting. It’s so simple it’s a little embarrassing, but here you have it: Just mix up some softened butter, powdered sugar—and here’s the genius part—prepared dulce de leche or cajeta (carmelized milk), which comes in jars, cans, and tubs in pretty much every store in my (largely Latino) neighborhood. I imagine the stuff is pretty easy to find at a large chain grocery store too.

Ingredients for dulce de leche frosting

I used a pastry bag to pipe the frosting onto the cooled cupcakes.

Cupcakes with dulce de leche frosting

Note to self: Work on your skills with the pastry bag. Just because your favorite piping tip got munched in the garbage disposal last year is no reason for frosting that looks like a pile of … well, never mind. Just set aside some time to practice with the pastry bag.

Here’s how the first of the cupcakes met its demise…

Hunting the dangerous dulce de cupcake in the grasslands of Dolores Park

The birthday girl goes in for the kill

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2 thoughts on “Cake vs. cupcakes

  1. Stephanie Moore says:

    We made Vegan Chai Tea cupcakes at the Brazos Bend Campout. They were great!

    • What sort of fat did they use? Vegetable oil? And did they contain any fruit puree or flax seed or any sort of special ingredients? Most of my vegan baking experience is limited to banana walnut muffins, and I have a handful of vegan friends, so I’m always looking for great vegan recipes.

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