CakeWalk: Chic cupcakes for any budget – take that recession!

Simple chocolate glazed cupcakes are the belle of the ball for recession chic dinners (Photo courtesy of Honey Bee Baking)

CakeWalk is a weekly column by Mary Ann Porch dedicated to every baker who has ever struggled to achieve the right consistency with their icing, unsuccessfully searched for the perfect cupcake topper or just wants to learn something new. Because with a few helpful tips, cupcakes are a cakewalk.

For me, the recession of the past year has been a blessing in disguise. My foodie career path was actually took shape because I was laid off from a job that I didn’t particularly care for, and I don’t think I can say enough about following your passion in a time of hardship. CupcakeCamp NYC was formed because I had a lot of spare time and wanted to stay productive in a creative way (we all know that applying for jobs can be mind numbingly boring, so I needed something to keep me happy).

Another aspect of the recession that I see as a positive outcome is that my friends and I spend more quality time together. Dinner parties and pot-lucks have become common and we find ourselves spending more time at each others homes. Obviously, I always volunteer to bring dessert, and I’ve found with a few helpful and crafty ideas, I can indulge the sweet tooth (or teeth, in this case) of quite a few people. And guess what? The cupcake is the perfect recession chic dessert.

Even if you want to jazz up these simple treats, the possibilities are endless (Photo courtesy of Martha

First off, you don’t need any fancy kitchen equipment to create a dinner-party appropriate cupcake. Simplicity can be just as beautiful and when budgets are tight, one can’t exactly go out and spring for an expensive new kitchen gadget. With just the basic baking accessories, such as mixing bowls and measuring cups, you can make some delicious treats, including the recipe in this article.

One of my favorite recession-friendly recipes is a chocolate cupcake with a simple chocolate glaze “icing.” Chances are, almost everyone at your party is going to like chocolate (and if not, you can always spring for a tub of inexpensive vanilla ice cream to bring along as well). This recipe is an adaptation of two recipes from two of my favorite writers – Nicole Rees, author of Baking Unplugged, and Molly Wizenberg, the writer behind the blog Orangette and author of A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table. I love both these authors because the majority of their recipes call for things you’ll find in any well-stocked pantry or fridge, but even if you don’t regularly keep one of the ingredients these recipes call for on hand, they are inexpensive and easily found in any grocery store (full recipe below).

Another way to save some change is by cutting out items like fancy cupcake wrappers. One easy-to-make alternative is to craft your own wrappers using parchment paper. Not only does this design element work well with the simplicity of the chocolate cupcake recipe, you’ll be sure to impress your fellow dinner guests with your craftiness. The June issue of Martha Stewart Living has a wonderful idea on how to fashion your own pretty and practical cupcake wrappers (they also work for muffins) using nothing but a basic kitchen staple – parchment paper (directions below).

Parchment paper cupcake wrappers are a chic and cheap alternative to the pricier store-bought options - they work for muffins too! (Photo courtesy of Martha

To a certain extent, I think most of us miss the frills of the pre-recession days, but as many people (including myself) have learned, cutting back and spending less doesn’t mean any less of a fun, food-filled life. I hope this recipe and craft project sees you at your next dinner party with friends and leaves you with the realization that with a few helpful tips, creating a chic, budget conscious cupcake is nothing but a cakewalk.

Parchment Paper Cupcake Wrappers
From the June issue of Martha Stewart Living

Step #1: Cut 5-inch square pieces of parchment paper.

Step #2: Spray a muffin/cupcake tin with vegetable oil cooking spray to hold parchment in place.

Step #3:
Place 1 piece of parchment into 1 cup of the tin, pressing along folds to crease. Repeat with other cups and parchment pieces.

Step #4: Scoop batter into cups, and bake.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Glaze “Icing” (makes 1 dozen cupcakes)
Cupcake recipe from Baking Unplugged by Nicole Rees
Glaze recipe from A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg

Chocolate Cupcakes

1/2 C. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. Baking soda
3/4 C. warm (not hot) brewed coffee or water
10 Tbs. unsalted butter, soft
3/4 C. sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1 C. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (Farenheit). Line 12 standards cupcake (or muffin) cups with parchment paper liners. Place the cocoa and baking soda in a small bowl; slowly whisk in the coffee or warm water until smooth. In a medium bowl, beat the butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy, about 1 minute. Whisk in the egg, vanilla, and salt until the batter is smooth, about 30 seconds. Sift the flour with the baking powder; stir half the flour mixture into the batter. Stire in all of the chocolate liquid, then finish by stirring in the remaining flour mixture. The batter should be smooth, but do not overbeat. Divide the batter evening among the cupcake liners. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes or until a skewer inserted near the center of a cupcake comes out with very moist crumbs clinging. Allow cupcakes to cool completely on a cooling rack.

Chocolate Glaze

8 oz. Bakers’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate, finely chopped

*Molly’s recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate, but I’m more of a fan of semi-sweet. Feel free to choose whichever one you like best!

After the cupcakes have cooled completely, melt the semi-sweet chocolate in a metal or glass bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water. Stir frequently to prevent scorching. When the chocolate is completely smooth, it’s ready. Working with one cupcake at a time, spoon a heaping teaspoonful of melted chocolate on top. Tilt and rotate the cupcake to spread the chocolate over the top. You can also use a knife to spread the chocolate over the entire top of the cupcake.

Previous CakeWalk Columns:

Top me off bartender…err, baker in this case (May 22, 2009)
The importance of a moist cake (May 15, 2009)
The Savory Cupcake Dilemma of 2009 (May 8, 2009)
Will the real buttercream icing please stand up? (May 1, 2009)

Mary Ann is the founder of the New York City chapter of CupcakeCamp NYC, an ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and eat cupcakes in an open environment. She is also the founder of Puff and Choux, a blog dedicated to the pastry and dessert arts. You can contact her at with any questions, ideas or just to chit chat. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MaryAPorch.


Lady P said…
love the recipe, love Molly of Orangette blog's recipes (the half source of inspiration for the cupcake recipe) and love this gal!! thanks for sharing!
Mary Ann said…
Thanks for all your kind words! I'm so happy there are more Orangette fans reading Cupcakes Take The Cake. I'm sure you've already checked out Molly's book, but if not, it's a MUST read:)