I love pop culture and baking, and when the two things are combined, it’s sure to capture my interest! So when I received an email about a new book called Geek Sweets: An Adventurer’s Guide to the World of Baking Wizardry, I was sold just by the title. The book has recipes for the fangirl in all of us, from Harry Potter to Minecraft; it also includes inspiration for geeky themed parties, with a section specifically for a “Walking Dead Finale Party”. Considering that I have made a Walking Dead cake and hosted a Spider-Man Halloween party, I feel like the author and I are true kindred spirits!
I had the opportunity to get a sneak peek at one of the recipes inside the book, and it’s just too perfect: PB&J Cupcakes! You see, Jai’s favorite food is PB&J, so every year on his birthday I make a spread of sandwiches. What could be more perfect for his birthday in March than a PB&J cupcake birthday cake?!
PB & J CUPCAKES
MAKES 22-25 CUPCAKES
Every serious adventurer knows the value of a PB & J stuffed into their Bag of Holding. After a long day of sweet-talking tavern patrons, fending off spells, and slugging goblins in the face, reaching into your bag and finding that sweet, sweet PB & J is the perfect end to your day. But what if that sandwich… was a cupcake? Now we’re talking. Short of using a transmogrification spell on your sandwich, the recipe below is just what you’re looking for.
I know what you’re thinking: “A cake mix!? That’s cheating! Someone tell the DM!” Settle down, adventurer, and keep reading. Below is a variation on a recipe very popular in internet baking circles, called ‘White Almond Sour Cream Cake’ (or ‘WASC’ to High Baking Wizards in the know). It bakes a cake that is consistent and sturdy, yet moist and light, making it ideal for stacked wedding cakes or anytime you need a trustworthy, foolproof recipe for a high-concept flight of baking fancy. It also takes well to added flavoring oils or mix-ins like nuts, citrus zests, and chocolate chips. This recipe has been a constant companion throughout my baking adventures, and I hope it serves you just as well.
Every adventurer should have their go-to ‘weapon of choice’ when it comes to frosting, and this buttercream recipe is it. Wield your piping bag with confidence – this versatile recipe will let you frost your way out of any situation. It can be easily flavored, colored, and piped in a variety of styles and shapes.
Foolproof Vanilla Cupcakes
1 box white cake mix
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 ¼ cups water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
Stand or hand mixer
Classic Buttercream recipe (with more vanilla for the PB&J Cupcakes)
1 ½ cups salted butter, softened
5 cups icing sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla
¼ cup milk
Stand or hand mixer
Star Piping tip
1 cup honey roasted peanuts
½ cup creamy peanut butter
½ cup jam, any flavor (I like raspberry best, but you do you, adventurer.)
Piping bag with large star tip
Cupcake liners (coordinate with the color of your jam! Blue for blueberry, pink for strawberry, etc.)
Skill Check: PB&J
“Why not just pipe the jam into the cupcake holes from a piping bag? Why use a spoon like some common cave-dwelling ghoul?” you ask. I’ll tell you why: jam is chunky. All sorts of big fruity bits to get in the way of your clever piping plans. Best use a spoon, adventurer.
Skill Check: Buttercream
Buttercream icing will eventually form a thin crust on its surface, so any sprinkles should be added immediately after frosting is piped onto the cupcake – otherwise they will just roll off the crusted surface. I recommend frosting no more than six cupcakes at a time before adding sprinkles, chocolate chips, coconut, etc.
Start your Quest, Adventurer!
Preheat oven to 350° F; line cupcake tins with cupcake liners.
Prepare the Foolproof Vanilla Cupcakes recipe:
Add all dry ingredients to a large mixing bowl, or to bowl of stand mixer, and mix until combined. Add the remaining ingredients and beat on low speed until combined, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula as needed.
(For adventurers who like to plan things ahead of time: cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to two months in airtight containers to decorate at a later date.)
Fill cupcake liners two-thirds of the way to the top with a disher or a spoon. Bake 15-20 minutes, until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Carefully remove from the cupcake pan and allow to come to room temperature.
Prepare the Classic Buttercream recipe with two tablespoons of vanilla flavoring:
Beat butter with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and creamy, about two minutes. Make sure butter is at room temperature before whipping. You can speed this process by unwrapping it and placing it on a plate in the microwave, then microwaving in 15 second bursts, rotating between each burst, until just softened.
Reduce speed to low. Add sugar, half a cup at a time, beating after each addition. Once all sugar is incorporated, increase speed to medium-high and beat until fluffy, about five minutes. (Don’t skimp on the mixing! The longer you whip the frosting, the more air is incorporated and the fluffier and easier to pipe the resulting frosting.)
Add your two tablespoons of vanilla flavoring.
If you find the frosting is too thick, add milk, one tablespoon at a time, stopping when it reaches a smooth spreading consistency.
Make your PB&J sandwiches—er, cupcakes!
Add one quarter cup of the peanut butter to the buttercream and mix until combined. Add more peanut butter to taste if desired. Do not use crunchy peanut butter, as it will be more difficult to pipe from a piping bag.
When cupcakes are cooled, use a knife or a cupcake corer to remove a small amount of cake from the center of the cupcake. Feel free to nom immediately, or put in a ziplock bag in the freezer for future cake pops.
Using a spoon, fill holes in cupcakes with each cupcake’s chosen jam flavor. Frost cupcakes in a classic rosette with star tip:
(This cupcake frosting technique is common for a reason – it’s super easy! The ridges fall however they feel like falling and hide any imperfections, air bubbles, or required restarts.)
Starting at the outside edge of the cupcake and rotating at the wrist (not the elbow!), make two and a half rotations, making each one smaller to create a dome. Release pressure and pull up once you reach the center of the cupcake.
Top with three honey roasted peanuts – or a whole bunch if you like a lot of crunch!