Many people credit their love of baking to their 4-H experiences growing up. While I learned many valuable life lessons and skills during my 10 years as a member, baking, sadly, was not one of them.
In fact, I’ll never forget my very first demonstration, making “Michelle’s Mixin’ Muffins” in front of a room full of strangers. Despite the catchy name, there was little “mixin’” involved, as I had accidentally left out a rather important ingredient and created a chunky mess. I do recall gamely pressing on, and informing the judges, “It’s not supposed to look like this!” as my mom frantically waved her arms in the back of the room, mouthing “You forgot the butter!”
Needless to say, my first foray into baking was a little traumatizing.
Still, over the years, I’ve slowly learned to appreciate the art of baking. It’s a tough skill for someone like me to develop – I’m the impatient sort who starts a recipe without reading it and finds out halfway through that it requires a 12-hour rest period – but when I put my mind to it, I find it rewarding and yes, even relaxing.
Lately, I’ve been on a bit of a cupcake kick, and fell in love with these sparkling champagne cupcakes. Though a bit time consuming, they are wickedly decadent with a champagne crème filling and champagne frosting and worth the extra steps if you’ve got the time to spare. If you’re pressed for time or desire a lighter cupcake, a classic buttercream frosting is delicious as well.
For those like me who are prone to not following directions, here are a few tips and tricks that might make the baking process a bit more enjoyable.
First, pay attention when it says to soften the butter or cream cheese. Yes, in a pinch, microwaving the butter in short spurts at a low temperature can do the trick, or you can speed up the process by grating the butter, beating it with a mixer or cutting it into smaller chunks. But ideally, letting the butter sit out for at least one hour (and up to several) at room temperature is the best way to get it properly softened and pliable. This is important for both creaming the butter for the batter and creating a smooth buttercream or cream cheese frosting. In baking, patience and planning is key.
I have also found that spring-action stainless steel scoops are ideal for getting a uniform amount of batter into the cupcake liners. I’ve also used cupcake pens, ice cream scoops, measuring cups and regular old spoons, and in my opinion the spring-action scoops are by far the easiest to use. Fill each liner with a level ¼ cup of batter.
To achieve that fresh-from-the-bakery appearance, I suggest using extra-large decorating tips (my favorites are round, open star and closed star tips). If your frosting hasn’t quite achieved that stiff consistency necessary for piping, add more powdered sugar or try placing the frosting in the fridge for 15 minutes until it reaches the correct consistency. If the frosting is too thick, add in additional milk one teaspoon at a time.
For these sparkling champagne cupcakes, it’s recommended to use a sweeter champagne or sparkling wine – and by all means, break out the cheap stuff. If a basic buttercream frosting is desired, try making my standby recipe. Simply beat 6 ounces salted butter until softened, then sift in 12 ounces powdered sugar and add 2 tablespoons milk, 1 tablespoon vanilla and food paste gel for coloring. Mix for five minutes or until light and fluffy.
Sparkling Champagne Cupcakes
½ c. butter, softened
1 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 ¾ c. flour
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ c. sour cream
½ c. champagne, Prosecco or your choice of sparkling wine, room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and mix. Whisk together dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt); set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together ½ c. room temperature champagne and ½ c. sour cream. Add flour and champagne mixtures alternately, beginning and ending with flour. Batter will be thick.
Fill cupcake liners with ¼ c. level measures of batter. Bake for 16-22 minutes. Set aside.
Yield: 17 cupcakes
Champagne Pastry Crème Filling
½ c. heavy cream, divided
½ c. champagne or Prosecco
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
5 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 whole egg
2 egg yolks
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tsp. vanilla
In a medium bowl, whisk cornstarch in ¼ c. of heavy cream. Combine the remaining heavy cream, sugar and ½ c. champagne in a saucepan; bring to a boil, then remove from heat.
Beat the whole egg and two egg yolks into the cornstarch/heavy cream mixture. Pour 1/3 of boiling champagne mixture into the egg mixture, whisking quickly and constantly so the eggs do not cook. Bring the remaining champagne/heavy cream mixture to a boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, whisking constantly until thickened. Remove from heat and beat in butter and vanilla.
Cut a divot in the top of each cupcake and fill with pastry cream using a spoon. Trim the cut-out cake pieces flat to make a “lid” and place on top of the filled divot.
1 c. plus 1 Tbsp. champagne or sparkling wine
2 sticks of butter, softened
2 ½ c. confectioners’ sugar
Gel food coloring of your choice, if desired
Place 1 cup of champagne in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium-high heat until reduced to 2 Tbsp. Transfer to a small bowl or condiment cup and cool.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, cream softened butter and powdered sugar together. Once the frosting is thick and fluffy, pour in the reduced 2 Tbsp. champagne plus 1 Tbsp. champagne from the bottle and mix well. Add food coloring drops or gel until desired coloring reached. Frost the cream-filled cupcakes using your favorite piping tip.
Recipe modified slightly from www.sprinklebakes.com