Pumpkin Cupcakes with Almond Buttercream Frosting

All year long, I look forward to pumpkin. It’s such a seasonal flavor that only seems fit for the fall season. I wait until October to start baking with pumpkin – just like I have to wait until the month of Halloween to watch horror movies excessively.

So, the Friday before Halloween becomes a crafty day of finishing my homemade Poison Ivy costume to accompany boyfriend Bane to a Hallowbash that night, while baking Homemade Pumpkin Cupcakes with Almond Buttercream Frosting to contribute to the party’s feast.

I clipped this recipe out of Better Homes & Gardens, where they were originally called Football Cakes. But because I’m going to a Halloween party, not a Super Bowl party, I’m ditching football from the title.

Pumpkin Cupcake Recipe
2 cups flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
Stir together these dry ingredients in one bowl.

In a separate bowl, combine:
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 (15-oz) can pumpkin
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil

Add flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture, one-third at a time, stirring each time just until combined. Spoon about 1/4 cup batter into paper-lined muffin tins. I baked these at 325 degrees for just shy of 15 minutes, but my oven tends to run hot. The original recipe called for 15 minutes in a 350-degree oven. Just check on them every 5 minutes or so until the toothpick test comes out clean.

Almond Buttercream Frosting
1/3 cup butter, softened
3 1/2 to 4 cups powered sugar
3 Tbsp milk
1 tsp almond extract (the original recipe called for vanilla)

Beat butter with an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add a couple cups of the powered sugar, beating well. Beat in milk and vanilla. Gradually, add in as much of the remaining powered sugar needed to reach desired consistency. Spread it on!

To turn seasonal fall pumpkin cupcakes into spooky Halloween cupcakes, specifically, I used matching black and orange bat liners and decorative picks that I found on clearance. These cupcakes don’t taste too pumpkin-y at all; it’s almost more like a spice cake.

Pistachio Cupcakes with Pink Champagne Frosting

My new boss is crazy about her birthday. One birthday celebration lasts until the next birthday. That kind of partying calls for the fanciest of cupcakes, especially when the birthday girl loves cake as much as I do.

I know she loves her birthday, and I know she loves cake. But there was one small problem: I wasn’t sure what kind of cake. With aspirations of fanciness, I couldn’t settle for just chocolate. So, through Facebook, I sent her boyfriend on a covert op to find out, and he reported back the results: pistachio.

I found a lot of easy recipes for pistachio cupcakes, using white cake mix and pistachio pudding. That might cut it for some, but where’s the fun in that? I was raised to bake from scratch, and this festive occasion was certainly no exception. I want to bake pistachio cupcakes from scratch.

Some made-from-scratch recipes for pistachio cupcakes use pistachio extract or pistachio oil, and I don’t even know where to find those. I was considering substitutions until I finally tracked down this recipe that incorporates ground pistachios and almond extract, which tastes nutty just the same.

So, Pistachio Cupcake Recipe from Scratch, here we go. The directions for baking these cupcakes start from the top down, with this recipe for Pink Champagne Frosting, which I found paired with pistachio cupcakes here.

I recommend starting the frosting before you start making the cupcakes. The very first task is simmering 1/2 cup of champagne to reduce it to a couple tablespoons, making your champagne extract. I used Dibon Brut, but a rose would probably be nice. There, you have homemade champagne extract to sub into the frosting recipe, ’cause I dunno where you’d find that in a store.
how to make champagne exxtract for pink champagne frosting



But wait — you’ve just popped a bottle of champagne only to use half a cup, and you know it won’t keep. What to do? This is actually smart planning by the baker, because this way you can sip some bubbly while you bake. You also need to cook then chill the first few frosting ingredients, so you can work on the cupcakes while the frosting cools and you throw back a few.
Here’s the full recipe for Pink Champagne Frosting (of course, you can make it any color you want.)

Champagne Frosting Recipe:

  • 2 1/2 sticks butter
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/3 cup half + half
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons champagne extract
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla

In a saucepan, whisk half + half, extracts and flour until the lumps disappear. (Instead of half + half, I mixed heavy whipping cream and 2% milk after teaching myself the substitutionality of dairy.) Then, heat the saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly until it boils. Keep whisking and cooking until it thickens. Remove from heat and stick in fridge.

I recommend making the cupcakes now while this cools. We’ll come back to the rest of the frosting directions at the end.

Now, for the cupcakes, the first step is to ground the pistachios, which I bought shelled to save some work. As you can see, my method for grounding nuts is the same way I crush ice: with a Ziploc bag and a hammer. Good aggression release, too. If you don’t need to release any aggression, you could always buy ground pistachios to start with, but I like having extra pistachios, extra coarsely ground, to top the cupcakes.
Tackle the rest of your baking prep work now, too: heat the oven to 350 and line cupcake tins with adorable papers, like these from Paula Deen (and she’d be proud, because together, these two recipes use almost a whole box of butter.)
a balanced diet is a cupcake in each hand paula deen cupcake liner
You’ll have several different bowls going to stir up your ingredients for pistachio cupcakes, so clear some space. Here’s a list of all the ingredients you’ll need to make room for:
Pistachio Cupcake Recipe from Scratch:
  • 2 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/3 cup ground pistachios
The first bowl is for dry ingredients. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into this one.
flour salt dry ingredients for baking pistachio cupcakes from scratch
In bowl No. 2, whisk milk and egg whites. Of course, I only use free range, hormone-free brown eggs (right from the coop when I can) and milk just as fresh, local and natural in jugs I can return to be refilled. Keep that in bowl #2.
eggs and milk baking pistachio cupcake recipe
 Now get bowl No. 3 (the dirty dishes are stacking up in your mind,  I know, but it’s worth it),
beat the sugar and butter for about 3 minutes, till creamy.
pistachio cupcake ingredients
Beat the ground nuts and almond extract into this bowl with the sugar and butter.
pistachio cupcake nut
Now, you alternate ingredients from the three bowls you’ve collected. Into a fourth and final bowl, beat in a third of the dry ingredients, then beat in a third of the milk mixture, then a third of the nutty butter, and so on, until it’s all mixed together. Keep beating for a couple minutes to make sure it’s good and blended.
Spoon the batter into your prepared cupcake tins, between 1/2 and 2/3 full. Pop into your heated oven for 15-20 minutes, until the cupcakes are springy and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let them cool while you finish whipping up your cooled frosting.
Start by beating the butter and sugar 5-7 minutes until it’s fluffy and glossy. Take your cooled mixture from the fridge and add it to this. Beat 5 minutes. Add color, if you want, and frost. I added red and blue food coloring to make the frosting purple, my boss’s favorite color. Because this is such fluffy frosting, I packed it into a Ziploc bag, nipped the tip, and used that to pipe the frosting on top of the cooled cupcakes.
To finish, I ground some extra pistachios to sprinkle on top. The green and purple look really springy, great for an early April birthday.
Ta-da: Purple Pistachio Party Cakes.
pistachio cupcakes with pink champange frosting from scratch
So, you’re dying to know: What did she think? She was speechless. But maybe that was because her boyfriend orchestrated her birthday, down to the flavor of the cupcakes, all the way from Afghanistan. When it came down to the cupcakes, though, her reaction was simply one word: Perfect. She snapped this delicious picture of her Purple Pistachio Birthday Cupcake, before swiftly devouring it.pistachio cupcake recipe from scratch with pink champagne frosting

Birthday Baseball Cupcakes

General consensus: the cupcakes I made for my CEO’s birthday/Indians home opener party came out delicious and adorable. And I didn’t even have to slave in the kitchen all night like I feared I would.

I started with these Chocolate Chip Cupcakes from Taste of Home, but left out the chocolate chips and replaced the chocolate frosting with homemade vanilla buttercream, as my co-workers had requested a chocolate alternative. Thus, they became…
Home Run Vanilla Pudding Cupcakes with Baseball Buttercream Frosting

Home Run Vanilla Pudding Cupcakes with Baseball Buttercream
1 package yellow cake mix (I used a Golden Butter Recipe Cake Mix)
1 package (3.4 ounces) instant vanilla pudding mix
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter (substituted for the canola oil called for in the original recipe)
4 eggs

Combine all these ingredients and beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then beat on medium for 2 minutes. You can stir in 1 cup of mini chocolate chips at this point, or skip them like I did. Pour this batter into paper-lined muffin tins, filling two-thirds full. These only took about 12 minutes to brown and set in a 375° oven, even though the original recipe stated 18-22 minutes. 
Between my butter substitution and the vanilla pudding mix, this recipe made a buttery melt-in-your-mouth cake. I made a few mini cupcakes for practicing my decorating techniques, and I don’t want to admit how many I ate — even before they were frosted at all. One of my co-workers said she could detect an extra creaminess, but couldn’t decide what it was. Pudding makes softer chocolate chip cookies and now, I know, softer cake.
I probably got more feedback about the decorations, though. On top of the vanilla buttercream icing, I piped baseball laces. I also made a Birthday Plate with some cupcakes topped with blue and red stars. The little baseball laces were not nearly as meticulous or time-consuming to pipe as I imagined. But I should have remembered how impossible it is to make red frosting; it just turns darker and darker pink. When you’re making cupcakes for a boy, that may not be the best choice. Maybe buying red icing is the way to go – I was just really excited to make my own frosting so I could use my new Pampered Chef decorating kit.
Home Run Vanilla Pudding Cupcakes with Baseball Buttercream frosting

You can see the coloration difference between the creamy homemade buttercream frosting (on the star cupcakes) and the unnaturally white vanilla frosting (on the Happy Bday cupcake) – I turned to pre-made frosting after I ran out.

The second batch, Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Cupcakes from Taste of Home, were also delicious — this coming from a girl who only eats chocolate cake when it’s the only option; in other words, it’s not my preference. While the result was good, the recipe was a holy mess and needs a few modifications. Here’s how I adapted…

Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Cupcakes
For the filling:
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips

Beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Then beat in egg and salt until combined. Mix in chocolate chips and set aside.

For the cupcakes:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine these dry ingredients in one bowl. Then, in another bowl, whisk together:

1 cup water
1/3 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Stir this into the dry ingredients until just moistened.
Fill paper-lined muffin tins half full with this batter. Drop a heaping tablespoonful of cream cheese filling in the center of each one. Bake at 350° – mine were done in 20 minutes, but the original recipe called for 24-26. You’ll know they’re done when a toothpick inserted in one comes out clean.
Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Cupcake Recipe
The original recipe also included a chocolate frosting to top these off, but it was disastrous so I’m not even going to waste your time with it. Use your favorite chocolate frosting recipe or frosting from a can instead. Or skip it altogether, like I did – the chocolate chip specked cream cheese dressed up the cupcakes enough to forgo frosting.
My first sign of frosting failure should have been that the recipe involved dumping certain ingredients into a bowl in specified amountsand blending. This is a red flag for me, because frosting is a fickle sweet; that’s why I usually follow my mom’s approach: starting with some some soft, maybe melty butter (not melted), lots of powdered sugar, and enough milk to make the right consistency of frosting – adding vanilla or other extract. If you were still waiting for my Buttercream Frosting Recipe, that’s it. For the chocolate version, just cocoa powder.
Unfortunately, the proportions in this recipe were way off, and quickly swung past the delicious balance frosting requires. It was very runny, even after adding additional powdered sugar, and the vanilla was so overpowering it tasted like alcohol – and not in a good way. I followed the recipe precisely, which I rarely do for frostings. Apparently, the eyeballing method serves me well, because this recipe was just nasty.
There were other issues with this recipe, too. The cream cheese filling could easily be cut in half if not third, because I had two or three times as much filling as I had cupcakes to fill. The leftovers are in the fridge, waiting to be refashioned into something else – perhaps a chocolate cake with chocolate chip cream cheese swirl, or maybe mini chocolate chip cheesecakes on Oreo crusts. In fact, the wreck of an attempt at frosting is in there too, hoping to be salvaged. (Edit: The chocolate frosting was later sacrificed instead.)
So the lesson here, kids, is to never take a recipe’s word for anything. Play around, substitute, experiment. And the best part is: you can (usually) eat your mistakes.