Everyone does cookies for Christmas. There are lots and lots of variations you can choose from – from sugar cookies to chocolate sandwich cookies to frosting-kissed butter cookies – and one batch of cookies is almost always enough to serve a big crowd. The downside to cookies is that it’s hard to stand out on a holiday dessert table with something that lies so close to the plate and might look similar to everything else on the table. This year, my bring-to-the-party holiday treats are going to be cupcakes with a holiday twist: a peppermint twist!
My Candy Cane Cupcakes were inspired both by the red and white stripes on a candy cane and the stripey zebra cake I made not too long ago. The cupcakes start with vanilla cake that is flavored with peppermint extract and layered into the cupcake pan in such a way as to create red and white stripes. The technique is identical to the one used in the zebra cake: the batter is divided and food coloring is added to one part, then alternating spoonfuls of batter are put into the muff cup and baked. The heat of the oven does the rest of the work for you and you end up with a beautiful candy cane-like cupcake.
The cupcakes are very moist and keep very well. The peppermint flavor is not aggressive, although it is distinct, and it really complements the look of the cake. If you want to increase the peppermint and get and even more candy cane-like flavor, feel free to do, but I prefer these to be a little bit understated. The cupcakes aren’t very sweet on their own and, though they look really interesting plain, I think they do need frosting to make them into something special.
I opted for green frosting to make these especially Christmasy, but there is no need to color it if you prefer the look of white frosting or simply don’t want to fuss with more food coloring. The frosting is vanilla cream cheese. I didn’t add any mint to the frosting so that there would be a nice balance between it and the cake. Normally, I wouldn’t be that excited by green frosting, but on these particular cupcakes I think it looks amazing. These are sure to be showstoppers at any holiday party.
Visually, I believe that this zebra-striped cake is one of the most impressive looking cakes I’ve ever made. Especially because I have a soft spot in my heart for animal prints. I’ve seen this cake online for a while now, on various blogs and in various forms, but haven’t actually gotten around to trying it myself until now. It has a huge WOW factor for a relatively simple cake and it provides a good mix of chocolate and vanilla flavors in one package.
The pattern looks very intricate, but it is actually very easy to create. The cake starts with one vanilla batter that is divided in half and has cocoa powder added to a portion. The batters are alternately spooned into the center of a prepared baking pan to form a bullseye design. The trick to getting the design is all in how you lay the batters. Put a spoonful of vanilla batter (about 3 tbsp, for this particular cake) into the center of the pan and let it spread slightly on its own. Put a spoonful of chocolate in the center of the vanilla. It will push out the other batter and, as it sits for a moment, will spread itself. Alternating spoonfuls of the two batters, you simply repeat the technique until all the batter has been used up. You can tap the pan on the counter gently to help it spread and eliminate air bubbles, but the batter really must be allowed to spread on its own. Don’t worry about the colors mixing as you continue to add batter; unless you’re really rough with the pan, the lines will stay clean on their own.
My layers were actually a touch less than 3 tbsp of batter each and, as a result, it took quite a long time to get all the batter in the pan. I think I spent 10-15 minutes doing it, although repetition certainly will help your speed if you start to make these cakes on a regular basis. To save time, you could also cut down the number of stripes by using 1/4 or 1/3 cup of batter for each ring.
This is a fairly plain cake and, while it does have a good chocolate and vanilla flavor to it, it isn’t too sweet. Normally, I might consider putting a glaze on a cake like this one, but I didn’t want to cover up the pattern on the top of the cake. The cake is also very moist and keeps well, thanks to the generous amount of oil used. It is important for the batter to be fairly liquidy, so I wouldn’t play too much with the amount of oil and just keep this as an indulgent treat.
If you accidentally mess up the design at some point – your hand slips and you add too much batter, you get distracted and loose the circle pattern for some reason – don’t worry. In a worst-case situation, you can always stick a butter knife into the cake batter, give it a turn and call it a marble cake, then try for the zebra the next time.