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.
Candy Cane Christmas Cupcakes
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk (low fat is fine)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 tsp peppermint extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp red food coloring
Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
In a large bowl, mix together eggs and sugar until mixture is light and creamy and the sugar has mostly been dissolved. Stir in milk, vegetable oil, vanilla and peppermint extracts.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Pour into wet ingredients and whisk just until batter is smooth. Measure out one cup of batter and place it back in the medium bowl. Add red food coloring to this bowl and whisk to incorporate.
Put a spoonful (approx 2-3 tsp) of the white batter into the center each cupcake paper and let it spread slightly on its own. Put a spoonful of red batter in the center of the white. It will push out the other batter and, as it sits for a moment, will also spread itself. Alternating spoonfuls of the two batters and trying to keep the amounts as even as possible (after the first layer, I used smaller amounts of red and white with each spoonful), repeat the technique until all the batter has been used up.
Bake for about 15 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center of each cupcake comes out clean and the top springs back when lightly pressed.
Cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.
Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting
4-oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk
2-3 cups confectioners’ sugar
green food coloring (optional, but recommended for the holidays)
In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese and butter. Beat until smooth, then mix in vanilla extract, milk and 1 cup of confectioners’ sugar. Beat until very smooth, then gradually blend in additional sugar until frosting is fluffy, thick and easy to spread. Beat in up to 1/2 tsp green food coloring to dye the frosting, if you wish.
Frosting can be spread onto the cupcakes or piped on using a piping bag.
Makes 12 cupcakes.