This week’s experiment began as a concept. As I mentioned two weeks ago, I volunteered to bring a dessert to my in-laws’ annual July 4th festivities. Dessert is my usual contribution to this event, and over the years I’ve learned that cupcakes are by far the easiest to transport and serve to a group.
I have long been a cupcake fan and was an early supporter of the cupcake craze. However, I am grateful the bubble has burst and we are back to appreciating cupcakes because they are delicious and fun to eat – and not because they are fashionable.
The one thing I appreciated about the cupcake spotlight was that it took us beyond the standard, vanilla and chocolate combinations. While my favorite is still a classic vanilla-vanilla combo, I enjoy variety and try something totally new each summer for the 4th. Lately I’ve been on an ice cream kick, which inspired me to do a cookies and cream cupcake. Like ice cream, but in cupcake form.
This is not an original idea. If anything, cookies and cream became a classic during the cupcake boom. However, there is no single definition for what makes a cookies and cream cupcake. There are an unlimited number of professional and amateur bloggers (such as myself) out there touting their own versions.
In my searching, I didn’t feel that any single interpretation called out to me. But my research did identify the things I had to consider in developing my own approach:
- Did I want a vanilla or chocolate based cake?
- Did I want pieces of Oreo mixed into the cake?
- Did I want to put an entire Oreo in the bottom of each cupcake?
- Did I want a vanilla or chocolate based frosting?
- Did I want a buttercream or cream cheese based frosting?
- Did I want to mix pieces of Oreo into the frosting or dust it with pieces on top? Or both?
- Did I want to work with full-size Oreos or mini Oreos? Did I want to consider Golden Oreos or some other flavor?
- Did I want to top each cupcake with a full-size Oreo? Mini Oreo? No Oreo?
Fortunately, I find that I am more and more opinionated regarding my “work” and was quick to form my own vision:
- I would stay true to the original Oreo. No minis and no other flavors would be involved.
- I would go with a rich chocolate cake batter, without cookie pieces mixed in. And I definitely would not put a whole Oreo in the bottom – that seemed like too much of a good thing.
- I would opt for a vanilla buttercream frosting that emulated the center of an Oreo. Cream cheese frosting is easier to work with, but I prioritize taste over appearance.
- I would introduce the Oreo flavor by mixing crushed Oreos into the frosting. This would also provide a speckled look to the frosting.
- I would not garnish with a cookie on top. While an Oreo stuck in the frosting looks cute, I did not want the garnish overpowering the cupcake.
Now that I knew what I wanted, I needed to build a recipe. Specifically, I wanted a rich chocolate cake recipe and a vanilla frosting that could withstand the addition of crushed Oreos. For the cake, I looked at a number of sources and felt unsure about all of them. In the end I opted for the one that was literally right in front of my face – the cupcake recipe on the back of the cocoa bag I had bought that afternoon. I figured if anyone knew chocolate, it was Ghirardelli.
As for the frosting, I went with my tried and true favorite – Magnolia Bakery’s buttercream. Magnolia is a divisive force in the baked good realm. Some people, myself included, LOVE them. Others find the frosting far too sweet. In this case, I felt that the incredibly sweet nature of Magnolia’s frosting was exactly what this recipe needed, as it would be replicate the super sweet Oreo cream.
The best part of choosing this recipe was that I knew it almost by heart – beat the butter and then add milk and powdered sugar and vanilla until the taste and consistency are ideal. As the frosting was rolling in the mixer, I crushed half a box of Oreos with a rolling pin in a large plastic bag. I then added the crushed Oreos to the frosting, adjusting the milk and sugar ratios accordingly. The taste was exactly what I was going for. Some may have thought it was too sweet, I thought it was addictively awesome. I would have eaten just frosting for dinner that night, and I kind of did with all of the “tasting” I had to do as I was mixing it.
The challenge with using the Magnolia recipe, however, is that I have always struggled with its consistency. While I have mastered the taste, I have never been able to achieve the right thickness for serious decorating. On the other hand, it’s probably good that I can’t replicate the look of a Magnolia Cake.
Frosting is my weakness. I took a cake decorating class that improved my decorating skills, but because I cannot achieve the right consistency, I rarely get to show this off. And sadly, this week’s Oreo cupcakes suffered on the presentation marks for just this reason. I was hoping for a beautifully piped topping, but knew that it could not be done with the frosting I had made. But I had known this going in – a little cream cheese to stiffen it up and I would have been in decorating heaven! – and told myself that taste is what matters.
I slathered (for lack of a better term) each cupcake with frosting. And refrigerated them overnight. At the party the next day, I received dozens of comments about the authentic Oreo taste – and not one about how messy they looked. Maybe people were being nice, but I think that the ingenuity of my cookies and cream concept, combined with solid baking, helped me excel in the July 4th dessert pageant – and there were A LOT of desserts (including my own red/white/blue pretzels) to compete against.
So proud my frumpy looking cupcakes were a flavorful hit!
Thanks to my fellow bloggers and bakers for inspiration this week (as seen in slideshow):