Having reached its fever pitch around 2011, the craze for shops selling softball-sized, gourmet-flavored, elaborately decorated cupcakes on seemingly every block in every major American city is definitely...well, definitely not a craze anymore. And as someone who tends toward savory foods, I was never one to get too excited about cupcakes-everywhere in the first place (bacon-everywhere was another story). But even I can understand why it happened, and why cupcakes first became popular desserts to make at home in the 1940s and '50s: Individual portions make them a snap to serve, and thus ideal for handing around Little League practice, or, nowadays, the office birthday party. And that holds true even as the tide turns away from cupcakes and toward whatever the next big trend is. Our selection of perfectly sweet cupcake recipes, including traditional chocolate, grown-up cappuccino, lemon curd–filled, and holiday-themed, will be enough to remind you that cupcakes can be more than just a passing fad.
Ice Cream Filled July 4th Cupcakes
Though these festive cupcakes were designed with Independence Day in mind, you can customize them to any occasion—the buttermilk red velvet cake and cool ice cream center make a winning combination any time of year. Here, the cake is made with less cocoa powder than is typical, producing a redder color, and white and blue-dyed cream cheese frosting completes the patriotic theme; just swap out the blue tint for whatever color scheme you like.
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Gluten-Free Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes With Cream Cheese Icing
Much as with cupcakes themselves, the pumpkin spice mania has clearly jumped the shark. But if you've exercised the restraint necessary to avoid overdose on pumpkin spice Oreos, pumpkin spice English muffins, and pumpkin spice chicken sausage, then you should be ready to love these cupcakes, gently flavored with real pumpkin purée. A combination of white rice flour and cornstarch makes them totally gluten-free, while a cream cheese icing makes them properly indulgent.
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Lemon Meringue Cupcakes
Inspired by lemon meringue pie, each of these tangy cupcakes hides a sweet-tart center of lemon curd filling, giving a burst of bright flavor. We use a pastry torch here to crisp and lightly brown the meringue that tops each cake, but if you don't have one, a broiler will work as well.
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Easy Coconut Cupcakes
There's no halfway with coconut-flavored desserts as far as I'm concerned—if you're going to make one, it ought to be brimming, overflowing, exploding with coconut. This recipe delivers, with coconut milk and shaved coconut in the batter, coconut milk in the icing glaze, and a sprinkle of shaved coconut on top of all that. If you really can't get enough, add a drop of coconut flavoring to the icing, too.
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Sour Cream Chocolate Cupcakes
If chocolate is your drug of choice, this is the recipe you're looking for. A combination of bittersweet chocolate, cocoa powder, and brewed coffee in the batter, plus a thick chocolate ganache topping, makes these cupcakes exceptionally rich. To tame the intensity of the cocoa flavor somewhat, we incorporate a bit of sour cream into both the batter and the ganache.
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Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes
This mashup gives you the fresh, homey, heartwarming flavors of strawberry shortcake without the pain of making biscuits by hand. Instead, we make a batch of vanilla cupcakes, then slice off the muffin tops and sandwich in strawberries and whipped cream filling. Adding buttermilk to the batter gives the cupcakes a mild tang reminiscent of biscuits. The strawberries are macerated simply in lemon juice and sugar, and the whipped cream is mixed with cream cheese and confectioners' sugar to make a thick icing.
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Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes
These show-stopping, fruity-and-chocolaty cupcakes make great Valentine's Day treats. We make the cake with a basic chocolate batter enriched with raspberry preserves and sour cream, then hollow out a little niche in each cupcake after baking, to be filled with more preserves and a whole fresh raspberry. A white chocolate icing and fresh raspberries finish them off.
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For a dessert that embodies the coffee-and-cream flavor profile of a cappuccino, we top espresso cupcakes with a Swiss meringue "foam" frosting. If you're feeling artistic and want to heighten the cappuccino effect, use a bit of espresso-flavored meringue to etch a few wispy designs into the frosting.
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Meringue Cupcakes With Nutella and Strawberries
Not cakes exactly, these light and airy, Pavlova-like cupcake-shaped meringues fit the bill wonderfully when you want a less filling treat. But the Nutella and sliced strawberries in the middle of each one, hidden under a cap of meringue, ensure that they are, in fact, treats. They also make a lovely dessert for Valentine's Day, or a wedding or baby shower.
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Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes
If you grew up eating zucchini bread, you know that the squash isn't as strange of a cake ingredient as it sounds. In fact, grated zucchini makes these cupcakes moist and rich, without at all obscuring their deep cocoa flavor. Instead of using a rich chocolate frosting, we top them with a more sophisticated chocolate-ricotta mousse and chopped toasted pistachios.