Friday, June 11, 2010

June's Cupcake of the Month: Flock of Sheep Cupcakes

As noted last month, I have not previously made a cupcake from the decorating centric section of Martha Stewart's Cupcakes. This coincided nicely with our visit to fellow blogger Rebecca, a.k.a. The Cake Decoratrix Extraordinaire. But I went for cute over complicated in choosing Flock of Sheep Cupcakes for June's Cupcake of the Month.

The instructions for making the Flock of Sheep call for 12 White Cupcakes. The recipe for White Cupcakes yields 24, but if you halve the recipe it results in some unpretty quantities of ingredients. So we made a flock of 24.
Like last month, this cupcake calls for Swiss Meringue Buttercream, but unlike last month, no probably-destabilizing-strawberry-puree is involved, so it's much easier and less stressful. The above picture shows how thinly I frosted the cupcakes before applying additional decoration. If you make the full recipe of Swiss Meringue Buttercream, you'll have plenty for 24 cupcakes, so you should frost them more generously than this.
The instructions for making the sheep shapes are pretty vague. Rebecca did quite a few test runs before we settled on a head shape, which was not so much pear shaped as a puffy L lying on its back, or maybe a Smurf's boot. After all the sheep were decorated we had a flock off and declared the above pictured cupcake Top Sheep.

Our panel of independent taste testers universally approved of the cake portion of the cupcake. The cake was light, somewhere between a spongecake and angel food cake. The hassle of folding egg whites into the batter was deemed well worth it. Generally, the marshmallows were not a big hit. The big complaint was that the texture of the marshmallows takes away from the delicate texture of the cake and frosting. The Swiss Meringue Buttercream was sweeter than the Strawberry version thereof, but was still not sweet enough for some of our tasters (and they're way over six years old this time).

The Decoratrix thought it was interesting that Martha Stewart's Cupcakes generally relies on Swiss Meringue Buttercream for piping decorations as most cake decorators use a simple buttercream consisting of a two to one ratio of confectioner's sugar to unsalted butter (or vegetable shortening). While she appreciated the fact that the Swiss Meringue Buttercream does not harden, or "crust up," in the pastry bag, she found that it didn't take color nearly as well. The color seemed somewhat grainy. Also it took almost half a container of Wilton Gel Food Color to turn 1/4 cup Swiss Meringue Buttercream a very dark gray. Who knows how much it would have required to make a true black (though The Decoratrix insists that if you're really going for black, you would make a chocolate frosting, and tint that black . . . neat trick). We suspect Martha receives a kickback from Wilton to promote Swiss Meringue Buttercream as the frosting medium of choice as it would increase their food color sales considerably.

In addition to the great Martha Stewart/Wilton kickback controversy, the other negative to using Swiss Meringue Buttercream as your primary cake decorating medium, according to The Decoratrix, is that you can't control the consistency. With The Decoratrix's simple buttercream you can make it thinner for actually icing the cake so you don't tear up the cake surface. Then you can make a thicker batch for piping. Also, you don't need to have any eggs on hand to make The Decoratrix's frosting and it doesn't require heating or whisking, making it much more convenient to go from plain cake to masterpiece.

Flock of Sheep Cupcakes adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes: 175 Inspired Ideas for Everyone's Favorite Treat


  • 12 White Cupcakes (see recipe below)
  • Swiss Meringue Buttercream (see recipe below)
  • Pink and black gel-paste food colors
  • 2 cups (about 4 oz.) miniature marshmallows, each cut in half

1. Using gel-paste food colors, tint 1/4 cup buttercream pale pink and 1/4 cup black. Transfer tinted buttercream to pastry bags fitted with only couplers. Using an offset spatula, spread each cupcake with a smooth layer of untinted buttercream. Transfer remaining untinted buttercream to a pastry bag fitted with only a coupler.

2. Starting in the center of each cupcake, pipe a pear-shaped head with untinted buttercream, increasing pressure as you pull back. Switch to a small V-leaf tip (#352), and pipe ears. Pipe black eyes and a pale-pink nose and mouth using a fine plain tip (#1).

3. Place 3 marshmallow pieces on each sheep head, cut sides down. Working from the base of the head out, continue to cover each cupcake with halved marshmallows, cut sides down. Refrigerate 30 minutes to allow frosting to set. Cupcakes can be refrigerated up to 4 hours in airtight containers; bring to room temperature before serving.

White Cupcakes adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes: 175 Inspired Ideas for Everyone's Favorite Treat

  • 3 1/4 C cake flour
  • 1 1/2 T baking powder
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 T pure vanilla extract
  • 1 C plus 2 T milk
  • 1/2 C plus 6 T unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 3/4 C sugar
  • 5 egg whites, room temperature

1. Preheat oven to 350. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Sift together cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir vanilla into milk.

2. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter until smooth. Gradually add sugar, beating until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of milk, and beating until just combined after each.

3. In another bowl, with electric mixer at medium speed, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form (do not overmix). Fold one third of the egg whites into batter to lighten. Gently fold remaining whites in two batches.

4. Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Firmly tap the tins once on countertop to release any air bubbles. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 10 minutes. Turn out cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months in airtight containers.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream very loosely adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes: 175 Inspired Ideas for Everyone's Favorite Treat

  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1 C plus 2 T sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 C (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 tablespoons, just barely room temperature
  • 1 1/2 t pure vanilla extract

1. Combine egg whites, sugar, and salt in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the bowl. Cook, whisking constantly by hand, until the mixture reaches 180 degrees and sugar has dissolved (the mixture should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips).

2. Transfer the sugar/egg white mixture to the room-temperature bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on high speed until completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl). The mixture should have doubled in volume and become thick and shiny. This might take about 10 minutes.

3. With mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter 1/2 tablespoon at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once all of the butter has been added, slowly increase the mixer's speed every 10 seconds until you reach a medium-high speed. At this point, your frosting may appear to be a curdly soup (mine didn't, but I think that's due to waiting until the bowl was cool to the touch AND not taking my chopped up butter out of the fridge until sometime during step 2). Do not abandon hope. Continue whipping on medium-high speed. It should return to a lovely mayonnaise-like consistency. Once all butter has been thoroughly incorporated, whisk in vanilla.

4. Scrape down sides of bowl with a flexible spatula and switch to the paddle attachment. Continue beating on low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 minutes. Keep buttercream at room temperature if using the same day, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month. Before using, bring to room temperature and beat with paddle attachment on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes.

Previous Cupcakes of the Month:
January's Cupcake of the Month: Streusel Cupcakes
February's Cupcake of the Month: Martha's Meyer Lemon Cupcakes
March's Cupcake of the Month: Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes
April's Cupcake of the Month: Tres Leches Cupcakes
May's Cupcake of the Month: Strawberry Cupcakes

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