Last Minute Valentine’s Day Cupcakes

Hello! My name is Cassie Murdoch (though I also answer to Jason), and I’ll be guest blogging here for the next few weeks. Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d start out by bringing you a last minute gift idea for your loved one(s). Perhaps you are like me and have failed to buy a thoughtful gift for your special someone? Well, fear not. Just whip up a batch of these awesome stenciled heart cupcakes and you’ll be golden! I swear, they’re not hard to make, and they will totally impress everyone. See:

Don’t they look so nice? They are! Let’s make them together.

Here are the things you will need:

Cupcakes (see below)
Vanilla buttercream frosting (see below)
Red food coloring
Powdered sugar for sprinkling (about 1/2 cup)
Kitchen sieve/strainer (the smaller, the better)
Scissors/X-acto knife

Here’s what to do:

1) Cupcakes
If you’re really pressed for time, use a cake mix. BUT I encourage you to go homemade. It’s not that much more difficult, and the results are so much better. Here’s a pretty foolproof chocolate cupcake recipe, but you can basically use any recipe that you’d like. Just make the cupcakes according to the directions, and then let them cool.

A very important tip to make sure your cupcakes come out well: do not overmix the batter, or your cupcakes will be tough! To avoid this, once you’ve added the flour into a cake batter, you want to keep the stirring to an absolute minimum. Beat it just enough that the flour is mixed in and combined but no more than that.

2) Frosting
Here I will BEG YOU to *please* make your own frosting. The store-bought stuff is so icky! Homemade frosting takes only a few minutes to make and is heavenly and will make this gift seem extra special. Here’s a vanilla buttercream recipe that’s easy and great. If you want to go extra sexxxy, replace the milk and vanilla in this recipe with Bailey’s Irish Cream. Mmmm. (Cautionary note: it’s possible to get tipsy off the Bailey’s frosting if you, say, forget to eat dinner and then lick your fingers a lot while icing the cupcakes. Or so I have heard…)

3) Make the frosting your favorite shade of pink or red
Once you’ve made the frosting, you just need to mix in some red food coloring. The amount of food coloring you need will vary depending on the brand. I needed ½ teaspoon for pink and 1 teaspoon for darker red. But I’d recommend just adding a few splashes at a time until you get to a shade you like.

Your finished stencil should look something like this.

4) Make the stencil
To save time, make this while the cupcakes are baking/cooling. Start with your piece of cardboard, doesn’t matter how thick, just as long as you can cut thru it. (I used a piece of thin cardboard from a six-pack holder.) Measure out a 1.75-inch square on the cardboard. (This ensures the stencil will fit on top of the cupcake). Then draw a pretty heart inside the square. Use the X-acto or scissors to cut out the heart. If your piece of cardboard is large, you can trim it down for easier handling. Just be sure to leave 2–3” of cardboard around the heart so it will cover the cupcake as you stencil. Finally, wrap some tinfoil around the cardboard so it’ll be protected from the frosting. Do this by covering the whole thing in tinfoil and making an “X” with the scissors/X-acto inside the heart cutout. Then push the foil back and mold it around the heart shape.

5) Frost them ‘cakes
Once the cupcakes have cooled, ice them with an amount of frosting that looks good to you. You want to get the tops of the cupcakes as smooth/flat as possible for the stencils, but please, Martha, don’t stress about getting them 100% perfect. A few lines and bumps will just give some homemade character.

6) Stencil!
This is the part that is a little tricky. I recommend sticking the cupcakes in the freezer for at least 15 minutes before you attempt this. It stiffens the frosting enough that it won’t stick to the stencil. But if you’re in a hurry, you can probably get away with not freezing them — you just might have to do a little repair work after you’ve stenciled.

To start, put a few spoonfuls of powdered sugar into your strainer. Set the first cupcake in a clear spot on the counter. Place the stencil over the cupcake so that the heart is centered. You just want the stencil to be lightly set atop the frosting — don’t press it down into the frosting or it’ll make a mess.

Next, hold the strainer about 4 or 5 inches above the stencil and very lightly tap the edge, causing the powdered sugar to rain gently down onto the stencil. Keep tapping until there’s a light layer of sugar covering the entire heart shape.

Then gently lift the stencil off the cupcake. You want to pull it directly up to avoid smearing the heart. Move the stencil carefully away from the cupcake before shaking the excess powdered sugar off. If there are any smudges or errant bits of sugar, you can smooth them over with a knife.

This is what you should be left with:

Repeat the stencil on all your cupcakes and voila!

Congratulations. Now you’ve got a stylish and very delicious gift that you can proudly give to your sweetheart — or eat all by yourself. Either way is totally fine.