Buttercream in Bloom

January 20, 2010 at 9:38 pm 103 comments

Ever since I’ve begun blogging, I’ve noticed that 17 and Baking does have an effect on what I make. I still daydream about unusual flavor combinations and sketch out cupcakes in class, but I’m also influenced by what I’ve already done.

I realized that I also try not to repeat myself, despite the clear trends in my preferences. I can’t resist pumpkin, basil, and blood oranges, but their appearances on my blog have been limited since I always try to keep things different. I find myself aiming for new recipes instead – I can’t blog about something I’ve already made!

But I’ve found that some of my favorite desserts, the creations I’ll ultimately keep closest to my heart, have been the ones created not for my blog, but for my own life.

From Boston Cream Pie to Lemon Chiffon Cake, the treats I bake for my family inevitably turn out well and become favorites. And I only make things that I myself like (which is why the chocolate tag on my blog is nearly visible from space, but I keep making chocolate desserts.)

Maybe it’s because I like the creativity and the challenge of it all, or maybe it’s because I just love to see how people light up when they’re happy… Whatever the reason, I think birthday cakes are the most fun to make. I love designing and baking birthday treats especially for my friends based on what they like. I think about whether they’re a chocolate or vanilla person, and whether they’d like buttercream or ganache.

Beyond taste, the best part is deciding how to decorate whatever I make. I try to really think about what my friends are like, what makes them the happiest, and what would really make their day a little sunnier.

So when I set out to make these these Chrysanthemum Cupcakes for my artist friend M-, I already knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to make something as beautiful and light as her art, something that was really “too pretty to eat.” I also wanted to make something as delicious as attractive, so I made chocolate cupcakes filled with meyer lemon curd. Then I used my favorite swiss meringue buttercream to pipe each petal on top.

One of the most frustrating things is when the vision in your head doesn’t match the dessert you produce. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started out with a gorgeous picture in my head… and then four hours later, my counter is covered in granulated sugar and I’ve got food coloring on my nose and a temper.

But these cupcakes came together without trouble. Nobody was more surprised than me when the flowers emerged from the piping tip petal by petal, delicate and smooth.

The bouquet of cupcakes on the table put a smile on everyone’s face when they walked by… I hope they brightened M-‘s birthday too!

Update – recently I wrote this article for the Seattle Times. The recipe at the end features the piping technique from this post. A few days after publication, I got an email from Lisa of West Seattle. She and her daughter made the cupcakes, shared them with friends and family, and emailed me this lovely poem about them. I got her permission to share it here.


This is spring
on a bone china saucer
rimmed in gold.

Lemon zest–that’s the sharp snap of a twig
as you brush past fairy chandeliers of indian plum
blooming along the creek.

There’s pistachios–earthy and green, like lilac buds
or the tip of a tulip;
bulb-bursting and shooting for the clouds.

And the flour–‘flower’.   Ha!

Are you smiling yet?
Because this is not a plate of cupcakes.

It’s my affection,
her crush,
our love
spread with buttercream and set with camellia petals–
crinkled, pink, perfect.

So go ahead.   Indulge.

Take a taste
of spring
of the promise of sunshine
of my heart–

there’s more where that came from.

– Lisa K., West Seattle

These cupcakes are the quintessential American chocolate cake: light, moist, and full of chocolate flavor. They’re a snap to make and worked great with the buttercream. As for the meyer lemon curd, I picked a recipe that didn’t require a ton of yolks, and I couldn’t have been happier with the results. It’s thick and tart – maybe a little too tart on its own – but paired with the chocolate cupcake and flower of frosting, it was a perfect complement to the sugar.

Chocolate Cake

Adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa at Home, via Alpineberry

Makes around 36 cupcakes

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups granulated sugar

3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup buttermilk, shaken

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 extra large eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee (or hot water)

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 36 cupcake tins with paper liners.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed to combine the ingredients. In another bowl, gently whisk together the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix to combine.

With the mixer still on low speed, add the coffee and stir just to combine. Scrape the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula to make sure everything is well combined.

Fill cupcake tins 3/4 full (I like to use a little cookie/ice cream scoop) and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Meyer Lemon Curd

Makes about 1 2/3 cups

From Gourmet

3 to 4 Meyer lemons (about 1 pound)

1/2 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

Grate 2 teaspoons of lemon zest and squeeze 1/2 cup of juice. Whisk together zest, juice, sugar, and eggs, then add the butter pieces. Set over a saucepan of gently simmering water and whisk until smooth and thick, 160 degrees F on a thermometer. Strain curd through a fine sieve into another bowl, cover with wax paper, and cool completely.

To assemble Chrysanthemum Cupcakes (technique adapted from Martha Stewart): Fill a piping bag fitted with a plain, round tip with the cooled meyer lemon curd. Poke the piping tip directly into the cooled cupcakes and fill with curd. (Alternatively, you can cut an upside-down cone out of the top of the cupcake, fill with a small spoonful of curd, then replace the top of the cone.)

Using your favorite buttercream (I used my favorite Swiss Meringue Buttercream), set aside a small amount and dye it green with food coloring. Smooth a small amount into a thin circle on the top of the cupcakes – don’t worry about the center, just focus on the edges of the cupcake.

Take the remaining buttercream and dye any colors you want for the petals (I chose light pink and yellow.) Fill in a piping bag fitted with a coupler to easily change tips. Start with a No. 12 round tip and pipe a 1/2″ round dot on the center of the cupcake. Switch to a No. 80 tip (I used a No. 81, and this is the tip that looks like a “U”). Hold the tip at a 45 degree angle next to the dot. Squeeze and pull out in a quick stroke. Continue around the dot, then make a second, third, and fourth layer of petals on top of the first, making the petals shorter each time.

Finally switch to a No. 3 tip (a tiny open circle) and pipe three little dots on top.

Printer Friendly Version – Chrysanthemum Cupcakes (includes Chocolate Cake, Meyer Lemon Curd, Swiss Meringue Buttercream, and assembly instructions)

Entry filed under: Cake/Cupcakes. Tags: , , , , , , .

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103 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Katie  |  January 24, 2010 at 11:22 am

    How great, I need a chocolate cupcake recipe! My church is doing a chocolate auction for a fundraiser, and I wanted to make cupcakes. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have your patience to make those beautiful flowers- I am NOT known for my piping skills.

  • 2. Paul  |  January 24, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Hi, I didn’t know how to contact you so I left a comment here. I like to invite you to http://www.tasteandshare.com, a food & wine social network, where you can share photos, videos and a link to your own blog.

  • 3. Chef Tom  |  January 24, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    These are decorated beautiful! You did a great job.

  • 4. Adriana  |  January 24, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    your blog is completely amazing… i can’t believe you’re just 17… congrats on such a good job, those flowers are amazing! keep the baking on!

  • 5. anna  |  January 24, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    Those chrysanthemums are GORGEOUS. I’ll have to try that for sure on some cupcakes once spring comes!

  • 6. Lauren  |  January 24, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    Just gorgeous. What a fabulous birthday present!

  • 7. Katie  |  January 25, 2010 at 4:10 am

    The flower cupcakes are stunning!! I have been trying to do this myself without sucess but after reading your post I suspect I have been using the wrong nozzle. Will give them another go. thanks for the inspiration. I’m sure your friend was delighted with them

  • 8. Kylie of Thin Crust Deep Dish  |  January 25, 2010 at 11:35 am

    So. gorgeous. I love your blog so much, partly because I’m from Seattle, and partly because you’re a terrific writer, photographer and baker, and partly because you just sound like the kind of person I’d love to chat with. Keep it up.

  • 9. Pearl  |  January 25, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Those are so pretty!! great job

  • 10. SteelCityFlan  |  January 25, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    So freaking cute! I love the photo taken from above. Wish I could pipe like that…

  • 11. Liesl  |  January 26, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Cute cupcakes (and blog!)

  • 12. Noelle  |  January 26, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Wowwww! Gorgeous. Did you find these hard to transport??

    • 13. Elissa  |  January 26, 2010 at 6:45 pm

      Noelle – I have a cheap cake carrier that I use to transport all my baked goods. I once made the mistake of trying to transport a 3 layer frosted cake all on my own. Long story short, it was smushed against the sides of the cake carrier as I exited the freeway. These days, I ask someone else to drive, and I hold the cake carrier in my lap. My dad is a pretty smooth driver, so I didn’t have much trouble with these cupcakes.

  • 14. Pam  |  January 26, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    Simply lovely. Bravo Elissa.

  • 15. zurin  |  January 27, 2010 at 3:59 am

    oh my gorgeous and really too pretty to eat! u are amazing!

  • 16. theUngourmet  |  January 27, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    HI! I just found your blog over at the blog award nominations. Wonderful work!! I can’t wait until my daughter is home from school so I can show her! :0)

  • 17. Eliana  |  January 27, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    These cupcakes look amazingly beautifuil. Almost toogood to eat. Congrats on the blog award nomination. I know you will win.

  • 18. Fuji Mama  |  January 27, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    These cupcakes not only sound delicious but they are stunning! You got skillz girl!

  • 19. Meilily  |  January 27, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    Wow- these are gorgeous! I’d love to have some of these at my wedding!

  • 20. David  |  January 27, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    Amazing! Definitely too pretty to eat. Those must have been so much work. I’m glad it all paid off.

  • 21. christine louise  |  January 27, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    These are absolutely darling! A perfect pick up for the drab days of January! :D

  • 22. Mayyada  |  January 28, 2010 at 6:16 am

    YOU are the artist here, this is so dainty and beautiful! Hats down to you my friend!

    Anyway, I have just developed a passion for baking, however my mum hates it when I’m in the kitchen because I mess up the whole area.

  • 23. Nhiro  |  January 29, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Was browsing TS for cake recipes when I came across this post. Gorgeous cupcakes. (:

  • 24. betchacanteatjustone  |  January 30, 2010 at 8:05 am

    These are stunning!

  • 25. Leah  |  January 30, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Absolutely gorgeous and inspired.

  • 26. Jelli  |  February 1, 2010 at 10:52 am

    I just love how beautifully you’ve decorated these cupcakes. I am planning to try this technique soon…er, after I purchase the right sized tips. Thanks!

  • 27. The Food Hunter  |  February 1, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    These cupcakes are really pretty

  • 28. Loreena  |  February 2, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    Those are the most adorable cupcakes I have ever seen

  • 29. Ash  |  February 15, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    Amazing!! Truly!

  • […] flower decorated cupcakes […]

  • 31. maddi  |  June 1, 2010 at 10:01 am

    My goodness gracious these look amazing amazing i am just looking around i love to see what you have made and what i am going to make next it is beautiful pictures too great job keep doing what you love!! :)

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  • 33. Cher  |  August 20, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    These are gorgeous cupcakes. Thanks for so much for the recipe! I’ll definitely keep these in the back of my head for good gift ideas. :]

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  • 35. izmir escort  |  December 25, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    These are gorgeous cupcakes. Thanks for so much for the recipe! I’ll definitely keep these in the back of my head for good gift ideas. :]

  • 36. Jasmine  |  April 5, 2011 at 4:32 am

    I love the decorating on these cupcakes and they sound like they taste great too. You are so skilled. Good luck with the baking.

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  • 39. sudhakar  |  November 3, 2011 at 6:34 am

    That’s excellent piping. Makes me want to whip up some icing and practice.

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  • 41. Lauren  |  February 28, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    How do you get your cupcakes to look so uniform?? Not necessarily the buttercream (which is gorgeous!) But the cake itself? I’m having so much trouble with this!

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Elissa Bernstein

I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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