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. Chloe  |  January 20, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    Reading one of your posts always brightens my day. :)

  • 2. swirledandsprinkled  |  January 20, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    I have been obessing over the Martha Stewart Cupcake book for some time now! When I saw this recipe…I absolutely loved it and I still want to try it out for myself. Yours look so beautiful! Great job :]

  • 3. Jessica  |  January 20, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    LOVE THESE!!!! :)))

  • 4. Diana  |  January 20, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    oh wow! they really are too pretty to eat!! except..they sound so delicious at the same time! haha

  • 5. Stephanie Hodges  |  January 20, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    These look so amazing! Definitely caught my eye and they really do look too beautiful to eat!

  • 6. Jiyeon  |  January 20, 2010 at 11:43 pm


  • 7. Lakshmi  |  January 20, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    I have only word for this post…WOW!!!!!

  • 8. Amelia  |  January 21, 2010 at 12:12 am

    Those look so pretty! And tasty, too! I can’t resist a good cupcake… :)

  • 9. hapagirl83  |  January 21, 2010 at 2:40 am

    i love ur cupcakes…its so BEAUTIFUL…nice job u inspire me to want to bake too!! :)

  • 10. Mags  |  January 21, 2010 at 2:44 am

    I’ve been a fan of yours for quite some time and finally getting around to commenting. Your blog is fantastic. You’ve got such a talent for writing and of course your baking and photography are top notch, and that’s without considering it’s all coming from someone so young. Keep up the great work.

    Those cupcakes are absolutely adorable.

  • 11. linda  |  January 21, 2010 at 3:43 am

    a wonderful “bouquet” that provides comfort on this cold winter morning…
    great post elissa & your photos make the chrysanthemums come alive!

  • 12. Gala  |  January 21, 2010 at 5:38 am

    They are really pretty….I’m scared to plan on piping such an amazing design, but maybe I should just try. Thanx :)

  • 13. jo-anne  |  January 21, 2010 at 7:07 am

    those look too beautiful to eat!! great job!!

    I adore your site. I’m planning to make a food blog as well. any tips?:)

  • 14. skippingskones  |  January 21, 2010 at 7:42 am

    These are so cute and sound so delicious! Love the way you iced them!


  • 15. Jennifer J  |  January 21, 2010 at 7:42 am

    These cupcakes are such little beauties!

  • 16. Cousin Sharon  |  January 21, 2010 at 7:57 am

    Absolutely magnificent Elissa!

  • 17. natalie  |  January 21, 2010 at 9:16 am

    elissa these are beautiful!!!!!!!!

  • 18. D. Davis  |  January 21, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Thank you for brightening my morning. Your work continues to amaze me.

  • 19. Amanda  |  January 21, 2010 at 9:38 am

    These are beautiful!!!

  • 20. Kelly  |  January 21, 2010 at 9:54 am

    those are amazing!! beautiful!

  • 21. Rebecca  |  January 21, 2010 at 10:11 am

    Those are beautiful! Great job. They brightened my day.

  • 22. Lucy  |  January 21, 2010 at 10:22 am

    What a beautiful and thoughtful gift – I’m sure your friend was truly delighted

  • 23. Ally  |  January 21, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Those are so beautiful! I love the light pink color you mixed, and that lemon curd sounds delicious!

  • 24. Valérie  |  January 21, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Gorgeous! A touch of spring in the middle of winter!

  • 25. Kirbie  |  January 21, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    These are so beautiful! It must have taken you so much time. Definitely too pretty to eat

  • 26. diva@The Sugar Bar  |  January 21, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    gorgeous! i can’t believe your buttercream actually stays in place! :) simply beautiful bouquet of cupcakes!

  • 27. Phoo-D  |  January 21, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    These are amazing! You are very talented and I am in awe of the perfect petals. Meyer lemon curd is one of my favorite things and the flavor combination makes me smile just thinking about it!

  • 28. fragiletiger  |  January 21, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    Wow, those are amazing. Well done. Your time and effort would have been the best gift.

  • 29. Nicole  |  January 21, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    these look so amazing! these makes me want to try the chocolates with lemon curd combo. ^_^

  • 30. Olivia  |  January 21, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Beautiful! I love Ina Garten’s chocolate recipes–the coffee always makes such a difference. I can’t wait to try these.

  • 31. Kate @ Savour Fare  |  January 21, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    These are just beautiful! I especially love the light pink — it’s so delicate!

  • 32. Caitlin @ Roaming Tales  |  January 21, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    That’s really impressive – both the frosting and the photography!

  • 33. Hannah  |  January 21, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    Those are gorgeous!

  • 34. Hélène  |  January 21, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    Your cupcakes are magnifiques!

  • 35. Hanaa  |  January 21, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    Those cupcakes are very pretty. Love the flowers on top. They’re a little time consuming to make but definitely worth it.

    • 36. Elissa  |  January 21, 2010 at 9:53 pm

      Hanaa – Thanks! You’re right – making the cake, curd, and buttercream is time consuming – but the chrysanthemums themselves came together surprisingly quickly! The first few were slow as I figured things out, but once I got the hang of it, I was piping each flower in under a minute. :)

  • 37. mystery seahorse  |  January 21, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    these are flippin’ incredible. i’d so pay for some but i’m afraid i’d never even eat them because i’d be unable to give in! this is art. you are awesome. seriously.

  • 38. Monica H  |  January 21, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    These really are pretty. My mom was flipping through Martha’s cupcake book and saw those cupcakes and requested them for Mother’s Day. This was several months ago!

  • 39. Karen  |  January 22, 2010 at 7:59 am

    Elissa — You need to let your readers know they can vote for your blog!
    EVERYONE — Elissa’s blog has been nominated in the category of “Best Weblog By a Teen” in the 10th annual Weblog Awards. You can vote for her at http://2010.bloggies.com/ — you’ll have to scroll quite a ways to the right, but it will only take a second.

    And the cup cakes are the perfect complement for M’s art!

  • 40. Lori @ RecipeGirl  |  January 22, 2010 at 8:20 am

    So very pretty. I can’t wait to experiment to see if I can come up with something similar!

  • 41. Wendy  |  January 22, 2010 at 10:26 am

    They look absolutely beautiful! I just tried a swiss meringue buttercream a few days ago and I must agree, it pipes very well and tastes better than other buttercreams too.
    And I just saw at [http://2010.bloggies.com ] that you are nominated for ‘best teen weblog’ award at the tenth annual weblog awards, congrats Elissa!! :)

  • 42. Sandy  |  January 22, 2010 at 11:10 am

    I saw your blog on the Bloggies Award and decided to come over to your blog b/c I love baking too. You really do some AMAZING work!!! Those petals are sooo perfect!! I will be following your blog from now on!!

  • 43. Caroline@LowCarb  |  January 22, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    This blog is amazing! I am so impressed- and those cupcakes- to die for! Can’t wait to read your next post!

  • 44. Caroline@LowCarb  |  January 22, 2010 at 3:25 pm


  • 45. Taylor  |  January 22, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    Wow, these look like they were picked straight out of a garden! They’re beautiful! I can’t resist chocolate cake either… I’ll have to try them sometime!

  • 46. linda  |  January 23, 2010 at 11:16 am

    just had to leave this for you…voted for 17 & baking on the
    10th annual weblog awards site….you are already a winner in my eyes!!! best of luck!!!

  • 47. wearsjojo  |  January 23, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    what type of piping tip did you use?

    These look amazing.

    • 48. Elissa  |  January 23, 2010 at 2:00 pm

      Hey JoJo, the petals are piped with a No. 81 tip (recipe calls for No. 80, but they’re both the “U” shaped tip.) The base/center of the flower is piped with an open round tip, and then three little balls are piped on top with a tiny circle tip.

  • 49. confuseddaydreamer  |  January 23, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Your pictures are beautiful. You’re doing an amazing thing here, keep doing it.

  • 50. Sara Sheridan  |  January 24, 2010 at 9:16 am

    Just found your blog…it’s completely awesome! The Chocolate Raspberry Ganache Cake is food porn at its best. I’m looking forward to reading your blog!!


  • 51. Christina P.  |  January 24, 2010 at 10:27 am

    I’m in awe – these are absolutely amazing, I can’t leave this page! Makes me think of spring despite the terrible gloomy weather outside :)

  • 52. deana@lostpastremembered  |  January 24, 2010 at 10:35 am

    Those are insanely beautiful… what an artist you are!!


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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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