Ladybug Cupcakes (And Some News)

It didn't take long before I was swooning over the pages of Martha Stewart's Cupcakes and walking out of Barnes & Noble with a copy. It also didn't take long for me to read the entire book cover to cover and realize how many of those mini cakes I wanted to make. I started simple, with a quarter batch of streusel cupcakes -- a quarter batch because I only had enough sour cream in the fridge to make that many and I was only baking for two. They were pretty good but a little dry (which could be my error and not the recipe's), and really I can't say I'm much of a fan of cupcakes without frosting. But if you think of them as small coffee cakes, they're perfect.

And as I am pretty much insatiable when it comes to baking and cooking, soon after that I asked my boyfriend to select the next cupcake. He remembered seeing one with ladybugs in grass when I originally flipped through the book and started holding up every other page for him to look at and asked if we could make those. They looked really fun, so I accepted the challenge.

After a trip to Kitchen Arts on Newbury Street for a set of decorating tips and some gel-paste food coloring and to the grocery store for any ingredients missing from my pantry and fridge (cake flour, buttermilk, etc.), I had all the necessary supplies.

Martha recommends using her yellow buttermilk cupcake recipe for these cupcakes, so I did. There's really nothing special about the batter except that I've never used buttermilk in cupcakes before. The recipe produces a basic yellow cupcake, which is probably best for an elaborate frosting and little ladybugs.

But after the cupcakes were baked and cooling, my boyfriend brought up a very valid point that I can't believe Martha missed. He wondered why we hadn't done chocolate cupcakes, as the chocolate would better represent soil under the grass. If I ever make these again, I'm switching to chocolate cupcakes.

Baking the cupcakes is really not that difficult; it's the decorating that can be tricky. And piping grass and making tiny ladybugs is not as easy as it seems (if it seems easy to you; I had no false hope there).

We had to start by kneading food coloring into marzipan. We split the marzipan in half, and I turned my half red and my boyfriend turned his black. The red would form the ladybug bodies and the black was to be used for their heads and spots. Kneading the food coloring in was probably the most difficult thing, and I'm sure we looked ridiculous because I didn't think to get gloves, so I outfitted us with Ziploc sandwich bags instead. I think it was better than staining our hands red and black. (I almost made a joke about being caught red-handed but refrained for your sakes.)

So we took the red and started forming little bodies and then took the black and formed little heads. I think Martha recommended 1/2-inch balls for the bodies and 1/4-inch balls for the heads, but we thought these seemed too big and made our bugs even smaller.

Once we had the heads and bodies attached, which is as simple as pressing the two pieces together, we started adding the little spots.

To make the spots, we had to pinch off teeny pieces of the dyed-black marzipan and roll them into little balls. And then we just stuck the spots on the little red bodies as we saw fit.

You all know how much I love mini things, so crafting the little bugs was incredibly fun. He doesn't think so, but I thought my boyfriend was even better at forming them than I was, so eventually we split up responsibilities and he finished the ladybugs while I made the frosting.

The frosting was a Swiss meringue buttercream. I've made regular buttercream many times before, but this was nothing like it. I first had to place the bowl from my Kitchen Aid over a pot of simmering water on the stove (like a double boiler) and whisk up egg whites, sugar, and salt in it. Once the sugar dissolved, I placed the Kitchen Aid bowl on its stand and whisked for about 10 minutes more. And then, don't cringe, I incorporated 4 sticks of butter a few tablespoons at a time! And then added a little bit of vanilla.

Martha describes this frosting as having a stable texture, which it needs when you use it to make blades of grass. We really didn't think it was stable enough. Some of my grass looked like a strong wind had come through. Oh, and it took me about a hundred drops of green food coloring to get the frosting anywhere close to a green dark enough to resemble grass rather than mints. But it worked well enough, and though it's not as sweet as regular buttercream, the frosting had good flavor.

Piping takes a lot of patience. I used a multi-opening tip and started at the center of each cupcake.

Martha instructs to squeeze the piping bag and then release while pulling up. It sounds pretty simple, but the frosting was not always cooperative. I was pretty happy with the results considering this is the first time I've really tried to do anything this elaborate.

As I finished piping grass onto each cupcake, my boyfriend would place a ladybug or two in the newly created fields. They looked adorable.

These cupcakes took a lot of time and effort, but the end result is incredibly cute cupcakes that would be the perfect thing to bring to a summer gathering or picnic.

And now for my news: I've just started a part-time position as a baker! I am very excited. It's been my dream as of late to get myself into the baking world. I'm so happy to have been given this opportunity, and I'm working with great people who are so knowledgeable about the skills and methods that I'm looking to learn. Right now I do a lot of cookie baking and muffin scooping, but I'm looking forward to the opportunities ahead.

The downside is that now that I'm working two jobs, I will have a lot less time for blogging. I'm hoping to still do two posts per week though, so please stick with me. And I fear that with all the baking I'm doing at work, I may end up doing less baking at home (shh... don't tell my boyfriend I said that). But I'm sure I'll still have plenty of dinners to share with you, and I doubt I will really cut out baking at home for too long anyways.

Have you made any cupcakes from Martha's new cookbook? Or have you made any elaborate marzipan or fondant creations?